By JIM WILLIS
We sat down with chef Anthony Ferrando of Dish, on White Street, to ask if he might suggest a few interesting meals for the home cook. We ended up getting that and a whole lot more, including some insights into his favorite food stops in town.
Ferrando grew up cooking at home with his family in North Jersey and lending a hand at his father’s meat company, Torino Sausage. After training at Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education – back when it was still above an auto body shop and still known as Peter Kump’s Cooking School – Ferrando went on to work at Petrossian, the city’s go-to spot for caviar and all kinds of smoked fish. Later he would move on to Rao’s.
Asked what he took away from his two-and-a-half-year stay at the legendary Italian restaurant, Ferrando says,”Quality. It’s pretty much a family-style, sausage and peppers kind of place. The food was good, but the quality is what was bringing these people back week after week. These are people who could spend money anywhere they want in the city, but the one table fought to keep was their table at Rao’s.”
After 9/11, Ferrando moved out of the city. He originally planned to open a restaurant in Asbury Park, but teamed up with Judy Matthew to open Dish. The name, he says, doesn’t pigeonhole him into any particular culinary tradition. He’ll do Italian basics and an array of pastas, but is just as likely to run a French-inspired duck confit on his specials.
So, what’s got him excited right now on the winter menu? “Mac and cheese,” says Ferrando. “You can use some really great cheese, like gorgonzola or fontina or asiago.”
“Or, I like when we do a special like last week’s Duck Ragu with Gnocci. I love when people try that,” he says.
As for the braised short ribs that have become a permanent fixture on the menu – and frankly, PieHole is always a bit baffled to see a braised anything on a summertime menu, it’s a lot like having a hot chocolate in August – Ferrando says the winter dish is something you can do easily at home.
“Everyone always wants the short ribs,” he says. “I tried taking them off the menu in the summer, and I couldn’t do it. It’s braised, it couldn’t be easier. You put your ingredients that you love together – that you know are going to go well together – and just cook it low in the oven, the longer the better. You pinch it, and when it’s soft, it’s done.”
If you’re burnt out on beef braises, Ferrando says try a chicken.
“Do a Coq au Vin. It doesn’t have to be complicated like the two-page Julia Child recipe.” He says you could shortcut it the way his French aunt did. “Basically, you sear the chicken, take it out. Cook your vegetables, throw in some wine and stock and then put the chicken back in until it’s done.”
Ferrando, who lives in Red Bank, is especially fired up about his town’s food scene.
Pointing in the direction of Broad Street, he says, “look at the Italian restaurants just along here. We’ve got Biagio with a brick oven, Bistro that had the first brick oven, and Patrizia’s that’s going to have two brick ovens. And then who makes the best pizza? Val [Aufiero] at the Trattoria, who doesn’t even have a brick oven — her eggplant and ricotta pie is amazing. It’s simple. They do Italian, but they can do anything there. They do Asian dishes that are great.”
Ferrando says with the proliferation of Italian restaurants in town, “if you’re going to do Italian food, you had better be on your mark. The days of getting away with shit are gone. Some of the bigger restaurants that have been here, they’re going to need to step it up.
“We’ve got Patrizia’s coming in, and this place Puglia opened up, and we’re hearing good things about them too, so these places aren’t going to be able to get away with it anymore.”