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DINING REVIEW #7: THE BLACK DUCK

The last time I ate at West Cape May’s Black Duck restaurant was at least 10 years ago. On that visit everything was fine, but not exactly impressive, and as such, I haven’t been back since. That is until this June when my brother decided he wanted to give it another try for his birthday. So, 9 of us went to dinner there on a recent Sunday night and discovered that things there had changed, and much for the better.

It is still the same chef and owner but his menu has become much more refined and his skills, while never poor, are much improved. The décor has also been freshened up and is now cleaner and more modern in appearance. We were lucky enough to be seated at a table in the rear of the restaurant in what is almost a private room surrounded by windows overlooking the garden, though all the rooms seemed enjoyable enough as we walked through. Our server was fun, knowledgeable, and also helped to make the evening a delight.

I began my meal with an order of the Southwestern Duck Confit & Goat Cheese Egg Roll which was delicious, the contents of which blended wonderfully with the sweetness provided by the surrounding ginger-plum coulis and apple plum chutney. Others at the table ordered the Blue Crab Spring Rolls which were also a treat and the Shrimp Toast with Cucumber Crab Salad, which was really the best of the 3. I think we all agreed that we could have eaten those Shrimp Toasts all day long. My parents split the Pu Pu Platter which included all of the above plus ribs and dumplings and were quite happy with everything on that very large plate as well.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their entrees, and the chef was very accommodating to those who have special dietary restrictions, ensuring they were able to enjoy a night out just as much as the rest of us. Patrick ordered the Honey Roast Half Duck and has declared duck one of his favorite proteins as a result. I was quite impressed with how well cooked it was, with the fat being rendered down perfectly and the meat being perfectly seasoned. The apple smoked bacon and sweet potato risotto were both nice compliments as well.

I was especially impressed with my selection however. The salmon served with lobster risotto was easily one of my favorite meals of the year. Every element was cooked flawlessly, with the salmon itself being particularly impressive. It was just the lightest bit crispy on the outside, yet so soft on the inside it practically melted in my mouth. Blended with the excellent risotto and red wine syrup each bite was exquisite, even managing to outshine the lobster, which for my tastes is no small feat.

By the end of that we were all stuffed to capacity, but had to share a dessert so we could sing “Happy Birthday”. We opted for a blueberry crumble and it was an excellent choice, deliciously fresh and light. This meal wound up being another highlight in a year that has so far been full of them, and it has sent The Black Duck straight into my Top 3 area restaurants. The next time you are in or near West Cape May, make sure to find the time to dine here, it is a truly delicious experience.

GRADE: A+

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DISTILLERY REVIEW #2: NAUTI SPIRITS

Nestled among fields in North Cape May, NJ, the new Nauti Spirits Distillery may have a few wrinkles to iron out, but is off to a pretty great start. We have visited 3 times so far, and found our experience improved with each stop. The experience really begins in the parking lot, as you find yourself looking at nicely painted, modern, warehouse-like buildings, located in the middle of some farmland. Horses sometimes peak over the fence of a neighboring property, tall grasses blow in the wind, and herbs and spices that are used in the cocktails are grown in boxes right in the lot. Entering takes you along a short, self-guided tour, providing insight into the processes required to make their vodka. Upon reaching the bar area one is immediately impressed by the design mixing modern, rustic and industrial flourishes. It feels like a cool place to be and one you would want to visit again.

As for the vodka itself, on all 3 of our visits I ordered it with club soda (and on one visit had a sip of it straight), and am very impressed. It is smooth and easy to drink, with almost no burn. Being made from sweet potatoes (which is not something I had seen before) gives it a pleasant sweetness as well. It's not overpowering, but it's just there enough to make the vodka that much more interesting and enjoyable on its own. At $30 a bottle in the gift shop, it's well worth the price.

Our experience however has been a little uneven. Our 1st trip was before their official grand opening, and it was more than a little disappointing. The young man who took care of us seemed very confused about nearly everything, put way too much bitters into one of our drinks, and overcharged us for the aforementioned vodka and club. It was good, but $11 for such a simple drink is a bit on the absurd side. We chalked it up to opening week mistakes and figured we would give it another try after things had settled down. It's a good thing we went back as the subsequent visits have been much better. On visit #2, they had a special Strawberry Rhubarb cocktail that Patrick and one of our friends visiting from Massachusetts could not stop raving about, and the price of my preferred vodka and club had come down to a much more reasonable $9. Another of our friends had a drink with bitters in it and received a better ratio to other ingredients of that as well. Visit #3 was equally pleasant, and my drink had come down further to $8, which seems about appropriate. The bartenders on 2nd and 3rd visits were also much more knowledgeable and invested in the product. Lastly, and I know some people are going to disagree with me on this, but I find their practice of crushing the ice for drinks with a mallet in a small burlap bag to be a bit much, and something that should probably be discontinued. It is moderately impressive the first time, but after that it seems like it makes the process of getting ice both too loud and too time-consuming. You can feel free to disagree with me on that though.

All in all, they have managed to win us over. It's a great product, in a great location, and one you should definitely try to visit when you find yourself in the Cape May area.

VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.

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WINE REVIEW #7: Michael David Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

An important part of any meal is a good wine, and we certainly lucked out in bringing this bottle as one of our choices during our recent dinner at the Peter Shields Inn. It made for a perfect match with the cheese course I had at the end of the meal, though it would be a delicious pairing with a nice steak, or other hearty dish. The bottle draws your attention, as does the rich deep color of the wine when you pour it into the glass. It has a rich aroma and feels velvety and opulent in the mouth. There is a pronounced plum flavor with hints of juniper berry. The first sip put a smile on our faces that remained there through the rest of the bottle. This is a new favorite wine that we will definitely be returning to again and again. GRADE: A+

VISIT THE MICHAEL DAVID WINERY WEBSITE HERE.

BUY THE WINE HERE.

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DINING REVIEW #6: PETER SHIELDS INN

Having lived most of my life near Cape May, there are very few established restaurants that I haven't visited yet, but for whatever reason, this was one of them. Last night I finally gave it a go, and I am disappointed in myself for not having eaten here sooner. Located on the ground floor of a stately, old mansion, the dining rooms are elegantly appointed and many tables have spectacular views of the ocean. The staff was very pleasant and helpful, and was more than happy to let each table enjoy their meal at their own pace. That all certainly contributes to a great evening, but what about the most important part, the food?

It could easily be described in one word: perfect. I started things off with the jumbo lump crab salad, which was served with a slice of smoked salmon and topped with mache, a wonderful blend of flavors ideal for Spring. Patrick's 1st course was the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with cherry purée, fruit compote and brioche. This was such a masterfully conceived and executed dish, it may be worth visiting this restaurant just to try it. Each ingredient played off the other so well that you were taken on a journey with each bite. Next, we each had a serving of the charred steak tartare, served with a quail egg, dijon, haricot vert and Grana Padano. This was another impressive dish, and was easily the best tartare preparation I've ever had. Perfectly seasoned and all-around delicious. Patrick's entree was the seared Yellowfin tuna, served over parsnip purée with Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon. Admittedly I haven't ever liked parsnips, but in this presentation it worked. Everything was fresh and perfectly cooked and combined to make another stunning dish. For my main, I selected the Alaskan day boat halibut, with an English pea purée, potato chive gnocchi, asparagus, morels and a truffle nage. Given that many of the ingredients included in it were among my general favorites I fully expected to be happy with this dish, and my expectations were still blown away. Every part was flawless and worked in beautiful harmony with each other, with the cook of the fish itself and the pea purée especially being highlights. Each bite of this spectacular dish brought a smile to my face. For dessert Patrick enjoyed a deliciously creamy Vanilla Crème Brûlée, and I opted for a cheese plate of Mrs. Quicke's Cheddar, Tete de Moine and Shropshire Blue served with slightly sweet toast points and diced figs. Both were exactly what we wanted and were excellent caps to an already stellar meal. 

Everything about this meal was exceptional, and we are both eager to get back and try some other items that caught our attention. Everyone who visits Cape May should make it a point to try this restaurant, as on the basis of this dinner alone, it is easily our new favorite.

GRADE: A+

VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.

VISIT THEM ON FACEBOOK.

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DISTILLERY REVIEW #1: CAPE MAY DISTILLERY

With the number of breweries and wineries that have sprung up these last few years in the Cape May area, one could easily avoid buying either of those products from non-local sources ever again. But what if you were after something a little harder? Enter the Cape May Distillery, which is offering rum and honey liqueur, with other products in the pipeline. Of course, just because it's local doesn't mean it's good, so is it worth paying them a visit?

Located on Route 47 in the Green Creek area in a warehouse-type building, it's a little tricky to find at first, though not really hidden either. Inside, there is a pleasant 1920's speakeasy vibe to the decor, with era-appropriate music playing, sometimes on a working hand-cranked record player. The bar was being staffed by one of the owners, who had a great personality for it, making conversation easy and natural. His passion for his product really shone through as well.

Of course all of that is moot if the product isn't any good. Luckily that was far from the case here. Upon being greeted we were immediately launched into a tasting of the liquors they currently have available, beginning with their Beach Rum. This is a clear rum, made with mixed drinks in mind. As such, it has a smooth, clean, inoffensive taste, that would blend well with pretty much any mixer you can think of. Next up was Barrel Rum, which was more traditional. Having come from wooden barrels, it has some caramel color to it, though still on the clear side, and features a richer flavor and some hints of vanilla, along with a slight warm sensation when swallowing. This was followed by Blueberry Rum. The aroma is quite potent, hitting our noses pretty much as soon as it was poured, but the flavor itself is much more mild. It was a pleasantly sweet sip that could easily produce some pretty creative cocktails. Fourth in line, and probably my favorite, was the Toasted Coconut Rum. Not as cloying as other coconut rums can be, the "toasted" part of the flavoring really made this stand out. We later had this mixed with birch beer and it was a delicious drink, perfect for sitting poolside in the Summer. The last tasting was of their Double Barrel Honey Spirits. Produced in a style similar to whiskey, but not allowed to be named as such, it is made from New Jersey honey, and unsurprisingly has a taste profile similar to mead, though far more enjoyable than any mead I've yet tasted.

Visiting the distillery was a lot of fun, and we both look forward to going back again and trying the new products they have in the pipeline. Between the excellent products they're making and the unique atmosphere they are cultivating inside, you should really make sure to give it a try, whether you're a local or just visiting the area.

GRADE: A

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NJ Might Make Expiration Dates Easy Again

It looks like one part of the food handling process is poised to get some much needed simplification. A bipartisan group of New Jersey lawmakers has recently introduced legislation in the statehouse that would revamp the way stores and manufacturers label expiration dates on their products. Rather than the current litany of possible wordings available to them, it would pare it down to 2: "Use By" or "Best If Used By". The first would be for foods that are more easily perishable, and the second for those that may being to deteriorate in quality but which would still be safe to consume afterwards. This should greatly reduce the amount of confusion in our cupboards and the food waste that goes along with it, should it pass. Hopefully it will lead to similar changes around the nation as well, providing the same benefits to people who aren't fortunate enough to find themselves in the Garden State.

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DINING REVIEW #5: The Eat Well

From the outside, you might not even notice this unassuming little shop near the intersection of Bayshore and Town Bank Roads in North Cape May. Several businesses have tried their hands unsuccessfully in the spot, but the Eat Well, with its promises of fresh baked breads, grilled sandwiches, soups and smoothies, might be the first to have a real shot at making it.

We have paid 2 visits to the eatery, and have been pretty impressed both times. On our initial trip we tried the Eat Well Cuban sandwich and a grilled cheese special. We were both satisfied with the quality and flavor of the fillings, and the pickled onions the chef threw in on the side were a nice touch that added a good bit of extra flavor to the next few sandwiches I made for myself over the following couple days. But it was our 2nd visit that really stood out, when we each opted for a special version of the Grilled Italiano sandwich. It normally features prosciutto, capicola, sopressata, provolone and roasted red peppers, which is a pretty winning combination in and of itself. For the special however it was served with a delicious pesto spread and on some truly phenomenal olive and rosemary bread. Everything came together to make for a truly delicious sandwich, so good that even typing this review is making me crave another. A small cup of cole slaw was served on the side, which was also a flavorful treat, if not quite the best I've ever eaten.

The hours are limited (as is the parking), so make sure to check their Facebook page (linked to below) to be sure it's open first. But this is a spot that is definitely worth seeking out for some good, fresh food. We will be looking forward to our 3rd visit and wish them all the success in the world.

GRADE: B+

VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE HERE.

They are located at 508A Town Bank Rd, North Cape May, NJ 08204, in case you want to put it into your GPS.

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NOW YOU CAN BUY WINE WITH COFFEE IN IT. NO REALLY.

We aren't sure what to make of this. Friends Fun Wine, already somewhat controversial for putting wine in a can, is now offering 2 wines that contain coffee in them. The flavors they're adding are in keeping with the sort of notes that expert sommeliers can often pick out from a good bottle; like coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. We are having a hard time imagining what it would taste like with them all purposefully exaggerated however. It would be interesting to give it a try, so if we come across any, or if they send us a sample (hint hint), we will let you know what we think.

CHARDONNAY COFFEE CAPPUCCINO

CABERNET COFFEE ESPRESSO

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DISCOVER THE REAL STORY BEHIND "2 BUCK CHUCK"

The wine world is full of interesting stories, but with the tales of messy divorce proceedings, bankruptcy, birds and branches getting into the wine, and even arsenic contamination, there may be none more fascinating than that of Charles Shaw Wines. Thrillist spoke with a number of the company's key players to piece together a brief oral history of the rise and fall of one of America's best known wineries, and it is a fascinating read.

CHECK OUT THE ARTICLE HERE.

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WE RECOMMEND: MILK STREET KITCHEN

There is certainly no shortage of cooking magazines vying for your attention, many of very high quality. There is a sprightly newcomer on the block however, looking to shake things up a bit. Filled with recipes, tips, product reviews, and feature stories, all accompanied by gorgeous full color photography, Christopher Kimball's Milk Street magazine aims to bring us all a new, simple, delicious way to cook. The recipes included follow an ethos of bringing flavors and methods from around the world together with some classic cuisines to bring food as we know it into the 21st century.

Each recipe is preceded by a brief story, explaining the author's inspirations and intentions in bringing it to life, followed by clear, easy-to-follow directions. The first issues have featured some intriguingly unique ideas; like fluffy olive oil scrambled eggs, Thai style cole slaw, Harissa, Peruvian pesto, Georgian chicken soup, and Tahini Swirl brownies. Along with cocktail ideas, gadget recommendations, and cookbook reviews, the magazine is proving to be an indispensable guide to the new American kitchen.

Along with the magazine, they have also launched a cooking school and a radio program/podcast, which you can access via iTunesiHeartRadio, and many other players. The radio program features a listener call-in Q&A segment, interviews, and contributing editorials from journalists and experts in the industry.

With its innovative ideas and helpful instructions, this is the sort of magazine that you'll want to keep for a long time, and worth the price of admission for anyone looking to step up their game in the kitchen.

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