"Don't eat it - - " I said, and the startled hands of my dining companion jerked away from his plate, "let me take a picture first." He breathed a sigh of relief and I repositioned the plate for better lighting.
Dining with a food writer takes some getting used to. Unsuspecting dining companions are often caught off guard and occasionally chastised for their haste. Sometimes I feel badly for the uninitiated and apologize, "Sorry, I might need this pic for a post."
Their grief aside, shutter-happy blogger behavior inevitably leads to a vast photo stream of culinary documentation. A nostalgic food diary; an account of where you've been, what you've eaten, and who you ate it with.
Blu, a small, darkly lit, BYO in Montclair is the perfect place to indulge a sinfully delicious meal. Chef and owner, Zod Arifai, never appears in the dining room, but works wizardry from the kitchen, weaving textures and tastes into an all-but-irresistible spell.
When you are in the restaurant of a renown chef, like Zod Arifai, it's best to let him have his way with you. My fiendish dining companions and I opted for the tasting menu, a nine-course degustation of enchanted courses.
Imagine! One chef, one week, and thirty-one courses. Zod Arifai, the fascinating, rocker-turned-chef, invited me to dine at his restaurants, Blu, Next Door, and daryl - a Tour de Zod, if you will. The dining experience left me, in a word: seduced. In the afterglow, one question remained: how does this untrained culinary genius do it?
“I don’t think anyone taught me how to cook.” Zod says, with a lingering European accent, “there were influences in my life. My mother’s cooking was very simple, but it was always very delicious.”
Zod’s cuisine, which he describes as “pure, unmasked food,” is largely due to the local purity of Zod’s homeland - a small countryside town in Albania, where everything he ate as a youth was a product of the land.
“We ate extremely, extremely natural. The only thing we bought was salt and oil. My family ground their own flour, made their own bread and butter. If we wanted milk, we’d go to the cow. During the day, my friends and me would take our animals out for grazing, and then we’d go play soccer or swim all day. On the way home, I’d stop to pick up some beans, cucumbers, or tomatoes at the farms. Mom would do something with them, and that was dinner.”