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New Flavors from Stage Left's Kitchen

Chef Michael Wieskus arrived at New Brunswick's Stage Left restaurant in April and restaurant critics in the area have taken notice. Wieskus has already received "excellent" notices for his modern American menu.

With a professional cooking background as wide-ranging as March and Arizona 206 in Manhattan and Durango Grill in Westport, Conn., Wieskus has created a menu that reflects a wide range of influences: Southwestern, Creole, Italian, French and Pacific Rim.

Wieskus is delighted at the reception he's received in New Jersey and happy that he's not locked into Southwestern food as he was at Durango Grill and Arizona 206, his last two kitchen assignments. "Stage Left has given me a lot more freedom," he says, I'm really happy to be here, I never knew that this type of restaurant existed in New Jersey."

For Francis Schott and Mark Pascal, who are owners of the restaurant, Wieskus' entrance into the kitchen has helped them to achieve their goals at Stage Left. "I feel with Mike we've been able to achieve what we started out to do--provide a dining experience otherwise not available in New Jersey," Schott says. "And our entrees are still under $20."

Schott is delighted that Wieskus, Pascal and he are able to "work as a team like never before." Drawing upon their various backgrounds, the trio create a number of the restaurant dishes together. One of the popular dishes on the menu reflects that joint planning.

The dish of linguine features garlic, oven-roasted tomatoes, Calamata olives, and extra virgin olive oil. "The dish is simple, full-flavored, good for you--it sums up what my food is about," Wieskus says.

Schott says that the dish is finished with Goccia DiSola extra virgin oil, from a small producer "It was Mike's brilliant concept to finish the dish with this beautiful, flavorful olive oil," Schott says. "He's very sensitive to the ingredients available to him."

Wieskus is also happy that he's able the to do dishes like fresh strawberries with 20-year-old Balsamic vinegar at Stage Left. "I couldn't do that dish in a Southwestern restaurant," he says. Wieskus also uses the 20-year-old Balsamic vinegar as an accent on an appetizer of fois gras with morels.

Pascal says that in three years Stage Left has attained a high level of excellence. "With Mike, we've taken the next step," he says. Pascal says that the their work building the restaurant has been fun. "We've gained a certain satisfaction in doing something that's different," he says.

Both he and Schott are delighted with the entire staff they've built at Stage Left. "Our restaurant staff is filled with foodies," Pascal says. "We're sought out people who have our philosophy." The entire staff has tasted the menu and wine list, so that front-of-the-house staff can help diners make their decisions intelligently.

"Being casual, we still give our guests the best food, best service and best beverages in the state," Schott says.

Special dinners

Wieskus, Schott and Pascal have created a number of special events for these late summer evenings. On Monday, Aug 21, they will present their Wines of the Loire Dinner, featuring five courses matched by six vintages from small producers of the Loire.

The evening will begin at 7:15pm with an assortment of American caviars and Sparkling Vouvray Brut, Domaine du Clos Naudin, followed by chilled crab cakes and Muscadet 1993, Domaine de la Borne Sancerre "Le Chene Reserve," 1993, Lucien Crochet and Pouilly Fume "Les Chaumes/Old Vine" 1993, Fabien Colin will accompany trout with tapenade and smoked trout mashed potatoes.

Sancerre Rouge "Croix du Roy" 1993, Lucien Crochet, will be poured with roasted squab with Jersey corn. Dessert of summer berry gratin will be escorted by Coteaux du Layon "Les Chaumes" 1990, Domaine de la Soucherie. Cost of the evening is $65 per person including tax and gratuity.

On Monday, Sept. 11, beginning at 7:15pm Stage Left will present what Schott says is the first cocktail dinner in New Jersey. Schott says the evening has its origins in a cocktail dinner presented at Manhattan's Rainbow Room with cocktails created by mixologist Dale De Groff.

"Cocktails are traditionally aperitifs, to match cocktails with food is quite a challenge," Schott says. The menu for their dinner had its inspiration in Wieskus' rack of lamb with mint risotto which marries perfectly with the Steeplechase cocktail.

The evening begins with passed hors d'oeuvres three cocktail, the Bellini, the Manzanilla and the classic Margarita. Joining the rack of lamb are three other courses: tuna carpaccio with a Cosmopolitan cocktail; scallops over wilted spinach with Satan's Whiskers; and a pecan goat cheese Napoleon with the Blood and Sand cocktail. The evening ends with a Tom & Jerry. Tab is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity.

Call Stage Left, located at 5 Livingston Ave., at (908) 828-4444 to reserve for either event.

Stage Left | 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 | T: 732.828.4444
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