Saturday, December 15, 2007

Basque Cuisine in Morris County

This article appeared at Daily Record from Morris County in New Jersey:

Jai Alai serves diners authentic Basque food

Saturday, December 15, 2007

By Janet Erwood

DOVER -- For the past 25 years, Jai Alai Restaurant has been serving up delectable cuisine from the Basque region of Spain. Owners Ignacio Cenicacelaya and his daughter Cathy Gonzales say they are proud to serve and present the food from their Basque heritage.

"I came from a family of restaurant owners in Basque. Throughout my childhood, my mom, Maria always owned a restaurant," Cenicacelaya said. "In our countryside where we are from, all the restaurants share the family recipes amongst each other."

Cenicacelaya has made a career as a restaurateur, owning and working in the food industry for 60-plus years. He owned the Alpine Room restaurant in Rockaway for many years, and has worked as a chef in a few other restaurants. Many of his current clients, he said, have been coming to him for more than 40 years.

"It is nice that the people who know me for so long still come to eat my food after all these years," Cenicacelaya said.

Cenicacelaya and Gonzales said they take pride in serving only quality food that is healthy and always fresh, using as many organic ingredients as they can, in addition to cooking only with extra virgin Spanish olive oil.

"If it isn't healthy it is no good for anyone," Cenicacelaya said. "That is our tradition from back home."

On the menu there is a large selection of fish and seafood dishes, all of which, they explained, are authentic Basque recipes, including the well known dish paella. In addition to paella, some other choices are lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels and squid in a brandy laced red sauce and a filet of sole dusted in flour, dipped in egg batter, sautéed in olive oil with a lemon wine sauce.

The menu also offers beef, lamb and poultry specialties, along with a separate daily specials menu. There is also a large selection of hot and cold appetizers, soups and salads to choose from.

A modest bar area is located at the front of the restaurant for patrons who prefer to sit and mingle or who prefer to eat at the bar. At the bar or in either one of the two dining rooms, the popular drink at Jai Alai is homemade Sangria offered with either white or red wine.

The evidence of Basque and its heritage is apparent in the décor throughout Jai Alai. On one of the walls hang the restaurant's namesake Jai Alai baskets (cestas in Spanish), the popular game that originated in the Basque region. In addition, pictures of bull fighters, famous Spaniards and Spanish landscapes all rest atop warm cream-colored paneled walls.

Jai Lai has a comfortable and warm down home atmosphere. Cenicacelaya and Gonzales are gracious hosts who make their patrons feel welcome and at home in their restaurant. They also indicated that they have never advertised the restaurant in the 25 years they have been in business.

"The pride of the quality is the word-of-mouth advertising," Cenicacelaya said.

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