Chef Ulrich Lohs has a pretty good understanding of the American palate. Originally from Lubeck, Germany, Lohs has cooked in Atlantic City - that world-famous playground - since the 1980s.
In 1987, the Egg Harbor Township resident became executive chef at the property now known as Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, overseeing 12 restaurants including Simon AC, a sleek and elegant steak and seafood eatery that offers "great food at a price you won't choke on."
About this time of year, the chef expects to serve plenty of the restaurant's New Zealand rack of lamb with Dijon mustard, maple glaze and herbed bread crumbs. And mint jelly of course, although Lohs says he still doesn't know where the tradition of serving mint jelly with lamb originated.
"This is an American custom. In Europe, we never did it that way," says Lohs, who began his career in the traditional European way, as an apprentice when he was just 15. "We either eat it with mint hollandaise sauce or mint Juliet. In America, it's always mint jelly."
Lohs says the universal ingredient, mint, gives additional freshness to the lamb, which already is kind of synonymous with spring and Easter. At Simon AC, a rack of lamb is seasoned with fresh mint and rosemary, black pepper and bread crumbs, plus maple syrup and Dijon mustard. The maple syrup adds a little unexpected flavor that complements the lamb, making it a bit more interesting than your traditional honey-mustard sauce, Lohs says.
The lamb is first seared to lock in the natural juices, and then seasoned and roasted in an oven. While chefs typically recommend eating steak medium-rare to fully appreciate the quality, lamb is most palatable when prepared medium, which takes about 12 minutes at 350 degrees, according to Lohs. Simon AC offers traditional American-size portions, and Lohs recommends buying 10- to 12-ounces of meat per person.
"Considering that the rib bone weighs about 4 ounces, that will leave about 8 ounces of meat for the dish," he explains, adding lamb can be purchased up to seven days before eating, as long as it's packaged in plastic cryovac to extend its shelf-life. If you have a good butcher, wait until the day before you plan to serve it, he says. Refrigerate any uneaten meat in plastic or aluminum foil up to three days, and reheat in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes.
And if you're serving Easter dinner at your house, factor in five minutes for the meat to rest after it's done cooking.
Details like that are important in a place like Simon AC, where chefs prepare a variety of foods found on the restaurant's eclectic menu. Executive Sous Chef Terrence Williams, of Mays Landing, says the culinary staff, led by Restaurant Chef Benjamin Napurano all have had plenty of practice making Simon AC a restaurant with something for everyone.
Some of Williams' favorite recommendations include hickory-smoked St. Louis cut pork ribs glazed with a whiskey barbecue sauce and the New Jersey clam bake with lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams and chorizo with potatoes and corn in their own juices.
"I love good food," he says, when asked if he prefers a specific cuisine or dish. "Sometimes it may be steak, sometimes it's seafood."
The St. Louis cut of rib, for example, was chosen for the menu because it has a longer bone than baby-back ribs and is a meatier piece, in keeping with the restaurant's large portions, says Lohs. Even the roasted beet salad - with red and gold beets, goat cheese, crispy prosciutto and pecans over tender field greens tossed with a lemon vinaigrette sauce - is planned and executed with an eye to detail.
"Everyone serves red beets, we wanted to go one step further using the red and yellow beets with the other colors," Lohs says. "Especially with the goat cheese giving it a creamy texture and the crispy prosciutto, the combination of cream with crunch adds something special."
The restaurant also prides itself on being affordable. Williams compares the food and ambiance to those found at high-end establishments such as Ruth's Chris Steak House, but with prices closer to those at Outback Steakhouse.
Lohs says he still likes German food, such as jagerschnitzel - or "hunter steak" of veal with mushroom-red wine sauce - but it's a heavy cuisine and he likes to eat lighter food. One perk of his job is it allows him to travel, and he loves to explore not only new places, but the native cuisine there with his wife, Wendy.
He suspects her being from Honolulu, Hawaii, has something to do with his preference for Pacific rim food and Hawaiian and Polynesian dishes such as ahi tuna poki. But he also likes Thai, Vietnamese and Korean dishes, including vegetarian kim chi and the meatier kalbi, or barbecue beef ribs - another all-American dish.
Contact Felicia Compian:
King Edward Rack of Lamb
•12 to 14 ounces Frenched New Zealand lamb rack
•1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
•1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
•2 ounces maple syrup
•2 ounces Dijon
•1 ounce fresh
•1 ounce fresh mint
•4 ounces panko bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season lamb with salt and pepper. Sear in a hot pan, rotating the lamb so it browns on all sides. Let rest 5 minutes.
Combine mustard and syrup and brush the lamb generously with mixture. Chop rosemary and mint, mix with bread crumbs and press onto lamb.
Place in oven and cook to desired doneness (about 8 minutes for medium rare, 12 minutes for medium). Remove from oven and let rest
5 minutes. Slice between the bone and serve with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Accompany with mint jelly and sprigs of rosemary.