A Rekindled Bouley Affair

When I read that Chef Bouley would be closing his flagship restaurant, I felt like I was hearing second-hand that my boyfriend was breaking up with me. Why did I have to read about this on the popular EaterNY, where everyone else would know at the same time? We had a bond, Bouley and I, even though we hadn’t yet met. I’m sure he doesn’t even recall our rendezvous during my 11th wedding anniversary. I even returned a year later Rosmarie & Evyfor him to meet my mother. Okay, really it was just to celebrate Mother’s Day with a five-course lunch tasting. So you see, the two most important people in my life had been introduced to him.

Still, he sold his longtime home but didn’t leave town. In fact, I found out quickly where he resided, and so he left himself open to being stalked by a nostalgic gourmand. Truthfully, the restaurant Bouley sealed its significance in my heart when I lost my husband unexpectedly in 2016. I vowed not to return there yet, and now it’s a forced issue. But somehow, I received digital notification of an educational dining event taking place at Chef David Bouley’s new venue Bouley Botanical, an urban farms event space with over 400 species of edible plants growing in the window gardens, which are directly used in cooking the dishes served. It was a chance to reunite with my love affair – the man who epicuriously turned me on without getting near. He delivered his love to me through his food creativity.

My income doesn’t quite allow me to fulfill being a bon vivant, but I make other sacrifices of luxury to live like one occasionally, and this occasion was suitable: Inside-Out Health: Eating for Optimal Athletic Performance” with Dr. Robert G. Silverman, Duke University Defensive Lineman AJ Wolf and Chef David Bouley at Bouley Botanical. How did they know I was an athlete? Would an educational dinner take the enjoyment out of the food experience? Would it turn eating for me from an art to a science? I took a chance and made a reservation for one. Daniel would have enjoyed this immensely.

The room had one long communal table with no assigned seating. It was bright green from the glow of chlorophyll.  I felt healthy already and selected the end seat closest to the kitchen. I wanted front row on the culinary action. I took handwritten notes on nutrigenomics and how to maximize fuel based on the type of sport you play. The mention of gut rot, however, didn’t seem conducive to pre-dining conversation. I was also uncomfortably cold with the air conditioning blowing upon us on a 50-degree evening. When someone asked the event coordinator to adjust the temperature, his response irked me: “The kitchen staff gets warm.” I mumbled to myself sarcastically, “We’re more concerned about the employees’ comfort than the patrons’.” I later asked another gentleman kindly, and he immediately obliged. The diners slowly uncrossed their tight arms, and we were now ready to ingest these healthy foods that we listened so much about.IMG_4762

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The first plate – Last of the season Chatham Wild Blue fin, matsutake mushrooms (which had a floral fragrance upon the tongue), and golden Osetra caviar.

The second plate came out not long after  – Organic Connecticut Farm Egg steamed in Artichoke Heart, Cesare Casella Prosciutto and Fava Beans.

Then I thought I heard a drumroll, but I imagined it because the culinary rock star slid discretely into the kitchen area and was standing off to the side until he was officially introduced. He came out to applause and spoke a bit about the ingredients used this evening and their benefits and was accompanied by a slide show. He was thrilled to share what he learned from his visits to Japan. While he spoke, a plate of Dayboat Chatham Skate sat in front of us (Eat it, wait, don’t eat it, wait?). My excuse was to not lose the temperature at which it was served. My skate skated off the plate and into my mouth before he finished speaking. Then I got up and had the honor of shaking

hands with the man who IMG_4772unknowingly participated in my culinary affair. I held his hand while we spoke, and he didn’t even know that he had helped me cheat on Eric Ripert. I didn’t want to let go of those masterful tools.

The next course piqued my interest because I have never been a fan of salmon except in sushi form. This was Wild Alaskan Salmon with buckwheat pasta, and an array of mushrooms (wild porcini, trumpet, shiitake). Blindfolded I would not have guessed salmon. The question is, however, how does the general consumer obtain that type of wild hooked salmon. Dr. Silverman commented that it would basically be too expensive.

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The first of two dessert courses was light and refreshing – Biodynamic Concord Grape

Sorbet, Coconut Butter, Chestnut Honey. Dessert two was more than satisfying as the  final chapter: Cocoa Sacher Cake, 70% Valhrona Chocolate, Almond Milk and 10 Exotic Fruit sorbet, and a hard sugar-coated almond, just to put a bow on the package. But the bow wasn’t tied. A mignardises plate of about 15 assorted minis (three of each kind) was placed at our end of the table. Fiveof us on the end were attempting to sample one of each until we realized it was the only plate on the long table and maybe we were supposed to pass it along. Oops, where does chocolate fit into my nutrigenomics? I didn’t really want to know that answer. I pretended to want to share, passing the plate down with three tiny bites remaining for the 15 or so other people. Fortunately they all looked too full to care.

I walked away with energy, not feeling overstuffed and lethargic – mission accomplished. I will likely implement half of what I was educated on, half of which I was already aware. The other half I will reserve for happiness. How could I ever eliminate fresh baked breads from my palette, particularly the types Bouley used to offer? The bigger question is why would I want to be miserable?

Chef Bouley, we will have another rendezvous when I stalk you at Test Kitchen one day.  You can’t hide those epicurean eyes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CIEL IT WITH A SEMI-SWEET KISS

If you even just know me by name, you probably know that all retail desserts are measured against the quality of my mother’s desserts. Most don’t come close: too sweet, too many artificial ingredients, not baked enough, etc.  As a result, I am extremely selective – some label it snobbish – as to if and where I eat dessert elsewhere.

Most of you who do know me, know I’ve found the perfect competitor in Rocco’s, New York City, but that’s across the big river. I’ve written about two worthy contenders in New Jersey:  one in Ramsey, L’Arte , where I even dared to bring my mother once, and the other in Teterboro, Palermo’s. So when I saw a nearly full-page newspaper article (yes, I look at an actual printed newspaper), on a four-month-old French pastry establishment in Westwood, NJ, my eyes and mouth perked up. A panic rush of self-addressed questions comes over me – why didn’t I know about this, could it be as good as the pictures look, how soon can I try it? The first answer I don’t know. I was four months behind on this intel. Shame on me. The third answer was …this evening! And that would provide the second answer: yes!

20170920_214927Open until 10 p.m., which excites me by fitting into my late night schedules, I dashed to Westwood at 9:30. The space is tucked sideways, perpendicular to a strip center with another Korean-owned eatery, focused on bbq, called Kimchi Smoke, which moved from Bergenfield. The bakery case in front appeared nearly wiped clean, but there were a few desserts left. The Korean man (owner/partner) explained that these rectangles were called pallets. They are like mini-pound cakes that are warmed up and sliced, but they’re elaborate. One was pistachio, draped in white chocolate and another was milk chocolate and coffee with almonds. I ordered one of each to sit down and enjoy.

 

The back room is the open kitchen with counter and stools, along with a handful of tables. I was given a menu for separate plated desserts, which were more elaborate. At this point of the night, I had not eaten dinner. Dessert was destined to be my dinner because that’s what Ciel serves, and it’s served very well! Chef (and co-owner with her spouse) Jane’s resume sparkles in the pastry arts. Eleven Park Madison, Le Cirque and Nobu piqued my level of impression.  They both explained that they don’t and won’t serve savory dishes because they are doing only what they do best…..dessert! After all, you wouldn’t expect the pitmaster at Kimchi Smoke to serve up crème brulee.

When asked for a recommendation off of the dessert lounge menu, the gentleman suggested the chocolate soufflé as a first timer (a familiar French word of course). It is

 

baked to order in seven minutes and served with fresh made creme chantilly. The airiness and the gooey inside combined in a light and not-so-sweet marriage. That choice paired with the two “pallets” should’ve been a good enough first-visit tasting. But no; I had to notice the apple tarte tatin. I couldn’t  pass it up. It was the most beautiful looking of the desserts I had, but also the smallest portion. Here, Chef Jane’s artistic prowess was exhibited best. The “tarte”  looked like a large, square caramel filled with pieces of fresh apple. It was decorated with thin, dried apple slices, dabs of meringue and radish micro greens.

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Remember, French pastries such as these are meant to be tasted meticulously and slowly with small bites because the portions are not large. The textures are meant to touch every side of your mouth. In fact, the tasting of such desserts, rather than shoveling, is celebrated with a distinctive offering….a dessert tasting menu experience. Ciel offers a 20170920_215724five-course dessert tasting that she serves at the counter. The unique experience with her personal explanations takes about 1.5 hours. There’s also a three-course version that would take about 45 minutes. Reservations for a tasting experience is required at least 48 hours in advance. The tasting menu option truly brings the quality and New York food experience across that river and into this Bergen County town that’s filling up as a foodie destination.

She is quoted in The Record: “I barely use sugar. Fruits — raspberries, mangoes, cherries — have plenty of sweet in them. I don’t use anything that isn’t good for your body.” Her partner told me he goes to the market every morning to select the freshest fruits.

Dessert you can feel good about consuming! She even offers some that are vegan and gluten free, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to try her creations.

UPDATE: This writeup tasted so good to my co-workers, we all decided to try the three-course tasting created by Chef Jane. The images will artfully and tastefully speak for themselves…

 

 

Batard: A Lone Shining Star, the Sequel

 

IMG_4609Not to start this out on a discordant note, but this is the sequel to my first and only visit to Batard two years ago. It was my last anniversary dinner with my husband. I felt a need to revisit the experience – alone. As I walked down North Moore street looking for the restaurant again, I had a vivid recollection of last time when we walked by the entrance two or three times. It’s a somewhat dark section of West Broadway. At 6:45, the restaurant only had two other occupied tables, and I was led through the empty room to the same table we had occupied, but this time, a chair was removed. I sat on the bench seat along the wall. I requested that table in my reservation, sillily thinking it would stir up some remnant particles of previous presence. Instead it was just a sad reminder of the absence.

But the server greeted me with a smile that I forced myself to comply with. At least I knew Michelin-starred (1 still) dishes would be on their way to me soon enough to forget about those things for a while. And then, it returned: the algebraic dilemma – two or three or four courses and the added complexity of which combination of courses would best add up to the number selected. I settled on appetizer, first course and entrée after I saw the complimentary bite-sized dessert being given to the table next to me at the end of their meal.

First came two selections of bread, both of which were placed on my bread plate: a slice of grain sourdough and a brioche topped with sea salt. Bread is my starter dessert, and when the woman asked if I’d like more bread, the left side of my brain said, “Don’t; you’ll get too full.” The right side said, “It’s too good to pass up; you have plenty of room in that empty stomaIMG_4607ch.” Out came: “Yes please”. Right side wins, and I unexpectedly was given one of each again.

Then came out my beautifully presented first choice: Madai Crudo, blood orange, cucumber and red pepper vinaigrette. The colors exploded in front of me like a bag of Sunkist candies. It’s still summer for sure! I see the French sauce spoon and am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t quite sure of its proper use. Should I break the fish with it? It’s somewhat flat, so I don’t see it being useful in scooping up that delicious vinaigrette that the snapper was bathed in. I faked it using the fork to break apart and eat the fish, alongIMG_4608 with the crispy curls of fish skin and then the ‘spoon’ for whatever less-solid remained. I cleaned up well.

The room began to fill up, and I didn’t feel so alone any more. It was a later-night dining crowd. The next course arrived. Tortellini,  tomato conserva, sweet corn, andouille, pickled chiles. It had just enough heat from the chiles and sausage to warm the tongue but not too much to burn the tummy. The little packages of pasta had the IMG_4610proper chewiness and the yin and yang of the gentle sweetness of the corn and slight sharpness pepper blended into a harmonious dish that left me wanting more….partially because of the smaller-sized portion.

Even though the waiter tried tempting me with the special pork schnitzel entrée, I told him I would reserve that for my German restaurant and go with the striped bass with goldbar squash puree, halved baby red potatoes, thai basil, roasted fennel bulb and some type of cabbage greens with the golden-browned fish draped over.

Surprisingly, probably because I went with fish versus meat, I wasn’t weighted-down full.

The two-bite-sized complementary pistachio mini muffin (but fluffier) with roasted pinapple laid in the top was enough to satisfy the need to end with a “dessert”. I’m doing it an injustice by calling it a muffin. In four bites, the two were politely completed.

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My first visit I questioned why it wasn’t two-star rated. After revisiting LB last September, I recognize where Batard has some room to grow. I didn’t feel like the Queen I was crowned at the 3-star. I wasn’t asked how everything was! I want the chance to give positive feedback after each course. I will likely not return soon, as the memories are still raw, but under regular circumstances, I would want to return for the food!

Smooth Running Kitchen Macchina

What a nice find in search for a quick lunch on the upper west side of New York City on a holiday. Although they were short staffed, the food made up for it. We were mistakenly given the later day menu and were disappointed when we had no pasta options. Start with the avocado bruschetta and thick juicy burger appetizer though. Pickled onion pieces sat atop the guacamole-like spread, which included the same cilantro addition. The burger is a custom blend beef topped with sweet caramelized onions. Fries don’t tend to be something impressive, but these seemed like they were baked – no greasy fingers and some with a crispy blackened end. In choosing one wood-grilled oven pie, I selected the veal polpetto (meatball). It was a white pizza (no red sauce) with
smoked mozzarella and fresh oregano. Yum. The smokey flavor combined with the shavings of hard Parmesan cheese gave the mild veal meatballs a balanced punch of flavor.

And a little over a week later, I could not get the idea of a fig and fennel pizza out of my mind. Unfortunately, it’s only offered for dinner. So are the pastas! After a good workout, I deserved to have a 9:45 sampling. A quick drive to the Upper West Side was in order. After 20 minutes, I arrived and was immediately seated. Before the water arrived, I interrupted the waiter’s spiel and asked for the SPAGUETTI and clams, mussels, saffron, and parsely crumb. I squirmed at what I thought was a typo, but a quick Google search shows it might be a foreign spelling…Forgiven! There’s a $16 plate option and a $23 option. The $16 version was sufficient as it was much larger than an appetizer portion. It sat in a small pool of saffron-scented broth that demanded to be spooned over every forkful I took. The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente. 20170911_221314

Nothing has fallen short here, but menu items are somewhat limited, and I imagine for a full dinner, one might get a little bored with the selections; however, they do offer Specials.

Silver Moon has Silver Lining

If I dine out, I generally prefer having dessert at a place that…well.. specializes in desserts. My staple is Pasticceria Rocco’s, but today there was no time to head all the way down to the Village. Lunch was at Macchina at 106th and lo and behold there’s Silver Moon on the corner. I always get excited to see such a bakery and generally am always disappointed. Not this time. The selection is small but delicious. Both the peach tart and plum crumb were tasty. The coffee was acceptable too. What really excited me was the variety of breads baked there. I had to take one home. Perfect crispy bread is perfect for any time of day. I know what I’ll be having for my late afternoon snack.  Read the charming story about the owner in the window. It makes it even more enjoyable to sit outside.

Well it is passed midnight. Driving home I see the long load of fig and black pepper bread in a white bag I had to try it. So I just bit into it like an apple and then I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t even really hungry, but it was so good that I think I crunch and a quarter of the loaf.

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Oh, did I fail to mention in a return trip to get a rosemary olive loaf and cranbury walnut sourdough, the thin napoleon and pear tart begged to be eaten?!

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FORAGING IN THE WOODLOCH FOREST

My parents introduced Woodloch Pines to me in the late 70s, and Woodloch and I have been having our summer fling ever since (with a winter rendezvous thrown in), except now with friends joining along. We are both not the same as we were in the 70s. We have each grown and improved. To begin with my metamorphosis, Woodloch was never able to lure me with food because eating, to me, was obviously a Medieval form of torture as a child. The dish that came closest to piquing my interest was Woodloch’s famous Scandinavian pancakes, which I recall to be deceivingly consumable in a few bites. That’s about how long it took for my stomach to lose interest, not realizing unrolled, this griddled batter would be larger than my head.

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Friendly servers

These days, as June/July nears, like Pavlov’s dog, it triggers visions of those pancakes, but I have not experienced a Woodloch breakfast in many years. So the moment I arrive for lunch, I live out my Hawley, PA morning reminiscence by ordering a crumb cake to take home and savor for days to follow (okay, maybe it lasts a day). In case you haven’t noticed the transformation, food is now the generator of jovial taste buds, which yield a glowing smile. And here, many happy bellies strut through the main dining room after being treated like a king with all the offerings.  In this dining room, the focus is on family-style, country-comfort cuisine; however, there are nine dining facilities that range from grab-and-go bites at the Lakeside Grille to the epicurean-inspired “farm to fork” at The Lodge at Woodloch. Corporate Executive Chef Stevan Sundberg has expanded the offerings to elevate the dining experience.

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Chef Sundberg

The menu items not only have increased in number to satisfy today’s diverse food lifestyles – with multiple vegetarian options – but also in class. Chef Sundberg needs to dispel any stereotypes of a “Dirty Dancing”-type resort with campy food. Today for lunch, we ordered the Tomato/Basil Soup, Slow Cooked Beef Brisket Sandwich, Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and a Charbroiled Cheeseburger for the young one’s unadventurous palate. A refreshing Cucumber, Tomato, Chick Pea and Red Onion Salad was already on the table.

I was always impressed, although there are only a handful of entrée offerings, how the servers never write down the orders. What’s more impressive is how Chef Sundberg is able to churn out the potential of 600 dishes in a relatively small timeframe (seating 12:30-1) and maintain the consistency of perfectly cooked food…and it always is. The choices these days lean towards healthier combinations, but nobody can resist dipping their hands in the basket of boardwalk fries. And if you’ve gone that far, you might as well pour on the cheese sauce!

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Fries and Cheese Sauce

But wait, there is dessert with lunch, and it doesn’t matter if you’re going swimming or waterskiing immediately afterwards. You’re in PA, but ask for the Mississippi Mud Pie, even if it’s not on the menu. They’re hiding some back there…always. Otherwise, I am a connoisseur of maple walnut ice cream. It doesn’t show up in supermarkets, ever, so I must have a dish with chocolate sprinkles when here. A more recent dessert is the warm Chocolate Chunk Skillet Cookie a la mode. It partners nicely with that already existing scoop that was ordered. A little gluttony in the middle of the Poconos is forgivable.

I experience a guilty pleasure at this point. More than satisfied, my logical German mind begins to map out dinner options so as not to be repetitive: beef for lunch equals no Prime Rib for dinner. While I’m intensely paddling a kayak, a standout upgrade to the food is evident to me – the dish presentation, focusing now on color, texture, garnishes. I P1010553certainly don’t recall microgreens topping any fish of years past.  Even the sides have been modernized. Today’s broccoli with roasted garlic, EVOO and asiago used to be steamed broccoli with the reliable cheese sauce.

 

It’s around 4 p.m. when my high metabolism begins to drive me to ingest something, anything. All that biking, climbing, swimming on a warm day begs for an iced coffee and a small, on-premises-baked item. It’s the first summer Gigi’s Coffee House is open for guests to enjoy a

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Gigi’s Cafe

locally roasted cup of java (the difference in taste quality from the dining room pot of coffee is more than apparent for coffee lovers). Premium foodP1010534 deserves…no, demands premium coffee. It can be accompanied by a blueberry scone or bran muffin with honey butter or, in my case, a peanut butter cookie. They’re all tasty tie-overs to the grand supper.

Hints of dinner linger in the air as I suspect preparation happens around that 5 o’clock hour. If you are prematurely hungry, stay away from the front lawn. Delectable smells of roasted meat and baked fish will leave you in a food coma, robotically playing the ring-toss until that traditional dinner bell resonates through your olfactory system granting permission to begin replacing calories.

My self-imposed dress code on a Saturday night is comparable to going out to dinner in New York City with friends. I couldn’t help but peek at the dinner menu lunch time to mentally prepare myself for the tasting journey ahead. Before our hospitable server could get the word “shrimp” out, I blurted out, “Yes, please” for the shrimp and corn

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Shrimp & Corn Chowder

chowder. It provides the proper taste bud awakening with a mild kick of spice; perhaps some red pepper. The other opening choice this particular evening was the Burrata with Pea Tendrils, Blistered Tomato and Crispy Prosciutto. Never say no to burrata; it’s fresh mozzarella resting on a creamy cloud. And in case you really can’t wait a few minutes, a healthy-looking family-style bowl of Greek salad greets you at the table. Shortly thereafter, a basket with two different breads is laid upon

the table also: olive and banana walnut, the latter being another fundamental in my Woodloch food memories.

The servers push their carts of food at a swift pace, stacked with covered dishes of food selections. The guests cross their fingers hoping the next sound of wheels in this food-cart derby will be arriving at their table. And here comes the Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef, the cover lifted to display itself in all its simple elegance with just a sprig of

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Prime Rib

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Potato Lyonaisse

rosemary. A helping of the Roasted Potato Lyonnaise worked well as the required starch side dish. Then came the dressings: a boat of au jus and some creamy horseradish sauce. Next to be revealed is the Lemon-baked Halibut with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fried Capers and Basil Oil. The thick cut of fish is flaky and moist, and the sweetness of the tomatoes is balanced by a baked, thin slice of lemon atop the steak. The Lime-grilled Chicken with Zucchini Noodles, Falafel Cakes, Roasted Tomato and Cucumber

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Halibut

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Lime Grilled Chicken

Yogurt followed. The Mediterranean flair of the ingredients and the color palette made this a fun dish to want to dive into. The flavors complemented each other.

I was remiss in not ordering Woodloch’s Traditional Jumbo Butterfly Shrimp this time, but it was in the past few weeks that I had the delight of dipping those succulent, crispy-coated crustaceans into both tartar and cocktail sauce. Fried to golden perfection, there is no unhealthy evidence left upon your fingers. However, any diet should be cast aside to delve into the featured dessert, which tonight was House- prepared S’mores with graham cracker crust, chocolate ganache, topped with roasted marshmallow. The portion is not overindulgent, so there is room for another scoop of maple walnut ice cream! And

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S’mores

to work it all off, we strolled down to the night club to dance to the sounds of The Company, which had a remarkable guest singer, DaVido, before the theme show.

Whatever your gastronomic preferences or requirements are, Woodloch Pines is able to not only satisfy them, but exceed your appetite’s expectations. Your taste buds will be celebrating with you!

Fly Over to the Uncle’s

I rarely order takeout food. It’s either cook at home, heat up leftovers or dine out. Recently I discovered the need for a quick meal that might be divided into multiple meals with no preparation time. It was a forced issue, taking care of two hospitalized parents at the same time and running around with other everyday matters. Where could I save time and satiate my hunger without sacrificing my taste buds or my cholesterol level, which remains ideal? I could have thrown together a salad, but my belly needed a little warming and there was no time to drive back home.

It was only a few weeks ago I was reminded of Uncle Paulie’s Peruvian Chicken in Maywood, NJ. I was at my office when a delivery guy walked in with a food order for Evelyn. It certainly wasn’t for me. It so happened that there was another Evelyn down the hall. When I ran into the delivery guy on the way out, I asked, “By the way, where is that food from? It smells really good.” He answered enthusiastically, “Uncle Paulie’s in Maywood. You should try it.” Well I had tried it before and was now gustatorily charmed to try it again.

A whole rotisserie chicken marinated in their ‘special ‘ Peruvian sauce can be taken home for only $10. If that’s not what you walked in for, you will be tempted to get one as you become hypnotized by the rows of seasoned whole chickens rotating behind the front counter where you pay. The chicken is served quartered, making it easy to divide it into meals or deliver half to someone else. There are many other Peruvian-style items, but if chicken is in the brand name, make chicken your first order here. While chicken is never a leading star, the seasoning combined with the moisture of the meat makes it a winner.

According to the web site, Owner Paul Padro had fallen in love with the Peruvian cuisine of his wife’s native country. There was an absence of Peruvian food in Bergen County. He found he had to travel to further towns like Passaic and Paterson. His establishment has been open in Maywood since 2009. Fly over there when you’re in a rush to bring something home to the family or if you don’t mind sitting in a pizzeria-type dining area for a homey (a Peruvian home) meal.