Posts Tagged ‘dessert’

Brunch Bunch Brawlers – Part I

Brunch – how snooty I thought! That’s for women driving Jaguars, who plan their day around socials with other women driving BMWs. Who has time for a meal in-between meals? Alas, New York City has forced brunch upon me! It seems a majority of the city’s restaurant owner believe it is okay to restrict my ability to eat lunch on a Saturday! This angered me. Every noon-time reservation I tried to make came with a brunch menu online. The lunch menu is only available Monday through Friday when I am absolutely unable to venture in because……I don’t work in the city. Why was I being punished for living in New Jersey? Why am I not allowed to have a smaller version of dinner items mid-day – you know, around lunch time?? Shouldn’t I be able to order lunch during lunch hours no matter the day of week?!….Exhale…..

What stemmed from a schedule change in life has now resulted in a new habit. Dinner was the preferred meal for dining out – it’s grand, it ends your day on a satisfyingly full belly and you don’t need to think about food until the next morning (except for we night owls who -see what I did?- nibble late night). A change in circumstances caused me to start gathering friends together for Saturday lunches and where else but in nearby New York City for a mini quarter-day trip.

First up in December 2017 was Eataly Downtown because I wanted to impress with the panoramic view and an actual lunch with no dish resembling breakfast. There were five of us for the first jaunt, so we fit nicely packed into a sedan with a little food expansion room. Since the delicious dishes will be too many to list, I must highlight some favorites to provide a Brawlers’ compilation. Any chance I get, I cap the meal off with a stroll or drive to Pasticceria Rocco’s, and if you don’t know why, read all the mentions in my blog posts.

A week later, still in my brunch protest mode, another group of five headed to the Upper West Side to Celeste. Because it was on the other end of the island, I tried Cafe Lalo (made famous in “You’ve Got Mail”) for the first time. While it was visually fun and appealing, the quality of the desserts just didn’t measure up. I tried.

Yet another week later, I tried to get my toes wet and found a brunch menu at The Ribbon that included lunch items like burgers as well. I went for it with a Breakfast Sandwich: House Made Pork Apple Sausage, Avocado, Grilled Onions, Fried Egg, Cheddar, Butter Lettuce. It made me tingle with the idea that I could get used to this. I would never have meat for breakfast but combine it with an egg for brunch? Now we’re talking possibilities. Even a Fox 5 anchorwoman seemed to enjoy herself here. At this time I was on a best-pie quest and read that Petee’s claimed that title. I’d label it “OK”.

2018 began with Locanda Verde, which really dove into brunch. I was slowly converting. The Hudson River was like a floating iceberg that day, and sitting against the glass windows, I couldn’t remove my coat. But the meal began with Locanda’s own fresh baked goods: Apple and pistachio danish and cranberry goat cheese scone. A zucchini frittata followed by a hearty Rigatoni lamb bolognese, sheep’s milk ricotta and mint plate and closing with the fluffiest lemon ricotta pancakes, never imagining a fluffier one was yet to come.

We snuck in a return visit to Eataly Downtown with a new crew of five, but the area we ate in is a seasonally changing restaurant. Then it was La Stagione, so pasta it was, closing with a most important run over to Rocco’s:

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Celebrating a friend’s birthday – and with a record eight attendees in one vehicle – closed out January 2018 and the closest thing to brunch was the fried egg on top of the thin crust pizza at Otto Enoteca, a place of nostalgia for me. Pasta and more pasta was had and still we had room for Rocco’s after walking there through Washington Square Park.

Il Buco delivered one of the cutest decors and was another true lunch. I made a guess that their bread was from Sullivan Bakery but was surprised to learn they made their own! It was a small group of four on a rainy February day. The cod croquettes were a nice diversion, and I won’t even say where dessert was had!

Five of us were warmed up by the healthy-minded brunch at Hearth on another cold February day.  Bruschetta with goat cheese and carmelized onions, Mushroom brodo for dipping a wild mushroom and cheese sandwich, Bacon/egg/cheese on warm english muffin with contadina potatoes were some of the tempting items.

March rolled in with a double shot of Bar Primi. The brunch was so good the first time, I returned with six others the following week, and we all were treated with eating near Actor Patrick Stewart.

To be continued in Part II, where the Brunch Brawlers Bunch are fully addicted to this in-between meal….

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Dolce de Leche, a Sweet Cultural Surprise

Everyone knows I’m a dessert snob. Brought up being served European style pies, tarts and cakes right out of our oven, I can’t get myself to set foot in most American-style bakeries for a sugary rainbow overload. I favor Italian and French pastries with nods yet again to Pasticceria Rocco’s and Silver Moon in New York City. Bergen County, New Jersey shines with L’Arte, Erie and Ciel.

Today began with the notion of lunch at Aumm Aumm in North Bergen, arriving at 12:20. It’s been a year exactly since I last ate there. We walked in from the 18-degree weather to be told, “We don’t open until 1:00 for lunch.” I couldn’t comprehend why so late to start lunch service. In a panic, I Googled “lunch near me” and up popped a Yelp 4-star eatery La Sorrentina only .5 miles away.  My first impression was a pizzeria. I downgraded my expectations of having a satisfying lunch. But once the oven-warm bread and olive oil came out, I thought the runway was clear.

I am not particularly enamored with pizza unless there’s something special about it. This one was a little special tasting. We ordered a small (six slices) QUATTRO STAGIONI with
Eggplant, Artichokes, Mushroom and Prosciutto. That almost could have done it for me. Nervously I ordered the SPAGHETTI AI SAPORI DI MARE: Mixed Seafood with a Spicy Tomato Sauce because that’s what I had in mind for Aumm Aumm. Well the shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari were married with an arrabiata sauce that was reminiscent of Bocconi.  And the LA CAPRESE, Homemade Mozzarella with Tomatoes and Extra Virgin Olive Oil starter was quite satisfying.

Photo of Trattoria La Sorrentina - North Bergen, NJ, United States. Spaghetti ai sapori di mare. Mixed seafood w pasta in tomato sauce. Served fresh, hot, and delicious.  Yum

It was when my Argentinian friend brought up dessert at a nearby Argentinian bakery that I began to pout internally.  I pre-judged. I had an image of churros – a fried dessert. Oh no! That’s all I could see. He insisted, “We go for coffee there too!” Less than a half mile drive and we arrived at Dolce De Leche, a large, bright bakery cafe with many tables, most occupied. The first thing I noticed was the busy bakers in the kitchenIMG_5374through the glass. It was nice to actually see through the kitchen. This cafe offers a selection of savory breakfast and lunch items too, such as quiche and sandwiches and empanadas, but it’s hard not to go directly to the dessert cases. I skipped over the fried section to dispel my preconceived notions and went directly to the small desserts that look like they could’ve been in Rocco’s or Silver Moon’s cases. I actually tried an elephant ear too just because they looked so perfect. It was the mini desserts, though, with fruit and dulce de leche that were my favorite. And yes, the coffee measured up…in this instance, a cappuccino (a real cup rather than paper would’ve made it better for staying in house). Who knew Argentinians did dessert in a European style — not too too sweet!

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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…

 

 

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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Rosemary/Olive!IMG_5010

Sweet Finish Line on the Jersey Side

I will admit I am a bit of a dessert snob. After all, my mother is a baker by way of Europe. If I eat dessert out, I seek European pastries, cakes or pies. They tend to contain less sugar than American desserts and sit in your stomach a little less like cement. Italian bakeries are present (but not as abundant anymore) in New Jersey if you would like to pick something up and bring it home or to a friend’s house – Rispoli’s in Ridgefield, Il Dolce in Hawthorne, Gencarelli’s in Bloomfield. But what happened to the days of dining out and then going to a café afterwards for dessert and coffee?

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On a recent Saturday evening, I dined out at an Asian restaurant in Fort Lee. Asian restaurants tend to deprive us sweet snobs of satisfying our need to wrap up the culinary experience with a bow. They don’t allow us to divulge in the aroma of coffee, and they try to swindle us with orange slices that come across as saccharin. My first inclination is to be a disloyal Jerseyan and run to Greenwich Village to my favorite Italian pasticceria. After all, it’s 9 p.m. Where could I go for a sugar and caffeine dealer at this hour in New Jersey and actually relax? After seeing the traffic at the GWB, I begin to panic for my fix. My brain recalls a name and a town being mentioned to me and the possibility of the atmosphere I need right now. I search for Palermo’s, Ridgefield Park, enter it into my GPS and arrive in six minutes at a storefront bakery that is rolling up carpets. No! I must have made a mistake in my rushed state of mind. I search again and remember…Palermo’s, yes, but Little Ferry. In just another five minutes, which would’ve been impossible in NYC, I arrive at a palatial Roman-looking building with complimentary valet parking.

Palermo’s Bakery opened this location last year as Palermo’s café for people who long for an establishment where they can relax and socialize over dessert and coffee. Upstairs is the Cake Lounge, which according to the web site “is a contemporary restaurant, lounge and bar that is inspired by classic Italian cuisine with a sweet twist. As a brand extension of Palermo’s Bakery, known for their pristine cake making across the metropolitan area, the Bruno family created The Cake Lounge to better service their clientele with a unique Italian dining experience.” The baking for all of their locations is now done on premises here in Little Ferry. The young woman behind the counter noted that they are known for their cannolis, but I opt for a small work of art that was a light chocolate mousse tower, accompanied by a latte. Both were very gratifying. Palermo’s also offers light fare such as wood fire pizza and sandwiches.

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Fear not, for there are some other Italian bakery cafes that may be open after the dinner hour. Try Palazzone 1960 in Wayne or Calandra’s in Caldwell and you won’t have to pay a toll.

Screaming for It

It’s summer, and I’m screaming! Where is the homemade ice cream?! For a quick fix, New Jersey has Baskin Robbins, which brings memories of my teenage years of scooping hard ice cream with my skinny arms, blending milk shakes, and constructing ice cream cakes by cutting the tubs of ice cream by pulling a metal wire that looked like a serial killer’s weapon. But back to happy, sweet, cooling treats: Unlike Manhattanites (until very recently when they opened their first), New Jerseyans have also had the option of soft ice cream and the indulgent concoction called a Blizzard from Dairy Queen.

photoWhen the warm weather hits, we foodies even get a little snobby about our ice cream. As with most delivered in mass quantities, quality suffers. With Baskin Robbins, some of those 31 flavors sit for a long time and harden, and the colors resemble a tie-dye shirt. I apologize to the lactose-intolerant, but I want my ice cream to have real cream in it and real nuts. Hold the preservatives please.

Because our East Coast state has limited ice cream-consumption weather, many of the stores that make their own are only open during this “season”. But, yes, some people still crave it in the winter regardless of temperature. So if you don’t have a homemade ice cream parlor near you, and you need to take your child’s softball team out after a game, by all means stop at your local DQ.

However, when it’s just you and your date, and you want to take the time to really enjoy your cone, visit one of these long-standing through-backs:

Denville Dairy has been around for about 32 years. While they offer soft-serve, diet, low-fat and sugar-free, the regular hard ice cream is most popular…and 32 flavors (they just had to top that other place that claims to have 31).

Applegate Farm has three locations –  Hoboken, Nutley and Upper Montclair. This farm has been producing fresh dairy products for Northern NJ families since the mid-1800s. It has become one of the largest retail outlets for ice cream on the East Coast, according to its website. They must be doing something right.

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One of my favorites is Bischoff’s in Teaneck. This confectionary staple just marked its 80th anniversary. It has the appearance of an ice cream parlor from the 50s with all the old-style candies to purchase, as well as counter stools. You can choose to sit with your friends in booth for more privacy. On a recent visit, my first of this year, I had to be sure and ask: “Do you still make your own?”

photo 3“Yes, we make all our ice cream in the basement.” It sounds so covert, but whatever the secret is, I just need to taste those ingredients, not know the quantities.

Van Dyk’s in Ridgewood is a close second, but it’s a bit hidden for those who do not venture to this neighborhood. There is no seating indoors, but most people sit down outside on the stone wall, if it’s not covered with melted drippings.

The Jersey Shore is rife with these gems, so find one, be a kid again, but this time taste the difference between home-made and mass-produced. You certainly will.

The Art of Italian Pastries

We all think of desserts in a different light. Some dream of deep-fried oreos, some envision a fondant-covered cake from Carlo’s Bakery. Me – I was brought up on good old-fashioned European-style Sunday desserts. We didn’t need colored sugar or a sweet toothache to get high off the delight of these desserts.

One could almost argue that they are the healthier version of desserts, usually laden with fruits. My mother’s signature is her pies/tarts: apple, pear, pecan, peach (see link above for more). Let’s just admit that Europeans are the rulers of desserts, and it could be quite a debate whether Italy or France would reign. When searching for special pastries that are American, we fall short in that we gear bakery items toIMG_6446ward children. When I close my eyes to get the connotation of “American bakery”, I come up with lots of unnatural colors, loads of sweetness, and icing – tons of icing – as in the no-textured messy dessert of cupcakes. Okay, so my connotation was extreme, but I think you will agree with my portrait of contrasts.

After taking my mother to an early Mother’s Day dinner at Bouley, I decided to take her the following week for a late afternoon dessert and coffee, and I knew it wasn’t going to be in New Jersey. Where do you take a woman from Europe who knows how to make some of the best classics and appreciates such high-end delicacies? I must ask another European who happens to own a restaurant, who happens to have worked at an upscale Italian restaurant, who happens to be Albanian (close enough). “Name two of the best places to sit down and have Italian pastries and coffee.” His response: “Roccos’ or Venerio’s.” So I drove her to Pasticceria Rocco on Bleeker.

We were seated in the back, which has an outdoor patio feel but is covered with a glass ceiling. Don’t look up because you will see dirt and leaves and sides of buildings. Just enjoy the natural light that peers upon you. Before our server came, we studied the cases up front to carefully make our selections. She couldn’t decide between the small lemon meringue pie and the multi-fruit and custard-filled puff pastry. Naturally, the only solution was to order both with a double espresso.IMG_6442 IMG_6443

Cheesecake is not usually my first choice, but the pistachio cheesecake whispered to me through the glass with its abundant chopped pistachio pieces. I watched my mother transform into a young child back at home, slowly consuming and savoring every bite as a rare treat. Time stood still for a little while as I glimpsed into the past.

 

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And Rocco’s passed her coffee test. Not only was the double espresso served in a small coffee cup, but the potency measured up to her standards. It is difficult to walk by all these desserts without taking some home “for Dad”. It was a good excuse to get another little taste the next day.

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