Posts Tagged ‘Italian cuisine’

Don’t Leave the East Coast if You Love Italian Food

You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone (enter the 80s Cinderella song in the background). This adage has recently come to light regarding New Jersey’s and the Metro Area’s quality of food and abundance of, particularly, what we call Italian food.

tomato-and-mozerella

In the past couple of months, we have had friends visit from out of state – Texas, Oklahoma, California, Florida. Some were first-timers; some were original New Jerseyans who were wooed across the border for one reason or another. For the friends who left this state to avoid wearing gloves and scarves, they blissfully sat with us at Bocconi in Hackensack awaiting their simple dishes of linguini and red clam sauce and zuppa di pesce. The smiles overtook the room. While I thought it was partially our company, the confession came: “You can’t get good red sauce in California! Boy, do I miss this.” Who knew the combination of Jersey tomatoes and Italian-American cooks had such an impact on a New Jersey native’s taste buds?

 

OTTO 005In another instance, we ventured to New York City for a last minute invite on Fourth of July to meet with friends visiting from Oklahoma. We suggested Lupa. I offered to order the prosciutto for everyone to share. The woman with us asked, “What is prosciutto?” I nearly giggled, but politely assumed that she just never tried it growing up. Her husband, who has been to the East Coast, said, “You don’t understand. We can’t get prosciutto in Oklahoma or Texas.” Not that I eat it often, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of not having the ability to have it when the craving came on. He admitted mostly everything was barbecued foods. Oh those sadly deprived people. They quickly understood what they had (in NJ) and that it would be gone as soon as they left.

 

Blind Pig Logo 006Our plans for the Floridian, original Jerseyan, involved a walk through Harriman State Park, just over the North Jersey border, after we were barraged with complaints of the lack of properly cooked pizza in the sunshine state. The plan was to rescue his long-lost memory of crispy, thin-crust Jersey pizza by stopping for an early dinner at the ever-popular Kinchley’s in Ramsey.

A phone conversation with a business associate in Southern California ended with a joke’s punch line being Italian ices. There was silence. He said, “I don’t get it. What is that?” I explained, and the response was: “Oh, we have Hawaiian shaved ice.” I proudly said in disgust, “That’s not the same. Our ice is smooth and blended; yours is hard and crystallized with dye poured on top. Who wants to see that process?”

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228409_1023274422337_2524_nOn any given night if I want to go out for Italian food in Northern NJ, I can easily head to Good Fellas in Garfield, Luka’s in Bogota, Sergio’s Missione in Lodi, and of course, Bocconi in Hackensack. You may have 75-degree sunny weather you transplants, but just remember what it was like to be able to get a fresh Italian meal or a slice of non-grease-dripping pizza within a mile of your house any day you desire! And there’s further proof – when we were in Venice, Italy, we had lunch in a restaurant off the beaten path, and Sammy Hagar and his family were the only others eating there. After a brief conversation, Sammy said to us, “You guys have better Italian food in New Jersey than this place. It rocks!”

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OCD with Batali at Eataly

I am not obssessed with Batali/Bastianich eateries.. I am not obsessed with Batali/Bastianich eateries… I am not.

One just must understand that when I bark for mealtime and dish after dish is placed in front of me that continues to satisfy every epicurean cell of my being, I will return for that gastronomic experience like a loyal puppy. And so, Mario Batali has collared me and walked me to numerous establishments in New York City to lap up some luscious morsels that make me want to run around in circles over. There is one place that leaves me in the center of a culinary carnival with difficult choices to make whichever direction I face. That is the wonder of Eataly – an Italian food market modeled after the one in Turin, Italy. Mario Batali, Lidia & Joe Bastianich, and Founder Oscar Farinetti have joined together to bring this permanent food festival to NYC.

Walking into Eataly feels like you’ve entered a European cafe with hightop tables for those ordering gelato and/or coffee. As you traverse the center aisle, smells of Italian products waft through the air – from packaged Baci chocolates to

Sicilian breaded Swordfish

cheeses and cured meats. The carnival really begins when you turn the corner to the counter of La Piazza, where crowds are standing at marble tabletops, delighting in platters of salumi and formaggi, sipping on wine. The making of fresh mozzarella is displayed. If you make it past here without ordering something, your will is stronger than mine. Two eateries are eye-cathingly at the center: Le Verdure, which pops with colorful plates of fresh, local, seasonal products but no meat, and Il Pesce, serving seafood dishes with all the fish coming from Eataly’s Seafood Counter. This is the place I found myself sitting twice. Although you are essentially dining in the center of a ‘supermarket’, it feels nothing like a

Grilled Cod on roasted corn w/basil, yellow/red grape tomatoes

Grilled Shrimp and mixed greens w/speck, roasted figs & balsamic reduction

food court and everything like a piazza with the case of fresh made pastas being sold just across the way. The sight and smell of the plate in front of me tend to take full hold of my attention to notice much else.

There are 12 eateries in total to feast upon, which guarantees you’ll need to return for a different meal. They vary from casual pizza and pasta to a new rooftop beer garden to an upscale “meat palace”. Because each place is so specialized, the only problem lies in that everyone in your group needs to be in the mood for the same type of food (meat, fish etc.). If there’s a vegetarian, and there’s someone that wants fish, they’ll be eating in separate quarters but can meet up at the dessert or espresso counter or to shop afterwards.

Food and Italy – since they seem almost synonymous, Eataly is a harmonious combination of both that everyone should rejoice in at least once.

More Than a Bite at Bocconi restaurant

A headline attracted me a couple of years ago: “Dining Out for Under $50”.  Of course there are zero expectations for a dinner for two under $50 in Bergen County, NJ. But I bought it and was sold on Bocconi restaurant

Beet Carpaccio with arugula, goat cheese & balsamic reduction

http://bocconifood.com/ and can not live without a dose of it at least once a month. Frank, owner/partner (his partner Mario does the food magic), sent the reel out the second I walked in the door and hooked the side of my lip with his warm personality and accent.  The ambiance, well, it has the feel of a coffee/dessert/sandwich cafe..but all that is whisked away from your doubts because you are made to feel at home.

I remember expecting the food to deliver at a level slightly higher than a pizzeria, especially seeing a price of $9.95 for a Cavatelli with

Shrimp and Broccoli 

Cavatelli with Shrimp/Broccoli Rabe

Rabe entree. That dish has since become my signature order when I’m in a consistent kind of mood. The portion size is quite sufficient in a bowl filled with al dente pasta, chopped up shrimp and a healthy amount of broccoli rabe, in a light broth of olive oil and garlic.The main menu consists of more creative entrees than the boring fettucini alfredo and run-of-the-mill paramigiana this and that. And the specials list – really a special extension of the regular menu – offers a suprisingly excellent grilled steak, gray sole oreganata with shrimp, the must-have grilled mussels appetizer with that summery charred flavor, among so many others.

I could offer a tantalizing description of most entrees, but this is meant to tease and to entice, not to give it all away so easily. There is a secret, though, that I’m not sure is good to be

Stracciatella Soup

kept secret …there are plenty of items that are not on the menu or anywhere that are real winners. Out of curiosity, I asked Frank once, “Do you ever make stracciatella soup?” “Of course; whatever you want,” is his answer to most any request. “We also have shrimp soup.” Why oh why keep these from me or any food-exploring patron? Frank, pleeeeze, share your unnecessary little secrets.

I hate to label this as another Italian restaurant because in New Jersey, those get quickly bypassed by those looking for a more-than-average food experience. I’d guess that there are the same amount, or more “Italian” restaurants as there are Chinese takeouts in this area. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, and maybe this will differentiate it: Frank is not actually from Italy – he’s from somewhere very close to Italy, so you get the Italian warmth and a slightly different accent on the food.

Potato-crusted Tilapia

Linguini White Clam