Posts Tagged ‘NJ’

Hush Hush I Smell It Calling My Name

Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.

It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of 20161216_201942imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.

Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.20161216_201312

I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices 20161216_200701are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.

They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.IMG_3902

Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.

 

It’s not so offal when you add fruits and vegetables

In summer of 2015, I noticed a “farmer’s market” open up in Bergenfield where a large clothing store had been. I put the term in quotes because there seems to be a trend of these predominantly fruit-and-vegetable stores opening up in Bergen County.  To me, they are mini supermarkets focusing on produce. I envision a farmer’s market to be outdoors, such as the ones that pop up temporarily in the summer in Dumont, Fort Lee, Englewood, Paramus, Teaneck, Ramsey and many more.

I paid a visit quickly for fear it would disappear again. In addition to rows of fruits and vegetables, this new market has a deli counter and a butcher. From a distance, the meat looked fresh and appealing. As I came closer to the case, the appealing part turned to intriguing and a bit squeamish. But that’s just me because I’m not an offal person. Feel free to deduct points off of my foodie score card. I’m okay with it. Maybe I just can’t comprehend what a human would do with a cow’s tongue. It seems illegal. It feels dirty, but I don’t want to insult any cultures that revere it to be a delicacy. It must be tasty. I may have even had it once, sliced, at a Korean bbq restaurant in Palisades Park. I’m not telling. And in the case alongside the tongue are the other parts of the cow, neatly separated – the large heart, the feet, the intestines. This is an unusual place. Yes, you can get some of this at your local ShopRite, especially in Hispanic-populated neighborhoods, where I’m guessing a lot of nicely flavored broths are made with these components. I chose to move along to the fruits.

I was drawn to the inexpensive price of the avocados – Hass only 99 cents each. A package of red striated beans sat there, leaving me in wonder again.  This is the store you go to when you have that recipe with some nontraditional ingredients such as these beans, sour oranges,

prickly pears, dragon fruit and some unidentifiable tubers. Even the Red Delicious apples looked different..like they were on steroids for 79 cents/lb. It’s fresh food for the adventurous; it’s a delight for many Europeans, Asians and Africans wanting to cook dishes from “home”. Let’s see if offals become a new food craze in America as sushi did. Maybe we’re missing out.  I’m not ready to sing: “Something tells me I’m into something good.” Please explore the market for yourself though. If nothing else, you might find a less-expensive-than-anywhere can of wonderful Lavazza coffee or ….wait for

it….ten different flavors of SPAM! I choose to remain a SPAM virgin but will grab some Lavazza or Fair Trade Melitta coffee and a sampling of fruits and veggies.

Hot for Ice Cream

I’ve written before about my favorite local ice cream shop: Bischoff’s in Teaneck, NJ. https://dishingondining.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/screaming-for-it/. It’s been a summer (and other season) staple for more than 80 years. I bypass the supermarket when I crave some all-natural maple walnut ice cream. After all, it’s difficult to get ANY maple walnut ice cream pre-packaged. Tell me oh all-natural Breyer’s – what is so challenging with a little maple syrup and some chopped walnuts? You do my right by your white-colored Mint Chocolate Chip….or as it sounds more natural to me: Chocolate Chip Mint.

I don’t want green or blue or pink-colored ice cream! I don’t want that poisonous-looking food coloring. For some reason, it’s been three years since Ice Cream by Mike has been churning its homemade ingredients into delectable cold desserts on Main Street in Hackensack, and I am just learning of it now! I must attribute it to poor marketing. I could not be so out of the loop when it comes to a glacier, as Mike’s card is titled, being only about two miles away from me. I would’ve smelled it. I should’ve heard it. I could’ve been eating it all this time!!

Tonight, closing time was 10 p.m., and I made it in the door at 9:52. I got a visual sneak preview on the Facebook page of Mike making his own caramel, of caramelized vanilla beans, of his own hot fudge. It doesn’t get more from scratch than this. He has about eight flavors at any given time, and they change daily.

My friend ordered a cone of the Valrhona Chocolate. Mike knew it was great; why? Because, “I use the best chocolate.” Valrhona is a French premium chocolate manufacturer based in the small town of Tain-l’Hermitage in Hermitage, a wine-growing district near Lyon. They claim to produce the world’s finest gourmet chocolates. Me being half Swiss, I might ask them to prove themselves.

I looked at the board and looked in the freezer case. I wasn’t matching the name on the board with any of the tubs I was seeing. But my poor Baskin-Robbins brainwashed eyes didn’t recognize it, even thought I don’t eat that ice cream. It’s the way we see it growing up; it’s the way we see it in every horribly processed carton of store bought ice cream. Do you know what this is?

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I’ll give you a moment. Coffee? Caramel? No! It’s pistachio with whole pistachio nuts that taste like they were just popped out of the shell. And the ice cream tastes like…oh, real pistachio. Imagine that. Well you can do more than imagine. You can go taste it yourself.

Mike gets creative with flavor combinations. He mentioned he would be making a batch of peanut butter honey tomorrow. Maybe this was his subtle way of getting some quick repeat business.

For sit-down atmosphere, I may still opt for my guaranteed availability of maple walnut at Bischoff’s. If I’m open to any other flavor and need a quick fix, I’m heading to Hackensack. Mike’s place has a few iron tables and seats on the sidewalk, but they’re facing a construction site on the other side of Main. I will give him major points, though, for the music being piped outdoors – some Nat King Cole, Bennie Goodman, Louis Armstrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is my cozy Italian replaceable?

It happens, unfortunately, that the guy or girl you’ve been seeing almost every weekend for nearly six years just up and leaves one day without warning. The explanation is not satisfying nor does it help to replace the void you feel come Friday night. It did happen – Bocconi, who was hospitable, visually appealing and provided high quality food at most affordable prices, slammed its doors in my face unexpectedly. I did get a phone call after the fact, but it hurt. Where would I get those qualities again without traveling too far to meet up?

I admit; I wasn’t 100 percent loyal, but we all need a little variety from time to time. I always returned to my Bocconi in Hackensack, NJ, though. It was home in a sense – our Cheers. My friends would often visit us as well. Something about his landlord forcing him out with high prices touched my compassionate side for a day, until Friday came again. My selfish side scrambled to find a quick replacement to satisfy my social hunger needs. Hey, don’t judge: After all, he left me! How long does one have to wait before replacing the one who left you high and dry? And what about all the mutual acquaintances we developed because of our relationship?

It was only a couple months prior I had met La Cambusa in Garfield, NJ. “Very nice, very affordable,” I thought, “but where’s the Stracciatella Soup? What do you mean you’re not a byob? How come you’re not coming over to me and making friendly conversation? You’re nice, but I don’t feel like you appreciate me yet. I like the food you’re putting in front of me and you’re a little more polished looking than the last one.” So I gave him a second chance out of desperation. La Cambusa is a contender.

Burrata Photo from La Cambusa Facebook

Burrata Photo from La Cambusa Facebook

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Photo from La Cambusa Facebook

The Burrata appetizer ($9) with grilled zucchini and roasted peppers on mixed greens was comparable to Bocconi’s. Can you really go wrong with the natural creaminess of burrata? It’s about the presentation. His homemade pasta was the proper texture: a chewy al dente. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but it reminded me of Play-Doh. Anyone who knows homemade pasta can relate to this as being properly cooked. The Fieno – straw & hay – ($17) with crabmeat, shrimp and peas in a pink cream sauce was actually not heavy and was dispersed with fresh seafood (yes, real lumps of crabmeat). It was one of the waiter’s recommended dishes after I asked for suggestions, along with an imported pasta dish of Pennoni with shrimp, clams and monkfish in a marechiaro sauce. Maybe I’ll dive into that on our next date. The specials were introduced to me, and while they were tempting, I really wanted to get to know the core of La Cambusa, since it was only our second date.

La Cambusa really deserves a chance. He doesn’t know my expectations from having been with Bocconi all these years, but certain things he just won’t be able to live up to (like the stracciatella soup). His dishes will obviously never be exactly the same. So in my mourning for the loss of my comfort-culinary companion, I am seeking a rebound place, not out of spite, just out of sheer need. If you decide you are able to come back, Bocconi, I will welcome you with open arms and return to you as well.

SUSHI: A Tall Tail in New Jersey

Sushi came to America in the mid-60s, first hitting that large state on the opposing coast. It wasn’t until the early 70s that this type of food began its popularity growth in our country; however, it was finding its appeal mostly among upper class citizens. It was a novelty among food connoisseurs. Besides, who dared to eat raw fish? Was it safe?

Today, in New Jersey, there is at least one restaurant serving sushi in most suburban towns. But in Ridgewood alone, I count 10 sushi restaurants. That’s a 5.8-square-mile town. So the cuisine still must be a favorite among the higher economic class. We middle-class people love it too, and it’s evidenced by the abundance of locations. You can find one in the mall, in the local business district, and a number of supermarkets, such as ShopRite of Paramus have their own sushi chefs serving packaged rolls. The kaiten style of serving sushi is popular among kids and those in a rush. A variety of plates of typically two pieces rotate on a conveyor system, and patrons can just grab what they like. The plates are tallied at the end of the meal. East in Teaneck is a prime example, and the international Japanese-brand restaurant, YO! Sushi just opened at the Garden State Plaza, also kaiten style.

It was around 1996 when I made my first foray into a sushi restaurant. I wasn’t as exploratory with food as I am now, and my taste buds were still maturing. Arirang (now closed) was located in East Rutherford. My boyfriend – now husband – convinced me to try a “roll”. Being protective of my stomach, I refused to try anything yet that wasn’t cooked. So, of course, as most people do, I started with a California roll.

SIDEBAR: Yes, I mentioned that other state but with all due credit. It was invented in Los Angeles when a chef decided there was a need to substitute the seasonal fatty tuna that is traditionally in the maki roll. He used the avocado to imitate the texture of the tuna and then added the crab stick for a fish flavor.

Back to New Jersey. I couldn’t possibly select one sushi restaurant to profile. There are so many good ones and even more just-average ones. Personally, I don’t care for eating cold dinners in general, so I usually have sushi as an appetizer, a snack or a light dinner. After all, it can get quite costly for the amount of food you need to order to feel fulfilled. Here are just a few that I frequent in Northern NJ:

Nihon Kai, Bergenfieldsushi1-300x226

I wouldn’t rate Nihon Kai in the top 10 of New Jersey sushi restaurants, but the fish is consistently good, and the chef gets an A+ for creativity. When you’re sick of the usual Alaskan, Philadelphia and Boston rolls, check out some of his special rolls, such as the Sunshine Roll, consisting of tuna, salmon, mango rolled in seaweed, with shredded king crab, mango sauce, mayo and red tobiko on the outside.

 

 One of his latest specials is the Mounir Roll (he tends to name them after the customer who requests something different):

spicy, crunchy yellowtail, avocado, chili pepper, masago on the inside, topped with seared tuna, scallion, potato crisps, and a spicy sauce on the side. It’s a great play on texture.

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Hachi, Fort Lee

The former owner of Nihon Kai, Mister Lee kept it in the family but opened his new place in Fort Lee’s Linwood Plaza. While he tends to stick to some of the more traditional rolls, the quality of his sashimi is outstanding. The hot dishes and bento boxes are worth a try in combination with some sushi.sushi3-300x225

Here is a simply delicious spicy tuna inside/out roll wrapped in salmon, avocado and roe.

Wild Wasabi, Norwood

This is one of the high-quality fish establishments. You can feel it in the texture and taste the freshness. I’m always impressed when I watch the owner, “Young”, clean the case at the end of the night, inspecting for any minute smudge. He may grumble if you ask for him to create something new, but then he can surprise with this spoonful of tuna tartar.

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Don’t count out some Chinese food restaurants either because some really great salmon sashimi can be found at Empire Hunan, Fair Lawn and Teaneck. Just remember: If it smells fishy, then something’s probably wrong.

German in NJ

For 16 days from late September to early October, Americans have an excuse to walk around outdoor festivals with king-sized mugs of beer in hand without being labeled as party animals – it’s all in the name of Oktoberfest. New Jerseyans love to become pseudo-German for an excuse to revel in gluttonous amounts of liquid hops and stuff their bellies at this mostly carnivorous carnival.

One of the largest of these Munich reproductions I’ve seen in New Jersey is at Crystal Springs in Sussex County, rife with whole pigs, Vernon Oktoberfest 004chickens and rabbits roasting on an open fire. There were a few German orchestras playing a mix of polkas and American standards and many people strolling comfortably wearing lederhosen and dierndls. For the non-meat eaters, there are slim pickings with brezel (large grilled pretzels), potato salad and potato pancakes. But there are fun traditional activities such as wood sawing competitions and dancing. Such festivities can be found all over New Jersey at: Schuetzen Park in North Bergen, Germania Park in Dover, Historic Smithville and Deutscher Club of Clark, as well as every restaurant that never served German food before.

pot pancks

Where does one sit down for a traditional German dinner when all this partying ends? Northern New Jersey had some popular Bavarian restaurants such as Blue Swan Inn in Rochelle Park, then the Casa Hofbräu in Emerson, then Triangle Hofbräu in Pequannock, but I’m biased because of the common chef and owner of the latter (my father). Now, they’re harder to find. Currently there is Black Forest Inn, Stanhope; Schneider’s, Avon-by-the Sea; Helmer’s, Hoboken; Kirker’s, Hawthorne; among others. But the list is not overly long, and I personally wouldn’t go to most of these if I had a craving for wiener schnitzel or the like.

According to a 2000 data census, German is the largest ancestry in the U.S., heavily concentrated in the north/central states and east to PA, but there are still German communities in NJ, such as in Clark. So why so few restaurants? With some people turning away from heavy meats and the carb-elimination craze, it’s no wonder that the meat and potato loving culture does not project a flowery image for those not familiar with the cuisine. Maybe that’s why newer establishments such as Zeppelin Hall in Jersey City focus on the likeness of a beer hall with long shared tables to create an interactive, party atmosphere while eating less serious food like bratwurst and fish and chips and salads. Maybe they can help bring the attention back to German food by starting with the fun. The relocated Kocher’s (to Fort Lee) is a German deli and butcher. You can try one of their own wursts (sausages) and eat outside on a nice day. But it’s bare bones deli-style eating – nothing fancy.  If I need a quick, good Bavarian-style lunch without paper plates and also with the option of sitting outdoors, I can head to Rockland County, NY. Sour Kraut in Nyack has some good wurst platters with three types of mustards to apply accordingly: like sharper mustard to counter the milder weisswurst.Sour Kraut

New Jersey has a bit of catching up to do with some of the fine German eateries across the bridge. Heidelberg in New York City is a classic example of a dining establishment that has preserved the authentic dishes representative of Germany. (https://dishingondining.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/whats-the-wurst/) Zum Schneider is respectable foodwise, but they have the added benefit of an entertaing party band. You’ll be swaying back and forth, holding your mug high.

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Visit one of these restaurants or partake in an Oktoberfest celebration, share a schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock) or rollmops (herring) or just some spätzle (noodles), grab a mug of Weissbier and toast the person sitting next to you on the bench – “Prost!”

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Field of Food Festivals in NJ

There must have been one time that an adult reprimanded you for eating while walking or running around. We all know now that it was done in our best interest, so as not to choke on food and to simply develop proper eating habits by sitting at a table and acting civilized. But let’s admit, it’s not easy to remain seated with the grill fired up and a hamburger, watermelon or ear of corn in hand.

Now that spring is in full swing in New Jersey, there are a number of opportunities to combine food and the outdoors. Here are a few that I try not to miss, mostly because the food goes beyond zeppoles and hot dog carts.

While the Hoboken Arts & Music festival does not denote food, it is a major component. The combination of music and food awakens your auditory, olfactory and gustatory senses all at once. Now that’s a way to feel alive. Hoboken offers this in both the spring and fall, so if you’re reading this after May 4, 2014, you have another chance this year to attend. The music performances are some of the best FREE acts you can see in New Jersey, including a headliner of high merit. This year it is Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, but in years past, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Joan Jett, Peter Noone, Mickey Dolenz, Roger McGuinn, Flo & Eddie, and John Eddie. Yes, I’ve been to a few. But before settling into the music, it is a priority to grab some lunch from some of the finer vendors or restaurants with stands. It is probably the only time I ever eat a gyro. Two of the most popular vendors are closest to the end stage: the crab cakes and the brisket and pulled-pork sandwiches. For those who prefer traditional fair food, there are plenty of fried oreos, cheese steaks, and potato chips on a stick to give an elephant arterial discomfort.

My absolute favorite festival, however, comes along in June. It is the Annual Seafood Festival in Belmar. For all of you crazy crustacean lovers, this is a weekend-long celebration of breaking legs and peeling shells. Many of the tents offer the same types of platters that can include a whole lobster, shrimp, clams and corn on the cob for a set price. Walk around the field and scout them all before you jump at the first claw reaching out to you. The lines tend to be long, and seating is sparse. I prefer to take a few steps across the street and sit cross-legged on the boardwalk, facing the ocean while dipping everything in a little clarified butter and lemon and making a mess on my hands. There’s the added benefit of a beer and wine tent for those who want to wind down with a cold one, but looking at the Atlantic Ocean is generally calming enough.

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Now begins the season of great New Jersey festivals. If your focus is food, there are plenty of others such as: Shad Fest in Lambertville, Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival in Augusta, Highlands Clamfest in Highlands, NJ Chili & Salsa Cookoff in Toms River, plus many more. Now is your chance to be that rebellious child – grab some food and eat while walking!