Posts Tagged ‘Pork’

Middle Class Menu; Upper Class Value

My husband and I learned of a restaurant in the late 90s on Hamburg Turnpike in Riverdale, called Rosemary & Sage. It was small and blended on a made road between houses. We drove past it, trying to find it the first time: pre-GPS. The interior was simplistic – solid colored walls with a few splashes of color in paintings. The establishment is owned by husband and wife CIA graduates Brooks Nicklas and Wendy Farber. Wendy’s brother Bruce served most of the tables while Wendy conducted the entire front of the house. It’s a family affair with a loyal customer base.

One of the draws was the constantly changing menu. Customers didn’t want to miss out on one of Brooks’ new creations. Some recent examples included: fish du jour – sautéed medallion served with seafood beggar’s purse, tarragon sauce, broccoli and roasted potatoes (28) and blackened pork chop with mango salsa, bbq Israeli cous cous and butternut squash (27). So even though it was about a 25-minute drive, we would treat ourselves; however, like for many other people, the cost became prohibitive for us. Still, I was extremely disappointed to learn that after 23 years, Rosemary & Sage’s story was ending. I would have liked to eaten there again.

In the same sentence; however, I was ecstatic to read that Brooks and Wendy were just changing the formula. Serving the 1% was no longer their target. They decided to appeal to a larger customer base…the middle-class. What more could I ask for? I knew the quality of the food would be as high as it was before. The menu items would just be restructured to allow them to reduce their prices.

I immediately made a reservation. The only seating expansion was the addition of an actual bar with high-top tables, and they now have outdoor seating, albeit on a busy Hamburg Turnpike. Wendy’s friendly face was still roaming table to table. Although she hardly remembered me (it had been over five years), I fondly remembered the basket brought to the table were her mini muffins, pepper jelly and butter. It’s always a surprise as to what type of muffins. This time they were poppy seed and carrot. Every time they are good.

Between two visits, the following dishes were sampled, and all ranged from $20.95 to $22.95. The portion size was not reduced and all the dishes were composed with CIA quality. Just listen:

Shrimp Pineapple and Cashews with Thai curry coconut sauce

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Tilapia in Phyllo, crab and pecans stuffing with spring onion vinaigrette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They now also offer fancy pub fare such as pulled pork on a brioche roll. This will certainly expand their customer reach, making if more tempting for those who think Phyllo is a musical instrument. And for those who still think it’s too highfalutin, they added a takeout menu as well.

The desserts are still made in-house too. My one disappointment in the change is the name. I loved the sound of Rosemary & Sage. It sounded classy and culinary. It has been changed to Brookside Bistro, which I think understates the type of food here. I believe in brand recognition and would like everyone to recognize it’s the same ownership, the same high standards.

IMG_3222IMG_3223All you New Jerseyans who appreciate four-star quality but have two-star pockets, this place is made for you.

Tasting Tapas with Garces

This is the fourth Food Network Iron Chef’s restaurant in which I was graced with the presence of the celebrity chef not long after opening a new establishment. That is the time to see them if you are a celebrity chef stalker. The first for me was Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s in New Orleans, where he was actually cooking. The second was Mario Batali at Babbo, where he was busy in the kitchen. The third was Bobby Flay a week after he opened Gato; he was visibly sweating on the line and poking his head out to scan the dining room. The fourth, and latest, is Jose Garces at the four-week-old Amada. None were planned to seek out these chefs specifically; I was just seekingchef jose garces quality food, and I found it this evening in Battery Park, NYC, even though Chef Garces was playing overseer from the outside of the kitchen looking in.

Andalusian tapas, traditional and modern, is what’s happening here. Naturally, one wants to taste everything, so the Spanish gastronomy began with Sopa De Esparagos – White Asparagus Soup, Mushroom, Duck Butifarra (described as a duck and garlic sausage), Pistachio. Something comes over me when I order dishes that sound so fluid in another language. Suddenly I speak proper Spanish with the right inflection and all. So I didn’t order it as the “asparagus soup”.

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Sopa de esparagos

While we were waiting for the train of dishes to pull in, a complementary garlic flatbread with a tuna and caper with black olive oil spread was delivered.

20160528_191704After a few spoonfuls of soup, the traditional PIQUILLOS RELLENOS – Crab Stuffed Peppers, Toasted Almonds, arrived, as well as the PULPO A LA GALLEGA – Spanish Octopus, Pureed Potato. The octopus was sliced into thick nickel-sized pieces. The flat top of each was pan seared I’m guessing to garner a crisp slight garlic and oil flavor. They sat sunken into a bed of velvety pureed potato. 20160528_192355

Then came a 10-minute welcomed digestion break. The remaining dishes were brought together: the BACALAO – Poached Black Cod, Sunflower-Chorizo Broth, Whipped Potato, dancing with complementary flavors and textures and was the star of the evening for me; the PERNIL ASADO – Roasted Pork, White Beans, Arugula & Orange, which was sold by the waiter after saying, “crispy top and juicy beneath”; and the COSTILLAS DE TERNERA – Spanish Flatbread, topped with Beef Short Ribs, Horseradish, Parmesan, Bacon, which flavor-wise was a surprisingly close second.

20160528_19573020160528_195300Not only was there no room for dessert, there were leftovers. The enjoya20160528_195318ble meal closed with me approaching Chef Garces and thanking him for putting me in a delightful food coma.

You’re a Shining Star, Batard

Every year, for the past five years, I select a Michelin two- or three-star NYC restaurant for my husband and me to celebrate our anniversary. It’s always a surprise to him, and I come off looking magnanimous and benefitting just the same. Having just returned from a California vacation, we needed to trim the expense this time, so I sought out a fine-dining establishment where we could experience high-quality, impressive dishes for maybe half of the cost.

Was this achievable? I was going to find out after securing a reservation at Batard in Tribeca. I had hope in that the restaurant received one Michelin star within its first year of business (opened May 2014). Additionally, Co-owner/Restaurateur Drew Nieporent has quite the resume in his Myriad Restaurant Group, including all the Nobus and Tribeca Grill. Chef and Partner Markus Glocker, of Austria, was most recently in the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay, which earned two Michelin stars during his time there. After doing my homework, I had comfortable expectations of the level of food we were going to consume. It was a different expectation than when we went to Jean Georges and Le Bernardin for example. With three stars, you walk in with one shining on you as the diner, who demands to get the best treatment, one on the server and one on the chef.

The menu at Batard posed some real first-world problems. We had to put a game plan in motion. First, there was the pre-fixe choices of two- ($55), three- ($69) or four-courses ($79)…now you see I’ve accomplished the price-cut challenge. We agreed to both do three courses, but now we had to decide which course..yes, you have a choice! After some algebraic equations, we figured the best combination would be if I ordered an appetizer, first course and entree and he ordered an appetizer and dessert. With this solution, we could share the first course and the dessert. After about 15 minutes – now you see why – we could rest our minds as two different warm, mini rolls were placed on our plates.image

I was torn between the pork belly and quail for an appetizer. When our waitress (is that a sign of a non-3 star?) answered, “No the pork is not crispy,” I was about to say “quail” until she said it was served cold. The pork belly was delectable! I would not have even known what I was eating. It was sliced like a paper-thin prosciutto with the center having a pressed cornbread and bits of blood sausage, happily draped over baby lentils. His OCTOPUS “PASTRAMI” had the appearance of head cheese without the gelatin. It was accompanied by bits of braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes.image

imageOur shared first course (are you keeping up with the plan?) was the scallops with leak confit, crispy potato strings, in a puddle of red wine sauce. During my first bite I felt both elated and guilty. I have always said my friend Rob Russo made the most tender and delicious scallops at the former Red Hen Bistro in NJ, but in that split second I felt bad to think these could even be a hair better. I absolved myself by believing it was imagejust because this was the more recent one. The “shared” course became 80% me, 20% him.

At a nice pace, and after a little time to process what we had, our entrees came. I was already completely convinced that this food was worth at least two Michelin stars in my book.

BRANDT BEEF SHORT RIB with grilled wagyu beef tongue, lovage polenta, pickled root vegetables. I had tongue only once before and in a Korean bbq style. I was a little nervous about rekindling that feeling of French-kissing a cow, but no; this tasted like a thin grilled steak. The short ribs barely required a knife.image

IMG_2059BRANZINO with roasted cauliflower, buerre noisette, and cannellini beans.

The fourth course rolled in with our shared dessert: DUCK EGG CRÈME BRÛLÉE spiced pineapple, verjus, yogurt sorbet. I’mIMG_2060 an extremely tough critic of desserts. It was good but not exquisite like every other dish. It wouldn’t have been my choice for dessert. I thank Batard for making a decent cup of coffee though…Your one star shines as bright as two!

Stickin’ to the Ribs

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Now that Thanksgiving has passed, I can admit that all I really felt like having that day was barbecued ribs. It’s not weekly, and not even monthly, but when I want ribs – I want good baby back ribs. In New Jersey, until a few years ago, the options were not abundant; however, the list of places to fulfill that sloppy bone-cleaning hunger is expanding. My only nearby choice in Bergen County used to be Cubby’s BBQ Restaurant in Hackensack. While there is nothing to be said about the surrounding area with the jail diagonally across the street (no need for concern), owner Bobby Egan beautifies his property from spring to fall with beds of flowers bursting with color. It can’t help but to catch your eye, even more so than the sign, contrasting heavily with the grey backdrop of River Street.

For nearly thirty years, this mainstay with the pig caricature sign adorning a bib labeled “killer baby back ribs” has been known for living up to that moniker. I, for one, prefer to eat rib meat with nothing but a fork and am able to do so here. It should separate from the bone without a knife, and there ought to be no scraps left behind, unlike the Chinese-style spare ribs that tend to have to be gnawed upon to get all the pork into your mouth. While Cubby’s doesn’t define its style of ribs – only as “home-style”, I think it leans towards Kansas City with a tomato-based sauce, a little on the sweet side and visible chopped garlic. The full or half rack is served intact leaving the diner with the fun part of separating each rib and watching them fall apart one by one until finished. The order comes with garlic bread and a choice of side (i.e. salad to ward off guilt, mashed potato and gravy, sweet potato, etc.).

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Along comes another location of the Brooklyn-born Mighty Quinn’s (although the cook always smoked the meat in Hunterdon County, NJ). Now Clifton has a barbecue option. Mighty Quinn’s rests its bbq laurels on slow-smoked wood-fired meats, using both Texas and Carolina methods. Both Cubby’s and Mighty Quinn’s are cafeteria style, but MQ has communal tables, whereas Cubby’s has individual tables. The combination of spice on the dry rub and the infusion of smoke provide a bit more flavoring to the meat as a standalone. Here, the meat you order is hacked up at the front counter before your eyes. The ribs are divided with a cleaver, almost forcing you to eat them with your hands, since they are already separated. The sauce, which is not even needed and may steal away the smoking and spicing efforts, is served in a bottle at the table for those who can’t eat meat without slathering something on it. MQ tries to be a little more progressive with its sides. Although it’s hard to fancy up this southern food, items like buttermilk broccoli salad, burnt end baked beans and sweet corn fritters are all worthy enhancements.

There are other establishments now to tickle your ribs, and some may even be contenders in this growing fight for New Jersey meat eaters. While the core region for barbecue in America is the Southeast, New Jersey is beginning to represent for those states fairly well. I’m calling my friends the Flinstones, and we’re going to have a yabba dabba doo time eating ribs.

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.

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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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Craving for Tapas

Lobster Bisque

Lobster Bisque

It’s 4 p.m. Friday, and my body is starting to perform the no-dinner-plans shake. The easiest remedy is to rely on one of my staples like Bocconi, but this evening I was craving for something different with friends. I went into a Google and Yelp research frenzy. This was the night that tapas and I were meant to become acquainted. Not to sound cheap, but I always like to get the value of what is being paid, and the notion of spending $10 or more on “small” tasting plates never seemed favorable to my belly or my purse.

Cravings in Ridgewood, NJ, eradicated that stigma. Parking limitations in downtown Ridgewood can be a deterrent, but this place is located across from the train station, where cars are coming and going often, opening up spaces. The restaurant was bustling, yet we managed to get a 7:30 reservation with a few hours’ notice. The menu offered tapas portions and entree portions, but it wasn’t clear which was which with prices varying from $12 to $25 or so.  The waiter explained without us asking that items priced under $15 were tapas.

Lobster Sandwich

Lobster Sandwich

Anything “lobster” usually flashes loudly on the menu, and my friend heard and saw it clearly. He ordered the lobster bisque and the lobster sandwich, described as, “Maine lobster, buttered white toast, sunnyside egg, pickled onion salad”. The bisque was bouncing with lobster flavor, but any evidence of even bits of lobster meat swimming in that bowl was gone. I searched high and low for chunks of lobster in the “lobster” sandwich but could only see some orange flecks. The descriptions are a bit too promising. Maybe if they said “lobster-flavored”, the expectation would be lower and the dish would be very enjoyable just the same. The sweet/sour onions married beautifully with the arugula and fried egg.

The tapas portion sizes were generous.  They say pork fat rules; I say crispy pork fat rules. I was secretly clapping when my friend ordered the chicharones with clams and cannellini beans. We couldn’t decipher the difference between some of the white beans and the hunks of garlic. That’s a positive for some people like my other friend who collected them on her plate and ate them all like candy. Oh, but that crispy pork was predominately mine. It was a great trade. The ahi tuna tartare with cucumber and toasted sesame dressing was just the opposite, being a lighter, refreshing tapas. It was delicate and a bit hard to take off the plate, as the the thin slices of cucumber were too flimsy to hold the tartare. But once it hit your mouth, it didn’t matter how it fell apart.

Chicharones with Clams

Chicharones with Clams

Ahi Tuna Tartare

Ahi Tuna Tartare

My favorite, though, and surprisingly so, was the gnocchi topped with lamb and fresh thyme. The gnocchi wasn’t too dense, and the lamb added a bold taste to a normally bland pasta. However, I think it was an entree.

One of the other entrees we tried was the sauteed branzino with tomato, roasted fingerlings, kalamata olives. This was another winner for the crisp category.

Branzino

Branzino

The meal felt like an eating frenzy for my first tapas experience because there were a number of dishes coming out at once, and I didn’t know what order to go in. Each time a new plate arrived, it felt like the new kid striving for my attention. I now am proud to have a tapas stripe on my foodie belt and am ready to advance to Casa Mona in NYC.

Lemon Tart w/Blueberry Compote

Lemon Tart w/Blueberry Compote

What’s the Wurst?

When dad’s a chef/owner of a German restaurant, the word “wurst” is heard quite a bit. I couldn’t help but to hear that inner guilty childish giggle every time it was verbalized. It sounded dirty.

Now, where do you even find a wurst or a wienershnitzel (why does the Lorena Bobbitt story always come to mind)? Oops, there goes that giggle again. Well, Germans and Austrians do love their meat – suppress the giggle – but in a time where everyone is carrying a pill bottle of Lipitor or trying to fill up on salad and tofu, there’s hardly a demand for consuming protein- and starch-heavy dishes.

There are those days, however, especially when it’s cold, when you need a little pork fat to warm up your veins. And there is still the older generation of German immigrants who are true to their hometown cuisine. So where to go since dad’s place in New Jersey has been closed for five years? I’ve tried these so-called German restaurants that are nothing more than a tailgate party of hot dogs and beer. Then I found Heidelberg, NYC. This had the wood, the steins, the lederhosen and dirndl, and of course the boots of beer.

Traditional offerings include a Wurst Platter, wiener- and Jaegerschnitzel, rouladen, kassler rippchen and sauerbraten. The king of all the dishes, though, that will make you forget about the bratwurst quickly, is the schweinehaxe (enough for 2). The roasted pork shank with the large bone in center provides you with an array of flavors from the crunchy outer skin to the moist center meat that takes on multiple characteristics depending on which side you approach. When it’s brought to the table, you think, “that’s so much meat.” But it becomes an exploration and a puzzle trying to figure out how this piggy can deliver so much and be so  juicy without any gravy. The next thing you know: nothing but bone..

I don’t mean to worship this swine so much, but you’ll understand when you sink your teeth into it, and you’ll never really stop thinking about the rendezvous with Porky, since you probably won’t meet again until you go back to Heidelberg NYC.

There are so many other German/Austrian dishes worth trying here, so go ahead slap your leather pants, loosen your belt, crash your beer mugs together and wish “Ein Prosit”! If you’re an Irish coffee kind of person, finish with the hot apple strudel and a Rudesheim Coffee.

You’ll be yodeling all the way home.

~Aufwiedersehen

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Goulash Soup

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Wurst platter for one

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Cucumber salad

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Duckling

Baked camambert with poached pear

Baked camembert with poached pear