Posts Tagged ‘short ribs’

What’s in a Restaurant Name?

Merriam has been telling people who speak the English language that the noun “tavern” is ‘an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold to be drunk on the premises’. By that definition, I always picture a bunch of locals enjoying libations together and perhaps snacking on some simple food items that can quickly be grilled or fried, all in the most casual of atmospheres.

Either Tavern 5 in Pompton Plains, NJ, picked the wrong name for its restaurant, or Merriam needs to get with the times. It’s not exactly around the corner from me, so I
might not have even given the menu a look if it were not for my familiarity with the food styling of Executive Chef Anthony LoPinto, whose food I tasted long ago in a cooking class.

It was a Friday night, a packed house, and it’s a reservation-free zone. My preconceived notions were quickly put aside as I took in the wood and brick textures, which felt like a modernized farmhouse. The large bar area with high-top tables was full of friendly chatter, chewing and sipping beneath the copper-tiled ceiling. The dining area consists of two rooms, one with bench seating against the wall and booths. The back room leads to an outdoor dining area, but it was winter, so we only saw the potential of the garden.

I knew we were in store for a little more than typical pizza and burgers when I gimg_3739rabbed hold of the leather (-like?) menu cover with a logo-stamped copper piece inlay. Sure, the recognizable pub-food words popped off the page: meatballs, wings, tacos, and one’s eyes start to sarcastically roll until the eyes catch a glimpse of the heightened descriptions that change these routine food items into something desirable to order:

SPINACH & MEATBALL – rich meat broth, veal meatballs, spinach, egg

WINGS – Jim Beam maple glazed chicken wings, fresh chives

TACOS – Steak tacos, avocado, queso blanco, champagne img_3742vinegar slaw, chipotle aioli, tortilla chips

All the elaborations were so flavor-enticing, the four of us each ordered something different so we could share in the exploration. For the first round, we tried the Crab Cimg_3743akes with noticeable jumbo lump crab, citrus aioli, baby greens. There was a special stone-fired Clam Pizzimg_3741a with clams out of shell, arugula and garlic. The dough had an intentional chewiness and was laden with too much garlic for this vampire. Garlic lovers would devour it though. The Arrancini was not the baseball-sized fried rice balls; they were five bitable munchkin-sized balls with bacon, cheddar, sweet corn, on a sufficient smear of chimichurri sauce. The New England Clam Chowder was nicely flavored with the typical potato, bacon, cream and clams, with the addition of carrots. The chowder was not predominantly potato, as some can be.img_3748

The main courses were near faultless. The generous six seared scallops were plump with a little breadcrumb crunch, nestled in butternut squash risotto, surrounded by a moat of greeimg_3746n apple broth. The Linguini Bolognese consisted of three different meats that are braised separately, so each is cooked perfectly: veal, short rib, pork. The pasta was fancifully presented, almost stacked like a pyramid. The Chicken Tacos may sound boring, but they three soft tacimg_3747os sit in a holder, filled with blackened chicken, pico de gallo, slaw, avocado and cilantro crème. They order different components with the steak and fish tacos.

The prize dish of the evening, though was the Braised Short Ribs, braised with red wine and coffee. The meat was cooked to tender, but herein laid the near faultless: there was a slight heavy hand on the salt, which we all agreed upon. Otherwise, delicioso. (I’m not sure why reminiscing on those ribs just turned me Italian.)

 

I was full enough at the point, but I needed to try the coffee they boasted about on img_3750Facebook, directly from Toca roasters up the road. And of course,
this had to be accompanied by ice cream from a small batch shop in the Hudson Valley.

It may be difficult not to judge an eating establishment by its name, but unfortunately, in this fast-paced world, we dismiss quickly on the glance of a label. Don’t dismiss Tavern 5; if you put your glasses on, the logo on the web site has a tagline of “Neighborhood Restaurant”.

 

 

 

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!

Korean BBQ in New Jersey

Even though summer slowly slides into its home stretch, it is always the season for some kind of barbecued food in New Jersey. Most of us in the Northeast start to strap on the covers to our grills in the fall, but there are some hardcore grill masters who brave the winter cold and step on their snowy decks all for the love of that smoky-flavored meat.

In the cooler months, for those of you who prefer to stay warm while the food is being prepared, try a different kind of barbecue – one you may not have been exposed to yet: Korean barbecue or Gogigui. In this style, diners are seated at a table with a grill (either gas or charcoal) built into it.

A friend first told me about these restaurants 10 years ago and said she went to one on Broad Avenue in Palisades Park. I remember trying to find the place she described and seeing BBQ after BBQ sign on nearly every restaurant façade on that street, and all were written in Korean. It should’ve been no surprise since 19 of the top 101 cities in the U.S. with the most residents born in Korea are in New Jersey: the top one being Palisades Park with 30.4%. I wound up at the “wrong” one but found it to be good anyhow. So I was encouraged by a number of Korean acquaintances to go to one of the better ones – So Moon Nan Jip – which I now guide people to by saying “the one with the red awning.”

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It can be a little discouraging to a non-Korean at first, as you wait for your table and almost everyone around you is speaking Korean. You know you’re thinking, “If Koreans are eating the Korean food, it must good.” I watched the busboys using large metal forceps to carry burning-hot metal trays filled with fiery wooden charcoal that create stray sparks. I cringed every time I saw them being placed in the table, hoping nobody would get burned or nothing would be dropped. This burning wood flavor, however, is what separates So Moon from some of the other places that use gas grills.

For the novices, open the menu to the “BBQ” page and select your meat of choice (Sol Moon also offers shrimp barbecue). The rest will just keep coming to the table. The waitresses generally know the basics of English and immediately guide you on how to eat: You are given heavier metal chopsticks, not the disposable wood ones; a basket of lettuce leaves are brought out and a number of small dishes, called banchan – kimchi, pickled radish, bean sprouts, spinach, potato salad, cucumber and more. I’ve learned anything with red color in it is hot, hot! But my favorite starter is the bowl of bubbling egg that is brought to the table. It resembles a scrambled egg soufflé and is eaten with a spoon. Get ready for some finger cramping if you’re used to eating with light wooden chop sticks!image

When the hot coals are dropped into the table, your meat selection is brought uncooked and cut into small pieces. I found it amusing to watch them cut food with scissors. It was also either funny or embarrassing to have the waitress turn our meat over for us, basically doing the cooking, while all the other tables of Korean diners were cooking the meat themselves. Every time I reached for the tongs, someone would come running to “rescue” me. The most popular dish to order for barbecue is Kalbi, which is marinated beef short ribs. Once cooked, put a few pieces in the lettuce leaf, throw some rice and grilled onions and spiced greens in there, wrap it like a burrito, pick it up and bite into it. I understand that in Korean culture, it is impolite to bite your food in pieces, so I was a bit taken aback watching some people shove their entire lettuce package in their mouths at once!

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In New Jersey, we are fortunate to be able to experience the foods of many cultures. So find a Korean bbq restaurant, especially in one of the highly populated areas listed above, and enjoy it in the winter particularly – it gets quite warm at the table.

*Photos by Joia Pisani