Posts Tagged ‘Shrimp’

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.

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Old-Walled Spanish Restaurant

NY Eater’s eblast popped up in my email, and it opened up with pictures of paella, yummy paella: 10 Old Fashioned Spanish Restaurants to Try. The visual is the first entryway to tantalizing my tummy, and I became very hungry and passed judgment quickly by the photographs. Spain restaurant had by far the most attractive-looking photo of paella Valenciana. So allow me to be a bit shallow and judge first by appearance with my food because I try not to with people.

This shallow food gal headed to 13th street, based on dish appearance alone, to meet her digestive dinner date. For all I knew, this paella could be an imposter; it could be all looks and no taste. I approached the address, and the canopy over the sidewalk made it easy to spot. A took a step down, opened the white door and was faced with a bar that looked all of its years old (since 1967). There were a few tables, but we were led to the back dining room, which had stark white paint-cracked walls with crooked paintings and prints of Spain positioned haphazardly. I was getting a mélange of granny’s basement and an old museum or back of a church hall. But I still had hope for my radiant dish of mixed seafood to brighten the room.

We barely sat on bench seating with worn springs underneath, when servers delivered three small plates of food: mini Spain 004meatballs in a slightly spicy gravy, cold plump mussels topped with chopped onion, celery and red pepper; and sliced grilled chorizo. That was a warm welcome and helped to block out the blah room. When we were close to finished with our tasty samplings, a server came over and picked up the plate with the one chorizo piece and rambled in Spanish as if he believed he was communicating with us, all well gesturing for me to take the last piece. It brought humor to the table because I felt like I did not have the option of turning it down. As if you couldn’t tell yet, there’s nothing fancy or serious about this experience.

Then the paella arrived. It was the same silver pot I saw in the profile picture mounded with shellfish. The saffron-stained rice sat beneath the shells. Like an online dating site, the photo on NY Eater was dolled up, and live, there were no lobster claws but rather small pieces of tail that looked more like langoustine. All-in-all, the seafood was cooked properly, and the rice below was moist. It was a pleasant meal, and even more enjoyable at $23.95 with plenty of leftovers.

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Perhaps the article I read, listing this as on of the Top 5, should be titled “old” restaurants instead of old-fashioned. Skip the cappuccino. It was hot water with a hint of coffee flavor. I expect more from a Spanish restaurant when it comes to coffee. I won’t be shouting olé, but it was an enjoyable evening. Next stop: Newark, NJ’s Iron Bound section for some “traditional” Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.

The Colors of Jean-Georges

A name like Jean-Georges Vongerichten connotes an air of fanciness – maybe even a bit pretentious – and preciseness. He delivered all of that upon our first approach to the entrance with the name in gold letters mounted upon a marble wall. It wasn’t easy to decipher that the restaurant was inside the Trump International Hotel and Tower, and we looked quite silly walking around the building trying to figure out where to enter.

After being greeted at the front desk, where it was reminiscent of checking into a hotel (oh right, we were in a hotel), we were seated at the bar since we were early and not primed to dine yet. The Nougatine room was sleek modern and offered a view into the working kitchen. I swiveled in my cushioned stool, bobbing my head left and right searching for a star-struck glimpse of Chef Vongerichten. ‘Is that him?’ I thought. It could’ve been, but my uncertainty brought my attention back to the pretzel sticks and spiced nuts on the bar. Something about the hard, tiled floor left me hoping we weren’t going to be seated in this area for dinner. It wasn’t $128/per person kind of nice, even though the front wall is entirely window looking upon Central Park across the street.

With relief, we were led into the carpeted restaurant and seated side-by-side on a curved couch-style bench, but our backs were facing the only decoration – the outdoors. It lacked color with the linens, window dressings, and chairs being mostly all white and taupe. Again, it felt a bit like a gala in a hotel. It having been September, it was getting to be dusk early, and so our outdoor painting was removed when the curtains were drawn. Optimistically thinking, the lack of color may have been intentional so as to let the true star of the evening burst decor…the food! All presented on white plates, each dish was an exploding art palette.

The prix fixe menu gave us each a choice of three items plus a dessert theme. And here were our selections.

SEA SCALLOPS – Caramelized Cauliflower and Caper-Raisin Emulsion

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YELLOWFIN TUNA RIBBONS – Avocado, Spicy Radish and Ginger Marinade

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BUCKWHEAT CRACKLING GULF SHRIMP – and Silky Carrot Cocktail Sauce

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ROASTED HAKE – with Basil, Crushed Tomatoes and Olive Oil

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CRISPY CONFIT OF SUCKLING PIG – Baby Beets and Ginger Vinaigrette

This was the whooah dish of the evening for me.  I vividly recall the crispy pork confit of ABC Kitchen. It’s branded in my tastebud memory. This was a larger tasting of heavenly crispiness.

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BLACK SEA BASS CRUSTED WITH NUTS AND SEEDS – with Nuts and Seeds, Sweet and Sour Jus

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I chose the FIG theme, and the following four desserts were brought out on a platter:

Concord Grape Sorbet, Fig Soda, Sesame Nougat
Fig Financier, Raspberries, Ginger Syrup
Warm Brioche, Port Poached Fig, Pistachio and orange Flower Glaze
Spiced Fig Jam, Soft Chocolate, Almond Milk Sorbet

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He chose the SUMMER theme, which rewarded him with:

Sparkling Plum Soda, Riesling and Raspberries
Frozen Apricot Parfait, Candied Corn, Orange Sponge Cake, Currants
Stone Fruit Gelee, Almond Crunch Ice Cream, Honey Whole Wheat Cake
Warm Pain Perdu, Blueberry Jam and Lemon Thyme Roasted Peaches

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I’m not sure where to rank Jean-George among my Michelin-starred male culinary lovers, but if I were rich, I’d certainly give him another whirl soon. He made the top 5 with Eric, Daniel, David and Mario, but he might have to duke it out with Bobby for that slot soon.

A Seafood Gem (Okay, a Pearl)

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur.

Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Salt Shrimp

Salt Shrimp

Whether you like Mario Batali or not – I obviously do, if you’ve seen my blog posts – you have to respect a chef/restaurant owner who has four restaurants on Michelin’s 2014 NYC Star Ratings list. What I want to know, though, without him giving shameless self promotion, is what restaurants someone like Mario enjoys for himself. And here it is: http://www.lifestylemirror.com/life/food-drink/1232978581/best-restaurants-in-nyc-mario-batali-favorites/.He, however, eats on a celebrity income; I, on the other hand, pretend to do that once or twice a year. His restaurants, in comparison to other star chefs’, are quite affordable though. As I’m perusing the list of NYC restaurants, it’s “skip, too expensive”, “skip”, “oh, this is a possibility”… I remember Cornelia Street because it’s where Mario’s first NYC restaurant (no longer his) opened in 1993  is located, and it is the first Batali eatery I ever patronized, and thus the catalyst for my sickening Batali dining mania. Po’ was quaint and narrow, and I was introduced to Mario while he was cooking in the tiniest commercial kitchen I had seen, sweating alongside only a salad guy and a dishwasher. He was young in his stardom, recognized from Malto Mario, and hadn’t laid the foundation of the Batali/Bastianich empire yet.

I digressed heavily, so let me open the shell and reveal the Pearl! It is across and a few numbers up the street fromIMG_6189 Po’. After reading the endless raving reviews about Pearl Oyster Bar having the best lobster roll in NYC, I couldn’t wait any longer and headed there the following evening in the rain and cold. Parking couldn’t have been easier – right around the corner on Bleeker.

I pride myself on preparedness, so I knew that they don’t take reservations and to expect an hour wait. There was no chance of the Wicked Hungry Witch appearing, but her cousin was still trying to show up when the aromas from the kitchen reached my olfactory nerves. We arrived nearly 8:00 on a Friday night, were told it would be 45 minutes but were seated by 8:20. One side of the restaurant is all bar where many ate; the other is all restaurant slightly bigger than Seafood Gourmet in NJ.

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Plate after plate was ushered by with a meaty lobster roll and a mountain of shoe-string fries. The fries and the idea of a mostly cold dinner turned my steadfast entrée choice into something completely different and even less expensive. The bouillabaisse grabbed me by the throat and shouted, “Speak my name now to the waiter!” With no hesitation I ordered it ($23), and it threatened my mouth with a good time and succeeded. There was no evidence of sand inside any of the shellfish, and the broth was popping with flavor. It was prefaced with a few spoonfuls of the clam and smoked bacon chowder appetizer- another good choice.Bouillabaisse

Our waiter was not too knowledgeable of the dishes. When asked what seafood was in the bouillabaisse, he included oyster, which I thought was peculiar. I’m glad he was wrong. When asked about the pot of steamers starter as to whether they were steamed clams or steamers, he replied, “steamed clams,” which dissuaded my companion from ordering them. Soon after, we saw a pot of actual steamers at another table, and my companion quickly educated him. We had two other waiters (which was confusing) that were a bit more experienced, but all were friendly. That would be my only negative criticism.

The apple and sour cherry pie sounded like it had potential for dessert. It just had potential; that’s all. Then again, it takes more than a little effort to impress me with desserts. I’m spoiled by the standards of the Swiss Miss W.

Thank you, Mario, for sharing one of your favorite dining spots with us non-celebrity types.Fried Oysters

 

Hake with Brussel Sprouts

Hake with Brussel Sprouts

Cooking When It’s Cold

The clenching cold weather is suddenly upon us in the Northeast. It makes one dread to step outdoors even to get into a car, which is ironic for me because being cooped up indoors leads to a path of annoyance and crankiness. In an effort to make this imprisonment productive, I plan the Sunday dinner.  It’s the only day with some possible “down” time.

Because I am not a chef, recipes are my friends. As one who is regimented and organized, I, along with these formulas, have formed a natural bond to produce a rather good meal when the effort is put forth. The process begins with a search usually on epicurious.com or in a cookbook coated with a light layer of summer dust, sitting on the book shelf. The stomach’s mood of the day usually dictates the search words. Tummy said “shellfish” today. While the thought of consuming paella or gumbo or jambalaya pleased me, the time investment wasn’t as appealing on this blustery day. IMG_6101

So I found something not just simple but full of texture and flavor: shrimp with roasted cashews, celery, scallion, mushrooms, peas, chicken broth thickened and parsley with a 45-minute cook time. I counted on at least an hour to compensate for some dilly-dallying, some dancing and singing along to my ipod, a peek at 60 Minutes in the neighboring room and careful execution. I follow the recipe exactly, and because of that, I have never made a bad meal. On the contrary, this was quite good.

I made a bed of jasmine rice – my low-level creative addition – and laid the shrimp mixture neatly upon it, only to be tucked into my now warm belly. Maybe cold Sundays don’t have to be so bad. Oh yeah – then there’s clean up.

Where’s the Seafood?

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for some really fresh seafood. In Northern New Jersey, the quick option is going to one of the gazillion Italian restaurants and choosing an item under “pesce” (admit you always think of Joe Pesci when you see this on a menu). I guarantee it will be a choice of shrimp scampi, shrimp fra diavolo, shrimp oreganato, shrimp parmigiana and any other shrimp dish ending in a vowel or with a dreaded red sauce. Then they throw in the obilgatory salmon dish to get something with a fin in there for the non-crustaceans.When I’m in the mood for fish, though, I want something that swims, not necessarily just crawls along the bottom. I want a filet or a steak. Enough with these little shrimp guys. If I’m eating a crawler, I’m going for the big daddy – the lobster. So where do I go for a swimmer that only stopped swimming in the last day or so? I want to eat in a place where the chef doesn’t feel obligated to return the fish to its natural habitat on my plate by drowning it in some garlic-laden or acidic tomato liquid.

There is a place in the quaint town of Maywood, N.J., that is solely (pun intended) focused on seafood: Seafood Gourmet. It originated, and remains in the front as a fish market, where John sells fish he picks up every morning from Fulton. That same fish is prepared for the diners in the small back dining room. Because there are only about 10 tables, reservations are a must. Every seafood-loving resident in Maywood and beyond knows about this place.

Steamers

Steamers

The menu is simple, but it offers a variety of seafood, usually prepared wood-grilled, broiled or blackened (your choice). There are always the more intricate specials, but the best choice you can make is the one that comes with your meal – a choice of soup or salad. Go with the lobster bisque! It is one of the best in the area – now vying for the #1 spot in my belly with Red Hen Bistro’s (Woodridge). It has nice bits of lobster meat of which you can actually taste the sweetness.

Blackened Swordfish

Blackened Swordfish

Recommended is the swordfish steak blackened. I normally don’t order swordfish out in a casual restaurant because inevitably it comes out dry: not here. It is moist and meaty. Their version of blackened is flavorful but not hot. Seafood Gourmet has quickly outgrown outself, but if you’re in the mood for some fresh, basic fish prepared well in order for you to experience the essence of the fish itself, head on over to Maywood and bring your crustacean-loving friends (they have a lobster tank) and even those who must swim in a sauce. They’re bound to find something on the specials list.

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