Posts Tagged ‘Soup’

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.

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The Recipe for Italian Restaurants in NJ

I couldn’t even guess how many restaurants in New Jersey classify themselves as Italian. They run the gamut from pizzerias that serve simple Italian dishes to cafes or casual, to upscale dining. It comes as no surprise since New Jersey has the second highest number of Italian Americans in the country at 1,503,637, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

I tend to lose interest quickly when I hear that a “new” Italian restaurant opened. Our market is saturated, but we all have a few favorites, and it’s often based on proximity. For some, quantity is a factor; others weigh quality heavier when comparing. I lean toward the latter, but location definitely plays favor. When my preferred casual Italian restaurant shuttered recently, a number of people I know were distraught – not because there is a lack of other choices, but because it had the formula for somewhere you can enjoy frequenting twice a month or more… quality food, hospitality, inexpensive and 10 minutes from home in Bergen County. I mentioned in a previous column that I may have found my rebound with La Cambusa in Garfield. Less than a month ago, however, a new Italian restaurant opened in Bergenfield, called The Recipe, on the corner of S. Washington and E. Clinton avenues.

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A repulsive feeling came over me – “oh, another glorified pizzeria serving lots of low-grade-cheese parmigiana dishes to try to qualify as an Italian restaurant.” But a coupon lured me in along with dangling carrots of location and cute appearance (the full-size windows allow you to see through as you drive by). My second foot in the door, and I was greeted with a warm smile and a “good evening.” That got off on the right foot. The menu is not extravagant but has basic pastas, veal, chicken, seafood and steak dishes, along with a creative list of specials, which only averaged $24.

20160219_204721The menu items were less. My first real taste of The Recipe came after the warm bread and the soup (choice of minestrone or chicken noodle that comes with an entrée) was the eggplant stack appetizer with beefy tomato slices, fresh mozzarella – the top layer slightly melted – thick breaded eggplant slices and a bed of mixed greens, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Thumbs up!

I usually test an Italian restaurant with a veal dish or a pasta/seafood combo. The first visit scored an 88 with a veal francese and artichoke hearts ($19). The second visit scored an 89.5 with the Linguini Del Mar red sauce (also $19), large butterflied shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari. The calamari was slightly overdone but not enough to detract from the rest of the goodness. More importantly, I requested very little garlic, and they listened! Finishing the meal with a decent cappuccino was equally important.

20160219_210831When one’s expectations are low or none is when the gems are discovered. I hope this passes the initial five-year business test because it has a solid B++ in my book. That could definitely go up as I order more.

Another recent Italian restaurant opening is Rugova in River Edge. It reopened the vacant building that housed Dinallo’s. Let us know how you grade these newcomers. Rugova is owned by the same people who have Dimora and Sear House, so they should be good at this.

Just for the Pho of It

I often converse with a co-worker about New Jersey eating establishments, although, she loves food in a more Andrew Zimmern-daring kind of way. She had asked me if I ever ate Vietnamese food, and I told her that I was introduced to pho a few years ago and head to Pho 32 when I’m in the mood for it. She exclaimed, “That’s where I go too!” As we continued to compare notes about what we order, I addressed the décor as well: The front fully windowed wall (facing Lemoine Ave. in Fort Lee, NJ) and the industrial cement floor provide a sleek, New York City modern ambiance. She broke into my description: “What about the seashells on the wall?” Now, unless I was totally hypnotized by the vapors from these hot noodle soups, I had never seen anything on the wall but an interesting illumination. We quickly realized, there’s another location. She had been frequenting the Palisades Park, NJ, Pho 32. They also have a few NYC locations.

IMG_1431So what is pho? First, the pronunciation – I always say “fō”, as in the word “phone”. I felt a bit ignorant when a Chinese friend’s wife said they were going to have pho, but it sounded like she was going to say the F-bomb, “fuh…”, and I flashed on the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie curses. While it is one of the most commonly mispronounced food words, I still hesitate to say it correctly. It sounds silly to me, even though I pride myself on proper pronunciation.

The dish, pho, is a Vietnamese noodle soup with a beef broth base, rice noodles and several choices of meat such as beef brisket, tendon, chicken or even seafood. A side plate of bean sprouts, cilantro, lime wedge and jalapeno peppers accompanies the bowl for you to add in yourself as you choose. The bowls come medium and large. The medium (around $8) usually suffices if you select a couple appetizers, such us the fried Vietnamese egg roll, thinner than the Chinese one and meant to be dipped in a vinegar sauce, or the summer roll, which is cold shrimp, lettuce, vermicelli wrapped in rice paper and meant to be dipped in peanut sauce.

I cheat. There is a self-serve counter of dipping sauces that include: miso, lemon soy, cilantro soy, peanut, among others. It is meant for those ordering shabu shabu, which is actually of Japanese origin. There are special tables with heaters for these pots filled with broth. It is suggestive of broth fondue, where you cook your own items of corn, Chinese cabbage, meats, etc. in this bubbling broth and dip away in the sauces. But I take a spoonful of my brisket pho and noodles and dip into the different sauces for added flavor. The shabu shabu is more expensive but not equally more satisfying to me.

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If you need to get your server’s attention, there is a button on the table you can press, and it buzzes with your table number (like on a plane). It’s too obnoxious for me. They have always been attentive enough.

There are other entrees to explore, but why, really? It’s called Pho 32 (all their locations are, so I’m not sure what the 32 represents), so order the pho, and say it right!

Here’s a fun, educational piece on pho. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/pho_n_6084410.html

Succulent Soup Dumplings at Petite Soochow

It was a casual conversation about two years ago with my Chinese friend (yes, this is relevant). He told me he was going for “Chinese” food. I conjured up an image of the takout place on Main Street and dismissed it as boring. After all, who really gets excited about Chinese food? Okay, I do now if you tell me we’re going to Petite Soochow in Cliffside Park, NJ, which is where my friend was heading.

He continued talking about it, and I wondered why he thought I’d be interested in chicken and broccoli and the like. Well there was no mention of such an Americanized dish, but something caught my ear when he said, “It’s the only place in New Jersey to get soup dumplings..and they’re really good.” My right eyebrow rose up, and my head turned an inch to the left with my eyes peeking out the corner toward him. Did he say ‘only place’ and ‘really good’? But my Chinese-food cynicism clicked in and drew a picture of broth with mass-produced wontons like anchors at the bottom of a pool. I had to ask — “soup dumplings?” He described it as steamed dumplings with a pork meatball and ‘soup’ inside. So I had to try it. (A week later, this showed up in NY Times, and the wait line for a table tripled: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/nyregion/02dinenj.html.)

I, not being Asian, was in the minority at this restaurant tucked sideways in a parking lot. This has to be good – Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant! And there at the entrance was the co-owner behind plexiglass, a woman rolling, stuffing and twisting these “steamed buns” (as they’re called on the menu) all night long. It’s almost an assumption that every patron wants an order (8) to start. Ten minutes later the pot is brought to the table and uncovered, revealing the hot gift-wrapped surprises.

Fortunately, my friend forewarned me not to just bite into it. You will probably burn your mouth. So I followed the acceptable procedure of using chopsticks to gently pick one up and place it in my soup spoon. You don’t want it to break and lose the liquid. You can dip it into the vinegar with ginger provided and then bite off the twisted top of the dough while holding it in your spoon with chopsticks. This lets some steam out. Then you can go to town. It was like tasting Fresh ‘n Up gum as a kid for the first time. Hey, that liquid’s not supposed to be in there, but it’s goooood.

They offer a version with crab, but it’s sea legs on top of the dumpling, and you can’t taste the difference. If you want sesame chicken, you should probably just go to Empire Hunan in Teaneck or Fair Lawn. If you want Chinese food that hasn’t been bastardized, come here. If you have a friend that speaks the language – even better. You’ll get to try items not on the menu. For a closer look at some other dishes, the Off the Broiler blog did a nice job: http://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/nj-dining-petite-soochow/. I’m just all about those warm, neatly sealed packages today. Even though I know what’s inside, it’s like opening a gift every time.