While traveling for work the last two weeks in Park Ridge, New Jersey, wasn’t exactly the most thrilling and exciting trip ever, it wasn’t the worst. There were some real gems in the surrounding area (especially Ridgewood) and here were my best of Northern New Jersey!
Best List / Must Eats
Fire & Oak – come Monday night and you can get $1 oysters and I’m talking about BIG, good oysters. However, skip the sushi and the seafood entrees. The sushi was terrible and the entrees were so bland that my coworker were passing the salt between us throughout the meal. So after you down as many oysters as you can, order yourself a slab of their chocolate peanut butter pie. It comes ala mode (but you can’t see it due to the mountain of whipped cream) and it is ridiculous how rich this dessert was. I had to pull myself away because it was just that good, yet I knew I shouldn’t polish it off on my own.
Sushi Village – Do NOT be alarmed by the fact this restaurant is in a strip mall, nor it’s exterior outlooks. Once inside, you’ll be completely transported to a modern, fresh feeling restaurant. The reason this place made it on my list is not because it was the best sushi I’ve ever had. The sushi was good (far, far better than Fire & Oak’s), but there were two things that got me:
- All you can eat sushi dinner for $19.99! It is a freaking deal no matter how you swing it.
- The “Spicy Seaweed Salad” – this concoction is pure genius! Take the usual seaweed salad, but add spicy krab and mix it in with some tempura crunchies…it becomes a mouth of happiness. So simple, yet so addicting and delicious.
Brooklyn’s Pizzeria – straight up good, wood burning oven, pizza in the area. I personally enjoyed our pie and I know how strongly people feel about pizza in that state and it’s neighboring one too. However, I found it to be delicious and I had to stop myself from devouring the whole thing. (Note: it’s cash only business)
Bricklane Curry House – my gawd…this place was the place that gave me one of those food-awe-haze moments. The Butter Masala was incredible to the point where I would say it comes close to my fave at Punjabi Tandoor’s Makhani. And their paneer pakora (which my friend has coined as “pan-pak”) was amazing too. I don’t know if I like Village Indian’s pan-pak or Bricklane’s more! AHHHHHH THE DILEMMA! (Oh! Don’t forget to order yourself a mango lassi – thick, creamy, and packed with mango goodness!)
Organic Tofu House – when I think of middle of nowhere cities in the woods…I don’t automatically think amazing Korean tofu stew. Who would?? However, this Korean tofu house was a real diamond in the rough. It’s in a strip mall and on the other side of the main street through Ridgewood. Complete unassuming and yet, for those who venture in, they are met with a quaint little restaurant that whips out a pot of bubbling, scathing hot, organic tofu stew! Man oh man…my coworker and I dove into our bubbly pots with little care for our tongues because we wanted the stew!!
Fire & Oak
2 locations in New Jersey
Westwood, NJ 07642
15 Oak St
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Bricklane Curry House
Multiple Locations – NJ and NY
Organic Tofu House
88 Godwin Ave
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
This past week, I met up with my friend, LKB, at an Indian restaurant that she insisted was just as good, if not better, than Punjabi Tandoor. Now, that’s a bold statement coming from someone who is just as much of a PT fan as I am. To have her say that to me, made me instantly curious and impatient to taste it myself.
It was actually a place I’ve passed by many times and eaten actually just a few storefronts by it. This was Village Indian Cuisine in Kearny Mesa. The restaurant is not big, but it does have more than 3 tables! So that means you can linger longer and talk long after eating.
The menu is like most Indian restaurants you’ve seen and been to. Why mess with tradition right? Especially when you can do it right…and VIC knows their way around the food alright.
We started off dinner with an order of the Paneer Pakora. The batter was light and it came out with a sprinkling of white pepper. It was perfect and delicious. I never had paneer this way and was surprised how much I loved it. It wasn’t just “like”, it was “love!” The reason? Let me get to our entrees because as good as the appetizer was, the entree was what really shone that night.
LKB and I both ordered the tikka masala combo (curry, basmati rice, and roti) – chicken and paneer. The curry was thick, flavorful, complex, and hearty. I couldn’t get enough of the curry, but then again, I couldn’t get over how SOFT the paneer was at VIC! I’ve tried paneer all over San Diego and nothing has come as close as this place. The paneer just MELTS in your mouth. I think my eyes rolled back at one point and was lost in the moment.
Village Indian Cuisine’s paneer is the standard I’ll hold all paneers up against. This restaurant has just officially made it to my permanent rotation and I am already planning my next visit.
Village Indian Cuisine
9187 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Suite #2
San Diego, CA 92123
It has been 3 three years since I was introduced the best kept San Diego secret. I had loved Indian food way before then, but still had a hard time loving a single place for Indian food in San Diego. Then…the ladies I worked with showed me the light, and that light was the little space that made still the best Indian food I’ve ever had: Punjabi Tandoor. (Cue the music, turn on the spot light, and throw some sparkles!!!)
Ok…this place is about as big as…my BEDROOM, ok more like the kitchen den (which is not that big at all). There is a little stove top in the back, with a tandoori oven, and a sink in the back. A tiny counter with a cash register, some dining tables at the front (seating only 18 tightly), with a fridge holding drinks). There are some tables out in front, but this place is SMALL. Yet, it is a popular local hole in the wall for amazing Northern Indian Cuisine! I don’t know how else to say how good this place is other than something along these lines:
Yeah, that’s my mind and tongue usually when I am dining in this place. There are many items I enjoy from this family run joint including: Lamb Curry, Paneer Tikka Masala, Bengan Bhartha, and my favorite…CHICKEN MAKHANI!
This is also known as “Butter Chicken”, it’s basically Tandoori chicken cooked in butter, yogurt and tomato gravy. If you like curries, and you like tikka masala, then you’ll fall head over heels with the Makhani! It works on a whole totally different level than the usual “curry” and tastes great with a fresh piece of naan (made to-order) or basmati rice. Sometimes I want more and more of this delicious nectar of the gods, but being that I am a mortal…it does get real heavy for me.
I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this place considering that I visit it at least once a month. However, when people ask for great Indian food in San Diego, I would not hesitate to suggest to them Pujabi Tandoor. To give more credit to this place, whenever I am here, I see plenty of local Indian residents coming for dinner and take-out. Also, a good handful of friends (all Indians) highly recommends this place.
Don’t let the business area fool you, this place is legit. Try it!
9235 Activity Rd
San Diego, CA 92126
The Del Mar Fairgrounds was the host of the first ever Gourmet Food Truck Festival. It was a gorgeous day out and perfect for gorging ourselves with amazing food. Now as I seat here after some “down” time, I am going through all my pictures and reminiscing about the eat-a-thon with my friend, LA.
We arrived at the fairgrounds with a tentative game plan: hit as many trucks as we could, and share everything we get. Oh look! This sign told us where our adventure would begin…
To kick off the eating, we started at Dogzilla:
To wet our appetites, we started with the Yakisoba Dog ($6) – a spicy hot link topped with stir-fried Yakisoba noodles with cabbage, bean sprouts, and green onions, Okonomi sauce, red ginger, finished off with Ao-Nori. I was excited to try this because it was everything I love, in a bun! And not just any bun, but a sweet Hawaiian bun.
The sausage gave the meal the spicy kick I prefer my meals to have. With the lack of Sriracha and only ketchup, the sausage provided that spiciness that made my tongue happy! The yakisoba was good, slightly sweet and salty, and the sweet bun helped wrapped everything for mobility. I think this was one of the best starter for this food adventure!
Next…Great Balls on Tires:
Specializing in well…great balls! Of meat :). While waiting in line, we talked with two fellow foodies and had a great conversation with them! As LA said, I make friends where ever I go and you know what? Food always tastes better with great company! 🙂 Also, during our conversation, LA came up with a perfect phrase that even our new friends found to be quite amusing, and reflected myself perfectly – “food stalker”. There needs some definition to go with this new phrase….here’s a shot: a food stalker is one who stares at others, known and unknown, solely to drool/obsess/investigate food that is not at one’s own plate. Who will ask many questions to inquire about the food item being consumed and occasionally proceed to request for some.
Maybe that’s what a food stalker is? If anyone has a better definition, send it to me! For now, under this definition, I am a bona fide food stalker extraordinaire!
This bona fide food stalker and her accomplice went for an order of the Ballywood and Buffalo Balls (respectively and $6 per item). The Ballywood was garam masala chicken balls, topped with coconut madras curry, crispy fired onions, and served with saffron basmati rice with tomato and cilantro chutneys. The Buffalo Balls were buffalo style chicken ball, mac & cheese, blue cheese dressing, and served with celery and carrot.
The meatballs were amazingly juicy and tender – both of them! The curry was not spicy (how I like mine), but rather on the sweet side. However, it was flavor packed and I couldn’t help but lap it all up (my half) along with the somehow decently cooked basmati rice! The buffalo sauce on the other hand was not spicy, and was sweet with a bit of vinegar tang. Again, not my usual go-to flavor combo, but the meatball itself was so good, plus when I took a bite with the mac & cheese (with panko bread crumbs at top!!!), it made for a great bite! Overall – this red, black, and white truck satisfied me and LA.
Next stop – the Tornado Potato:
We went for the “Tornado” with cajun seasoning. As you can see, it’s a towering spiral of a whole potato on a stick! LA and I had this at the County Fair this year, but we both wanted a fried potato item so we went with this place! We both agreed that the potato should be sliced thinner to get that crispiness of a chip on the exterior, while remaining fluffy inside like a fry. It was still tasty and we both love our potato treat!
Having had so many savory items, plus with the sun baring down on us for sometime now, we both needed a cool off and something sweet. The answer to our prayers?
Longboard’s Ice Cream:
The recipe of this truck is simple: pick your ice cream flavor on a stick, then your chocolate coating choice (milk or dark) and finally your topping to coat the whole thing.
My choice: coconut ice cream, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with half graham cracker crumbs, and half rainbow sprinkles. I loved the idea of how this worked and I loved the freshly dipped items, but my only issue was that ice cream bar on the stick was too icy. It must be from keeping the ice cream frozen in order to dip them, so I can understand yet it did bother me a little. However, it was still quite enjoyable! Oh! And since I forgot to take an individual pic of LA’s pop, she chose: pistachio ice cream, dipped in dark chocolate, and covered with rainbow sprinkles. According to LA, the pistachio ice cream was only ok and didn’t have enough pistachio flavor to it.
After our pops, we decided to sit and rest for a bit, to let all the food mix in our stomachs and begin to really process it. That was when the food coma started creeping in! Oh man…I knew from there, it was only going to go downhill. However, after sitting, then walking, and watching a race, we dove back into the crowds (which only grew even larger at that point). I met up with a couple of friends and a colleague, watched what they ate and decided I had to make one more last haul!
Hence, LA and I made our way to Tapa Boy:
I ordered the Pork Longanisa Bowl with garlic fried rice (sinangag), an egg, and a side of papaya relish (atsara) with tomato and cucumber. Man…when they say garlic rice…boy, oh, boy…did they really mean it! The rice was packed with garlic and I loved it! Their longanisa was sweet, which surprised me a little because I was expecting something spicy (are you noticing a trend here?…because I am). The meat was super tender and yield to a plastic fork with ease, so it was still quite good. Though it didn’t blow my mind away.
To end a long day, though I didn’t have any…a friend bought herself a decked out waffle from Waffles de Liege:
This here is a liege waffle with chocolate drizzle, almonds, and topped with a giant scope of Fosselman’s English toffee nut ice cream. I only had the ice cream and it was amazing! My friend “Channy” dove into this with a huge smile on her face. Judging from her expression, I think she liked it ;).
Well my friends, that was my first ever Gourmet Food Truck Festival! I can’t wait for the next one, but until then…I am going to start having to find these food trucks around town for lunch! Bon appetit my fellow food stalkers!For more information on the food trucks visited: Dogzilla
Great Balls on Tires
Long Boards Ice Cream
Waffles de Liege
Two weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas for work again and once again, I found myself with the cash to spend for food yet, I would have to eat alone. This may sound a little sad, but you know…it did not phase me too much. Mostly because with no other mouths to which I must account for their differing tastes than mine, I could eat anything I wanted and I tend to go all out. So for one of the nights, I decided to splurge on a great meal. However, even though I had a budget that would be more than any one person can eat, I still had to be mindful of what I did spend (aka I could not go out to a place that would charge me $25 for an appetizer course). With that frame of mind, I found on Yelp.com a highly rated restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel – MOzen Bistro.
The restaurant is an fusion of Japanese, Indian, Thai, and Korean flavors, with a dash of American twists sprinkled intermittently. They describe themselves as a sampler of the “flavors of the east.” Although from the surface the restaurant sounds like it is thoroughly confused, I can assure you it is not because without going into detail, I had a sample of the range of flavors they could work with and I was surprisingly impressed. Their attention to details to the dishes were astounding and even their space was very well thought out. It may not have been on the 23rd floor of the hotel, but the restaruant was beautifully designed in a cozy space. Basic, elegant, chic, and completely my style. As it was a Monday night, the restaurant was really quiet with only a couple of covers other than mine. However, granted that it was a slow night and the wait staff could have slacked off, the service here at MOzen was always attentive and friendly.
After some consideration from my waitress recommendations where she mentioned that the restaurant has one of the most arguably fresh sushi available, I started off my meal with the salmon nigri.
Two cuts of tender, fresh, vibrant pieces of salmon appeared before me, sitting atop of little bit of sushi rice. I must say, this salmon was definitely comparable to some of the finer sushi restaurant’s I have visited here in Vegas. I do apologize for the poor quality of the photo though. The lighting in the restaurant was dim and I tried to not use my flash, but then this is the result. In looking at this picture, you cannot grasp how beautiful this simple little fish was. I may need to come back to try other cuts and take proper pictures next time.
Next up, for my entree, I knew I had to try this when I saw it on the menu: Northern Indian Lamb Shank Curry. Ok…let it sink in…it is a bone-in lamb shank simmered in a rich, dark curry. Two of my favorite things merged together: lamb shank and curry. I was in heaven I thought from just reading the description, but then when the whole meal came out…
I could only stare in awe. I think my mouth may have been hanging open with a giddy air about me when I sat with this meal before me. The menu described everything that would be coming to me, but I don’t think I completely registered the sheer breath of this meal until it arrived to me. It was an amazing sight and the aroma was just overwhelmingly mouthwatering! The lamb shank was cooked so tendered it was almost fall of the bones. The curry was rich, earthy, and complex with multitude of spices working together to draw you in for more and had just the right amount of “kick”. I would have just picked up the bowl and slurped it all down had I been at home (or at least in a restaurant with more people so no one would really notice me doing that). However, I lapped up all the yummy curry with the lamb and basmati rice.
Above the main course was the naan which wasn’t quite the rustic, freshly made naan that I had come to enjoy and love at authentic Indian restaurants. However, at least they did not give me pita bread and tell me that was naan (that makes me SO angry! Come on! Like really?!?!) but I question whether it was made in house. Either way, it was the perfect vehicle for one of the surprises of the night which was the lentils! I love, love curry lentils, but so often I am disappointed by the lentil dishes I get because they are bland, watery, and plain sad. MOzen’s lentils were NOTHING of that nature. It was POW in your face flavor town! Quite honestly, the lentils could stand as a main dish on its own, perfect for the vegetarians palates and yet, scrumptious for the carnivores like myself. The lentils were just as rich as the lamb curry, but not as spicy. It is hard to describe it other than it was an explosion of AWESOME. (MOzen…can you just hand over the pot of lentils to me now?…)
The entire meal was one amazing adventure after another. My only criticism would be that it was REALLY hard cutting into my lamb shank that was sitting in the bowl. I kept thinking if I cut the wrong way, I would just tip the bowl over and lose all my precious curry. Perhaps if MOzen could find some flat bottom bowls and change the plate it sits on top of, then the eater would be less scared to cut into his or her meat.
Even after that monstrous meal for one, I had to finish the dinner off properly with dessert. I know I could have walked right next door to Bellagio for dessert at one of my favorite patisseries, Jean Philippe Patisserie, but I wanted to see how MOzen handled desserts. When I took a look over the menu, the offerings all sounded good yet my stretching stomach reminded me that I only had a little room left, so I opted for the house-made gelato. The waitress told me ALL the flavor selections they had for the day (there was at least 10 flavors, so it made me wonder if it was perhaps the central kitchen making it and distributed to all the outlets in the hotel) and my ears perked at a few.
Starting from the bottom and going counterclockwise: salted caramel, pistachio, and pumpkin spice. Of the three, the pumpkin spice was the one I was most excited to order yet…when I finally tasted all three…it ranked #3 overall! I have an obsession with pumpkin everything so that says something because the pumpkin spice gelato was still really good. However, the winner of this show was hands down, no question, all the eggs in the basket (ok I know, you get it)…it was the salted caramel! The balance was just so right that it made me forget how full I was because I couldn’t have enough! The pistachio was #2 and even though I wish they did not use food coloring, the flavor was still quite strong with my favorite nut.
This was one of the best meals I’ve had at on the Strip for some time now and for the end bill ($77 with tax & tip) was well worth it. The chef had a brilliant idea and was able to get a well trained team to execute it to perfection. Everything I had that night was spotless and my tongue was giddy with joy by the end. Thank you MOzen for making me believe in what a
good great meal should be in Vegas!
(in the Mandrin Oriental Hotel)
3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89158