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Pizza

Best of Park Ridge, NJ

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:

  1. All you can eat sushi dinner for $19.99!  It is a freaking deal no matter how you swing it.
  2. 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

Sushi Village
700-90 Broadway
Westwood, NJ 07642

Brooklyn’s Pizzeria
15 Oak St
Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Bricklane Curry House
Multiple Locations – NJ and NY

Organic Tofu House
88 Godwin Ave
Ridgewood, NJ 07450


Chicago – Again and again

The past two weeks I have been on travel for training and have been getting as much as I could in every aspect: knowledge, networking, and most of all – FOOD.

Last week, I was back in the great city of Chicago and this time, I was actually in the city versus my first trip to the Second City where I was mostly there to sleep.  Granted, it helped that my fellow colleagues all wanted to go out each night to get the most we could together.

However, when I first arrived in the city on Sunday night I was on my own since I had yet to know who was in town.  I quickly checked in and headed straight out to take the metro to my first food destination: Blue 13.

I found this restaurant from researching online and had great ratings, along with fabulous raves from foodies like myself.  When I arrived, it was quaint little restaurant with a warm overall feel to it in its minimalist interior design.  As far as I could tell, there was only one server and one host who bus tables when it became busier through the night.

To begin the meal, I ordered a simple Mixed Green salad:

The salad of mixed greens, shaved carrots, and radish tossed with Dijon vinaigrette and topped with a generous amount of pecorino.  A great, refreshing start to the meal.  There is little for me to say about the salad other than it was a great salad.  Plus, the fresh, hot bread that came out along with olive oil to dip in made a delish start to the meal.

For my entrée, as I was dining for one, I ordered the highly recommended “3 Birds” Lobster Pizza:

I know what you’re thinking already. Yes, I did know I was ordering a thin crust pizza in the city known for deep dish.  However, if you come here, I am going to echo what I had found during my online research – this is a must have dish.

The crust was charred perfectly and thin so that you would have to do the fold right down the middle to make sure everything stayed on.  This is a white pie with a roasted garlic puree base, caramelized onions, chunks of lobster, and manchego cheese to hold it all together with a sprinkling of herbs.  This pizza has the sweetness that reminds you of a cheesy, yummy, lobster bisque.  It all balances so well together that I couldn’t stop eating it.  I pushed myself beyond the point of bursting because it was that delicious.  However, I sadly left behind two slices that were stripped of their lobster pieces because my stomach said, “Please…no more!!”

Despite my comatose state at that moment, I still ordered a dessert because how can I call this meal completed until I did?!  So of the 3 dessert choices, this was the one that perked my interest: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Waffle.

Understand that I had no more intention of stuffing myself, but when I saw “candied bacon” I knew I had to try it.  What came out was a waffle, drizzled with chocolate sauce, topped with candied bacon and hazelnut, and paired with butter pecan ice cream.

First off – the candied bacon was the best part of the dessert.  You’re wondering what did it taste like right?  Just imagine breakfast, where you have a side of bacon with your pancake/waffle, and the maple syrup drips over to the bacon.  It was sticky, sweet, crispy, and salty.  The waffle did not have chocolate chips and needed more peanut butter.  Overall, I would suggest you skip this dessert, try a different one, or just order yourself another lobster pizza.

This is the type of restaurant you go to with friends to just catch up, share some good food, and enjoy the evening.  The two servers were great and attentive, but when it got a little busier by the time I had finished my meal, the lack of staff was apparent.  Still, friendly service and great food is the equation for a satisfied customer who will return.

Blue 13
416 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60654-5714

The following night, after our first day of training, a group of us went out to grab dinner at The Publican where if it oinks, it will end up cooked at this restaurant.  I loved the open space design which was to resemble a barn.  To add to that, their booth seating had little doors to encapsulate diners as if they were in a pig stall.  The rest of the restaurant was set up with communal tables where you could be sitting next to a complete stranger on one side and your friend on the other.

We went family style and ordered various dishes off the menu to share.  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking, with a few inserts by me, so enough grazing through the pictures!

Beets with Clementine segments and yogurt – this was my favorite side that we had ordered that night.  Sweet and tart, great palate cleanser.

Charcuterie plate: pork pie, trotter-foie gras terrine, head cheese, milano, morteau sausage, pickles & mustards

Turnips with rosemary

Cajun Shrimp with Grits – the grits had soaked up all the Cajun spices and shrimp juices.

Fried Smelt with mustard greens and raw onions

Country Ribs with mustard greens & grilled red onions

Sweetbread with sweet potatoes, black trumpets & green garlic-watercress pesto

Pork Belly with fresh chickpeas and stuffing – decadent and you feel so guilty for eating this fatty yet delicious piece of the pig. (*gurgling sound*)

Lamb Sausage with lentils, mint, meyer lemon & yogurt – I love lamb…I love sausage…I loved, LOVED this dish.  The mint and yogurt balanced out the gamey flavor of the sausage and the casing had a great snap to the bite.

Yams

Frites

Apple & Rhubarb Crumble with crème – heaven in one’s mouth.

Waffle with pear butter & plum marmalade – highly suggest that you do not waste your time with this one.  It was nothing special at all.

Dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream – a darker heaven in one’s mouth.  Then again I am the biggest fan of dark chocolate, so if you don’t like dark chocolate (WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!) then this is definitely not for you.

The Publican also has a wide beer and wine selection, as well as servers who are willing to mix you up a great cocktail if you desire it.  The restaurant has a fun atmosphere especially for big groups.  Just make sure you don’t have any vegetarians in the group otherwise they will most likely go hungry.

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

On our last night in the city, our dining group only grew to an even larger number than the previous night.  This time around, upon my insistence on move to more ethnic flavors, we decided upon a restaurant that has several locations throughout the country, but still supposedly made great food.  That night…we our taste buds did the samba at SUSHISAMBA!

Once again, we ate family style and tried a little bit of everything.

Edamame organic soybean, sea salt, lime

Tiger shrimp tempura

Salmon sashimi seviche marinated in mizuna, aji amarillo, and orange

This dish was the sunshine of my night (wait…um…yea, I’ll still stand by my description)!  It was fresh, bright, sweet, spicy, turns your life around because it was just that amazing.  It would even put a smile to the worst Debby Downer that you know! (Unless he/she doesn’t like fish…but even then! This dish may convert him/her!)

Yellowtail sashimi seviche marinated in ginger, garlic, and soy

Tuna sashimi seviche marinated in coconut, lime, and serrano chilies

Of the 3 seviches we ordered that night, this was the most disappointing for me.  It didn’t have the vibrant flavors of the salmon nor yellowtail seviches. 😦  However, our fish adventures had just started because out came our platter of various sushi rolls:

(Going from left to right): Spicy Tuna; Bobo - brazil seared kobe beef, avocado, kaiware, shiso, red onion, chimichurri ponzu; Unagi tamago - freshwater eel, zuke tuna, cucumber, tempura flake, wasabi crema;Rainbow dragon - freshwater eel, red bell pepper, cucumber, mango, avocado

Charcoal roasted mussels garlic, white wine, Peruvian chili

Unfortunately, the mussels did not taste fresh (consistently) and so we asked for them to return it and traded for:

Spicy Popcorn Shrimp – sweet and spicy, fried tempura shrimp.

We also ordered the churrasco “supreme” (aka meatfest) with: rio grande grilled hanger steak, ribeye, pork tenderloin, chorizo and linguica.  This was served with sides of white rice, black beans, collard greens, and farofa.  Additionally, various dipping sauces including malagueta pepper oil and chimichurri:

Meat-palooza!

The Miso-marinated Chilean sea bass roasted organic vegetables is one of those dishes that I still think about.  This is the perfect example of a perfectly cooked fish that is so smooth, so fresh, so buttery, so fracking delish that I gurgle as I giggle with giddy.

Whole crispy red snapper spicy red curry sauce, scallion, ginger, coconut rice – the rice was good! The fish staring at me…not so much.

Side of Peruvian corn – it’s like hominy; I wasn’t much of a fan.

And of course, we had to have desserts.  Note the plural form of that: desserts.  We really went all out for dessert and there were no regrets what-so-ever afterwards because they were all delicioso!

Coco duo: Brazilian dark and white chocolate custard, chocolate pearls, praline

Peruvian hot chocolate served with traditional churros

Rosca: housemade doughnuts, vanilla glaze, chocolate hazelnut sauce

Warm chocolate banana cake maple butter, banana chip, vanilla rum ice cream

Cassava carrot cake brown butter ice cream, cinnamon cream, rainbow carrot chip, orange reduction

Carmen Miranda:  seasonal fresh fruit, pop rocks, lemon sorvete…sorry, no pictures for this one :(.  I can describe to you what it was: a bowl of fresh berries that included strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries, with a sprinkle of pink pop rocks (not enough apparently since the tasters didn’t feel the effects of it) and a scoop of lemon sorbet.

I don’t know which one I liked more, but I did know I had a taste of everything and there wasn’t one that I didn’t like!  Even though it is not a local restaurant, this place has a fun atmosphere and serves stellar food with great service.  SUSHISAMBA…I think you will have to be part of my favorite small, national chain!  One note though: of all the food we ate, it unanimous that the “sushi” part of the restaurant was something that fell short on with the exception of the “seviche.”

SUSHISAMBA
Several locations in the US

Thank you Chicago for showing me yet another good time! 🙂


Contemplating on good eats of the past

I was thinking back on my last trip overseas with CP during the summer 2009 and tried to pinpoint which was my favorite, and most memorable meal.  In the end, hands down, it was the simple and delicious pizza while in Rome:

This was a little pizza vendor in a narrow corridor by the Pantheon.  They have the a variety you can pick from and pay for it by its weight.  Once you make your selection, the “nice” man will help heat it up in the oven for a little bit, before handing it to you on parchment paper.

 

I helped myself to 2 types: prosciutto (top) and spicy sausage and broccoli (bottom).  Ok, if you haven’t noticed already – neither type has tomato sauce and both have just enough cheese to hold everything together.  The simplicity of the slices were amazing.

It tastes nothing like the pizza you know in the States (regardless of which ever style you eat).  And of the two, hands down the spicy sausage with broccoli was the best.  I love my food spicy and this baby had the right amount of kick without me needing to add my usual crushed red peppers.  To date – I have yet to come across another slice that could mimic this taste.

Oh Italia…you are a land of beauty – in your cities, country side, museums, and on my plate. 🙂


If you had a black hole of a stomach…

What would you want for the ultimate buffet/sampling of your favorite foods?  Here would be my list of delicious dishes and one-off items I would want:

  • Almond Croissant – Tartine Bakery (San Francisco, CA), Payard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Tofu Stew – Tofu House (San Diego, CA)
  • Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) and Began Bertha – Punjabi Tandoor (San Diego, CA)
  • Cannoli – Solunto Bakery (San Diego, CA)
  • Gelato (any flavor) – Papalecco (San Diego, CA)
  • Drunken Noodles and Spicy Fried Rice – Amarin Thai (Mira Mesa: San Diego, CA)
  • Green Curry – Antique Thai (San Diego, CA)
  • Cupcakes – Elizabethian Desserts (Encinitas, CA)
  • Falafel – Mama’s Lebanese Bakery (San Diego, CA) or Armenian Cafe (Carlsbad, CA)
  • Xi Long Bao – Shanghai House (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sushi (sashimi) – Sushi Ota (San Diego, CA)
  • Sushi rolls – Harney Sushi (San Diego, CA), Sushi Okoze (San Francisco, CA)
  • Red Beans n’ Rice – Bud’s Louisiana Cafe (San Diego, CA)
  • Ice cream – Mariposa Ice Cream (San Diego, CA), Bi-Rite Creamery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Sandwich (Hot) – Spicy Pickle, Sandwich Emporium, Earl of Sandwich (San Diego, CA), any shop in Paris
  • Tapas: Sautéed Meatballs al Jerez; Shrimp Croquetas; Brava Sautéed Potatoes; Fabada – Cafe Sevilla (San Diego, CA)
  • Thin Crust Pizza – Bongiornos New York Pizzeria, Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA), Delfina Pizzeria (San Francisco, CA), John’s Pizzeria (NY, NY)
  • Spicy Eggplant with Ground Pork – Dumpling Inn (San Diego, CA)
  • Smoked Bologna – Earl’s Rib Place (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Turkey and Green Beans – County Line Barbecue (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Cheese Danish – Ingrid’s Kitchen (Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Smoked Ham – Gates BBQ (North Kansas City, MO)
  • Lamb Shank – MoZen Bistro (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Budino – Cucina Urbana (San Diego, CA)
  • Pumpkin Custard – Luv-It Frozen Custard (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Harvest Pie – Coco’s Bakery (national chain)
  • Macaron – Lauree (Paris, France), La Maison Du Chocolat (NY,NY and international)
  • Chicken and Lamb over Rice – 53rd & 6th Halal Cart (NY, NY)
  • Tuscan White Bean soup (seasonal) – B&B Ristorante (Venetian: Las Vegas, NV)
  • Chocolate Duo – Opera Patisserie (San Diego, CA)
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie – Norstrom Cafe, Potbelly(multiple locations)
  • Egg Tart – Golden Gate Bakery (San Francisco, CA)
  • Saffron Spaghetti with Lobster; Seared Scallops – 1500 Ocean(San Diego, CA)
  • Gobo Salad – Wa Dining Okan(San Diego, CA)
  • Grilled Chicken Wings; Salmon Rice Ball with Broth – Yakitori Yakyudori (San Diego, CA)
  • Peanut Butter Cookie – Extraordinary Desserts (San Diego, CA)
  • Olive Oil Gelato – L’Arte del Gelato (NY,NY)
  • Belgium Waffles – Any fresh or packaged even in Germany
  • Strozzapreti Bolognese – La Terrazza (Vancouver, BC)
  • Crab cakes and Crab Soup – Jerry’s Place (Prince Fredrick, MD)

Man…I realized that I really like eating when writing this.

So readers – want to share what YOU like to eat and from where? 🙂


San Diego Restaurant Week Recap

As many of you may have known, San Diego hosted  it’s 7th Restaurant Week and this year, more than half of the participating restaurants extended their RW into the following week.  This gave restaurants more opportunities to introduce themselves to new audiences and thus, creating a bigger fan base.  Some may like RW, while others do not and I think (which I have felt myself as well) it is due to the fact that for regulars, their restaurants are suddenly overtaken by new customers who ware clamoring for the pre-fix menu.  What you have to realize is this kind of exposure for restaurants is a great way to build up their client base.  We must not be selfish because we all want our favorite restaurants to survive one of the toughest and cut throat  industries.

I participated in 2 RW menus for restaurants I had been wanting to visit for the longest time: Nobu San Diego and Cucina Urbana.

Both restaurants are very different in nature, but both were exquisite in food and service.  There is a reason why Nobu is so highly regarded and why locals cannot get enough of Cucina Urbana.  Nobu is sleek, chic, and hip.  Cucina Urbana is rustic, homey, and modern.  Either one can do no wrong and lived up to what I had expected when I stepped foot in each.

Nobu – San Diego (Hard Rock Hotel)

The appetizer to start the night off was the Salmon Tataki Salad.  Lightly seared salmon sashimi was accompanied by shaved root vegetables, with cilantro dressing. Usually I am not a big fan of seared sashimi because I think it takes away from the beauty of the fish, but in this case, I found the sear to be perfect.  The center was still beautifully fresh and melted on my tongue.

For our entrees, CP and I each ordered something different and split it:

The Artic Char with with Jalapeno Cauliflower was pan-seared so the outer skin was crisped up and then roasted.  The skin did get charred a little too much but it did not effect the fish itself thankfully.  The char was tender and delicious.  The jalapeno cauliflower was so good that I could eat a bowl of it on its own!

Nobu’s take on Fish n’ Chips made me want to eat more fish…mostly because they used Chilean sea bass.  I want to talk to whoever came up with this idea of battering and deep frying sea bass!  Granted, it was delicious with a slightly thicker tempura batter, but why would you deep fry a beautiful fish like sea bass?!  I love sea bass…like it is my TOP fish choice and I would never, EVER think of deep frying it.  It feels just wrong…but yet…it did taste oh so heavenly…I was torn!  The chips were a little limpy and sad, but that honey anti-cucho sauce was so good that I just wanted to dip everything in it!

Each entree came with a Spicy Tuna roll.  My only grip about this was that the menu promised me spicy yellowtail (which is my favorite fish for sushi), but instead tuna came.  I love tuna and everything, but my hopes were up and then shot back down.

However, nothing shot me down as quickly as the dessert…

Nobu’s best-seller and customer favorite dessert: the Bento Box.  This is a Araguani 72% chocolate fondant cake, with a sesame crisp and green tea matcha gelato.  First off…I know that the Valrhona Araguani dark chocolate is one of the best to use for a deep, dark, bittersweet chocolate and my chocolate preference leans on the dark side.  However, this cake was just….terrible.  First off, I think the chef forgot the sugar all together.  It was bland and bitter, which I could not even tell if it was from the dark chocolate or it was burnt because it actually tasted burnt to me.  This made me really sad because I always look forward to desserts!  Sigh…thank goodness the green tea gelato saved the night! It was smooth, light, and packed with matcha awesomeness!  (By the way…do YOU see any sesame crisp?…no? neither did I..until I finished my gelato and found this semi-clear sugar-like crisp.  I’m guessing that’s the sesame crisp?)

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Nobu.  The restaurant is definitely one of those “hip”, “mod”, “the cool place to be”.  The music was loud, the customers were more or less inebriated, but the service was friendly and attentive.  Will I be back for more? Heck Yes!  (Will I be having the Bento Box again?…not in this lifetime or next!)

Cucina Urbana

Another night, another meal!  CP’s chopped house salad really was chopped and tossed! It was medley of soppresata (salami), pepperoni, olive, red onion, tomato, asiago, pepperoncini, and some lettuce.  Not sure if I’d really would call this a “salad” in my terms, but it was delicious bowl of chopped meats and vegetables (mostly the former).  It was all tossed in a vinaigrette that was sweet but had a little bit to it too.

My first course choice was the roasted baby beet and orange salad was divine! Light, summery salad with lots of color and it was simply fun and smart.  The baby beets were tender and delicious with the cashews.  I think my favorite part were the scoops of ‘yo-goat’…or basically, goat’s milk yogurt.  Goat cheese is my absolute favorite cheese in the whole, wide world!  However, I’ve never had goat’s milk yogurt!  Just imagine goat cheese…but SOFTER!  HEAVEN!!!

We went with the pizza pre-fix menu so CP went to where his Italian heart will always be: a red pie with pepperoni and fennel sausage.  The nice charred underskirt of the baked dough held the sweet red sauce, with house-made mozzarella and the meat. CP gave 2 thumbs up to the wood fire oven pizza and proceeded to consume the whole thing.

I HAD to try their signature pizza with guanciale (pork belly!!! Get in MY belly!!), fingerling potato, brie, bésciamela, and 2 fresh cracked eggs!  O.M.G…Ok…how should I start?  This was like…a ridiculously indulgent breakfast-like pizza. The pork belly melted and flavored the pizza.  The saltiness of the pork melded well with the salty brie and then when you broke the yolk of the egg and let it spread through the pizza.  It’s just an indescribable experience!  Then to top off this amazing pie was a spicy chili sauce the waiter brought over and let me in on the fact that it is the perfect pairing.  My gosh…was he right!  The chili sauce elevated the pizza to 10 times higher and for once, I truly could taste the spice.  Oh lordy….*drooling at the thought*

The pear crisp with mascarpone gelato was not all that impressive but still good none-the-less.  In comparison though…

The chocolate budino with chocolate chantilly and salted chocolate biscuit….CHOCOLATE ORGASMIC PSYCHEDELIC EXTRAVAGANZA!  “Wow” would be an understatement.  Let me help put this in context….I had already had 2 full courses which did include a sizable pizza…and the fact that I could still taste and have my mind be blown away by this budino….yes, it was just that good!  Budino is Italian for pudding and that’s just what it was: a dark chocolate pudding. Thick and unadulterated chocolate pudding that was intense in flavor.  Perfectly balanced, just sweet enough, but still a dark chocolate pudding.  The chantilly helped lightened up a bite if you were (like me) already feeling like you’re at your breaking point in your stomach.  The salted chocolate cookie was good, but I found myself not wanting it because it got in my way of the budino.

I love Cucina Urbana for it’s rustic, no frills, yet still very much stylish atmosphere.  They present food as it is and let’s the food’s own brilliance shine through.  All the chef does is perhaps polish it up and gives its a nice pep talk before it makes its debut on your table.  Wonderful experience.

I must say that this year’s RW did not fail to impress me.  The number of restaurants now participating in this event has seem to grow with each passing year.  This shows that restaurants now understand the power of this well sponsored and advertised event is to their advantage.  I have also noticed that a lot of restaurants continue to promote the pre-fixed menus (yay!) for both the cost-conscious consumers and encourages regulars to try something new at their old haunt. A good addition to a restaurant’s recipe for a long life in a world where only the best of best can shine through the decades.

Nobu (in Hard Rock Hotel)
207 5th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 814-4124

Cucina Urbana
505 Laurel Street
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 239-2222