Archive for the New Jersey Restaurants Category

Updates

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2009 by restaurantouring

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[One of my photos has been published at a blog owned by NBC and written by chef Ariane Duarte. Check out the entry here!]

Hello, people of the interwebs! Sorry for the lack of updates in a while. I’ve been pretty busy lately, mostly with work, eating, and taking pictures.

I still need to blog about my trip to Taiwan (amazing), Hong Kong, and Macau.

I’ve eaten at Le Bernardin since I last blogged, as well:

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And this past Monday, I had a life-changing meal at Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

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Lately, I’ve been cruising the Montclair restaurant scene, collaborating with local restaurants to get some food photography done. I’m not making any money doing it — I’m just doing it out of a bit of boredom and a desire to collaborate and help grow some of these businesses. Thanks go out to David Hobby at the Strobist blog for getting me off of my lazy keister. I’ll let you know when some of these pictures make it up onto their websites. In the meantime, if you’re from around my area, definitely check out CulinARIANE restaurant and Mesob Ethiopian restaurant.

The photo of the Jonah crab at the top of this post was shot for Oceania Seafood company, in New York (check my Flickr photostream for more pictures). They’re building a website, and I’ve been working very closely with an awesome IT support company called “Blue Lion Solutions” to help Oceania Seafood company grow its online seafood shipping business.

So, if you need the freshest seafood around, contact Oceania Seafood at 917-662-8028 (website coming very soon!)

And if you need web hosting services, IT support, and boatloads more help from tech-savvy types, contact Blue Lion Solutions (or just click here).

CulinAriane, part III

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by restaurantouring

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I love eating at CulinAriane. The food keeps getting markedly better and better every time I go back to eat there. And that’s exciting for me, especially since I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to keep somewhat up-to-speed with the food that Ariane produces since after the show ended. In a recession, it’d be easy for a restaurant to start cutting back on food quantity and quality, yet somehow, CulinAriane has only been on the rise. She may be a self-proclaimed “old lady,” but don’t let that fool you — the woman can COOK. And with an expansion to the restaurant happening as early as this summer, things are looking really bright for the CulinAriane crew.

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My meal kicked off with a small bite of something Ariane loves to start off with — a small slice of seared tuna loin. This amuse bouche was paired with a creamy guacamole.

The cool, refreshing, al dente white asparagus that you see at the top of this post were topped with a fantastic warm goat cheese bearnaise sauce and morel mushrooms — one of my favorite mushrooms. I ordered the dish mainly because I thought it would look great in a photograph (and because it was in season and I figured I needed more fresh veggies in my meatatarian diet), and I’d like to think that I was right. The dish was plated exactly as I hoped it would be plated, which made lugging some extra photo gear to dinner and enduring the funny looks from the [probably] annoyed patrons worth it [for me]. (I deeply apologize to the people I may have annoyed during dinner. I tried to make the reservation as late as possible to avoid this).

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Next came the pirogi I ordered. Here, you’re looking at a couple delectable bites’ worth of caramelized onion, potato, white cheddar cheese, braised rabbit, carrot ribbons, and carrot juice reduction. The pirogies I had at Sava Polish Diner (an earlier post) do not compare (Sorry, Sava!).

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Croissant in lieu of bread. Even this has gotten better than I remember. Softer, fluffier, richer, better.

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Hawaiian striped marlin. Dusted with fennel pollen. Fingerling potatoes, spring garlic, artichoke hearts, and a grilled ramps vinaigrette. If Ariane keeps cooking marlin this way, I swear I’m going to eat every damn marlin in the sea. I had to hold myself back from licking the plate clean.

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The chocolate truffle cake with chocolate twizzle was perfection. It was light, moist, not too sweet, and perfectly matched with that mascarpone cream on top and the raspberry coulis around it. I’m usually not a fan of sweets, but I could eat ten of these desserts if my meager budget would allow it. Sigh.

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Dinner at CulinAriane part 2 – Montclair, NJ

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2009 by restaurantouring
Outside CulinAriane, looking in

Outside CulinAriane, looking in

[For a more recent account of the food at CulinAriane, in Montclair, NJ please click here.]

I first ate at CulinAriane back in mid-November (read about it here). I went after seeing chef Ariane Duarte talk about her small Montclair restaurant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef. A quick search on Google told me that I lived a mere 15 minutes away, so I figured I had to go. It was for science!

And what a science it was! Dinner that night was nothing short of terrific — one of the best meals I’ve ever had in a New Jersey restaurant. I still salivate at the thought of the mushroom and goat cheese polenta and shed tears of grief when I realize that it is no longer on the menu. That’s serious grief, folks — onions hardly make me cry anymore (but that’s probably because I use a really sharp knife to cut onions).

Dinner was even better because I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Duarte. A CIA graduate himself, he is Ariane’s husband, co-owner of the restaurant, and pastry chef for CulinAriane. But enough recap and reminiscing. On with the blog!

I went back there for dinner with my room mate, one of my best friends, for his birthday back in mid-January. Meant to blog about it way sooner, but never got around to it. Here’s what we had:

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of sun-dried tomato with parmesan breadcrumbs — one large, tender, flavorful bite.

Wine

Wine

Next, my roommate decided we should have a bottle of wine. CulinAriane is a BYO type of place and we unfortunately did not B our O. Luckily, they work with a local wine merchant, who delivers for free. We chose a 2006 Boisson-Vadot Meursault Chevaliers from France.

Crab cakes

Crab cakes

Oysters

Oysters

Next, came our appetizers: My roommate got the jumbo lump crab cake with citrus caper remoulade, which was very tender, sweet, flavorful, and full of large chunks of crab meat. The tangy citrus caper remoulade worked beautifully with the sweetness of the crab. I only wished there was a bit more greenery on the plate, but that’s only because I like having a nice salad with my crab cakes. My friend, however, would never agree with that because he is morally opposed to eating vegetables.

I ordered the cornmeal-crusted oysters, with micro greens and horseradish cream. My only complaint is that I wanted three more platters of them, which isn’t really a complaint, I suppose. These oysters were simple, had a great, clean flavor, and had just enough horseradish in the sauce to elevate the dish from boring to wham bam thank you ma’am.

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Ariane was then nice enough to give us this additional complimentary appetizer: a braised rabbit ragout, served with toasted gnocchi and shaved parmesan. The gnocchi were large, but nice and tender, flavorful, and offered a nice counterpoint to the gelatinous, unctuous, delicious braised rabbit.

Pekin duck breast

Pekin duck breast

Skate

Skate

We moved onto our entrees next: my friend got the Pekin duck breast with sweet potatoes, hash of duck confit and black garlic, duck jus, and fig balsamic drizzle. I ordered one of the specials of the night — a pan-seared skate wing with fried capers, new potatoes, and red chillis. This dish was very similar to the skate dish that Ariane made on Top Chef, and this was very well balanced in terms of buttery goodness, the sweetness of the fish, the heat from the chillis, and the acidity from the citrus.

Artisanal cheese plate

Artisanal cheese plate

Lemon Meringue Martini

Lemon Meringue Martini

Finally, we got our desserts: My roommate ordered a cup of Earl Grey and the artisanal cheese platter, while I had already decided that I would try the lemon meringue martini that caused Ariane so much grief on the show, early in the season.

The cheese plate came with toast and water crackers, with a candle stuck in what appeared to be cranberry sauce (because it was his birthday). The first cheese was a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester — a hard cow’s milk cheese. Next was the Prima Caciotta, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. Finally, there was the Humboldt Fog — a soft goat’s milk cheese.

I eagerly dug into the lemon meringue martini, with the cherry surprise and vanilla wafer on the bottom. Ironically (though, if you know me, not surprisingly), it was too sweet for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because of the fact that I dislike sweets or because it was actually too sweet. The birthday boy thought it was fine, so I defer to his judgment.

There you have it. Another meal at CulinAriane. I was supposed to eat there again (for my birthday this time) this past Saturday, but I had to cancel at the last minute. I rescheduled the reservation for this Thursday night, so I will let you know how things turn out!

Until next time, eat well and be happy!

– Conway

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Crown Palace Chinese Restaurant, Marlboro, NJ

Posted in New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , on January 14, 2009 by restaurantouring

I must be in a vengeful mood lately.  I don’t know why.  Well, that’s a lie — I know why, but it has nothing to do with food, so let’s move on.

I’ve got a real problem with this one particular New Jersey Chinese restaurant.  Actually, it’s just with this one particular waiter, who seems to have been promoted recently.  I’ll never understand why, though.  He’s rude, abrupt, inattentive, and he thinks he’s funny (he’s not).  I won’t mention names.  Suffice to say that he’s the one with the floppy haircut, almost cherubic smile, bad jokes, and he’s been working there for a few years now.

My family used to go eat there fairly often.  The quality of the food, as well as the quality of the service have all noticeably deteriorated in the past few years.  Often, salt is omitted from some of the dishes, which results in food that tastes almost like nothing.  How could you forget the salt?  Salting foods is one of the most fundamental skills in the kitchen!

They now have a wine list, which is new, but none of them seem to be particularly good.  That, and the asshat waiter might card you, ask you for a second form of identification to verify that you are, indeed, of age, persist in his quest to prove that you are not old enough to drink, and proceed to show you “how to drink wine,” by violently swirling a glass of Riesling, spilling it on your jeans, not noticing this, not apologizing, and then, finally, having the audacity to stick his nose up in your glass to take a long, disturbing sniff.

The thought still irritates me, even after these past couple of months.  We’ve not been back there since, but I have a feeling we will inevitably find ourselves at the mercy of this ignorant swine again, sooner or later.  There are only so many good Chinese restaurants in our area.

Next time, I’m going to West Lake (Google it, New Jerseyans.  West Lake is decent eatin’).

Crown Palace Chinese Restaurant is located at 8 N. Main St. in Marlboro, NJ.

West Lake Chinese Restaurant is located at 1016 State Route 34, Matawan, NJ‎.  Call ahead to reserve a table for larger parties:  (732) 290-2988

CulinAriane, in Montclair, New Jersey

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by restaurantouring

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So, if you watch Top Chef on Bravo TV, you probably know Ariane by now. She and her husband, Michael, own and operate restaurant CulinAriane in Montclair, New Jersey. I had the pleasure of meeting both of them after eating dinner at their restaurant last night.

I’ll start by saying this:  I know Ariane hasn’t been doing well on the show.  I know that she’s consistently landed herself on the elimination block in both episodes so far.  And I know that she can do better than that.  She’s a Culinary Institute of America graduate, along with her husband.  They’ve gotten culinary educations from the most prestigious culinary school in the country.  She can do better.  She’s worked at some great restaurants and gotten some strong experience.  She can do better than the TV version of her has done so far.  I know it.  And my stomach tells me it’s true, because I ate her food and it was good.

The restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, off of Grove Street, which is one of the main roads running through that section of town.  The place is small.  In fact, it is downright tiny.  When I called to ask questions and to make reservations last week after the premier, the girl who picked up the phone told me that the restaurant was 10 tables, tops.  I counted even fewer than that, since some of the deuces were pushed together to form a couple 4-tops.  No matter — the place was charming, cozy, and warm — a welcome respite from the freezing cold and gusty winds outside.

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Dinner started with an amuse bouche of seared tuna loin with a mango salsa.  A triangle of crispy fried wonton skin sits on top.  This was a single, complimentary, refreshing bite, which was followed by the bread and butter — in this case, the croissant pictured above with a covered ramekin of soft butter.  Ariane’s patrons previously complained, requesting that she provide them with plain dinner rolls, but she persevered with her croissants because she felt that the croissant more accurately reflected her cooking.  Even though this is a minor part of the meal, this shows me that she’s got character.  It shows me that she has standards, and that she has the conviction to stand by those standards — even if it means ignoring her customers and going with what she believes she should serve, and how it should be served.

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My appetizer arrived, and the roasted chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and goat cheese polenta with veal demi-glace (topped with crispy shallots — an elegant and refined version of onion rings) smelled so intoxicatingly good that I dug right in, completely forgetting to take a picture of the dish until I was halfway through with it.  When I first saw the menu, I thought the choice of goat cheese was an interesting and safe choice.  I initially told myself that I would have preferred a cheese with more character than simply goat cheese, but it ended up working beautifully with the dish.  My only complaint was that the polenta was a bit on the runny side, since this was looser than the grits I have for breakfast on occassion.  Clearly though, this was a minor complaint since I became visibly upset when I emptied my bowl and scraped the bottom with my spoon for whatever bits of polenta goodness I could scrape up.

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Next up was Ariane’s signature dish, which has been up since the restaurant opened.  The seared sea scallops with mushroom ragout (I, apparently, was fiending for mushrooms that night.  That sounds funny, “Fiending for mushrooms.”  It’s not like that.), white truffle oil, and mushroom syrup were delicious.  Perfectly seared, tasty mushrooms, delicious sauce — it was a very good dish.

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I finished my meal with a dark chocolate peanut butter mousse cake with a crushed peanut covered truffle.  The plate was garnished with fresh raspberries, mint, a raspberry coulis and a persimmon coulis.  I ordered this instead of the lemon meringue martini, because the description of this dessert made it sound more complex and interesting.  In retrospect, I should  have ordered the meringue, considering that turned out to be Ariane’s worst nightmare on the show later on that evening.  Oh well.  I’ll try it next time.

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This was what was left of my dessert, because I am a disgrace.  I must be getting old, because I can’t even stuff my face like I used to anymore.  It kinda sucks.  I really didn’t want to disrespect the kitchen by not finishing my food, since it was all very good, but I was full and my sweet tooth was more than satisfied (it was a big friggin dessert!).

Mr. Duarte introduced himself to me during my meal, while I was waiting for the next plate to come out.  I mentioned that I would be missing Top Chef since I wanted to come and eat at the restaurant.  He promptly invited me to join him and his wife, family, and friends at a local Irish pub, 3 blocks away.  I initially decided that I wouldn’t do so, since I figured it would be creepy.  Then, at the end of my meal, since I was repeatedly asked to join everyone in watching the new episode, I obliged and managed to capture a thoroughly bad and blurry picture of the 3 of us:

This was taken

This was taken with a Canon XTi that I set on self timer on top of a mostly empty glass at the bar. I stupidly pointed the thing too far right, which explains the lean. Also, the bar was REALLY dark, so apologies for the blurriness.

The Duartes were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Chef Ariane Duarte was especially charming — she was clearly upset at how she represented herself in culinary competition, especially with her nightmare lemon meringue, but that was okay, I thought.  She was down, but clearly not out, as the old, trite saying goes.  She has the support of her friends and her family, while she works hard to support her own family.

During dinner, while looking around, I noticed that as early as 9:15, there were a pair of 4-tops that stayed empty for the rest of the night.  “What a shame,” I thought.  It would have been great to have two more parties there, to round out the evening and pack the house.  “They deserve it,” I thought, in a gluttonous daze from the ridiculously good polenta.

So what’s my final verdict, you ask?  I think that almost everything that has been said in this blog (in previous entries, of course) about Ariane’s cooking so far has been accurate.  Even before anyone said anything about her cooking on Top Chef, I looked over CulinAriane’s menu on their website, and I said that it didn’t look inspired or original.  For example, I’ve been making a seared fish dish with mango salsa since I was about 16 years old, even though I never read a cookbook, never had it in a restaurant before, and I didn’t watch the Food Network at the time.  I’m pretty sure I’ve had a very similar scallops dish somewhere before, and I would much rather see it as an appetizer than as an entree, especially since I was getting tired of eating it after the 2nd or 3rd scallop.  Additionally, the dish could have used some textural contrast (maybe the crispy shallots?), since it was just soft scallops on top of soft mushrooms (I suppose you can only use crispy shallots and mushrooms so many times in your menu before it gets old, though).

Additionally, for a restaurant that has been described as seasonal, I was surprised to see fresh berries on the menu.  My dessert had raspberries and the special dessert of the evening was a blueberry and white chocolate bread pudding with butterscotch sauce.  I had issues with that, but I suppose berries are used all the time in plenty of dishes all over the place.  It’s just not the same when you have to import your berries from some South American country or some other faraway place, you know?

No matter.  At the end of the meal, I heard a number of guests leaving the restaurant while saying, “That was so good.  That was so worth it.  That was soooo good.”  So, in the end, does it really matter whether or not the menu was cutting edge or inspired or original?  If the food is good, and if it is prepared with care and good technique, why is it necessarily a bad thing that it isn’t inspired?  It obviously makes the people of Montclair happy.  And after all, isn’t that what cooking for other people is all about?  Making them happy?

I’ll tell you what would make me happy — if I got to work as a part time dishwasher on nights and weekends.  I should look into that. . . .

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Love is a Plate of Kielbasa and Kraut

Posted in New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by restaurantouring

I know I talk a lot about foie gras and tasting menus and fancy dinners sometimes.  Maybe I haven’t gotten around to it too much yet in this blog, but it’s true that I talk about those things a lot in my day-to-day life.  But I’m not all about haute cuisine all of the time.  Rather, I consider myself bipolar.

I say I’ll eat anything.  I guess that’s not really true.  I’ll eat anything that has been carefully prepared.  I’ll eat anything that is new to me (or at least I’ll try really hard to do so, in case I can’t get my mind wrapped around eating something really strange and initially off-putting).  What’s more, (and I know this will sound cheesy, even before I say it.  Bear with me anyway) I’ll eat anything that’s been made with love.

The food of love.  My co-worker, Ben, introduced me to a little dive in Jersey City a little while ago, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for the longest time.  It’s called Sava Polish Deli, and they quite possibly serve the best damn food in all of New Jersey.  It’s run by an adorable old woman named Jadwiga, and she makes the food fresh every day.  Hell, she even ferments the sauerkraut herself!  The commercially available (often canned) sauerkraut it too sour-tasting, she says.  Beyond acidity, the flavor is flat, so Jadwiga will slice and salt cabbage and leave it to ferment in huge barrels in-house.  Fantastic.

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

Jadwiga (pronounced YAD-zia), the cook!

The restaurant itself is small.  It has several small tables and chairs, and a huge fish tank obscuring the view into the place in one of its windows.  To be frank, it does not inspire confidence by most conventional standards.  But that’s all fine, because this woman really knows how to cook.  The menu seems to change slightly, but there’s plenty on the menu that’s there all the time: pierogies, sauerkraut and kielbasa, stuffed cabbages, and a couple other items.  I went back there with Ben to have lunch on Friday, and this is what he got for 11 bucks:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage, pierogies four ways – potato and cheese, farmer’s cheese, sauerkraut, and a veal and beef pierogi.  The potato and cheese pierogies are the best.  The farmer’s cheese pierogies are excellent, too — sweet and slightly tangy.  Good flavor.  The stuffed cabbage keeps getting better and better every time we go there, and Sava’s kielbasa and kraut can’t be beat.

I had almost all of that last time I went, plus I’m a huge glutton so my plate was more diversified:

Clockwise from 12 o’clock: pork rib, beef short rib with BBQ sauce, braised pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy, pork goulash on a bed of kasha (buckwheat groats), and a beet and kielbasa stew.  I started with the pork rib, which sadly did not have a lot of flavor.  The beef short rib (my favorite) more than made up for it, because it was ridiculously tender and juicy.  The pork chop with dill and mushroom gravy was probably my favorite, because it tasted the best, and was nice and tender.  The pork goulash was a little dry, but the kasha with the beet and kielbasa stew was fantastic together.

In this case, we overpaid for the variety of items that we got (me especially — I paid 19 bucks!).  Don’t let that dissuade you, though; most normal plates run no more than 8 bucks and change:

This place is so good, it’s even won an award!

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Affordable home-cooked Polish food

Once you’ve gorged yourself on Polish goodness, Jadwiga’s a blast to talk to.  Last time, I remember cracking up at some of the things she said about Italian food (she is not a fan).  This time, we talked about business, catering, the rising costs of gas, food, and the cost of doing business, a little bit about politics, Polish food, and more.  Ben joked about how if things got more expensive at Sava’s, he’d go eat somewhere else.  Here, Jadwiga sweetly (don’t let the smile fool you!), jokingly threatens us by saying that if we ate someplace else, she would go buy a gun:

A disarmingly sweet smile

A veiled threat

Threats aside, I personally always like going there because Jadwiga gives us treats:

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

A smaller version of kielbasa, stuffed in sheep's casing

If you don’t go there for the plate specials, Sava also sells deli over the counter.  They carry several kinds of kielbasa, a variety of the usual cold cuts, and even specially made veal hot dogs:

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

Veal hotdogs (right) and Kielbasa links (left)

I bought one of the hot dogs.  Cost me somewhere around 70 cents.  I think I’m gonna take Mike Ruhlman’s suggestion, from his book on Charcuterie, and just saute it and serve it with a steamed bun with some minced onion and good mustard.  I can’t wait.  I can’t wait to go back to Sava’s either.  All this talk about food has got me hungry.

Sava Polish Deli is located on 346 Grove Street, in Jersey City, New Jersey.  When you’re there, get the potato and cheese pierogies.  They are delicious.  If they haven’t sold out yet, get a stuffed cabbage before they disappear.  And of course, don’t forget the kielbasa and kraut.  It’s gooooood.  If you have time to chat afterwards, ask her for her honest opinion of the Italian joint across the street and prepare yourself for some hilariously scathing criticism about the “grrrass” that they put on top of their food (I think she’s talking about parsley).