Campiello's (Naples, FL) April 26, 2007


Review to follow...


Restaurant L, April 25, 2007

Restaurant L
Allendale, NJ

When Restaurant L opened up in Allendale, I had very mixed emotions. I was bummed, because I had dreamt of having a restaurant there myself one day (the former restaurant, The Turnpike Tavern was dilapidated and unoccupied for about a year) and was thrilled that a new, much needed restaurant was coming to Allendale. Our fair town, the one I grew up in and the one I recently purchased my first house in, was in desperate need for good restaurants.

MASA, a new Japanese restaurant is the best thing to happen to Allendale in a long time. It serves incredible fish and other dishes but the waitservice is horrendous. But the hostess' smile makes any service issues disappear, no doubt. There's another sushi place in town called Flirt, an overly smooth and cheeky enterprise that has a more popular and busier location in Tarrytown, NY and one in Miami. The food is okay, but I like to follow the wealthy Japanese businessmen when eating my sushi - and they line up at MASA in droves. Better than most neighborhood places in Manhattan.

The Allendale Bar & Grill is a good standby for a burger (but not those awful fries), a club sandwich, turkey reuben and chicken fingers, and maybe the budget-friendly pasta dinner they serve once a week, but as far as really good food is concerned, it doesn't offer it. No offense. I love the owners, I love the people that saddle up to the bar, and I love the staff there...some are good friends of mine, but we need to be real here.

Sadly, it is better than Savini. Possibly one of the worst restaurants I've ever been for both food and service. Service is an atrocity. Dumb waiters, the rudest hostess you've ever come across and inept cooks. I've been three times. Once for Valentine's Day, once for a night out to try it again (were we wrong about how bad it was?) and lastly because we were given a gift certificate. The last visit was just that. The food we ordered (a corn chowder and a shrimp dish) was inedible and very likely unhealthy. The smell of the shrimp was toxic and the waiter never even flinched nor asked why none of it was eaten. Disgraceful.

And this is also why I'm disappointed with the arrival of Restaurant L. Bad restaurants still manage to do well or at least last long in Allendale. Savini has been around for at least seven years now and I can't believe that people are that desperate for a restaurant.

That being said, my dinner at Restaurant L wasn't that great but it was still leagues better than Savini.

When the parking space closest to the door has a sign that reads "Reserved for [owner's name]", you've already got yourself a problem. The owner doesn't care about you - the customer. If he did, he'd park his car in the back and let diners have first dibs.

Anyway, the food, which is most important, was just okay...with some hits and misses. The calamari they serve is fantastic. They do a good job with it - nice and spicy. The octopus diavalo wasn't so good. The octopus was overcooked and likely not a great piece to start with and the pasta was pedestrian at best. The truffle fries, basically french fries with white truffle oil and parmesan on top were good. Could have used better, fresh fries instead of the frozen variety to make them better. The short rib raviolis were nearly flavorless and the caesar salad was a joke. It was simply a grilled, uncut heart of romaine with ramekins of add ons on the side. You've got to be kidding me. The fish dish that I had, which was so mediocre that I can't even recall what it was, provided little to make me believe this restaurant is worth revisiting. I might go back to sit at the refurbished bar and have some appetizers, but if you are seeking a nice dinner out, spend a little more on parking and tolls and get to the city at those prices. Or better yet, visit MASA or Varka in Ramsey or Axia Taverna in Tenafly or Aldo's and The Brick House in Wyckoff.


Some Changes for Big Apple Dining Guide

1) It has been suggested that I go back to my old habit of including dates of my dining ventures. I got out of the habit to streamline the look of the posts, but agree that it adds something to the review. Thanks Roz. It will be effective immediately.

2) We will have some guest bloggers soon. Two friends of mine have expressed interest in becoming guest bloggers for Big Apple Dining Guide. I think it is a fantastic idea and look forward to their contributions. If you'd like to contribute, let me know.

3) More restaurants and more at-home cooking in the coming months. Now that I have a nice big kitchen, I'll be documenting some of my at-home cooking.




The Spotted Pig

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two colleagues of mine and I took our maiden "dining group" voyage to The Spotted Pig last night. The Spotted Pig is helmed by April Bloomfield who just last week was deemed Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine - despite her resume that includes a stint at The River Cafe in London - and financed by Mario Batali, a guy who knows a good thing when he sees it.
We arrived by cab, passing Wallse and other fine dining establishments on the way, and stepped up to the restaurant at around 7:15pm, braced for a long wait time and a crowded bar scene. But that wasn't the case. I'm not sure if it was too early, or that Mondays are different or that this was the night before the deadline to file income taxes or what, but there was no wait. It was just a matter of putting place settings down at our table. So after about two minutes of examining the smaller downstairs area and all of its kitschy paintings and needlework items, we were escorted upstairs to an equally charming space and more specifically a corner table with just the right amount of room between tables for a place like this: snug, but not overbearing.

I don't want to go into detail about the place, simply because we ordered a lot of food, and I want to get to that right away. We decided that we'd order as much as we could stomach and just share it all. Here's what we got:

Duck egg with tuna bottarga ($3) - this came from the "bar snacks" portion of the menu and was simply a soft boiled duck egg, split in half lengthwise and topped with slivers of seasoned/marinated tuna (that looked more like sardines), salt, pepper and olive oil. The bottarga part was fine, but the attraction was the richness of the duck egg. Hearty and tasty.

Devils on Horseback ($7) - This is one of those dishes that is always going to be overpriced, yet each time I'll go back and justify it. Whether its here, Freemans or Salt, all of which offer this dish of bacon-wrapped figs, the outcome is swoon-worthy. Eight came to an order.

Antipasta plate ($17) - We ordered this after the devils on horseback were devoured, though our server, oddly enough, said that we couldn't add another dish since we'd already placed our order. Come again? We thought he was joking - to which he suggested that he'll ask the kitchen to see if it would be okay. Fortunately for them (and us) it was okay because it "wasn't that busy". So what we get is possibly one of the best dishes of the night. It had super delicious prosciutto, crunchy artichokes, breaded cauliflower, grilled bread heavily doused in olive oil (nice) and a huge, half ball of fresh mozzarella. I could go back for just this and a Spotted Pig Bitter Cask-drawn ale ($8) at the bar.

photo courtesty of Robyn

Sheep's Milk Ricotta Gnudi with brown butter and sage ($13) - Strike what I said above. This is the dish I could go back for. Actually, it'd be best to go with a friend and order one of each. This was as good as everyone that's had it before will tell you or has already told you. Not to be missed.

Photo courtesy of Plaid Ninja

Chargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese and shoestring fries ($15) - The burger was what you might call a perfect burger. There is nothing at all wrong with this burger. But there is something strange about this burger that makes me question if it could ever truly be the best burger ever. It was cooked perfectly medium rare. I mean perfectly. But where was the juice? The burger wasn't dry, but there was no juice. A strong bite into the burger and you got nothing but beef, cheese and brioche bun. No juice. Yet the beef was bright red like you'd want it. And the brioche wasn't really soggy. Bizarre. But delicious. I could go back just for this burger and a beer at the bar. Did I just have deja vu? The only issue is with the shoestring fries. I've said it before - they are not practical.

Homemade Faggots with Mustard ($25) - That is not a type o. It's basically a cross between a sausage and haggis, or, as our server described it: pork cheek stuffed with organ meats - mostly liver, and what appeared to be barley or some other grain. At first, it was fairly one-dimensional. The scent and flavor of liver was strong and the thin, squeeze bottle stripe of mustard on top did nothing for the dish. We weren't thrilled. So we finished our burger and the champ (I'll get to that in a minute) and then, after the faggots cooled to room temp, we revisited them. Now it was different. The flavors started to become more defined and the textures made more sense. I think the heat tensed the dish up. By letting it cool a little, it was able to mature into a tasty dish worth considering. Very hearty (pun intended) and not for the wary diner but it did get better.

Champ ($7) - From the side dishes part of the menu comes something called champ. It's basically mashed potatoes with scallions and more butter than I care to think about. And it is remakably delicious. I did a little research and it seems that in some British households, a silver sixpenny piece wrapped in greaseproof paper would be buried in it. To find it in your portion was to gring good luck for a year.

For dessert we ordered some sparkling muscat, which was excellent, the chocolate, walnut and amaretto cake ($7) which was just okay and the three-cheese plate featuring bailey hazen blue and two other fine cheeses that I sadly missed (I went to the bathroom and missed the names). All very good. Total bill (I looked later and noticed that they didn't charge us for the muscat) came to $176.65. Not bad at all.

It's no wonder this place is a huge success. And its no wonder that this restaurant is the model for many other restaurants to come. I know I'd be pleased to own this restaurant or simply to work there.




Friday, April 13, 2007

Asiate, located way up on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Hotel overlooking Central Park is a great choice for several occasions. I can envision a couple dining here after one succesfully asked the other's hand in marriage or as a romantic dinner for an out-of-towner's honeymoon dinner. I see it as a place for a semi-formal business lunch or the place you get the department heads of your company to think big about new business strategies. Or maybe just a place you go yourself to take a break from it all.

There's something about the wall of windows, views of Central Park, and views of the tops of some of the biggest and most important buildings in midtown, that makes it an ideal place to think big. In today's case, it was a perfect for location to send off our boss who will be the new National Spokesman for John Edwards and his campaign for the presidency. Good luck Mark (though I can't wish the same for your boss)!

There were five of us today and we are close enough to share a little. So here's what I was able to taste.

Frisee Salad - very good, the poached egg topped with black truffles and a hint of truffle oil brought the rest of the salad together.

Rock Shrimp Risotto - also very good, as mentioned in a previous review of Asiate

Crab with tomato pesto and tagliatelle - this was good but was more of an appetizer than a main course, though I didn't know that when I ordered it. That's the difficult thing about this menu. It is hard to read. I recommend asking questions if you aren't sure about a dish and/or its nature.


Sapphire Indian

Sapphire Indian

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Having recently moved out of an area of Manhattan known as Curry Hill, the last thing I could possibly want to eat is Indian. But my good friend and colleague David decided to have his going away lunch there with some other colleagues.

Just north of the Time Warner Center and overshadowed by the Trump International Hotel across the street, you'd never know from the outside what lies inside. And fortunately its a warm and comfortable environment, with enough "stuff" to make it known that it is indeed an Indian restaurant, yet not too much to look like the stereotypical Indian joints ubiquitous in my former neighborhood.

We went the buffet route and sampled all of the traditional items you'd normally find: chicken tikka masala, Baghare Baingan (baby eggplants cooked Nizami style with coconut, peanuts and spices), Dum Aloo (stuffed potatoes cooked in a sealed pot with aromatic spices and herbs), dal, Chana Masala (chickpeas cooked with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and spices) and other items. Everything was very good and seemed well prepared - or I should say, prepared with purpose.

Service was average but better than what you can expect at Chennai Garden or Copper Chimney or any of those places.

All told, it was a good value too. I had a beer and the buffet and paid $25. And that included my percentage for chipping in to pay for my former colleague's meal. Would I return? Yes, though if I don't smell Indian food for a year, I think I'll enjoy it more. Living in Curry Hill has turned me off of the cuisine for a bit, I'm afraid to say. But if you are in the area and craving Indian - this is a pretty good choice.


Natale's Pizzeria

Natale's Pizzeria
14 W Prospect St - (201) 445-2860

I'm living in the burbs now and quest for good food is an important one. I grew up in the area, so I know what's good and what's not for the most part - but since many New Yorkers are moving out of the city and in general, people are more interested in great food - the demand for great food is getting stronger. And fortunately the restaurants are starting to deliver.

But there's one place that's been around forever that I've neglected over the years. My (traditional pie/slice) pizza place of choice was always Allendale Pizza. Mr. Tomasso and his family became like extended family. I'd call to order a pie and he'd say "Ok Mike...picka up in tenna minna). He knew me and what I wanted and inquired about the family. A great guy, who's son Frank continues the legacy in Virginia Beach with two pizza joints that have been a great success. Alas, Mr. Tomasso closed up the "Allendella" Pizza a year or so ago.

Now that I'm back in the area, I can't count on Nelly's and/or Kinchleys for my traditional pizza fix. So where to go? Natale's in Waldwick.

This place is totally old school and serves a pie nearly as good as Allendale Pizza's used to be. And it is a better traditional slice than you can find anywhere in Manhattan. Not Brooklyn, but Manhattan.

They cook these mid-sized (not small, but not supersized either) pies in a rotisserie oven. The thing is a monster, but allows for a perfect crust that when asked for well-done, doesn't burn. Nice.

I'm happy this standby, which I hadn't had in about 20 years, is still going strong.

Burgers and Cupcakes

Burgers and Cupcakes

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Had lunch with an old friend and former colleague, after what seemed like ages, the other day. I chose BnC because it was close to his office and because I was curious about this joint from all the mixed reviews I'd read.
And after just 45 minutes, I understand why the reviews have been mixed. The burgers came out in a decent enough time, but they were simply not memorable. Nothing about them was out of the ordinary or even particularly good. I ordered mine with cheddar cheese and bacon. It was overcooked. More medium+ than the medium rare I requested.
The fries were okay, though my friend didn't get his for a good five minutes after the rest of the food had been delivered.
The space and rest of the service is adequate though certainly nothing to write home about unless of course the person you are writing is a 13 year old girl who loves the color pink. There's plenty of that.
The cupcakes were good. At least the "cake" part. The icing didn't work for me. I bought a "baker's dozen" assortment, which when I was growing up meant 13. For this place, it means 15. Not sure why that is...though I guess it fit in the box better that way. I gave 8 to my wife and her coworker's and the remaining to my coworkers. Everyone enjoyed them immensely with two people claiming it as the "best ever". I disagree, but it was a good cupcake.
Not really worth seeking out in part because of its location. If you have a hankering for a burger and cupcake right before you go through the Lincoln Tunnel...look no further, otherwise...go elsewhere.

Nougatine Room at Jean Georges

After indulging in two lunches here a few weeks back, I took a break from the terrific service, ambiance and food only to find myself back at the bar again today.


Sesame crusted asparagus with a yuzu foam dipping sauce. This was great. Don't expect the pencil thin spears that will hit the markets soon, instead, I got four thick ones, generously coated with sesame "bark" of sorts. It added a nice flavor and texture contrast to the perfectly cooked spears. The high octane citrus flavor of the yuzu balanced the toned down and earthy flavors of the spears and sesame bark. Nice dish.


Striped Bass with brocoli rabe and spring scallion sauce. The bass was cooked flawlessly and accompanied by brocoli rabe, the sauce and two slices of very tart yellow grapefruit. A combination I didn't see coming but enjoyed fully. Solid dish through and through.


Brown sugar cake, carmelized bananas and sour cream glace. This was overall very good, though the carmelization of the bananas could have gone on a little longer. Not much, but a little longer to provide a greater flavor. Fun though and nicely presented. Oh, in the glace was a sheet of banana paper. Nice.


Navarro's gewurztraminer juice. Had to have it again. Delish. If you like gewurztraminer you will like this. If you like grape juice, you will like this. If you like honey, you will like this. And I say that because it is almost like a honey-grape water. Yum.

After tax and tip = $40 and change. Good way to enjoy lunch.