Gazelle (Ridgewood, NJ), July 30, 2007


I went to Gazelle in Ridgewood for a solo dinner while Danna was still away on a business trip. To be fair, and to come clean, I know one of the chef-owners, Jim Miceli, but am happy to say that if you are in the area, and looking for a tasty, health-conscious and comfortable meal of generous portions - Gazelle is worth visiting and visiting often.

It's location across from the only Whole Foods Market in Bergen County (that I know of) is a wise move as it truly caters to the type of people that shop there. The chefs, Ron and Jim, know when to leave vegetables and proteins alone - allowing their inherent flavors, instead of rich fats (butter and sauces), to provide flavor.

I'm still shocked, however, by the portion size. Depending on how their bottom line looks, they could pack the crabcakes a little thinner and ease down the super-sized salads and still make customers very happy at the same time adding a bit to their wallet at the end of the day. Though I'm not sure they care so much about that -- allowing the customer to bring home some great food to nosh on later or the following day.

I misordered my salad. I wanted the one with beets, but was pleased by my mistake. This Thai-like salad with cashews and a peanut sauce, tangerines, peppers, carrots, lettuce and haricot verts was big and bold but not overwhelming. I took the rest home though confess didn't get to the leftovers.

Two giant crabcakes with absolutely no discernable bread-filling (there is a god!) were served with thick-cut sweet potato french fries - a welcome change in the starch world and one of Danna's favorites. She'd have loved this dish from top to bottom, perhaps even more than me. A winner for sure.
I was going to skip out on dessert because I'm trying to slim down (down 10 pounds in a little over 2 months) but the dessert was included in the remarkably affordable $20 prix fixe meal. This was light but had a strong chocolate flavor to it.
After all of this food, I was definitely sated but not bowled-over-full. So refreshing. And at a very reasonable price.

Not a destination restaurant for those outside of a 20 mile radius, but you'd crazy not to give this place a try if you live in the area. I know I'll be back.

Dining in Barnegat Light, NJ

This is the first time in my entire life that my feet didn't touch the sandy beaches of Long Beach Island before the 4th of July. In fact, I didn't get down there until nearly August, July 27th to be exact. Becoming a new home owner will do that to you I guess.

In any event, I made up for lost time, taking in the sights including a visit to the Barnegat Light Museum and Gardens a block away from my old beach house, a walk up to the top of Ol' Barney (the lighthouse), stopping by old places of business (Bobbie's Boats, the area that was once Broadway Pizza and The Beach Grill, Moustache Bill's Diner and 18th Street Cafe).

It's no wonder that I have an affinity for dining out, having worked at so many restaurants during my youth. Broadway Pizza relocated a few towns south a few years back, The Beach Grill (one of the crazier jobs I've ever had) was replaced by Broadway Pizza a long time ago, Bobbie's Boats is still there with nicer boats for rental and a cleaned up dock, and both Moustache Bill's and 18th Street Cafe are still running strong.

I even stopped by some friends' old places of business like Andy's, Kelly's and White's Deli - all of which were regular stomping grounds in the past.
What I didn't recognize at White's was a ground mixture of beef and bacon (10:1 ratio) that they simply labeled as "Baconburger". So very tempting. The smell of this deli is awesome. It just has that "beach deli" smell to it, which is quite a bit better than that of most delis anywhere else.
I had two breakfasts and a lunch at Bill's and got to see my old friends/bosses/colleagues and taste the standard fare of eggs and such. Bill's has actually gotten a little better than my visits last year. Something wasn't working last year, but I'm happy to say it's "back" though I was a little disappointed in the clam chowder. What is normally the best chowder I know, this was a bit watered down.

I also stopped by Seth Van Dorn's place (18th Street Cafe) to say hi and later have a deliciously simple (or would it be simply delicious) dinner of seared tuna, clams casino and a side salad. Best ingredients you can find on the island cooked very simply - allowing the food to do its own thing. The fish is caught that day or the day before, never frozen, and of top grade quality. The vegetables are garden fresh. And both are brought in/procured by family members. Here are some pics. If in town or on the island anywhere, it would be a mistake to miss this place. Book in advance as seating goes fast.


Bahn Mi

Danna has been in Hong Kong on business and They Might Be Giants have been taking residence at the Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday nights this July. Do the math people.

So yes, Doug and I checked out the culturally rich dining area on the edge of Little Italy and Chinatown and took in some Vietnamese.

We hit this dumpy-on-the-outside, prim and tidy-on-the-inside bahn mi hut and ordered appropriately - pork bahn mis.

My first experience of the traditional style (previous experience was at Momofuku) and must say that I do prefer David Chang's but you can't beat the price ($3.50) of this guy's bahn mi).

They also sold other prepackaged dishes as well as Pocky sticks. Apparently men and women are marketed separately. Just kidding of course. Men's is referring to menthe or menthol or simply "mint".


Jean Georges, Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jean Georges

Well, this might go down as my least favorite trip to JG to date. Oh well. I guess it fell victim to the Restaurant Week blahs that many restaurants succumb to - though not Eleven Madison Park (see previous review).

The flowers looked good. Reminds me of concerts I used to go to at Deer Creek Ampitheater in Noblesville, Indiana this time of year.

The options for starters were pretty weak. A berry soup (was it raspberry?) or smoked salmon salad. Skipping the sweet soup, I went for a good standby. This was very good, but hardly exciting. Smoked salmon, julienned vegetables and two strands of hot peppers = boring. Good, but not worth even these many words.

The entree options were either skate, which I've had twice already at JG or the chicken with roasted corn and running beans. The corn/bean salad was very good. The chicken was dry and unflattering. They served a breast (very dry) and thigh (okay). Boring. And when compared to the chicken dish served for Restaurant Week at Eleven Madison Park, of a much weaker league. Adding insult to injury, service was atrocious. I waited nearly 30 minutes for this chicken after I'd finished my salmon.
I should have ordered what these kids next to me got. Yep. Apparently you can order chicken fingers and cheese fries at Jean Georges. Who knew? Oh, and of course Shirley Temples. Dad left these three girls to have lunch at the bar, not having a clue as to what the menu was. The girls were like, um, er "can we just have chicken fingers and cheese fries." Funny. Alas, the cheese was barely melted. I can't imagine this actually came from the open kitchen to my left, but who knows.

Dessert options were an apricot dish (see below) with a black raspberry sorbet (if I remember correctly) or JG's signature molten chocolate cake. The sorbet was good but didn't leave as big an impression as ones previous, but the apricot, cream and cake it sat upon was very good. I wish I could describe this (my memory isn't serving me too well this time). It was good and light, which for such a hot day was fine. I can always get that cake. Rest assured, each of the girls next to me ordered it.


Eleven Madison Park, Summer RW, July 16, 2007

Eleven Madison Park

Restaurant Week at Eleven Madison Park is a tradition in my family. Every RW, my father, wife and I sit, more often than not at the same table on the first day of restaurant week to ensure that we receive the $25 gift certificate they give to customers.

Well, unfortunately some traditions fall apart. Danna now works in New Jersey and couldn't make it, our regular table was given to someone else and the restaurant no longer gives out those gift certificates, correctly believing that it's 3-star review of its delicious food was enough to get people to fill the seats.

One thing that was constant, however, was the high quality ingredients that go into making fabulous dishes. Quenelles of bluefin tuna with white and green asparagus. This was great and was a bit of visual trickery - looks like ruby red grapefruit doesn't it? Not the best tuna I've had at EMP, but still very good. Nice and light.By the looks of what people were eating, this chicken was a big hit. Perfectly cooked, the breast meat when viewed on edge looked like how tuna is when cut against the grain (not pink, but ridged). Perfectly moist in the middle, crispy on the top, it was served with English garden peas, morels and a few tiny potatoes. Really solid for "just" chicken. Vanilla Pannacotta with mixed berries in a mint and raspberry (?) soup. The mint took me off guard but was really refreshing. Excellent dessert and meal overall.
This was a chocolate dish my dad had for dessert. Below is the bottle of wine (2004) we ordered. Excellent Burgundy to go with the chicken.Service was okay this time around. The sommelier is always great and ended up serving us as well...possibly because my dad and he recognized each other from previous visits and they decided to keep that flow going. He's a great sommelier and a genuinely nice guy too. Speaking of the FOH staff, there's a hostess who brought me to my table that is remarkably attractive. If I were single, I'd go to EMP every night to catch a glimpse. Wow.

I digress. The food, as usual, was phenomenal. And a reasonably fair price. All of the above photographed, plus the gnocchi entree and another order of the tuna (dad's meal) including the wine came to $128 after tax.
Thanks Daniel and co.

Holsten's, July 15, 2007


My sister is getting married at the beginning of next year at the Pleasantdale Chateau, which is, I should state, incredible. Beautiful place and a dream location for anyone getting married. What a private residence this must have been.

So she asked my wife and I to check it out with my sister, her fiance Tim and my dad. My dad suggested we grab a quick bite somewhere nearby afterwards. The logical choice - Holsten's.

Well, perhaps it was a logical choice based only on the fact that it was prominently featured as Tony's "place of death" in the Sopranos finale. If you want to debate if Tony died or not, do it elsewhere...after reading this: http://www.bobharris.com/content/view/1406/1/

Otherwise, the food here, burgers in particular, are simply passable. Nothing more nothing less. However, the ice cream is amazing. I had a root beer float with (french) vanilla ice cream and was floored by how good it was. Really delicious and worth checking out if you are in the neighborhood. But is it a dining destination? I'm not convinced of it. Perhaps if you are a die-hard Sopranos fan or if you like really good store-made ice cream - but otherwise, not worth the trip. That being said, it'd be great if Holsten's was closer to where I live...then I'd consider it for repeat visits - at the very least for its ice cream.

The burger was, unlike Jason's (Off the Broiler) visit, overcooked for everyone at the table. Mine had a trace of pink in the first two bites but degraded to a dark gray as I went on. The bacon was good but remarkably greasy and the crinkle cut fries, when not under cooked, were fine. What irked me was the fact that they ran out of onion rings. Of all the things. Unbelievable. Apparently they went through two cases by 5pm on Sunday. Yowzah.

Anyway, a fun place to visit for no-frills fare with the family but not necessarily where you'd want your last supper.


il Villagio (East Rutherford), July 13, 2007

il Villagio

Danna and I worked late on a beautiful but steamy Friday and were starving when we finally connected at the Secaucus Junction. We couldn't wait to get home and eat yet struggled to think of a place that wasn't a diner or fast food joint on the way home via Rt. 3 or Rt. 17.

Then a light bulb went off in Danna's head and she suggested il Villagio, located right on Rt. 17 North, not far from the remarkably outdated Fiesta, a wedding factory/disco/cocktail lounge.

This place looks like Artie Buco's restaurant in both style, staff and presumed clientele and therefore Danna, my Italian princess, fit in just fine and with welcome arms from the maitre d'.

Our waiter's accent was thicker than the individual slab butter served in a typical ceramic monkey dish. He read off a specials menu that was longer than most diner menus.

We both started with the spiedini but for different reasons. Danna remembers this as her favorite dish at this restaurant, which is where her grandfather, Conrad "Popsie" Policastro used to come all the time. I still have yet to have a better version than the one they serve at Aldo's in Wyckoff, and am therefore on the hunt for a superior version. This didn't beat Aldo's but scored big for its baked (as opposed to fried) version with an appropriate (read: not swimming in it) amount of anchovy/bechamel sauce.

Danna had a pasta alla vodka for her entree and I had one of the specials that stuck out - a striped bass livornese. Having had success with the softshell crabs livornese at 'Cesca (and softshell crabs tempura at Jean Georges earlier in the day), I decided this would be a good time to compare livornese sauces. 'Cesca's beats this one out, but not by much. I think it's a case of ingredients more than execution. The striped bass was as good as one could expect though perhaps was slightly overcooked from sitting in the sauce. Alas, a very good dish and one I'd recommend.

We skipped dessert although the hand made zabaglione looked and smelled delicious. Next time for sure.

Service was efficient and very gracious. The room was a bit dated, but they are working on that - a huge addition/renovation is underway. Overall, a very good experience.


Jean Georges (Nougatine Room), July 13, 2007

Jean Georges
Bummer. The prix fixe menu was the same as it was last week. No matter, I'll dive into the right side of the menu today.

I could have simply ordered one entree or one appetizer and have been content, specifically the tuna tartare. I'd mentioned it in a recent post which acted as a bit of a crave inducer. So that was a given. But they also had soft shell crab on the menu as an appetizer.

The soft shell crab was deep fried in a tempura-style batter and was very nicely executed. Crunchy but not at all greasy and the tempura was nearly perfectly transparent. The crab was split in half and placed atop a salad of fresh peas and some crunchy greens in a mayo-based sauce. Delicious. This acted more like a sauce than a salad.
The tuna tartare was great as usual...though perhaps the thrill is slightly gone. The radish does indeed at an extra texture, but I think it needs what Masa (Allendale, not Time Warner) does - adds a crispy layer of fried panko between the tuna and avocado layers. Or what my friend Matt Pivnick of Key Ingredient does - add crispy soba noodles to it. Otherwise it becomes simply a delicious mush. I wouldn't exactly call this a mush, but I like when a stronger texture is added to it.

Side note: an amazingly annoying customer to my left today. Ack!

Jean Georges (Nougatine Room), July 6, 2007

Jean Georges
I know that Top Chef tapes several weeks (maybe more) prior to when we see it and that what I'm about to say probably has no real relavence, but Lia is back in the kitchen at Jean Georges. So take that for what it's worth.
Another great meal to cap off a wonky work week - being that the 4th was smack in the middle of it.

Since I had watermelon (in addition to my daily banana) for breakfast today, I figured I'd follow up with the chilled watermelon gazpacho with tomato, cucumber and lemon thyme. This, like most soups at JG, was good. But there is often something slightly funny too. The peach soup last week had a weird color, this week the watermelon soup, if you will, was a bit too oily. Now don't get me wrong, it was great, but the soup looked a little bit too much like the bottom of the bowl after you've finished the tuna tartare at Jean Georges. Beautiful colors of pink, red, orange and yellow but slightly slick-like. Here's a before and after (tableside pour).

The same pork dish I had last week was on the prix fixe menu again this week. Perhaps it sold well...or then again, perhaps it didn't? In any case, I wasn't going to order it again and instead got the slow-cooked sea bream with market radish and scallion salad and crushed plum jus. The salad wasn't a salad exactly but the dish as a whole was very tasty. I certainly ordered from the same side of the color wheel again. So far I've had a very light meal but full of flavor, textures and color.
To finish up, I ordered the Pistachio cake with white chocolate panna cotta, strawberry compote and cherry sorbet. This was good, nothing great - with the highlight being the compote.

Service was quick today. I was in and out within 40 minutes. Fantastic.