Joyce Chinese Cuisine in River Edge: still on track

Don't believe the naysayers.

I've been hearing that Joyce Chinese Cuisine is slipping. That's it no longer good. That something has changed for the worse. Ignore all of those wrong people. I'll be the judge of "good" thank you very much.

Indeed, everything seems fine at this Sichuan restaurant in River Edge, NJ. In fact, on a recent trip, I had one of the best dishes of this year.

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I wanted some Sichuan comfort food, and for me, fried fish is comforting. I ordered the Fried Spicy & Aromatic Fish, which hit the spot.  Tender pieces of fried fish, chili oil, chili peppers, and a load of Sichuan peppercorn. Classic Sichuan flavors here. "Boy, this has a spicy kick" I thought. I had no idea what I was in for next.

Tripe has been entering my face whenever I see it, especially following a recent trip to Tuscany, where I ate tripe as much as possible. So when I saw Tripe w/ Long Pepper and Peppercorn on the menu, well you know I just had to check it out. "You like hot?" the server asked. "Yes, of course," I confidently replied. I'm no rube, after all.

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Best Dishes: of 2016

Another year, another list. Who doesn't love a list?

I was very fortunate to have eaten some amazing food this year. Some dishes were indeed in NJ. Some were pretty close to NJ. Some were not very close to NJ. The one thing they all have in common is that made my eyes light up with joy for one reason or another.

Dishes can get my attention and fill me with glee for many reasons. They can be simple but executed flawlessly. They can be intricate affairs that leave me wondering what the hell is going on. And they can be something that I've simply never experienced. If there's one thing I love, it's eating something completely new to me.

Here are some of the bet dishes that I ate in 2016. And please, no arguing, these are the correct answers. They were all exceptional dishes.

 

Squid Ink Pasta with Guanciale and Squid
Jockey Hollow : Morristown, NJ

Jockey hollow pasta

I really can't get enough of this squid ink pasta, guanciale, and calamari dish at Jockey Hollow in Morristown, NJ. It is, without a doubt, one of the best pastas dishes, and best dishes, I've ever had.  A symphony of flavors and textures and perfectly executed. The whole dang restaurant is great.

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The Barrow House: Clifton, NJ

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First things first: they have to rope off that entrance that faces the parking lot, since everyone thinks it's a way in, and every guest walks up to the door before realizing it's locked, including me.

Second things second: that burger is horrible. Something must be done about it.

Other than that, we had a very enjoyable meal at Barrow House.

The place seems to have an excellent staff (not much unlike its sister restaurant, Cowan's Public in Nutley). It's a stunning looking restaurant, with attention to detail at every turn (including a photo booth, in which you can have your silly photos taken and sent immediately to you via email). The place looks like it came out of the Farmhouses-R-Us catalog. The restaurant has several different rooms, each with a slight variation on the theme. Fireplaces in about every room.  And a lounge room with couches and big chairs. Certainly a bit kitschy, but executed well. 

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Eating in Philly: a.kitchen and a.bar

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Another trip to Philly and several more visits to the outstanding a.kitchen and a.bar.

a.bar, which has a very limited food menu (but includes oysters and pickles) and extensive booze menu, is located on Rittenhouse Square, two doors down from a.kitchen, which is a full-service restaurant. Both are extremely well-run, with excellent staff both in the kitchen and the dining room.

The cocktails at each restaurant are as good as you'll need. The food at both restaurants is always excellent. Indeed this visit, the oysters at a.bar were so good that all other oysters consumed over the next few days paled in comparison. The burger at a.kitchen, well, it was perhaps in the top 5 burgers that I've ever eaten.

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Eating in Florence, Italy: L'Osteria di Giovanni and that lobster pasta

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While the truffle pasta dish at 4 Leoni lacked a bit of sauce, a similar dish at L'Osteria di Giovanni did not, and in addition, was served with white truffles, and not those run-of-the-mill black ones that you always see. And it was glorious.

L'Osteria di Giovanni is a pleasant little restaurant in Florence, focusing mostly on typical Tuscan cooking, in a mostly typically Tuscan environment. The place was jumping by the time we arrived at the very early time of 7.30pm. The three rooms filled up quickly afterward. A few large groups, families, tourists, all sorts of people were represented.

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Service was polite and pleasant, as you'd expect from a restaurant in Italy. Bread was served with some of the most delicious olive oil we've ever had, and salt and pepper, making it palatable. An inexpensive bottle of Chianti Toscano red wine came in a straw basket that you'd see 50 years ago.

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To kick things off we ordered a special of porcini and truffle salad. With shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. A simple, ingredients-driven dish.

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We also enjoyed a Caprese salad, which included artichokes, olives, burrata, and some excellent tomatoes that were, not surprisingly, infinitely better than those "Jersey tomatoes" I read so much about.

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The star of the meal was a special. Pasta and lobster. I really didn't know what to expect, and figured the dish would be pasta with some sort of light broth and a few pieces of lobster. And I was wrong.

The sauce was intensely flavored with lobster. It was the essence of lobster. And not just the essence of the claws and tail of the lobster. It was the essence of everything in and around that lobster. With just a touch of tomato. An incredible dish and certainly one of the highlights of the trip.

I'd return to di Giovanni for this dish alone.

L'Osteria di Giovanni : Via del Moro, 22, 50123 Firenze, Italy