Tang Maru: Korean food in Palisades Park, NJ

Tang maru palisades park

When Chef Bobby Cho of Kimchi Smoke tells you to go to a restaurant called Tang Maru in a town called Palisades Park and order the pork neck soup, you wait 2 years and then do just what he says.

This dude isn't messing around. Not only does he know his BBQ, but he knows his pork neck soup.

Tang Maru is a pleasant, bright restaurant, with friendly service and a big connected parking lot, in an area near saturated with Korean restaurants. Since I have so little experience with Korean food, I can't say it sticks out from the pack, but damn if it isn't fantastic. And pretty cheap.

Barley tea hits the table, and then out come the banchan. I was very pleased to see whole fried fish in the assortment. The wife, however, wasn't as pleased. So I ate two. Fleshy, moist, fried fish. Guts and all as far as I could tell. But being gutless, I avoided the really flavorful parts and went to town on the regular bits.

Also included were spicy squid (I think), white radish kimchi, cabbage kimchi, and a salad. At that point, I'm pretty much full. But moments later the cauldrons come out of the kitchen.

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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

A bar interior-2

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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-Osteria Di Giovanni-L'Osteria Di Giovanni-6

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

 

 

 

 


Eating in Florence, Italy: Trattoria 4 Leoni

4 Leoni florence italyMeat in the kitchen at 4 Leoni

The first day is always the hardest.

We arrived in Florence at about 10am, long after leaving JFK at 4:20pm, with a brief stop in Paris.  This connection was not ideal. First off, we landed in Paris at about 11:30 our time, so there was simply no sleeping on that leg before having to get on the shorter flight to Florence. Additionally, I really dislike CDG airport. It's a mess, and we decided we're never going to Paris again because of it. au revoir.

Now that I have that off my chest.

Needless to say, we went down for a nap immediately after checking in to our hotel, which was right in the middle of everything, right across the street from Piazza dell Repubblica (and down the street from The Hard Rock Cafe). A few hours later, bleary-eyed and really hungry, we went off to find some food.

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I had done quite a bit of research on restaurants and, as I do, set up a "my google map" with the names/notes/etc. This is a really handy way of organizing your travel options, by the way.  Since we brought my mom along on this trip, we made sure we did some of the more touristy things, like walking over Ponte Vecchio (which I had forgot is just a bunch of jewelry shops) and shopping for leather gloves. Around the corner was Trattoria 4 Leoni.

Truth be told I wanted to go to Osteria Tripperia il Magazzino for, you guessed it, tripe, but the ladies weren't all that thrilled with jumping right into the organ meat. So 4 Leoni it was.

4 Leoni is set right on a nice little piazza, with spacious outdoor seating. Very pleasant service, which is something we've seen in Italy time and time again.

We jumped into the food immediately, immediately after ordering that bottle of Chianti of course.

The bread in northern Italy is atrocious, as you might know. It's just awful. It's not made with salt. It's dry. It's bland. And they make you pay for it whether you like it or not. Unless you're putting olive oil and salt on it (which I highly recommend) or a slice of lardo (which I even more highly recommend), don't fill up on it.

But we tried some bread for laughs, and then it was pasta all around.

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Fresh pasta with truffles. We thought the dish was a bit "dry" and could have used a bit more in the way of "sauce," but other than that it was spot on. No shortage of truffles here.

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My mother is not an adventurous eater and went with a pasta pomodoro. Fresh pasta with tomatoes and cheese. Completely fine, but not something that excites me.

What does excite me is organ meat. Organ meat friggin' excites me. So I went full Florentine and got the Trippa alla Fiorentina, which translates I believe to "a bowl of tripe you muthafuckas!"

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This is a great dish, and done quite well at 4 Leoni. The tripe pretends it's pasta, but pasta that tastes like meat. It's like having a pasta with meat sauce but without having pasta or meat. It's pretty incredible stuff. I forget if I did, but I sure hope I ordered this dish again. It would have been a sin to not.

Boboli Garden is right around the corner, and I foolishly decided we should take a walk to the top and explore. That's a lot of steps, and we were still in pretty bad shape from the long flight. But from the top, you can get a decent view of the city on one side, and rural Tuscany on the other.

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Boboli garden florence italy-6
Boboli garden florence italy-6

Trattoria 4 Leoni : Via de' Vellutini, 1r, 50125 Firenze, Italy

 

 

 


Jockey Hollow in Morristown: continues to knock it out of the park

It had been a bit over a year since my first and only visit to Jockey Hollow. That visit yielded some mixed results, but overall I walked away very positive about the place. Why it took so long to return is beyond me. Indeed, two recent meals suggested to me that Jockey Hollow is one of the best and well-run restaurants in New Jersey.

Jockey hollow burger

Our first recent visit included one of the best burgers I've had in quite a long time. Everything about it was outstanding. The bun was a perfect size and texture, the meat had a course grind, and was super-beefy, the garnishes were creamy and acidic and sweet and smokey and salty (the bacon), and the damned thing just worked. Really well.

Jockey hollow fish

A pristine piece of Branzino was served with pickled vegetables and a cauliflower velouté with some roasted cauliflower. A simple preparation on the face of it, but one which brought some creamy notes and some acidic notes to the table. Along with lots of textures. A real pleasure this dish.

Fast forward two weeks or so, and we're watching Youtube videos on Italy, one of which has a chef making a very simple pasta dish with guanciale. I think to myself "why can't we have a restaurant in New Jersey that uses guanciale." All I wanted was pasta with guanciale. I got myself into a lather, filled with disappointment. The missus out-of-the-blue says "Do you want to go back to Jockey Hollow?" I figured that would be a good move, and I pull up the menu. BOOM. Guanciale, in a pasta dish. Off we went.

But first, a cocktail.

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Staying in Ronda, Spain: Enfrente Arte Hotel

Balcon del Cono

Balcón del Coño, Ronda, Spain

Hotels aren't normally my thing, and I tend to stay in hotels that are functional, clean, well-situated in the town, and somewhat reasonably priced.  That is to say, I don't put much thought into them, and I don't usually remember much about them.  And I certainly don't stay at B&Bs, mostly because I have no interest in eating breakfast with strangers (and they don't want to eat breakfast with me...don't catch me before 11 am because I'm more of a bear than usual).

Enfrente Arte Hotel may have changed that forever.

Enfrente Arte Hotel Ronda-10
Enfrente Arte Hotel Ronda-10

Checking into this small, funky, 14 room hotel, you'll find yourself standing at the front of a car hood. The car, you see, is in the lobby. Or at least the front of the car is in the lobby. If your room isn't ready, take a step into the bar, where you can help yourself to an espresso, beer on tap, or a glass (or bottle) of wine. It's all included in the very reasonable price, and it's all there 24-7 for your entertainment.

Entrente Arte Hotel pool
Entrente Arte Hotel pool

Explore the hotel grounds a bit a more, and you'll come across plenty of interesting artifacts, many of which are related to music, some of which conjure memories of A Clockwork Orange. There's also one of those pools of water with the fish that "massage" your feet. The fish eat the stuff off of your bare feet. It's stimulating, creepy, and relaxing all at the same time.

Enfrente arte viewView from the balcony

Make your way outside to the courtyards and you'll find two seating areas with grand views of the mountains. A perfect place for a nightcap. Or morning cap.

Enfrente Arte Hotel Ronda-15
Enfrente Arte Hotel Ronda-15View of the hotel and outskirts of town from the tower room's balcony

The rooms are all different, tastefully and unconventionally decorated. We stayed in two rooms during our stay, one of which was the "tower" room, which is a three story room in a tower that was built in the 1500s. A very interesting room for sure (although these old bones had a hard time getting down the two flights of stairs in the middle of the night to get to the head).

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From Scratch: Excellent Italian restaurant in Ridgewood, NJ

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There's a little gem of a restaurant tucked away on E. Ridgewood Ave in Ridgewood. With its limited menu and lack of the typical Italian-American treats, From Scratch might not be for everyone. But if you are interested in Italian cooking influenced by the cooking of that country, you will probably enjoy the place. Judging by the crowds and hard-to-get reservations, plenty of people already "get it."

I could have very well been sitting in Italy the other day, as I enjoyed my lunch, with the sounds of the Italian language in the background (the owners are from Rome). The waitress that day was also from Italy. Near Napoli, as it turned out. More importantly than where she's from is that she convinced me to order an Italian soft drink.

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Typically I'll drink only wine or beer or water with food, but as she described this drink as being made with bitter orange, my interest was piqued. I'm sure glad I gave this stuff a try. Contrasted with the one-note sweet glop the passes as soda in the US, the Italian version is much more dynamic, much more interesting, and much more delicious. This stuff is agrodolce (bittersweet, as you know). It tasted not much unlike an Americano, a cocktail which I routinely drink like it's my job (equal parts sweet vermouth and Campari, topped with sparkling water and served with a slice of orange). It's made by Lurisia and called Chinotto.

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Oh the food you wonder? I had a wonderful panino with bresaola, parmesan (sliced by knife), arugula, and a touch of dressing. This is a perfectly balanced sandwich with quality ingredients. Contrasted with typical sandwiches, which too often consist of too-much mediocre bread, and too many bland fillings.  This sandwich packed all sorts of flavor and texture, all with being a sensible (to my mind) size.

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