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March 2006

Posts from February 2006

2004 Sogno Uno

Savannasamson3_2 Porn star turned soon-to-be-ex-porn star Savanna Samson is releasing her own italian wine.  it's called Songo Uno, meaning "Dream One".  the New York Times has an article on it in today's (2/26/2006) Sunday Styles section.  robert parker apparently gives it a 91.

409 cases were produced, which means it probably won't be easy to come by.  i'd like to get my hands a few though.

it's 70 percent cesanese, 20 percent sangiovese, and 10 percent montepulciano creating a "complex wine with hints of pepper, earth and cotton candy."  sounds like it will go down easy.

probably won't age well.

watch out for sediment.

bottoms up.

[insert play on words here]


Belmont Tavern: Bloomfield, NJ

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The nice couple next to us mentioned that there was a time, 25 years ago, when they came 3 times a week.  They didn't look that old, but it was a reminder of how old the Belmont is.  In fact, it's way older than that.  How old you ask?  I have no idea.  But it's old.

And throughout its history it has been a required stop if you're in show business and in any way related to north Jersey.  The walls are covered with autographed photos of the usual mostly Italian suspects.  It also features a photo Studdering John Melendez.  Yes of course.  Studdering Stuttering John (Edit:  more than two years after the fact I realize that I spelled "stutter" incorrectly).

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Amazing Hot Dog: Verona, NJ [CLOSED]

UPDATE:  2008/06 The Verona location has closed.  The Bound Brook location remains open.

AmazinghotdogWhat makes Amazing Hot Dog amazing isn't merely the great hot dogs.  What makes Amazing Hot Dog amazing is that it's got the b*lls to exist in north jersey, which some might claim is the hot dog capital of the world.  That's amazing to me. Perhaps i'm easily amazed, but most certainly Eric and Matt (the owners and masterminds behind the operation) have b*lls.

Continue reading "Amazing Hot Dog: Verona, NJ [CLOSED]" »


2004 falanghina feudi di san gregorio

Falanghina_feudi_3 falanghina?  that was a new one to me when i first tried it at NYC's Otto

Otto has a fascinating italian wine list, and knowledgeable and friendly bartenders.  put those two things together and you've got an opportunity to try a bunch of wines along with some good pasta and OK pizza.  in fact, i go to Otto for the pasta, salumi, antipasti, and wine, and not for the pizza.

falanghina grows in campania for sure.  it's a full-bodied white, and a nice change from the usual italian varieties that i normally drink.  the 2004 falanghina from feudi di san gregorio has notes of banana and smoke.  its golden yellow hue is very "pretty", if that's a reasonable descriptor for wine.  it's got great acidity that makes you chew your tongue.  a very nice food wine, and just heavy enough to play nice with the olive oil in tuna crudo.

the bottle is about 15 dollars at carlo russo in ho-ho-kus, and 12 at Bottle Kings in the area.  the guys are carlo russo are really good, know their stuff, and are passionate about their products.  they have a wine tasting every saturday afternoon, and, in my experience, they'll match prices of competitors when you're buying a case or are a familiar face.


crudo - Italy's sashimi

Img_0410practically every culture has a version of a raw fish dish.  the japanese have sushi, the italians have carpaccio and crudo, the koreans have, well, sushi, and the, um, japanese have sushi.  as you can clearly see the list goes on.  oh yeah, and ceviche!

let's talk about crudo though. 

my first taste of crudo was at NYC's Esca (Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's seafood restaurant, with David Pasternack at the stoves).  in its most basic form, crudo is raw fish with a bit of olive oil.  the versions at esca seem to have a bit more olive oil than i would like.  who knows, maybe that's "authentic".

for me, i take some sashimi quality tuna, dice it up nice, mix it with some good olive oil, a bit of kosher salt, a few capers, and some sliced thai bird chilis for heat. i top it off with a sprinkling of grey sea salt, for texture and handsome looks.  i'm not claiming any authenticity here, i can assure you.  it's just fish and olive oil after all.  and please don't mind the cylindrical presentation (so 90's).  i just couldn't come up with anything more clever.

Img_0413_4 obviously you can take this approach and stretch it toward any culture that you want.  and if the fish is fresh, and you let its flavor come through, you'll be successful. 

i get my fish at a few places around north jersey, including han ah reum in little ferry and Ridgewood Fisheries (30 prospect, 201.670.0882), which is a small japanese store and somewhat of a secret.

this dish was paired with a Falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio .  Falanghina is grown in campania, and is certainly less known than other italian varieties.  the 2004 has more body than any pinot grigio, gorgeous straw yellow color, and some notes of banana.  available at Bottle King and carlo russo wine in ho-ho-kus.

Falanghina_feudi_6i should note that i "discovered" falanghina at Otto.  Sam, one of the great bartenders at Otto  poured some for me.  thanks, Sam.


Ridge Thai: Ridgewood, NJ

being no stranger to Ridgewood for the past 10 years or so, i've always wondered why there were no proper thai restaurants in a town with so many others. kailash doesn't count, although it's a decent enough indian/thai place.  a few years ago, Malee opened, with little fanfare.  it's quite good for the most part, but their menu is painfully limited.

but in the past year, 2 more thai restaurants opened up.  first it was  A Taste of Thai on broad street.  and more recently, Ridge Thai at 50 chestnut street.

Ridge Thai is a nicely-decorated 24 seat storefront restaurant.  the menu is typical of thai restaurants in this area in number of selections and depth.  a recent meal included beef salad, a dish with chicken, bamboo shoots, peppers and chili, and pad thai (the tried-and-true baseline).

generally speaking, pad thai comes in two types:  the gloppy sweet mess type, and the light and delicate type.  i'm a fan of the latter, and that's just what Ridge Thai is serving.

the beef salad was exploding with spice, acidity, and herbs.  a super rendition of this dish.  ordered "thai spicy", the dish was probably 7 on a spiciness scale of 1 to 10.  very hot for most i'm sure, but certainly not "thai spicy" to my mind.

our chicken dish wasn't as flavorful as i had hoped, but was certainly not a failure.  in fact, most restaurants might have killed this dish with an overly-sweet sauce, but Ridge Thai shows restraint in that department.

the portions are big, which i suppose is a plus for some people.  the entrees come in at about 15 bucks or so.  the 3 dishes above came to 44 bucks before tip. 

the restaurant is BYO and has better-than-average stemware.  there's a parking lot across the street that will charge you 2 dollars, assuming it's not full.  not a bad deal.  no delivery.

this one's a keeper.

ridge thai -50 chestnut street -201.493.9929

the website


"blizzard 06" white pizza

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I'm always curious when people claim that news weather reporters don't know what they're talking about. It's one of those bitches that everyone jumps on because it's popular, and, as far as i can tell, it's not based on any analysis whatsoever. Then again, most bitches aren't.  People just like bitching.

In my experience, and I put perhaps too much thought into this type of thing, when the news says it's going to be warm over the weekend, it turns out warm.  When they say it's going to be cold and windy, it turns out cold and windy.  When they say it's going to piss down rain starting tomorrow afternoon, guess what?  It pisses down rain some time right around tomorrow afternoon.  So how often are they really wrong?  Probably not too much.  If you want one less person to be upset with, stop watching the weather news.  Go to weather.com .  I'm pretty sure all of the newcasters get their weather news from the same source anyhow.

But i've got other things to worry about, such as:  what should i have for lunch on a day when 15 inches of snow fell in NJ.

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steak at home

Raw_porterhouse In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to eat any steak other than dry-aged USDA Prime beef.  The reality is that even most restaurants don't serve beef of this quality.  Even those who claim "prime" beef probably aren't serving actual USDA Prime. and those restaurants making claims of "aged", well guess what:  it's probably not dry-aged, but rather wet-aged, which is cheaper process that doesn't come close to the same results of dry-aging.  If you have any doubt in your mind about that, buy two steaks:  a dry-aged steak and a wet-aged steak, and smell them both.  The wet-aged will smell like nothing.  the dry-aged will smell like the nastiest filthiest piece of meat that you've ever smelled short of a dumpster.  And that means it's friggin' good.  That, in short, is what you want.

My go-to market for dry-aged Prime Choice (they no longer dry-age Prime, maddeningly) beef is Whole Foods .  They usually do a pretty good job, and claim to sell USDA Prime (but they don't dry-aged it). It's important to understand that even though Prime is the best of the best, within the grading of Prime there exist different levels.  All Prime is not equal. As you can see in the above photo, tonight's steak didn't have the close-to-perfect marbling that i'd expect from best-of-the-best Prime.  You win some and you lose some. What that steak did have going for it, however, is that I had the butcher cut a special piece for me, 1.5 inches thick (an optimal thickness in my mind), and he took it from the end.  And that steak at the end of the big ol' piece of beef in the fridge is the nastiest, purplest, smelliest piece of the lot.  And that's there's some good steak. 

Cooked_sliced_porterhouse_1_1I try to duplicate the steakhouse (meaning:  Peter Luger's, Wolfgang's, Ben and Jack's in NYC) experience (meaning: good crust, rare inside) by using an outdoor (gas) grill at top-top heat.  I also drizzle some olive oil on the steak so that any drippings cause some flairups (and cancer if you listen to what "they" say).  In 7 minutes (more or less), the steak is a perfect medium rare.  Tent and rest for 5 minutes, and you're all set.


taurino salento rosso notarpanaro 1999

Taurino_salento_1999_1 if you're like me you know that wine goes with everything.  while i can appreciate beer with some food, i'm not one of those people who will get on the soap box and tell you in the tone of an expert "oh no, you have to drink beer with asian food."  no, you don't.  you have to drink riesling, gewurtz, and other alsatian and germanic wines.  are we clear?  good.

pizza likes wine, too.  i haven't had much luck with whites, but fruity, simple reds do the trick for me.  a bit of acidity goes a long way too, what with the tomatoes and all.  a little tannic?  no worries, you've got cheese.  last night i picked up a Taurino Salento Rosso Notarpanaro for a pizza dinner.   this wine is primarily made from the Negroamaro grape, and comes from Apulia (Puglia as it is known it Italy), which contains the heel of the boot. 

not a great match to my mind.  i got some petroleum in the nose, and a bit too much berry fruit for my taste.  after a hour it became unpleasant altogether, and i had to fall back on a simple 8 dollar sangiovese called Tosca.  that did the trick.

it should be noted that The Wheel of Fortune was on the TV during dinner (as the photo above suggests).  it's just a fabulous and fast-moving show these days.  i remember thinking, about 20 years ago, that no one could replace chuck.  but Pat has really come into his own.


pizza should be taken from your oven, not from a box

Pizzahotpeppers3_1Pizza and burgers  have a lot in common.  The most notable commonality is that very few restaurants make a decent version, and you can do much better at home.

I urge anyone who hasn't to buy a pizza stone.  They're about 20 bucks or so and if you don't mess with them they'll last forever.  Don't listen to the people who tell you to go to Home Depot to buy unglazed ceramic tiles.  Who can be bothered.

For me, the ideal pizza is made in a wood-fired brick oven in Naples.  Unfortunately, I've yet to actually have pizza made in a wood-fired brick oven in Naples, but i think i get the concept:  a super-hot oven, a thin-ish chewy crust, fresh and bright ingredients, and keep it simple, stupid.

Low-moisture cheese is key to making pizza at home.  Too much liquid (from fresh mozz) will destroy your crust, making it a soggy mess. my current favorite for pizza is cappiello, which is available at my local Stop and Shop.    As for tomatoes, I go for Pomi brand.  It's the best product in the supermarket aisles for my money.  Don't forget to salt and pepper the sauce.  Maybe some oregano if that does anything for you. 

As for dough, I have to admit that I can't be bothered making it (Update:   this has all changed and I'm now making dough...more to come).  However, I have put considerable effort into buying dough from every pizza place in town until i came up with my favorite.  For 2 bucks per pizza dough (enough for 2-3 thin crust pizzas), you shouldn't be bothered to make it either (unless, of course, you can!).

Slide the thing onto a pizza stone that has been heating in your oven for at least an hour.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is just on the almost-burnt side of burnt.  I often open the oven door periodically.  My thought is that an oven will get too hot, and the toppings will "cook" more quickly than the crust browns.  Grate some parmigiano reggiano on top, throw around a chiffonade of fresh basil, and enjoy.

You'll figure it out on your own.  Trust me.