Burgers

Red Hat in Irvington, NY: serious views and foods

Red Hat Irvington-2

Red Hat has been on my list of restaurants to try for some years now. I always wrote it off as likely being a place that rested on its view and ambiance, with food being a second thought, or not a thought at all. And I was wrong.

On an unseasonably warm afternoon, we set out to find a place we've never visited. Red Hat popped up in our search, and I saw that they have some outdoor seating. Additionally, the menu, which leans toward French bistro, looked really, really appealing. There were more than a few things that jumped out at me.

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We secured a table on the beautiful patio, steps from the Hudson River. A bottle of water was brought out to the table. This is a practice I've seen all over Europe and the US as well, but for some reasons most owners and managers haven't caught on. Why on earth would you want your servers spending time filling water glasses when they should be focusing on the stuff you are actually SELLING. Anyway, I love touches like this. We were off to a good start.

The items on the menu were priced very simply. A group of items was something like 16 dollars, and another group was 18 dollars. And none of this ".95" nonsense that restaurants insist on doing. Pricing your food at $15.95 looks cheap and desperate. Just stop it, you fools.

 

Red Hat Irvington

The cocktail list read quite well, and had my friends gin and bourbon represented in an appropriate manner. That is to say, they actually had cocktails with gin and bourbon. Good for them. Better for me. We had a spicy margarita, and a Gimlet with cucumber. Both executed well.

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Nick's Laguna Beach: food and drinks and sun

Nicks Laguna Beach

If Nick's Laguna Beach was in my town, I'd be living in Laguna Beach, and that would be pretty awesome. I'd also be going there as much as possible.

In fact we did go to Nick's twice in one week when we were visiting the sunny (and grid-locked) town of Laguna Beach. Would have went a third time, but my dopey friend insisted that we eat at some place on the water. What a waste of a meal that was. But let's not think about that.

Let's think about this a place with big skylights, a good-sized rectangular bar, fun, well-executed food, and cocktails to match.

The cocktails are made with fresh citrus juices, as they should be, by very competent bartenders. The short and concise cocktail is represents my friends whiskey and tequila quite well.

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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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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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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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White Maple Cafe: Ridgewood, NJ restaurant

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White Maple Cafe opened without me realizing it. I happened to be walking by one day, after a fine meal at from scratch, and there it was. A good-looking restaurant with an interesting menu. Who knew?

I popped in for a quick lunch the other day to see what was going on. I liked what I saw and enjoyed what I had, for the most part.

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Eating in Rincon, Puerto Rico: Burgers at Kahuna Burger Bar

Kahuna burger bar rincon deck

I have extremely low expectations for a restaurant or bar if any of the following apply:

1) it's close to a beach
2) it's ridiculously popular and crowded at night
3) it has live music
4) it has a kitschy name

Kahuna Burger Bar meets all four conditions. Yet managed to really impress.

It was a real scene, as the kids say, the night we walked past and first noticed the place, on our way back back from a fantastic meal at Pool Bar Sushi (great place). But it piqued my interest, if only for the bar scene, which made me feel like I was missing some action. I hate missing some action. It just seemed "fun," even for someone old and grumpy like me. Research was in order! Some googling of Kahuna Burger, located in the Casa Verde Hotel, led to some dreadful pictures of burgers that didn't look very appetizing. Just as I suspected. I tried to get it out of my head.

Against my better judgement, we headed over for lunch one day. Fully expecting the place to be packed, we got there at noon, sharp. We were the only customers. I think people sleep a bit late in Rincon. Or they're out surfing in the morning and don't think about lunch until much later than me (I start thinking about lunch at about 10 pm the night before).

Kahuna burger bar rincon interior bar

Kahuna has an indoor oval bar and some rail seating, along with some high-tops and picnic tables on the deck, which is where we packed in our crew.

A scan of the cocktail list yielded a margarita that sounded like it was almost on track to being a proper cocktail (I asked and the lime juice was to come from a lime...good start). The inclusion of Jose Cuervo silver was the big problem. And I don't recall if the menu specified Cointreau. I asked the lovely bartender if I could sub in Milagro and ensure Cointreau, stating that I'll pay the up-charge. She said don't worry about it, same price. Nice! A bit sweet, but Milagro and Cointreau and lime juice and some sugar in a plastic cup with ice in Rincon on a sunny 84 degree day is better than what you probably drank last week. You dig?

The food, you say?

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Eating in Philadelphia: a.bar for wonderful cocktails and lunch

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There was nothing about a.bar that I didn't like.

I can typically find a few nitpicks in any restaurant. Crappy cocktail lists. Boring food options. Poorly executed food. Shit service. Uncomfortable bar. My list of complaints goes on. And on. Of this you are assured.

But nothing from my vast list of bitches applied to a.bar. The place is bright and comfortable. Plenty of room under the bar for my legs. The menu was short and concise and everything sounded good. The cocktails were appealing and well-crafted. Hell, two of them showcased amaro with a base, including one with tequila and Montenegro, and another with Mezcal and Meletti. Well done.

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The bartender was good-natured and more than happy to indulge me when I asked him to just surprise me with a cocktail. He also suffered through my game of "let me guess what's in this one."

The food, also, is no slouch.

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Momma's Boy Burgers: A Shake Shack-ish place in Wayne, NJ

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It's beyond evident that Shake Shack was an inspiration for the people who opened Momma's Boy, a burger/hot dog joint in Wayne, NJ. It's clear right down to the wood/metal interior and the logo. And who can blame them for taking some cues from a place like Shake Shack. Shake Shack does a pretty damned good job at selling hamburgers and fries.

The people behind Momma's Boy were certainly paying attention when they pulled this place together.  The burger is very similar to the burger at Shake Shack. Same griddled potato roll, same style of "special sauce" (may0/ketchup-based), same type of melty American cheese, and the same size. But all of that means nothing if the burger meat isn't tasty, and the execution is flawed. Do they pull it off?

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Novo Mediterranean: Ridgewood, NJ [CLOSED]

Update (2017/7): Novo had been sold and closed. A bit loss for Ridgewood's dining scene.

North Jersey has no shortage of restaurants focusing on what might be considered "Mediterranean cuisine." Ridgewood alone boasts several, ranging from good (Lisa's Mediterranean and Mediterraneo), to cookie-cutter (casually glances at It's Greek To Me). So when I saw another restaurant billing itself as "Mediterranean" was opening on Chestnut Street, I wasn't overcome with anticipation. In fact, I was only vaguely interested in the prospect. I'm here to tell you that I was a moron.

After my first meal at Novo Mediterranean, I proclaimed it "excellent," "one of the most exciting new restaurants in the area," and noted that it "has potential to become a favorite." 

After the next meal I upped the ante, stating "Chef Kahlon is a stone cold killer," and "serious effing business here."  It took me a while, but I am no longer (as much of) a moron. Novo is, indeed, irrefutably, one of the most exciting new restaurants to hit North Jersey in a long time. After three meals it is, without a doubt, a favorite. I cannot imagine ever tiring of Chef Kahlon's cooking--although his dashing good-looks are starting to grate on me.

I should talk about the food.

Novo bread

The first thing that hit our table was a loaf of house-made bread. A steaming log of olive oil coated, airy bread, sprinkled with sea salt. The bread alone is reason to return. I can't imagine how good a sandwich made with this stuff would be. Throw some ham in there and call it a day. If at the moment that bread hits the table you don't realize that you're in the hands of an excellent chef, you'll only have consider the punch of flavor packed into house-made za'atar to be convinced. I couldn't figure out what was in it, and I don't care; some things are too good to ponder. 

I'm bloviating enough as it is, and I know you people have a very short attention span, so I'll just move on to some photos and brief comments.

Novo salad

This salad was popping-bright, with crunchy, fresh vegetables, appropriately dressed, and adorned with fried chickpeas and shaved cheese. This dish may very well encapsulate Chef Kahlon's approach to cooking. Lots of exciting acid, herbs, fresh ingredients, and textural contrast. He cooks like I like to eat.

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