Just over the Jersey border

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.

Red Hat Irvington-7

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.

Continue reading "Red Hat in Irvington, NY: serious views and foods" »


Chef Anthony LoPinto lands at Marcello's in Suffern: running a Chef's table and cooking classes

LoPintos Chefs Table-2

It's good to have Chef Anthony Lo Pinto back doing what he does best: cooking fantastic, seasonally-driven food.

This time, you get to watch him while he does it, as he'll be doing it all in front of you, acting as your host, Chef, and educator.

I've been following Chef LoPinto for over a decade now. I first experienced his cooking and hospitality at the now-shuttered Fortunato in Lyndhurst, NJ, where he came out to the bar to meet my friend and me, and, if I recall correctly, took it upon himself to cook for us. No ordering, just sitting back and having the chef prepare a meal, serve it, talk about it, pour carefully paired wines, and making a connection with his guests.  And that's exactly the experience you can have at Anthony Lo Pinto's Chef Table at Marcello's.

LoPintos Chefs Table-10

We were recently invited by Chef Lo Pinto to what I would call a friends-and-family night at his Chef's table, and were more than thrilled to take him up on the offer. The "official" kick-off, I believe, will be sometime in early September, when the Chef's table will be serving food a few nights a week, with a three course meal Wednesday and Thursday, and a five course meal Friday and Saturday nights, available by reservation.

We were greeted by a huge smile and hug, as you are by every Chef, right? The table, which surrounds the stove, was set with bottles wine and a tasting of four olive oils (from Marcello's Italian foods import business). Excellent bread from a local bakery was served. Game on.

LoPintos Chefs Table

When all of the guests arrived, Lo Pinto kicked off the night with a toast, and then went on explain his philosophies on hospitality, seasonal food, and cooking, and sharing in his excitement for this way of cooking for guests. And the first course was in play...

Continue reading "Chef Anthony LoPinto lands at Marcello's in Suffern: running a Chef's table and cooking classes" »


Social Still: food and spirits in Bethlehem, PA

Social still bethlehem-4

The ol' restaurant-in-an-old-bank trick.  They're popping up everywhere. Bethlehem, PA, boasts at least two (Mint, is another, which is located in a 60s-style bank, a decidedly different vibe than the turn-of-the-last-century banks you typically see occupied by restaurants).

Social Still ups the game by not being not only a restaurant, but also a distillery. They're making gin, whiskey, vodka, rum, and not tequila. They're putting their spirits in some excellent cocktails, and on top of that, putting out some great, fun food.

Social still bethlehem
Social still bethlehem

Those cocktails include preferable ingredients like house-made bitters and fresh fruit juices. Some standouts were "The Herbalist" (House infused rosemary, thyme, and cucumber gin, lime, simple) and "The Jake" (rye, bitter orange liqueur, orange flower water, bitters, rye soaked cherries, pineapple). These cocktails may or may not be pictured here.

The menu tends to read toward the fun side of the spectrum, but I got the impression the team in the kitchen can indeed cook at a level beyond your expectations.

Social still bethlehem-8

We had a simple chopped salad, with marinated tomatoes, pickled red onion, and crispy chickpeas, and a chèvre vinaigrette. Notice I didn't say "tomatoes, onions, chicks peas, vinaigrette." They're doing things right here.

Continue reading "Social Still: food and spirits in Bethlehem, PA" »


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.

Continue reading "Best Dishes: of 2016" »


Taiwanese Gourmet: Elmhurst, Queens, NY

4J5A0198

Hardly anything is what I know about Taiwanese food. And that's a lot more than what I knew before I rolled into Taiwanese Gourmet, in Elmhurst, Queens.

The fantastic blog Chopsticks and Marrow had a brief and very convincing post on this little Taiwanese restaurant, which compelled me near-immediately to cross the 13 or so bridges that it takes to get to Elmhurst, and, as it turns, out have essentially the same meal.

4J5A0200

4J5A0177

I went in thinking Taiwanese Gourmet is BYO, but alas they do serve beer. The "Taiwan Beer" that we spied in the fridge seemed to be a good a choice as any. As with many Chinese beers, it's a bit sweet, and goes perfectly well with spicy foods. Better than Bud, you are assured. I mean it says "World Class" right on it, so, there's that.

Continue reading "Taiwanese Gourmet: Elmhurst, Queens, NY" »


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

4J5A9261

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.

4J5A9266
4J5A9266

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.

Continue reading "Eating in Philadelphia: a.bar for wonderful cocktails and lunch" »


Best dishes: of 2015

  Orvieto

Putting together a year-end wrap-up list like this is sort of a pain-in-the-ass, I've come to realize. I have to figure out what dishes I want to include, find a photo, remember something halfway interesting or at least accurate to say about the dish, type it all in, spellcheck, look up web sites, etc. It takes a lot time, and at the end of the day very few people care what I put into my face. And I'm sure as shit not getting paid for it. But, it's a nice walk down memory lane for me, so once I get going, sifting through the photos and thinking about the experiences, it turns out to be quite a lot of fun, as I ignore the reality that you may not give a toss about any of it.

But then I have to type words and stuff, and I put it off for 3 weeks. It turns into a task. A task that I just recently tackled.

So why isn't this list New Jersey-focused you didn't ask and probably didn't even wonder? Well I'll tell ya. I used to include only New Jersey/NYC restaurants in these lists (I think), but I've been told that there is some value to some people to include stuff from other places. The fact that many of the dishes on this list are from outside of New Jersey shouldn't be a surprise. When I travel, I'm obviously carefully picking restaurants that I think will be outstanding. And let us not ignore the fact that when you're traveling, things just taste better. New experiences put more lead in my pencil than anything. When I'm stuck in New Jersey, conversely, I don't spend enough time eating out, and too often go back to the same places where I know I can get a good meal. But, there are several restaurants on this list within a stone's throw of New Jersey, so even if you don't ever plan on leaving the Garden State, perhaps something on this list will appeal to you.

Enough explaining. On with it.

Here's a list of exceptional dishes that I enjoyed in 2015. In no particular order other than perhaps chronological.

 

Continue reading "Best dishes: of 2015 " »


Eating Arthur Ave: Roberto's Restaurant

4J5A8716

I've probably been doing it wrong, but I don't find Arthur Ave all that exciting.

While my first trip to Arthur Ave was good but not exactly life-altering, a recent trip affirmed that perhaps Arthur Ave is just not for me. That's not to say there aren't great places to buy food, including fantastic seafood at Randazzo's and salumi at Calabria Pork Store, but the restaurants just leave me wondering what the fuss is all about. Except for that Mexican place that kept catching my eye, taunting me with visions of corn tortilla tacos filled with tongue and al pastor.

The menus at the few Italian places left on and around Arthur Ave all look the same. It's hard for me to get jazzed about "Spiedino" and "Insalata Tricolore" and "Marsala" and "Francese." "Scarpiello," also, does little for me.

Now, I'm sure there are some gems on these menus. Perhaps they even have specials at these restaurants. Maybe I'm missing something fantastic. I'll still entertain that possibility, even after trying Roberto's recently.

Continue reading "Eating Arthur Ave: Roberto's Restaurant" »


Twisted Olive: Eating in Bethlehem, PA

4J5A0717

I spent a few days in Bethlehem in September (thankfully during tomato-growing season), and did quite a bit of "research" on restaurants. Research typically means reading some articles from traditional media outlets, and then ending up on TripAdvisor, or, God-forbid, Yelp (where I'll only read the really negative reviews, just for amusement). One place that grabbed my attention was Twisted Olive. For some reason I wasn't convinced it would be exceptional, but I kept it in the back of my mind. Eventually, we went for lunch. And boy am I glad we did.

At first glance, the menu seems unexceptional. The lunch menu has a variety of sandwiches and salads and pizza. Boring, right? But look more closely and you'll see the use of house-made corn tortillas for the fish tacos, house-smoked meats for sandwiches, and house-made syrups and infused-booze for the cocktail list. It's these little touches that illustrate to me that someone is paying attention to what they are putting on the plate and in the glass. This, alone, puts Twisted Olive in a rare league.

But first, a cocktail...

Continue reading "Twisted Olive: Eating in Bethlehem, PA" »


The Franklin Bar: cocktailing in Philly

Franklin bar cocktail flamed orange peel

Are they transitioning the name from "Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co." to "The Franklin Bar?" Let's bloody well hope so. I am into the brevity thing. "The Franklin Bar" suits me just fine.

And The Franklin Bar suits me just fine. A speakeasy-style cocktail bar set in a candle-lit basement, you sure wouldn't know anything of note is behind that nondescript black door unless someone told you (or you read about it). Luckily for me, during a dinner at Village Whiskey, the bartender suggested I give the place a try. For some reason he must have gotten the impression that I like cocktails. And since it was on the way back to the hotel, stumbling distance even, well you just know I had to check it out. A good piece of advice from this bartender to be sure.

Franklin Bar (the downstairs bar, not the new, upstairs bar) lets only a certain number of people in the place at a time. This isn't due to an occupancy limit set by the city, but rather because they don't allow people to stand. You will sit, you will enjoy your cocktails, and you will behave. I think you have to ring the doorbell when you get there, although on a recent visit two gentlemen were minding the door. "Have you been here before?" "Yes" is always the correct response.

Franklin bar cocktail4
Franklin bar cocktail4

Perhaps I'm exaggerating the rigidness of the experience at Franklin Bar.  Compared to some newcomers like Hop Sing Laundromat, which by all reports is known for being a bit over-the-top with its rulebook--No sneakers? No shorts? A "screening process" to get in?--getting into and enjoying Franklin Bar is a relatively relaxed affair.

Don't go in expecting to sit at a proper bar. The bar (downstairs) seats about 4 people IIRC. You'll be at tables or perhaps the bar rail. It turned out I was alone during my first visit, so they were able to seat me at that tiny bar. I bellied up and dug right into the cocktail list.

Franklin bar cocktail1
Franklin bar cocktail1

I was hoping to get into some light discussion on cocktails with the bartenders, given my ideal position at the end of the bar. But, alas, they were way too busy. At least two bartenders that night, making their craft cocktails non-stop. These are not simple cocktails. They're messing with the right ice, flaming peels, splashing bitters and tinctures, garnishing with foods, frothing with egg whites, shaking aggressively, tattoos rendering to nothing more than a fleshy blur.

Continue reading "The Franklin Bar: cocktailing in Philly " »