New York State

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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Taiwanese Gourmet: Elmhurst, Queens, NY

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Eating Arthur Ave: Roberto's Restaurant

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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.

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Straight Up New York Craft Spirits Festival: Warwick, NY

 

 
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It was a beautiful day, and the idea of trying some cider and wine and gin at Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery seemed like the most perfect way to spend an hour. After a great lunch at The Grange, we headed on over to the winery.

As we pulled in, there were a few parking guys who asked "Are you here for the [inaudible to me] or the winery." Well, I was there for the winery, so that's what I said. I figured the inaudible part was a wedding or something. "Just park over there then." As I started pulling away, the missus turns to me and says "distillery event?"

"Wait, what?!?!?!?!" I threw the car into reverse and backed right the hell up. I got so excited I'm not even sure I looked in the rear-view mirror.

"Distillery event!?!?!?" I frantically asked the guy. "Yeah, there's a distillery event up on the hill. Twenty distillers, live music, food."

"Uhh, yeah, we're now here for that."

It's a good thing my wife's ears work better than mine, or we would have completely missed the first Straight Up New York Craft Spirits Festival.  And this was an event not to be missed (although you probably did). Indeed, even a more perfect way to spend an hour (or two) than the cider-wine-gin thing I was looking forward to at the winery.

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We paid the admission fee ($40), got our little glasses, and entered the tent. Distillers lined both sides, as far as the eye could see (probably an exaggeration--in addition to my ears, my eyes suck, too). We were giddy.

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Craft House: Gastropub in Suffern, NY

Craft house brussels sprouts

It's a rare thing for me to spend more time going over the beer and wine lists than going over the food menu. That's what we found ourselves doing for the first ten minutes at Craft House, the new "gastropub" in Suffern, NY. With glee.

Craft house wine list
Craft house wine list

The wine and beer list immediately grabbed our attention. In my part of the world, cookie-cutter wine lists are the norm. Craft House's wine list is anything but cookie-cutter. In keeping with Craft House's "local" ethos, many of the wines are from New York State (mostly the Finger Lakes region). Also represented are Austria, Spain, and Portugal. Thank you, person who put together this list.

The beers? Local as well. In fact all of the draft offerings were from New York State. Knowing little about beer, I saw this as a perfect opportunity to learn by drinking many. I mean to say, order a flight of four.

Craft house beer

Two of the four of the flight made a very big impression. The Keslo Industrial IPA (10%) was the monster you'd expect it to be. A huge hoppy beast, with a nose which reminded me of walking through a flower shop. It's amusing to me that something that smells so pretty can knock you on your ass. 

Awestruck hibiscus ginger cider

On the other end of the spectrum was the Awestruck Hibiscus-Ginger cider. Ciders are more like wine than beer, I've come to conclude. Yet for years I dismissed cider as some sort of crap for people who don't like beer. It didn't occur to me until a trip to Applewood Winery in Warwick, NY--where I first tried their Naked Flock cider--that cider is a complex, compelling drink, and one which pairs wonderfully with food. This Awestruck business fit squarely into that mold. The color is irresistible. Taking your first sip you're confronted with lots of acid balancing out a bit of sweet. Not much more than a hint of ginger in this one, leaving me wanting a little more of that spicy kick. I often compare ciders to German Rieslings: acid, fruit (apple), and a bit of sweetness. Perfect for morning drinking, summer drinking, and spicy food. This Awestruck cider is no different.

We would have been perfectly happy sipping wine and beer and cider and whiling the afternoon away, but there was eating to be done. We were looking forward to the food, knowing Chef Levy can cook. He first made an impression ten years ago, when he opened RoCCA in Glen Rock, NJ. It was time to get on with it.

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Mill House Brewing: Poughkeepsie, NY: another great meal

Mill house sausage

It's becoming a habit. Whenever we're near Poughkeepsie, we stop at Mill House Brewing Company. We do this because the place is simply outstanding.

Our first visit made a real impression on us, and we were looking forward to returning. A recent trip to the Catskills gave us a reason to jump on 87 and detour across the river for lunch. We were a bit hesitant, only because the first meal was so exceptional. Too often, a second trip doesn't live up to the first. I'm here to tell you that this was not the case at Mill House. Our second meal was outstanding as well.

I think I said it all in my first post, so I won't repeat myself or go on too long. I did, however, fail to mention (or notice) the outlets under the bar. Along with hooks for bags, there are outlets. I love this attention to detail.

Here's a quick and dirty run-down of our recent meal:

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Eating in Hudson Valley: Cucina: Woodstock, NY: brunch done right

Cucina woodstock exterior and porch

Cucina was a restaurant that kept popping up in searches and when we were asking for advice on where to eat in/around Woodstock. Plenty of rave reviews everywhere we looked. Frankly, I was a little skeptical. Why would I want to eat "Italian" food in Woodstock? Didn't seem to make much sense to me. It probably still doesn't make much sense to me. However, we did stop at Cucina for "brunch" one afternoon, and were really impressed.

The place is really gorgeous. It's set in an old farmhouse, complete with a wrap-around porch (used for dining). The interior has been completely renovated--with more of a modern twist than you might expect. The front door leads into a large barroom, with a small lounge attached. On either side are dining rooms. The one to the right is quite large and runs the depth of the house. Lots of natural light flows in from all directions.

You can't eat the architecture, so let me get to the food.

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Mill House Brewing Company: Poughkeepsie, NY

Mil house brewery exterior

While I received some excellent recommendations from readers for a restaurant in the Rhinebeck/Kingston area, we landed on this newish brewpub in Poughkeepsie, which we found via google. Off we went.

Mill House Brewing Company is in a beautifully restored mill, with lots of exposed brick, a private room upstairs, a large bar, and outdoor seating on the second floor. And a parking lot, which is nice. A really sharp looking place. Take a look at what it looked like before:

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Greeted by a large and bright bar, we grabbed two stools by the window and started reviewing the menus, with “We Built This City” on the soundsystem in the background. How the band that recorded that God-awful dreck is even remotely related to the band that recorded “Miracles” is beyond me. Thankfully the 80s music that was on quickly segued into excellent stuff like Squeeze and Dexys Midnight Runners and INXS.

Mill house brewery bar booze copy

While I fully expected to see a focus on beer, what with this being a brewpub and all, I was a surprised to see such a thoughtful cocktail program. The selection of booze was well beyond that of an average restaurant. It was exceptional. Fresh juices, infused syrups, barrel aged cocktails—someone gave the cocktails deep consideration. And I'm not one to let that attention to the good stuff go to waste. Those beer-drinking heathens don't know what they're missing.  We got right to it...

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Eating in Hudson Valley: Boitson's Restaurant: Kingston, NY: burger and cocktails

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We were spending the weekend "in Woodstock," but in reality we spent much of our time in Saugerties and Kingston--two towns within 15 minutes of each other, and Woodstock.

We found Kingston to be a lovely old town, one which is certainly in the middle of a renaissance. The Stockade district is filled with beautiful Dutch-influenced architecture, restaurants, bars, shops, and feels very much as exciting as any part of, I dunno, let's say Brooklyn. It's also, perhaps, a bit less hippie than its neighbor Woodstock, which can be a good thing, depending on your feelings about hippies (I've always been more of a punk than a hippie, so, you know, draw your own conclusions about how I feel about hippies).

Within a few minutes of checking out the town we knew we were going to be going back at some point. Our cocktails at The Stockade, an awesome speakeasy with excellent cocktails, pretty much solidified that (more on The Stockade later). And dinner at Boitson's was no slouch, either.

Boiston's was recommended by a friend, and after seeing a small, focused menu filled with comfort food, and a cocktail list with more gin, tequila, and whiskey than vodka, it went to the top of the list.

Boitsons deck

It's a beautiful, casual restaurant, with a long bar running down the narrow room. We didn't know it until we arrived, but they also have a great outdoor deck which includes another bar. Down we sat.

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