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Straight Up New York Craft Spirits Festival: Warwick, NY


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.

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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Seoul Galbi Korean BBQ: opening in Paramus


Update: it's open.

It seems like forever ago that the Korean restaurant on Paramus Road, in Paramus, closed. I forget the name, but it was largely unexceptional, and a bit of a dump.

It didn't take too long for work to begin on the empty building, and that work has been going on for quite some time. Over a year I'd say. They gutted the place, and I'm guessing invested in everything from a new roof to a new kitchen. All along yielding no hint as to what type of restaurant might be moving in.

I kind of thought it would be an upscale Greek fish restaurant, what with that kind of money being poured into the structure (not to mention the liquor license). I thought wrong.

Indeed there's now a new sign on the building announcing Seoul Galbi Korean BBQ. Korean wouldn't necessarily be my first choice for this space, but it's certainly a good thing overall. Anything but an Italian-American restaurant, quite frankly, would be fine with me. Another bullet dodged.

While the idea of a Korean restaurant with a liquor license doesn't really excite me (I know of few Korean restaurants with interesting beer lists or cocktail programs), I did see a bunch of new grill hoods being placed over each of the tables. So they've got that going for them. 

I'm looking forward to taking my first slab of short rib and throwing it on the flame, with an OB Lager I assume.

Restaurant comers and goers in Ridgewood: NJ


The near constant turnover of restaurants continues in Ridgewood, NJ.

Long-time staple and all-around mediocre restaurant La Piazza disappeared a few months ago. I got a bit excited when I saw a sign announcing a new place called "29 Chestnut," until I looked closer and read "Italian Trattoria." What we don't need is yet another "Italian" restaurant in New Jersey (I'm relatively confident that it will be "Italian-American" and will not specialize in the cooking of any part of Italy).


Diwani moved out of its digs on E. Ridgewood Ave and headed up to Mahwah a few months back. That space is extremely awkward, with a small front room, some sort of dead space, and then a larger dining room tucked in the back. Let's hope Pardis Persian Grill can make a go of it.


Back on Chestnut Street, it looks like some sort of health food place went kaputt, and something with the potential of being much more interesting is moving in. Tori Ramen Chicken is coming soon.

Will they only serve chicken ramen? What about pork? I like pork. It looks like a pretty big space, so maybe they'll have room for chicken and pork ramen. Either way, this one is something to look forward to.

Ridgewood Fisheries, the small Japanese market, has closed. J Mart, another Japanese market, remains open.

Bella Notte Italian Bistro, which was La Bottega before that, closed a few months ago. The space remains empty.


Kilwins, some sort of chain, has a nice little spot right across from Van Neste Square. Haven't been in there, but I'm guessing they have chocolates, caramel apples, fudge, and ice cream.

As I noted earlier, another highly anticipated restaurant, Fish, is making progress on their remodel of the old bank building. I've got high hopes for this place, and I hope it doesn't screw it all up.

A reader notes that Italia di Gusto is open on E. Ridgewood ave. The website is here.

So that's that.

I worked up quite an appetite walking those 4 blocks, and headed over to the always-excellent Sakura Bana for some sushi. 



A quick peek inside Fish Ridgewood: Ridgewood, NJ

Fish Ridgewood, which is bound to open some point this year in the old Bank of America building, has been very open to sharing pictures of the progress on their Facebook page. But that didn't stop me from poking my nosy face in there to take a few pics.

As expected, their goal of opening "mid-May" wasn't realistic, or met. But I'll hold tight, all the while hoping that the place will be exceptional. I have a really good feeling about it. At the very least it should look stunning.


Best dishes: of 2014. Some were even in New Jersey.

Everyone loves a list. Especially when it contains pictures and brief, vague descriptions of food that someone else ate over the course of a year. Someone you don't even know. I mean come on. That's about as bad as suffering through a slide show of a coworker's vacation. But that won't stop me.

This is a list of the most memorable and exceptional dishes that my body processed into p**p during 2014.

Ramen Sora
Las Vegas, NV

Ramen sora spicy

I have to think this was my first “real” ramen experience. I guess I've had ramen in the past, but never gave it the serious consideration that it deserves. Ramen Sora changed my opinion on ramen, and got me thinking about it, a lot. Ramen just may be the perfect dish. Those gyoza were no slouches either.

Spaghetti with fennel pollen sausage and Calabrian chiles

Local Seasonal Kitchen
Ramsey, NJ


I've been a big fan of Chef Steve Santoro since the late 90s, when he was producing fantastic and exciting food at the long-gone Dish in Passaic, NJ. He left Dish, and disappeared from New Jersey, for a good amount of time. I figured he'd never return. Recently, he did return to open the awkwardly-named Local Seasonal Kitchen. And once again he's producing fantastic and exciting food. At first bite I knew this dish would be on some sort of “best” list. And whaddayaknow, I was right. Clean clean flavors of spice, meat, and heat. Awwwww, yeah.

The Black Pig
Cleveland, OH

Black pig burger

I'm still thinking about this burger. It remains one of the best burgers that I've had. Anywhere. DB Bistro Moderne, The Spotted Pig, Blue Smoke, Minetta Tavern, J.G. Melon. All of them take a backseat to this burger. Cooked to a juicy medium rare, an appropriate and delicious bun, house-made pickles, great melted cheese. The execution was flawless, and the burger simply outstanding. I hate this picture because it mocks me. It sits there, and mocks me, as I cannot eat it right now.

Chilean Seabass
Paramus, NJ

Chilean sea bass chakra_edited-1

Everything about this dish screams 1990s. The fish itself, the potato wrapped shrimp, the vaguely Asian preparation. But maybe the 90s weren't so bad after all? That potato wrapped shrimp, which I assumed would be a throw-away garnish, was excellent in its own right. Maybe nostalgia plays into it, but this dish is really fun. And visually appealing. Chef Ciszak is doing some very good work at Chakra. You and I should be going there more often than we do.

Ox tongue and tripe
Joyce Chinese Cuisine
River Edge, NJ

Tongue and tripe

A newcomer to the North Jersey Sichuan scene in 2014, and Joyce is bringing the goods. Their version of ox tongue and tripe is a good a version as I've had anywhere, with the added bonus of being slightly better for some reason I cannot explain. A great restaurant overall.   

Fat Gangnam Boy Hero
Kimchi Smoke BBQ
NJ-based Southern and Korean BBQ vendor

Fat gangnam boy2

That Kimchi fella is apparently known for his brisket, but don't let this sandwich slip through your paws. Bulgogi, pickled vegetables, scallions, processed American cheese, BBQ sauce, on a perfect hero roll. This thing is silly-good. Next time, I'll make sure a get a cold beer from neighboring vendor, which would just go so very, very perfectly.

Fish with carrots
Le Relais Des Trois Mas
Collioure, France

Fish at hotel

We had fun listening to the server describe this multi-component dish for 10 minutes, each of which had carrots incorporated some how some way. “Blah blah wis a puree of carrots, blah blah scented wis, ehhh, carrots, the feesh is blah blah wis carrots, a small glass of juice, made wis, ehhhh, carrots.” He wrapped up his explanation in his best possible English, sounding exhausted from saying “carrots” so many times, with “it's just a lot of carrots.” It's a good thing we like carrots. And sichuan peppercorn, which, to our surprise, made its way into one of the components.

The dish was a work of art. The view, sitting at Le Relais Des Trois Mas, overlooking the bay at Collioure, topless sunbathers and all, was glorious. This restaurant was very, very good. And every one of those carrots was perfect. I should also note that the hotel is just lovely as well.

Cassoulet (and ravioli)
Auberge du Vigneron
Cucugnan, France

Cassoulet Auberge du Vigneron ravioli

If you find yourself tooling around the Pyrenees, exploring ancient Cathar castles, and why wouldn't you, you'd do well to stop in the small commune of Cucugnan, nestled in the shadow of Chateau de Queribus. There didn't seem to be a whole lot going on in this tiny, tiny place, but Auberge du Vigneron is well worth a stop. Or even a detour. Especially if treacherous mountain roads lacking safety rails are your thing.

It seems unfair to include two dishes from a single restaurant, especially when I couldn't figure out what made one of them so good, but I will anyway.

Not sure what the sauce on the ravioli was, but it was ethereal. Each of those ravioli was filled with a different meat product, including foie gras IIRC.

As for the cassoulet, well, what can I tell you. It was probably in the top 5 dishes of the year. Filled with various sausages and duck confit, this dish could have, and may have, warmed the stomachs of a Cathar slaughtering army. Hints of genocide never tasted so good.

Merendero de la Mari
Barcelona, Spain


It wasn't the only paella we ate in Catalonia, but it was first, and it confirmed my suspicions that what passes for paella in my part of the word is simply absolute crap. As I said here, “Every bite revealed a little piece of tender seafood or vegetable. Stuff I didn't recognize. I'm having a hard time thinking about this dish at this moment, because it was so outstanding, and I'm so hungry right now, and I know it will be some time until I have anything remotely as good as this. I don't know what else to say other than it was a revelation.”


Barcelona, Spain


Gelonch wasn't the only place where we had seppia that was sliced into pasta-like ribbons during a trip to Barcelona, but it was my favorite. Linguini's got nothing on seppia. If anyone knows where to get a seppia ribbon-maker, or seppia for that matter, do let me know.

Slow roasted salmon
Woodstock, NY

Salmon cucina woodstock_edited-1

I rarely order salmon, because typical Atlantic salmon is largely unexceptional. Wild Pacific salmon in season, of course, is an entirely different beast, and should be ordered whenever it's available. The slow-roasted salmon with corn pudding at Woodstock's Cucina, however, made me rethink everything I thought I knew.

Escape Montclair
Montclair, NJ

Escape scallops

Chef Bryan Gregg has continued to impress the hell out of me in 2014. His commitment to seasonal, pristine ingredients squares nicely with the way I like to eat. One brunch at Escape included three scallops over corn. I believe this dish captured the essence of Escape Montclair. Simple, pure, perfect. A proper brunch, indeed.

Cauliflower ravioli
The Cookery
Dobb's Ferry, NY

The Cookery cauliflower ravioli

The Cookery has really impressed me with some dishes, while others have landed a bit flat. The cauliflower ravioli was one that impressed. Brown butter, of course.


Lion's Head Meatballs
Fu Restaurant
Fairfield, NJ

Lions head meatballs

A new Shanghainese restaurant in New Jersey, brought to you by the folks who run the excellent Chengdu 23 in Wayne. Maybe it was due to the fact taht I hadn't had this dish in close to 6 years, but diving into the Lion's Head meatballs were like nuzzling into the soft bosom of an old lover. Or something like that.

Stockade Tavern
Kingston, NY

Stockade kingston cocktail4

Stockade Tavern is a world-class cocktail bar run by a super nice husband and wife team. Every cocktail I had during various visits was interesting, mostly new-to-me, and eye-opening. There's a lot of craftsmanship here. No messing about. They've got ingredients that I've not so much as heard of, which is not easy to pull off. This is a great experience, and not to be missed. I cannot envision a time when I'll be near Kingston and not make time to spend an hour or two at Stockade Tavern.

Park West Tavern
Ridgewood, NJ

Andrew lasers
80s cheesy laser treatment courtesy of Duong L.

Andrew at Park West Tavern continues to grow and push the envelope with his cocktails. I rarely order anything specific here, and given my status as a semi-regular irregular, he generally has time to surprise me.  Just recently I had a new concoction. My comment after the first few sips was the somewhat absurd “this tastes like Christmas.” "That's what I was going for," he replied. Impressive.

Casa Leon
Collioure, France

Casa leon collioure anchovies

Collioure is known for anchovies. It has been argued that the world's best anchovies come from the waters here. Who am I to argue? I didn't even think I liked anchovies until eating them during almost every meal during a visit to this colorful, beautiful coastal town in the south of France. Before I left, I was a convert. Anchovies are magical.

Casa Leon is a lovely little restaurant serving pristine seafood, local wine, and, thankfully, anchovies. This plate of anchovies stood out, and went quite well with the bottle of Collioure rosé. Seek out Collioure AOC wines. You may be quite pleased.

Los Toreros
Barcelona, Spain

Los Toreros clams

Clams aren't generally my thing, but the big bowl of sweet, tender, briny clams at Los Tereros in Barcelona filled me with joy, and reinforced my understanding of simple Catalan cooking. Los Toreros is a quaint, not-very-touristy Barcelona gem.

Northern Style larb
Lotus of Siam
Las Vegas, NV

Lotus of siam northern larb
This horrible photo hurts my eyes. Sorry.

I haven't missed an opporunity to visit Lotus of Siam since my first visit in 2002 or so. When we returned this year, we were surprised to see the place has more than doubled in size. And it is more popular than ever. So much for a little hidden secret.

The selection of German wines remains impressive (and those wines go perfectly with the spicy Thai food), and the Northern-style larb remains delicious. And powerful. This dish is much different than the typical larb you'll find on most Thai menus. It's a deep, dark, rich, masculine affair, probably made with some liver and blood, and doesn't include the acidic bit that its cousin does. And boy oh boy, is it spicy. If you go to Lotus of Siam, consider their separate Northern-style menu, which is filled with rare and exciting treats.

House-cured pork with leeks
Lan Sheng
Wallington, NJ

Lan sheng smoked pork

A version of this dish can be found at most Sichuan restaurants, but I recall really, really enjoying the dish at Lan Sheng. Slightly smoky, a bit salty, pure and porky. Lan Sheng's liquor license will likely keep me from ever returning, but if I do, I'll order this dish again.

Fried chicken
Peck Peck Chicken
Teaneck, NJ

Peck peck chicken1_edited-1

2014 marked the start of a more serious exploration of Korean food at the t:e organization. While one might foolishly dismiss fried chicken wings as being nothing more than a snack, Korean fried chicken is certainly one of Korea's greatest gifts to our collective food culture. Move over, southern states.

Crab cake
Paramus, NJ

Chakra crabcake

Two dishes on this list from Chakra, a restaurant to which I really haven't given much consideration over the years? I'm more surprised than you. There's not denying the crab cake at Chakra is the tops.  The dish is perfect, right down to the lightly dressed snow pea shoots. There's a bit too much vodka on their cocktail menu, though.

Pasta with clams
Piermont, NY

Confetti clams linguini

It's not easy finding a decent plate of pasta with clams in the North Jersey area. It's really not. All of those Italian-American restaurants really don't do a very good job.  Most versions suffer from any number of flaws. But not the dish at Confetti. It should be the standard to which all other restaurants aspire. Beautifully and functionally plated, as well.

House-made sausage
Mill House Brewing Company
Poughkeepsie, NY

Mill house sausage

As I've noted, several times, Mill House Brewing Company has really impressed me. Elevated pub grub, great cocktails, excellent staff, a beautiful room. Every town needs a Mill House Brewing Company.  The house-made sausage made an appearance on my plate on our most recent visit. Juicy, flavorful, cooked just north of that's-too-raw, and a great version of bangers and mash.

Breakfast taco
Destino II Cart Tacos at the Rhinebeck Farmers' Market
Rhinebeck, NY

Destino taco

On a whim and just because, I ordered a breakfast taco from Destino II during a quick run-through of the Rhinebeck farmers' market. And I'm glad I did. Was this a perfect breakfast taco? I don't have much experience with breakfast tacos, but I'd venture to say “yes, this was a perfect breakfast taco.” Fluffy eggs, ground chorizo, fresh corn tortillas, hot sauce, salsa. What's not to LOVE.


So there you have it. I'm sorry I put you through that. I hope this helps someone, somewhere, at some point.

tommy:eats is a freelance food writer, photographer and curmudgeon, based in North Jersey. When not making lists he can usually be found putting together slide shows of his trips.

Shanghai 46 in Fairfield, NJ: Shanghai-style from the folks who bring you Chendgu 23

File under: orgasm-inducing news

Update: We had a meal here recently, and it was quite good (click me).

Update: it's now called Shanghai 46. Same owners, better name.

I've been advised that the folks who run the wonderful Chengdu 23 in Wayne, NJ, have opened (just four days ago at the time of this post), a restaurant specializing in authentic Shanghai cooking. It's in the building where Hunan Cottage used to be, on the eastbound side of Route 46 in Fairfield, NJ.

Hunan Cottage was offensive, and I was not upset to see it go. Specifically, the attitude of the staff toward me and my companions was almost without exception rude, obnoxious, and, it could be argued, just downright racist. A lot of "you won't like" and "you can't order that." Not to mention the difficulty of getting a menu with authentic stuff to begin with.  The staff at Chengdu 23, conversely, has always been very gracious, and actually lets me order what I want. I'm assuming the staff at Fu Restaurant will be no different. A welcomed change.

I picked up a menu and do see lots of the usual Shanghai suspects: Lion Head meatballs, soup dumplings, lots of sea cucumber, jellyfish, pickled vegetables, preserved eggs, etc.

While I haven't given Shanghai 46 a try yet (Yeah we did: click me), I did enjoy a meal at Chengdu 23 this morning. Here are some things that we ate that you did not:

Chive dumplings

Chive dumplings (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Rice noodle with spicy sauce (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Crispy shrimp balls (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Shrimp toast

Chive dumplings

Scallops of some sort. Battered and fried w/ some spicy bits.

Chive dumplings

Prawns with minced pork, pickled peppers and scallion in Cheng Du Sauce (with shell)

Shanghai 26 Restaurant : 14-18 Route 46 East : Fairfield, NJ : 973.808.5888



La Bottega in Ridgewood closed, and is now Bella Notte Italian Bistro [CLOSED]


Update: 2015/03/26 Bella Notte seems to have closed.

Fans of La Bottega were probably shocked when seemingly overnight the restaurant changed names. In the blink of an eye.

Apparently the ownership hasn't changed, but the restaurant is no longer associated with the La Bottega chain. I'm told much of the staff remains the same, as well as many of the popular menu items. So if you liked La Bottega, you should probably try Bella Notte Italian Bistro, even with its unfortunate name. <rant>"Bistro" is French, not Italian. Trattoria or osteria would be more appropriate.</rant>


Ridgewood Jazz Fest: photos from 2014

IMG_4786 IMG_4162

The Ridgewood Jazz Fest is simply the best of all of the Ridgewood festivals. While most (all?) of the other events rely on roaming vendors to provide food, with their mediocre funnel cakes and sausage sandwiches, the folks at the Ridgewood Guild have pulled in local restaurants for this Jazz Fest. Add a beer/wine garden and a few top-notch bands, and you've got one helluva day in the 'wood. The only thing that would make it better is if local businesses were open on Sunday to enjoy the boost.

This year's Jazz Fest was similar to last year's inaugural. The biggest difference was an enterance fee this year (5 bucks I think). Unfortunately, this kept some people from coming. But the event was well-attended on this gorgeous late summer day, and the 5 bucks didn't seem to be bothering most people. It was quite a glorious afternoon all around.


I didn't have much time to check out the various restaurants' booths this year, but I did have some of that great fried chicken from Raymond's. When I tried to convince the owner, who was manning the booth, that they should offer fried chicken at the restaurant more often than just Wednesdays, my suggestion was met with an unforgiving blank stare. The response of "I'll take that under advisement" pretty much solidified my loss in this battle. Hey, people, I tried, OK?

While I didn't eat much, I did manage to have a few beers from the truck. This year's selection was a bit better that last year's. Coors or Bud or whatever it was still dominated the day, but there was also Blue Moon and something from Cricket Hill Brewing, IIRC. Unfortunately, the Cricket Hill stuff seemed to have a relatively high ABV, and didn't make for a long afternoon of drinking in the sun. But I managed.

In the middle of drinking beer and talking with various friends who smartly came to the fest, I took about 1000 pictures. I overshoot. That's what I do. And then it takes me a month to get through and process all of those images. But I do this, for you.

Here are a few of the photos that I didn't have to shitcan. First up, some food.

IMG_4005John from mobile vendor Flirting with Fire, working with A Mano. I have talked with John a bunch of times online through a pizzamaking forum. I introduced myself but he didn't seem to know who the hell I was. Eh, I prefer it that way. Give John a call if you're looking for a pizza party. The guy can make a pie.

IMG_4005Le Bon Choix.

IMG_4005The drinkers were forced to stand behind a fence. As usual. I prefer this that way as well.

IMG_4005Rob, manager of Park West Tavern.

IMG_4005Excellent fried chicken from Raymond's


And now the music. First up, Luba Mason. The initial photos aren't very good as I didn't have my camera set very well. After the jump...

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Latham House BBQ Team: Red, White and Que KCBS 2014: Cresskill, NJ

I had the opportunity to spend some time at the 2014 Red, White and Que KCBS event in Cresskill, NJ, this past weekend.

dbroc, from the Latham House BBQ team, invited me down, and of course I brought my camera. I didn't expect to shoot any video (rather, I was going to take photos), but when I got home I had quite a bit of video on the card.  Here are some highlights from the Latham House team's day.




What restaurants do wrong, all the time: a list, to help owners and managers


Over the course of my adult life, I've spent an inordinate amount of time at restaurants.  A couple of times it has even been enjoyable. But it feels like I've seen more places run horribly than run well. Owners, managers and servers have been making the same mistakes for so long it's clear they are not paying attention to what people complain about at all.

Because I'm a helpful sort, I've taken it upon myself to compile a list, with peace and love of course, of things that servers, managers, and owners of restaurants are doing wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong. I should note that to my mind, service issues are management issues, and management issues are owner issues. The buck stops with the guy who is taking the financial risk. And too often that person doesn't care or know any better. To that end, this entire list could be directed toward owners. But, I've broken down into the functional areas for ease of review.

Owners and managers, maybe this list will help you. Or not. I do know that putting this together sure made me feel better.

Readers may disagree with some or all of these issues. As always, if you do, keep it to yourself, because I don't care what you think.

And here...we...go...

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