NY: Bar dining

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

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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.

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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...

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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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Lan Sheng: Sichuan in Wallington, NJ

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When people hear about a Sichuan restaurant opening in Wallington, the initial reaction, of course, is to compare it to Chengdu 1 and/or Chengdu 23--two very fine nearby Sichuan restaurants. I'm going to try to stay away from comparison, because it can be sort of pointless. There will always be variations in preparations from restaurant to restaurant, and Lan Sheng can certainly be described in its own terms. As far as the Michelin star business? Well, their sister restaurant in NYC has a Michelin star, and while that might matter, what really matters is what's doin' in Wallington.

And the doin', as it turns out, is mighty good.

I joined a couple of good eaters last night for dinner, folks I hadn't seen in 6 or 7 years (whaa!?!?!?!), and we ordered a decent variety of baseline dishes. Some, I admit, for comparison purposes.

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Notable dishes of 2012: the 2014 edition

File under: better late than never?

Try as I may to muster the energy to leave the warm, cozy house on this freezing cold day, I'm finding there are many obstacles. Not least of all being screwing around on the computer, looking through some old photos. I noticed that I have a couple blurry pictures of food, and figured "Hey, why waste these beauties on just me. I'll make another list!"

I kinda like putting together lists. Any sort of non-list post takes a lot of effort, although you probably wouldn't believe it if you read any of mine. The list-oriented posts are super easy, because let's face it, people have low to zero expectations with a list. They just want to see the list. And I have very low expectations for a list. Just show me the list. Most importantly, I'm a navel-gazer from way back, and lists provide a vehicle to look deeply into the glory that is me.

So here's the list of Notable dishes of 2012: the 2014 edition:

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Mapping: the eats

Don't forget, there's a nifty map of restaurants/retailers covered in this blog. This might make it easier to focus on a particular area, for example. 

It's accessible via the menu bar above, or here: http://tommyeats.com/tommyeats/te-map.html

I should add that this Google map doesn't seem to work with Google Chrome, so you have to click on the link for the larger view. You should probably do that anyway.


View t:e restaurants in a larger map


MP Taverna: Irvington, NY

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Westchester makes north Jersey look like [fill in the blank with a place where you figure there's horrible food and drink so I don't offend anyone in, say, Delaware].

It seems like every few weeks, someone is telling me about a great place in Westchester, or I'm reading a positive NY Times review of a great place in Westchester. But it seems so damned far away. Maybe it's because you have to cross one of those crappy bridges to get there. 287 is no picnic on weekends, and for the love of all things holy, why would anyone subject themselves to the GWB and those horrible pot-holed roads that stem from it.

But every now and again, a trip to Westchester is a good thing. Especially if your destination is a place like The Cookery (auto-play warning!), Growlers Beer Bistro (disclosure: I know one of the partners), or Tarry Market. I'm a bit hesitant to include MP Taverna on this list, but I will.

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Zero Otto Nove: Arthur Ave, The Bronx NY

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That's 089 to you.

Without any planning or research, we stopped by the famed Arthur Ave on the way back from a sweaty and ape-filled day at the Bronx Zoo. A last minute rec came over the FaceBook wire, directed to the missus (the one of us who has friends), suggesting we eat at Zero Otto Nove. A message no doubt along the lines of "OMG it's to die for." Hard to argue with that type of feedback.

They hadn't yet opened when we arrived at 4 pm, so we killed some time walking around, primarily trying to find a restroom. Can't say I was paying much attention to anything else on this first trip to Arthur Ave.

At 5 pm we went back to Zero Otto Nove, and, incredibly, the place was packed. I think we snagged the last table.

Inside
We were escorted down the long corridor to the back room, which is two stories high, and has a skylight, making it very bright and airy room. It's got that "just like Italy" feel. That is, if everyone in Italy wears Yankees jerseys and Italian walls have painted stairways and windows. Come on, just joshin'. It's a pleasant enough space with painted walls, and Yankees fans are simply dandy by any standard that I can come up with.

Some quick googling yielded a very dubious claim about the pizza at Zero Otto Nove. One of the NYC food critics made a claim that it was the best Neapolitan pizza in New York City. Unlikely, I thought. The reviewer didn't seem to understand Neapolitan pizza, it seemed to me. Granted, this review was a few years ago, before the explosion of very good Neapolitan pizza places opened, but at the very least, Una Pizzeria Napoletana was already open in the east village at that point, and it no doubt had better Neapolitan pizza, I can easily claim at this point.

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The Cookery: Dobbs Ferry, NY

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Is this my new favorite restaurant?

Weekends afford us time to find some interesting food around the NYC area. Unfortunately, on weekend afternoons, the vast majority of restaurants seems to abandon what they do well, what they've worked hard to develop, the food that gives them an identity and sets them apart from the competition, and shift to a menu fitting of a Holiday Inn buffet for weary travelers.  This is know as "brunch," and "brunch" is strictly for amateurs.

But not The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry. Their brunch menu is no fucking brunch menu like I've ever seen, of this you are assured.

Lots of pig, pasta, eggs (a brunchy item and normally handled in unexceptional ways, but not here...purgatory, coddled etc.), fish, meatballs, all over the brunch menu. In fact it looks a lot like their dinner menu. This reason alone is enough for it to be my new favorite restaurant.

A t:e reader turned me on to this place, and after reviewing the menu online, it wasn't long before we took the quick drive from Bergen County to see what was doin.

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Rhodes North Tavern: Sloatsburg, NY

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Representatives from the t:e organization found themselves at Rhodes North Tavern in Sloatsburg, NY, recently, and boy were we impressed.

If you're like me, you've probably driven past this place a bunch of times, and thought "hmm, looks like an interesting biker bar," but then never pulled the trigger.  That was a mistake on my part, and on yours as well.

Our first impression when pulling into the parking lot was "woah, this place is packed."  Thankfully, it's quite a large space, and all of those people from those cars found their way to some place other than the large, square bar, where we gleefully set up shop.

Right from go, we felt as if we were in another world.  While Sloatsburg is only a few miles from the New Jersey border, there seems to be a, umm, cultural difference from your average Bergen County restaurant.  In a completely good way.   Was it due to the country pop music playing over the sound system?  Hey listen, I hate country pop as much as the next guy (although I loves me some Big & Rich), but when subjected to it on a Sunday afternoon, you just can't help but think you're on vacation.  Like in South Carolina or something.  In a completely good way.  

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Burgers: Dry-aged

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Also check out my new, less expensive approach to dry-aged burgers here (click me).

The inspiration...

One of our recent semi-regular meals at Blue Smoke led to meeting a friend at Landmarc in the Time Warner building, where yet another burger was ordered, and critiqued.  Having just had the Blue Smoke burger a few hours prior, I wasn't all that hungry, but forced down half a burger.  I do this, for you.  While I didn't think the burger was off-the-charts fantastic, I did detect some minerally flavors, flavors that I'd associate with dry-aged beef.  This is not to say that I think Landmarc is using dry-aged beef for their burgers, but, it did plant the idea in my head that I should seek out someone who does...

I (and pretty much everyone) know that Peter Luger serves an awesome burger a lunch, made from scraps of their dry-aged beef.  It was a burger without peers for a very long time.  Eventually came Minetta Tavern (well, it was around for a very long time too, but only recently reborn, and now known for its burgers) with their burgers  made the LaFrieda "Black Label" beef, which has that dry-aged beef that I'm on about.  Wanting nothing to do with trying to get into Minetta Tavern (even the t:e organization doesn't have that kind of pull), I figured I'd give it a whirl at home.  For a second time (my first attempt some years ago didn't work out too good).

The meat...

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