Wine

Eating in Croatia: Uje Oil Bar in Split

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That first meal while traveling can go any number of ways, many of them bad. We're typically tired, bleary-eyed, confused, stinky, lost, and woefully unprepared with a plan for lunch when we arrive the first day.

The first day of this trip to Croatia in Split was no different.

Diocletian palace basement khaleesi
Diocletian palace basement khaleesi

After checking out where Khaleesi kept her dragons (the basement of Diocletian's Palace), we took in a few hours of sun and local beer on the riva. I loved the juxtaposition of the gorgeous, bright, wide-open riva, and the inside of the Palace walls, where narrow and seemingly endless alleys snake through the old city.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, I have to admit, a lot of the appeal of visiting Croatia came from seeing the various towns featured in Game of Thrones. Dubrovnik in particular was as awe-inspiring as it looks on the show, even with the show's CGI and post-production making it look even cooler. 

Back to food.

Some quick research led us to Uje Oil Bar. After checking out the posted menu, and seeing the lovely outdoor seating, we knew we were in the right place. It's nestled just far enough from the main squares that you're not being trampled by hoards of tourists with selfie-sticks. My God, people walk around all day with their cell phone 2 feet from their faces, taking pictures of themselves. When did this become "normal?" People of earth: you are ugly, your photos are awful, and no one wants to see them.

 

Uje oil bar split croatia-4

This was our first time ordering a Croatian wine. I asked the waiter if he could assist in some descriptions. He hesitated, and I figured he'd just make up some stuff that sounded good. Well, he asked what type of wine we typically like, and then suggested four, with lengthy descriptions of the flavor profiles, the grape, where they are grown, who made them, and more info than I needed quite frankly. We found most servers were well-versed in the local wines.

Indeed we found most servers were just fantastic all around. English is very widely spoken. In fact I was a little dismayed that there weren't more challenges with communication. That's one of the fun aspects of traveling to other countries: trying to figure it all out. In Croatia, everyone's English is quite good...aside from the cops at the police station, with whom I spoke for an hour. But that's another story.

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Tuna and watermelon: ceviche

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Ceviche is like the margarita of food: bright, acidic, crowd-pleasing, intoxicating, just exotic enough, simple to make, and perfect morning noon and night.

It's also a super-fast and relatively inexpensive meal to pull together. I don't know about you, but I usually have a bunch of limes and a bit of red onion and herbs on hand, so my shopping list for ceviche is usually pretty short.

I've got this great ceviche book called The Great Ceviche Book, which I've thumbed through hundreds of times, yet never thought to use for a recipe, until yesterday. Watermelon was calling my name, and I figured this book found a use for that magical melon. It sure did. With tuna

The recipe called for some stuff that I couldn't be bothered with, like lemon oil and yuzu juice. And tarragon. And candied kumquats in syrup. Good grief. Let's not make this too complicated, ya know? It's ceviche for fuck's sake.

My version went like this:

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Confetti Ristorante & Vinoteca: Piermont, NY

Confetti exterior

I feel a bit Takei when I say "recommended by a fan."

Confetti, in Piermont, NY, was "recommended by a reader." That doesn't sound much better. Anyway this fella was telling me all about their good pasta and that a proper Negroni could be had at this sort-of-water-front restaurant that I had never given a second thought to. Or first thought for that matter.

But he seemed genuine and earnest, so I put Confetti (or Confetti's, if you want to sound just a little silly) on my list of places to try.

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, we headed to Piermont to check out the scene.

Confetti bread

We snagged one of the many outdoor seats under the umbrellas and settled in with our basket of bread. The large floor to ceiling doors of the restaurant open fully to the patio, so if you want to get out of the heat and sun, which would have been a good idea on this day, sitting just inside is a nice option.

My intention was to order a Negroni and a bowl of pasta, and that's exactly what I did. We also ordered an app and of course the missus had to get herself an entree as well.

The waitress didn't seem to know what a Negroni was. No big deal. I probably didn't know what a Negroni was until a few years ago--although the missus tells me we spent much time in Florence drinking them back in the early aughts. I explained that it's gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, in equal parts (give or take), on the rocks, and noted that the bartender should know what it is. I mean, they do have those little books, and I suppose the internet, don't they?

While I'm at it, I should note that they don't have fresh lime juice at Confetti. I just don't understand this at all. WTF is wrong with restaurant and bar owners? Are you that lazy or ignorant? You make me very angry.

Confetti negroni

The Negroni was completely serviceable. I prefer a proper twist in cocktails, rather than the half wagon wheel of fruit, but finding a proper twist in bars outside of major metropolitan areas is a bit of a challenge. "Twist" has been debased to "a slice of unwashed fruit." These are the things I have to put up with. These are my challenges in life.

Enough of my nonsense. Let's get to the food.

The menu leans "Italian." Maybe even a little more "real" Italian than Italian-American, which is what you'll find at most restaurants in New Jersey and the rest of the country, regardless of if they refer to themselves as "Southern" or "Northern" Italian. It's all the same stuff here in the states and doesn't resemble any food I've had in northern or southern Italy.

Enough of my nonsense. Let's get to the food.

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Eating in Barcelona: Part V: Hisop for lunch and Mercat Del Ninot

Hisoptable_interior

A few days before leaving for Barcelona, I started stressing that we didn't secure reservations at some of the tougher places to get into. After all, Spain is considered by many to be the gastronomic center of the universe, so it would be a shame to eat tapas the whole trip (not really). We don't typically look for fine dining when traveling, but certainly wanted to experience a few meals from chefs serving modern Catalan cuisine.

I was able to snag a lunch reservation at Hisop, a Michelin-starred restaurant that seemed to fit the bill.

As usual, we were the first people to show up to the restaurant. I wasn't even sure if it was open, or if it was a restaurant. The interior is shockingly minimalistic. Clean lines and very modern. Stark whites and light wood tones. And boy was it quiet. I started regretting booking a restaurant for lunch that was probably more suited to evening dining (considering the price-point and ambition of the menu), but any concern melted away with the wonderful service and excellent food.

Carles andreu parellada

I asked for some help with the wine choice, hoping to get something local. With some guidance we opted for a bottle of Carles Andreu Parellada. Parellada is one of the varieties used to make Cava. This producer is in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona. It had a bit of oak, and lots of acid. A great match for the seafood that was coming down the pipeline.

Hisop amuse octopus

A few amuses were presented, including this little piece of octopus in what I believe was described as “sea water.” It did, in fact, taste like the sea, but with a smoky element. The essence of the ocean, smoked. It was intoxicating The bread and olive, also, were excellent.

Hisop seppia

As I'm reviewing the pictures I see that we had five dishes, which is one more than we would have ordered, so I think this seppia was another amuse, rather than a course. Seppia (cuttlefish) with some sort of mayo-type sauce. It was the first seppia of the trip, and I found myself ordering it pretty much at every meal. This first cuttlefish dish made a positive impression on me.

Off to a good start.

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Eating in Barcelona: Part I: La Boqueria and Clemen's Boqueria

Candy

Regardless of the planning or attempted sleeping on the plane, I always arrive in Europe blearly-eyed, grumpy, and hungry. When we landed in Barcelona, and realized that our transfer service hadn't sent the car, I became even grumpier.

Thankfully the car arrived within 15 minutes after calling to inquire (and they didn't charge for the trip), and we were off to Hotel 1898 in no time, with only slightly more grump than before.

Fully expecting the room not to be ready, we planned on checking out La Boqueria, the rightfully famous market on Las Rambla, and getting something to eat. When the fella at the front desk told us that the room was in fact ready, I could have kissed him. We settled in and cleaned up a bit before heading off for our first meal of the trip.

Escorpora

La boqueria_edited-1

La Boqueria certainly lives up to its reputation as being a kick-ass market. The scope and size of the place overwhelms. You could shop here for every single meal of your life and never run out of options. The fish selection alone is enough to make you go googly-eyed. Add to that fruits, vegetables, meats upon meats, cured hog legs upon cured hog legs, prepared foods, and various tapas bars tucked away, and you have an experience that could keep you busy for days.

We weren't here to shop, unfortunately, so off we went to see which of the tapas bars had the least oppressive lines. Bar Central was our first stop, as it had come up in my searches quite often. It had obviously come up in others' searches as well, as people were 3 deep at the bar, waiting for seats. I wasn't about to get involved in this dance at this point in the trip, so we pressed on and ended up at Bar Clemen's, over there in the corner of the market. There was no need to queue up behind people as there were two empty stools with our names written alllllllll over them.

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Meta dos Leitões and Pedro dos Leitões: Mealhada, Portugal: suckling pig

Pedro-do-leitos-pigs

Thankfully, Portugal is a small country (smaller than Pennsylvania and a only wee bit bigger than Maine!), so getting from the largest city to the second largest city doesn't take more than a few hours.

We shipped out of Lisbon mid-morning. Destination: Porto. And as usual, we didn't have a plan beyond that.

Finding an interesting place to eat wasn't going to be a problem. This we knew for sure. Finding such an outstanding meal in such an interesting town, well, that was a bit surprising.

During the journey, the missus was poking around the internet, trying to find some food about midway between Lisbon and Porto. The stars aligned that morning, and we discovered an article on the town of Mealhada. What is so special about Mealhada? Suckling pig is what's so special about Mealhada. And lots of it. Stopping for lunch in a town in the middle of nowhere for a local delicacy? We couldn't have designed this morning any better.

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Trap Rock Brewery: Berkeley Heights: The Burger

TR-burger-at-Trap-Rock
Every time I google "best burgers in New Jersey," the same 10 places show up, many of which I've visited, and many of which aren't very notable (White Manna, I'm looking at you). It's getting a bit tiring. Fatigue be damned, I put myself through the same exercise a few days ago, and finally conceded that I should probably give the Trap Rock Brewery a shot.

Trap Rock is part of the Harvest Restaurants group, which includes a bunch of places that seem to be very similar to Trap Rock, and the Roots Steakhouses (auto-play warning), one of which is set to open in Ridgewood, NJ, in, what, a year or so? (Did they really think they'd get it off the ground by October? In Ridgewood, a town known for pain-in-the-ass inspections and bureaucracy?) From what I can tell from a few visits, their restaurants are well-run, their staff well-trained, and they do a competent job. My first visit to Trap Rock supported that theory.

You can review the menu online, but I was there for the burger. Trap Rock offers two burgers, one of which is made from grass fed beef, and seems to be their signature. Their other burger is "just a cheeseburger" I was told. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I went with the 'TR Local Grass Fed Burger' (the burger is not grass fed, but the steer presumably was).  This burger is served with Red Dragon Cheddar (a cheese of Welsh origin, with ale and mustard seed), rosemary aioli, and caramelized onions. A lot going on there, and not much in the way of bright, crisp flavors and textures that I usually enjoy on a burger (raw onion, ketchup, good, ripe tomatoes). I ordered it as it's designed, and was pleased to see some raw onion and ketchup served along side. I put a bit of each on the burger, to hedge my bet.

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Huîtrerie Régis: Oysters in Paris, France

Oysters

It didn't occur to me that France was known for oysters until a reader of t:e, who travels to France an awful lot, suggested that I visit Huîtrerie Régis, a tiny restaurant in the left bank, right off of Boulevard Saint-Germain.

We showed up for lunch, 15 minutes before they were open of course, as Americans do, and waited in the rain for the doors to open. Another couple was waiting as well. Between the 4 of us we took up a quarter of the restaurant. Yup, it's tiny. Did I mention it was raining in Paris? Every day?

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I was looking forward to trying Belons, and some of the other premium oysters that you'll see on the short and sweet menu at Huitrerie Regis. From what I read in preparation for this meal, the price of oysters goes up (and the flavor profile changes) based on how crowded the oysters are and how long they spend in the cleansing pond. However, only a few were available that day, none of which were the most expensive, so I was SOL. This doesn't mean that this wasn't an exceptional meal. No it doesn't mean that at all. This turned out to be one of the if not the top oyster experiences of my life. And that's a life that has had many oyster experiences. It was also one of our favorite meals (probably top 1 or 2...Deux Fois Plus de Piment is a formidable competitor) during our trip.

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Roots Steakhouse coming to Ridgewood, NJ?

Update: We made our way over to Roots for a first look. Here are some details of the meal (click me!)

Update: Roots in Ridgewood has opened, per the Booziest of all the Burbs.

Update: Roots is claiming that it will open around June 9 (click me).

The Ridgewood/Glen Rock Patch reports that the Harvest Restaurant Group is opening a third Roots Steakhouse (turn down your sound, the website is annoying), this time in Ridgewood in the old Blend spot.

I visited Roots in Summit a few years back (my gosh, it was over 6 years ago!) and wasn't really blown away, and took exception to the pricy wine list and the lack of disclosure on which cuts are actually USDA Prime and which aren't.  

Some comments on the Patch's piece on the internet are in the vein of "finally, a steakhouse [in Ridgewood]."  I'm not sure if these folks are aware that Park West Tavern (turn down your sound, the website is really annoying), right around the corner, has several serviceable steaks on the menu, and a more interesting menu overall.  

It's pointless to predict if they're going to be successful, but that won't stop me.  

I'm somewhat skeptical of having a restaurant of that size (assuming they take the whole space) serving food at that price-point in the quaint little village of Ridgewood. No doubt they are going to need support from a whole lot of diners from outside of the immediate area, as Ridgewood just doesn't seem to have the volume of diners who are going out to eat that often at places like Roots, or even Park West Tavern. 

There's little doubt that they will be poaching diners from Park West Tavern, which has enjoyed a very good run, so things could get interesting.  Park West Tavern filled a void in Ridgewood, and the townsfolk reacted enthusiastically.  Perhaps Roots will fill some void that I'm not aware of.  But if Roots doesn't come with a decent cocktail program, and some reasonably priced wines, I don't think you'll find me at their bar very often. 

I hope they can make a liar out of me.  Although I'm sure not going to bother if they have a dress code as they do at their other restaurants. 

 


Fatty Crab: New York City, NY

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A favorite hobby of mine is waking up on a weekend and hopping into the city for lunch. This is a way better hobby than getting up and, say, working out.  Unfortunately, the prejudices of others conspire to keep us away from lunch menus on weekends.  See, for some reason, on weekends, restaurants feel the need to abandon the food that makes them successful, the food which is the manifestation of the chef's vision, the food that makes them stand apart from their competitors, the food that people rave about on blogs, and instead of making that food, they're making freakin' pancakes and eggs and yogurt with granola.  Oh, and they mix sparkling wine and orange juice.

This clearly drives me up a wall, and makes our weekend dining decisions that much more complex and time-intensive.

Thankfully there are a few (well, thousands probably) restaurants that will serve decent, non-brunch food in NYC, including Blue Smoke, North End Grill (both being Danny Meyer restaurants...I guess he knows what he's doing), and as we found out last weekend, Fatty Crab.

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