2011: Tasty reasons to be thankful

We here at t:e headquarters are very thankful for everything at Chengdu 23.  Even the dopey flowers.

2011 wasn't a terribly active year in t:e posts, but make no mistake, food was eaten, spirits were stirred, and finds were found. 

Looking back at the past year, here are some things that the t:e army of editors is very thankful for...

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Zinburger: Clifton, NJ



We certainly had high hopes for Clifton's outpost of Zinburger, part of the Fox Restaurant Concepts group of restaurants.  After all, if you read the reviews of the place on the web (many of which were from their free "VIP Preview" event), you'd get the impression that this place serves an exceptional burger.  <mini-rant>Perhaps if bloggers and yelpers waited until they spend their own money, bringing a more critical eye to the table, rather than filling their egos with "VIP" treatment and bellies with free food, their opinions would be more insightful and ultimately more helpful. No offense intended here, of course.</mini-rant>   But it doesn't serve an exceptional burger. 

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Zinburger: coming to Clifton, NJ? Indeed it is.

We finally got around to giving Zinburger a try.  Report here <click>.

Per their PR agency, Zinburger in Clifton is opening 12/13/2010.  Bloggers will no doubt be lined up to grab the free food they are offering during their soft opening.

Update (2010/11/26):  t:e field reporter jimmy:rocks informed the t:e organization today that the lights are on, the signs are lit up, and they are looking like they are getting ready. He also spied a "nice big bar."

Zin burger clifton

I suspect a  January, 2011 opening of Clifton's Zinburger.  Zinburger appears to be a place that won't bother competing with the likes Smashburger and Five Guys (these are obviously fast food restaurants), and if they can pull off their concept, it will be a welcome addition to the New Jersey burger scene.   Now back to the speculation from a few months ago...


t:e field reporter jimmy:rocks contacted the t:e organization today to tip us off on a "coming soon" situation in Clifton over by Stew Leonard's ("The Promenade Shops at Clifton", as it's called).  Apparently a Zinburger is opening there.  It seems to be from Arizona.  A far-away land.

Zinburger is a burger and wine bar concept type of deal, or at least that's what I gather from their website.  Here's the menu (click).

I like burgers.  I like wine.  So I like the possibility of yet another burger joint opening.  

If you have patience, you can read through what various Arizona yelpers are yelping.  I have no patience, so let me know if anyone has anything interesting to say. 

Whether any of this is true or valid remains to be seen.  Maybe it's "Zin Burger", different than "Zinburger".  But I'm no reporter, so I'll know when you do.

Update:  t:e field reporter jimmy:rocks has confirmed with the Fox restaurant group that it is indeed Zinburger.  

Fire & Oak: Montvale, NJ

Fire and oak

Walking out of Montvale's Fire & Oak after our recent meal, I felt a feeling that I hadn't felt in quite some time.  I had just given someone 100 bucks, and I wasn't pissed off about it.  I felt like I actually got my money's worth.

Granted, this was just one visit, but my experiences at South City Prime, the now defunct restaurant which begat Fire & Oak (the "Prime" concept wasn't going to fly in this economy, so the owners scaled back their existing restaurant in Little Falls and the two they had planned to the more casual "Fire & Oak"), were always pleasurable, and I would like to assume Fire & Oak is on the same track.  

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Biagio's: Paramus, NJ

I’m guessing the Bergen Record recently changed their business model and decided to ramp up their online ad revenue.  And how do you get advertisers to pay you for online ads?  Traffic.  And how do you get traffic to your website?  By having your editors share their opinions on cooking and lifestyle and restaurants and stuff?  Yeah, maybe a little.  How do you *really* get traffic to your website?  Answer:  allow anyone to use it as a soapbox.  And that’s just what the Bergen Record did when it opened up its main site and its Second Helpings food blog to reader comments a few weeks ago.  Now, idiots like you and me can post practically anything (although I’m sure they have guidelines as far as what stays up) in response to the editors (and each other). 

Did I read Second Helpings to see what Bill Pitcher was reporting on before the comments opened up?  Sure, every now and again.   But you can bet that I’m checking more often these days, hanging on every word that TruffleWhippedCreamGal says about A Mano or what SherlockGnomes says about the Allendale Bar and Grill.  Oh the Record is getting multiple hits from me every day, that’s for sure.

And what brilliant timing for the shift to open comments:  they had just published a most unflattering and somewhat brutal review of a well-loved family-run Bergen County restaurant:  Biagio’s in Paramus. 

I sat here on the morning after the review was published, reading the various comments left by fans of Biagio’s (and more here).  I was extremely entertained.  People were clearly taking this very personally.  “Attack my favorite restaurant!?!?!  How DARE you!?!?!?!  You, ma’am, have no idea what you are talking about and should be stoned, publicly.  I am officially canceling my subscription to the Bergen Record.  You need to apologize for being so mean!!! Fire her!!!!!”

The collective reaction was interesting.  I mean, you trash someone’s favorite restaurant, and you are, in essence, attacking them.  And then people hate you.  And I get that.  People have no doubt grown up with Biagio’s (the family has owned the restaurant for quite a few years).  They’ve had birthday parties there.  Graduation parties.  Weddings.   Hell on each of my two recent visits (a weekend day and a weekday night), there was a party going on in one of the private rooms (they have several for your partying pleasure).   The regulars know the owners by name and they’re known by name.  That makes people feel good.  About themselves.  About the restaurant (or, the “establishment”, as its fans like to refer to it in those comments).  Biagio’s is woven into their memories, into the fabric of their very being.  This, I think, partly explains why they don’t realize that Biagio’s simply does not serve very notable food.   Perhaps Biagio’s fans weigh those aspects more than the actual food.  Perhaps they really don’t give food much thought to begin with.  The former is no doubt true, but I’m not about to discount the latter. 

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with not giving food much thought.  I don’t give much thought to a lot of things that others are fanatic about:  clothing, electronics, cars, and pretty much everything but food (and music).  The difference, though, is that my feelings aren't hurt when a magazine reviews my crappy Onkyo receiver and gives it a bad rating:  I’m comfortable with the fact that my Onkyo receiver isn’t all that good.  It serves my needs, and that’s just fine by me. 

But it’s really not important why people like Biagio’s.  I’m sure they’re very nice people, some of whom clearly do not spell very well or write very often, but I’m not going to put much more thought into it.  All I know for sure is what I think about Biagio’s.  You want to know too.  Admit it.  That’s why you’re here, right now, reading this nonsense.  So here you go, complete with crappy cell phone pictures.

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Some more doins: Ridgewood, NJ: Septemberish, 2007

A recent newsletter from the nice people at Ridgewood's Broad Street Smokehouse (Update:  now closed)mentions that Super Cellars will be moving from its current local across from Whole Foods to a new location at 33 Godwin, in what I would think is the old Palmero plumbing building.  That's a big spot, and I think it has parking.  Super Cellars is a decent wine store with some interesting beers as well.   It's a shame its moving from the "other" side of the tracks, though.  That side just gets no damned respek.

Speaking of the other side of the tracks, Starbucks has opened right there on Godwin, a coupla doors down from Silver Oak Bistro.  I don't care what you say, Starbucks has some good coffee.  I stop there just about every morning.  It's nice and convenient now that it's on the NYC-bound side of the tracks in the morning.  Even if you don't like their coffee, you have to admit they practically created the industry for that Starbucks-style pendant light that you find over kitchen islands all over America.  Not mine, however.

Looks like Gen Sushi and Hibachi has opened where that horrible upscale Chinese place used to live on East Ridgewood Ave.  I think there's one in Montvale as well.  It sure do look purdy, but I can't say I'm all that excited about it.  I bet the kids will love it, though.  Update:  More thoughts on Gen Sushi here (click).

What else is going on around Ridgewood.  Oh, well not really Ridgewood, but Biagio's on Paramus Rd seems to be almost done with that facelift of theirs.  I stopped in expecting to see a new and improved Biagio's (that wouldn't be hard -- OK, so I've never eaten there.  But I just kinda know these things, ya know?), and found the same sticky bar with the same i'll-get-to-you-when i'm done talking-to-the-regulars service that they used to have.  I waited 3 minutes and walked out.  I ended up at El Cid, which happens to have some decent sangria.  Nice and brandy-y.  Not too sweet either.

Fascinating moment in service at Federal Grill: Allentown, PA [CLOSED]


I ordered myself a glass of (red) Zinfandel from Renwood to go with my burger.  It was a modest pour at the modest price of 7 dollars, and in a decent glass.

Server: How is the [red] wine?

Me: [Elated] Very good.  And it's chilled.  That's wonderful!

S: That's the only red wine we chill.

M: [Perplexed, but not necessarily surprised] Why don't you chill all of them?

S: Red wine isn't supposed to be chilled.

M: [Defeated already and knowing it]: Sure it is.

S: [Adamant] No it's not.

M: [Requesting logical explanation] Why do you chill this (red) one then?

S: [Not providing, to my mind, logical explanation] Because that's the only one that's required to be chilled.

I'm not sure at what temperature the Federal Grill is serving their non-Zinfandel reds, and I'm not interested in finding out.  I'll stick to the Zin.

As I always try to stress, it's my opinion that a lack of wine education isn't the fault of young servers, but rather it's a management/training issue.   In the case of Federal Grill, they actually do have a wine education program for their servers, and the servers taste and discuss all of their wines.  I think that's fantastic, and more restaurants should take their lead.  Hell, there's no doubt in my mind that this young server knows more about wine and food than I did at her age, and I bet a lot of that has to do with the fine job that the management is doing with this program. 

BUT, and here's the rub, red wine isn't meant to be served warm or room temperature, and the fact of the matter is that it always tastes better somewhere in the 60's...preferably the low 60's.  Wine that is too cold will lose all nuance and nose (and taste).  Red wine served at "room temperature" (in my house that's about 71 degrees) tends to be too "hot" (a blast of alcohol in the nose) and just not all that pleasant to drink in general.  The reality is that restaurants serve, and people drink, white wine much too cold and red wine much too warm.  I'm guessing the three top reasons for this are 1) ignorance, 2) cost, and 3) cost.

Methinks that this concept is lost not only on the general public, but on people in the wine industry as well.  So, it might take some time for everyone to come around.  I'll wait (I gots no choice).  Until then I'll continue to order reds with a bucket of ice while attempting to change the world one server and one restaurant at a time.

On to the burger...

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Felice: Oradell, NJ [CLOSED]


7/2013: Felice has closed.

It's been open for a few years now, but I've never had much of an interest in going to Felice in Oradell (same owners as Regina's Steakhouse in Teaneck, which serves wet-aged steak, contrary to their website's claim of dry-aged steak, and Le Jardin in Edgewater).  Reports on the internet and my sixth sense for this type of thing suggested to me that this was yet another red sauce Italian-American place, and one with a liquor license ta boot (I'd rather bring my own most of the time, especially at basic mom-and-pop places).

But curiosity got the best of me the other night after spending some time on their website and looking over the menu more carefully.  I figured that there's a chance they're actually serving good pasta, even though they might not be aiming for the stars.  I'm happy to report that this seems to be the case.

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