Peach bitters: messing around with bitters
Vietnam: Spring Valley, NY

The Orange Squirrel: Bloomfield, NJ: Some initial thoughts

As we fall deeper and deeper into this recession, from which there's little hope of recovering before I'm almost at retirement age, I'm getting more and more annoyed at handing over 125 dollars to restaurants for mediocre experiences.  In the past, I'd just chalked 'em up to a learning experience.  But not so much these days.  It actually goes a bit beyond annoyance, and slides into bitterness.  "How dare they take my money for that?!??", I stew.

Which brings me to Bloomfield's The Orange Squirrel.

I bought into the online hysteria, which made the place sound like...well, read for yourself:  

"The Orange Squirrel is one of the good ones."
"Run, don't walk, to the Orange Squirrel."
"The Orange Squirrel doesn't surprises."
"Speciality cocktails..."
"BEST EVER...gnudi"
"wood fired pizza"
"they have drinks named after squirrels"
"they serve cute squirrel chocolates at the end of the meal."

And those are just from

"dinner was truly delicious"
"rivals those [restaurants] of NYC...a must try"
"brick oven pizza"

Don't get me wrong.  When we walked in we weren't expecting The Spotted Pig, so I wouldn't blame the following on unreasonable expectations.  But when we walked out, we were just shaking our heads, annoyed, let down, and that feeling of just losing all hope for the NJ restaurant scene came over us.  "Is this the best we [New Jersey] can do?" we thought, depressed.

OK, getting to it...

We were served 2 menus and a wine list.  Somewhat excited about these "specialty cocktails", I asked if they use fresh fruit juice in their cocktails.  "Yes", the server said (a fella a few words, as we'd come to find out).  This was a good start.  "Do you have a cocktail list" I asked?  "No," he replied.  Hmmm.  So much for those "specialty cocktails" I was very much looking forward to.

They've got two microbrews on tap, which was a reasonable enough sustitute.

We started with 2 salads, both of which were quite good.  Goat cheese fritters, beets, blood orange, a really good salad in fact.  The spinach with gorganzola was delicious as well.  "A pretty good start," we thought. 

Going against every single bone in my body, and spitting in the face of the common sense that I have nurtured over many many years of ordering poorly in restaurants, my eyes got stuck on the "dry aged rib eye."  I know, I know, "DON'T ORDER STEAK ANYWHERE BUT A STEAKHOUSE."  I know.  We asked the server what dishes were going over well, and he said that the steak was definitely a winner.  Definitely.  I started to tell him that although it sounded good, I don't normally order steak at non-steakhouses.  I asked if it was USDA Prime.  He said "it's the same steak they serve at Peter Luger's".

OK, stop.

<tommy:rants>I've been hearing this "same steak as Luger's" silliness more and more from restaurants.  From servers and owners alike.  The reason for this, I believe, is that more and more people are hearing about Luger, and even though they likely haven't experienced a steak at Luger, they associate the word with great steak.  Additionally, "aging" is really getting some traction as a buzz-word on menus.  All aging isn't the same, especially when it's wet, but that's for another rant (the steak here is dry-aged, according to the menu, to be clear).  

The simple fact of the matter, if I may speak factually, is that this is *not* the same steak served at Peter Luger's.  So why do they think they can say that without crossing their fingers behind their back? My guess is the following:  the butcher these restaurants buy their steak from is told by the distributor that they buy their steak from that Peter Luger's buys their steak from that distributor.  So they then claim "this is the same steak that they serve at Luger."  

It is my belief that an 8th grader could see the fallacy in this logic.  At the most basic, if Luger is serving it, then you can't possibly be serving it.  The little devil in the details is that Luger is buying from multiple sources, grabbing the best of the best from those sources, helped no doubt by its buying power (cash transactions likely help).  You're simply not getting the same quality as Luger at your small restaurant.  Beyond that, if you're not buying into that, Luger is buying whole primals, and then dry-aging those primals in its basement, and butchering them daily.  A dry-aging process which, along with the quality of the raw material, has proven pretty friggin' successful, and perhaps more to the point, special, for years.  I just don't understand how this is lost on people who are actually in the industry.  I have nothing to do with the industry, but I've seen a few TV shows and read some stuff here and there, and I've picked up on this.

That said, Luger has made its name on the short loin.  Perhaps they don't put as much effort into the recently added ribeye.</tommy:rants>

But, I ordered it, probably because I knew for just 37 bucks I'd get fodder for a steak rant.  Hell I think it was worth it.  I feel better already.

And it was a pretty damned good restaurant steak.  "All of that", you ask, "and you liked it?"  Yeah, what can I tell you, I'm a fair guy.

The pizza, on the other hand.  Oh boy.  

< should be noted that the missus told me, after reading this "too long" post, that the dough/crust on the pizza that we ordered is different than the other dough/crusts they serve.  I don't know this for a fact, but if that's the case, any talk of pizze following should be considered directly related to the pizza that we ordered, rather than an assessment of all of their pizze>

They've got about 5 pizze on the menu.  We were told they were thin crust, which is our preference.  We ordered the Robialo pizza.  Robialo is a somewhat pungent, creamy cheese, that is perhaps best served on a board.  Cheese choice aside, the crust was some sort of doughy, undercooked, unleavened flat bread sort of thing.  Totally gummy, and simply not good.  The chef came out, and we expressed our disappointment, which you are assured is very rare for us.  The issue, primarily, to my mind, it that wasn't cooked enough.  The chef offered to make another one, which was nice, and the appropriate way to handle the situation.  

The second pizza came out not much unlike the first.  It simply wasn't good.  "Wood-fired" "brick oven"?  I'd like to verify that. It looked like it was cooked on a flat top or in a skillet.  If they have a brick oven, they're not using it like I'd use it.  The style of the pizza was more like Mario Batali's famed "Sardinian-style" nonsense that he serves at Otto (and then had the balls to bring to Vegas at San Marco, where, it's even worse), than it is any decent brick oven pizza.  It's not good at Otto, and it's even less good at the Orange Squirrel.

Being fair, I cannot ignore the positives:  

  • The chef was accommodating.  
  • There was a classic movie on the big TV (although when it was done, the screen sat with the DVD menu until we left).  
  • There are some fun wines by the glass, priced at about 8 bucks.  
  • There was music on the sound system, although,  the soundtrack to "Garden State" is getting a bit old at this point.  Great music, for sure, but I've heard it enough at Hoboken's Elysian Cafe, which played it seemingly nonstop for 2 years. 
  • I think the chef is talented, and that some of the other menu items are quite good. 

I think you can probably craft a decent meal here, if you order correctly, and I think you should try this place for yourself.  For me, dawg (it's Idol season, and I can't help myself), I'd like to see them get a handle on the front-of-house, though, and for the love of all that is holy, get the pizza off the menu. Or, just make it better.

The Orange Squirrel : Bloomfield, NJ : 412 Bloomfield Ave (right off the Parkway) : Bloomfield, NJ : 973.337.6421