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Posts from June 2013

Aqua Blu Kitchen & Cocktails: Toms River, NJ


"Aqua Blu Kitchen & Cocktails." Phew, that's a mouthful. I think I'll call it "ABK&CTRNJ" for brevity's sake.

It's difficult to judge a restaurant by one visit, based on lunch, when eating alone...but that won't stop me.

Some googling led me to Aqua Blu Kitchen & Cocktails.  The menu on the website...and name...certainly piqued my interest.  It seemed to me this could be a place serving interesting food along with interesting cocktails with an interesting wine list. After a quick slice of pizza at The Sawmill in Seaside (which seemed soooooo much better when I was a younger 1 am...), I headed over the bridge to Aqua Blu, to see if it is interesting at all.  It is.

The friendly service, right out of the gate, was appreciated. Most notably, when I called to ask if they were open, the fella on the phone was polite, professional, and ended the quick convo with "see you soon." <mini-rant>Restaurants owners take note: the person answering your phone is quite possibly the first point of contact with your customer, and first impressions they do last. Train those people and get rid of them if they are incapable of or unwilling to being polite and professional. In fact, do that with all of your employees. Pretend that you're running a business and would like to be successful.</mini-rant>

While it's essentially on the Barnegat Bay*/Toms River, ABK&C:TRNJ offers no views. This lack of view is unfortunate. But hey, you can't eat a view.  Am I right people? Right?

The restaurant has quite a large footprint. There's a large, roomy bar area with an even larger adjoining room which can be, and presumably is, set up for events, and a more refined dining room which looks into the open kitchen.

I fully expected the restaurant to be empty on a weekday afternoon. And for the most part, it was. But there were a few people at the bar and in the dining room, from various walks of life. A young-to-me group of girls at the bar was discussing homeowners insurance and talking about flooding. A reminder of how Sandy impacted the area for years to come.

Since I wasn't feeling very refined, and bar dining is always preferable, I sat down at the large, square bar and asked for "all of the menus." I do this, because too often you won't receive "all of the menus."  You'll get a bar menu. You won't get a lunch menu. You won't get a cocktail menu or wine list. You'll get just the lunch menu but no bar menu. There have been countless times at restaurants all over the country when I've asked for "all of the menus" and still, still, didn't get "all of the menus." <mini-rant>Restaurant owners take note: how is a customer supposed to make an informed decision and give your business money if they don't know what your business is offering in exchange for that money? Holy moley that annoys me just typing it.</mini-rant>

Thankfully, the bartender quickly presented "all of the menus," and, even took the time to explain each one, and note that while the dinner menu was being presented, some of the dishes might not be available at lunch. Between the guy answering the phone and how well this seemingly insignificant transaction was handled, things were going very well. Oh, and the bartender introduced herself. I like that. I think it's fine. Some people are put off by this practice. Those people are Negative Nancys, and likely treat waitstaff horribly, even though they think they are lots of fun and a pleasure to serve. 

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Veal Loaf: The Swiss Pork Store: Fair Lawn, NJ

I was first introduced to veal loaf by my MIL, who has been going to Fair Lawn's Swiss Pork Store for decades. "Have you had their veal loaf?" "Huh? What's that?"

Much thought has gone into it, but I still cannot figure out what exactly this stuff called veal loaf  might actually be. Veal? Beef? Pork? Fat? Salt?

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Zero Otto Nove: Arthur Ave, The Bronx NY

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.

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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Dozzino: Hoboken, NJ

Readers of my past words may have come to understand that if there's a single style of pizza that I enjoy more than any other, it's Neapolitan-style. I can certainly enjoy a properly executed NYC slice every now and again (and they are few and far between), but there's just no comparison to the glory that is a well executed Neapolitan pizza. So sure, my bias will always be at play when I talk about restaurants that do this well, and I always seek them out.

So when I heard there's Neapolitan-style pizza in Hoboken, to paraphrase Guy Fieri, well I just had to check it out. And I don't mean Grimaldi's, which 1) isn't Neapolitan-style, and 2) isn't very exceptional.

Dozzino is both.

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The Cookery: Dobbs Ferry, NY


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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Dry aged burgers: so easy, with some scraps

A while back I made dry-aged burgers using the obvious: dry-aged beef. I concluded a few things from this experiment:

1) it is expensive
2) there isn't as much dry-aged flavor in dry-aged beef as you'd think

The second point was something that I had been thinking about, as it related to the steaks you get at Peter Luger. I'm of the opinion that much of that dry-aged, funky flavor is from that butter/tallow mixture that they use. I have to think they are using scraps of dry-aged beef and fat, the really tasty stuff, along with butter, to make a very potent sauce, which they then cook your steak in and serve your steak with. An earlier experiment to supported this theory yielded good results.

But that excellent steak didn't solve my dry-aged burger challenge. However, it certainly lead to some ideas.

The first approach, which I've been using for a while, is to ask my butcher, Sal, at Westwood Prime Meat in Westwood, NJ, to put some of the dry-aged "odds and ends" into his already excellent ground beef. Surely this is what they do at Peter Luger. This has lead to some fantastic and work-free dry-aged burgers at the t:e headquarters.

A recent burger went and looked like this:

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