Colony Grill pizza: Stamford, CT
Chicken Kebab: Glen Rock, NJ

Aoyama French Thai & Japanese Cuisine: Wyckoff, NJ

Nothing sounds more uninteresting and uninspired to me than the idea of "Asian fusion." Sure, the concept was working for me for a while back in the mid-90s, at places like Thai Chef in Montclair, and any place with a big gold Buddha or some such. But my palate and expectations have grown since that time, and the thought of going to a restaurant that tries to excel at several different cuisines, or one that mixes them together, never crosses my mind.

Until today.

I think it was a friend who brought Aoyama to my attention, months ago, but I was likely so dismissive that I can't even remember. I suspect the exchange went something like this:

Person: "Have you tried Aoyama in Wyckoff?"
t:e: "What's that?"
Person: "It's a Thai fusion place, and they have great sushi, too."
t:e: [condescending tone] "Yes of course they do."

Well who's the big dummy now? I am. I should have gotten over there as soon as I heard about it.

The delta between our expectations and our experience was no doubt the highest in recent memory. That is to say, we didn't expect much, but were really impressed with the meal. And the space. And the service. "What is going on here?" we kept wondering.

It's really quite a beautiful restaurant. Super-high ceilings, lots of natural sunlight, clean, organized, a long sushi bar, and some sort of wacky stage at the back. We were the only customers during lunch, but it looks like it can get pretty lively at night. It has got to be great place to go with a group of friends and several bottles of wine (it's BYO).

Our server, who we had all to ourselves, was a very nice young man. Eager to please, and pleasant overall. As was the bus boy who likely didn't realize that today his full-time job would be refilling my water glass.

But the food, right? What about the food?

All of the dinner items are available during lunch (at least on Saturday when we went), so we skipped the lunch menu altogether and attempted to take in the the voluminous dinner menu. There's a bunch of sushi/sashimi/Japanese type stuff, and a bunch of Thai dishes, some of which are certainly fancified (Frenchified?) and upscale. While our first instinct was to order just Thai, or just Japanese, that really makes no sense if you see stuff you want.  So off we went, ordering way too much, as usual.

I had to start with a spicy tuna hand roll, something which I would think you don't find in Japan very often, but a food item that I really, really enjoy. Too often the tuna runs out before you get to the bottom of that nori cone, but in this case, it was good to the last drop. Finely chopped tuna, a bit of panko for texture, topped with finely sliced scallion. Just the way I like it, and a superb version of this roll.

In a temporary and rare loss of control of the missus, she threw in an order of the Vietnamese Spring Rolls. I didn't know what to expect, but I was hoping for the pork-filled rolls which you wrap in lettuce and herbs that you'll find at many Vietnamese restaurants. When these hit the table, there was a collective sigh, with what appeared to be standard fried rolls that might be included in an inexpensive lunch special. However, these were actually very good! They were filled with shrimp, fried to crisp, not greasy, and quite enjoyable. A dish to ponder? No, not really. But pretty damned tasty, and a nice foil for my Prosecco.

Duck Salad is a dish you'll see at many Thai restaurants. It's usually crispy duck, some lettuce and nuts, red onion, some fruit, and generally very sweet. I was emotionally and physically prepared for a similar dish, but instead got something a bit different. The sliced duck had a faint taste of the spices you might find in Chinese five spice. The salad, instead of being dressed in a sweet, fruity sauce, seemed to be more of a peanut/curry dressing. A refreshing deviation from the norm.

Pad Thai leans toward the sweet side of the sour/sweet spectrum here, but this is no flaw in this case. Lightly sauced, luscious, and comforting. Just like Pad Thai should be.

The 31 dollar rack of lamb (w/ lamb jus, Thai basil, chili pepper) could have been a complete waste of money. But not today it wasn't.

Delivered m/r as ordered, with a very flavorful (lamb, chile) jus, this lamb was the highlight of an already enjoyable meal. Bone-picking-up-worthy, gamy, and lamby, but could have used a bit more of a spice kick. Served with some sort of "tarte" of mushrooms, and also broccolini, neither of which was a throw-away.

I was pleasantly surprised with Aoyama, and I'm looking forward to someday knowing how to pronounce it.

Aoyama French Thai & Japanese Cuisine : 319 Franklin Turnpike : Wyckoff, NJ : 201.847.9900


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