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Posts from February 2014

Piccolo's Gastronomia Italian and H&Y Korean market: Ridgefield, NJ


In how many places can you find yourself surrounded by Korean-speaking people one minute, and then 3 minutes later find yourself surrounded by Italian-speaking people. Probably more than I know, but I'm sure as hell glad I live near one.

I was on my way to pick up some Calabria Hot Long Chili Peppers at Piccolo's when I noticed a Korean market called H&Y. There was no reason to not pop my head in, so in I went.

H&Y is apparently a small chain, with locations in Queens, this one in Ridgefield, and one in Bergenfield as well.

My usual Korean market is H-Mart, but I don't always enjoy my time there. Not sure why. Maybe it's the lake that masquerades as a parking lot. Maybe it's that odd flea market that is attached to it. Maybe it's that funky liquor store that you pass on the way in. I was more at ease at H&Y today, rest assured.

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Sushi X: Ridgewood, NJ

AYCE. Every time I see that acronym, it takes me a second to figure out what it means. I suppose this is because "all you can eat" really doesn't register to me as being a thing. If I ate all I could eat, I'd be even fatter. This would not be preferable.

Sushi X has an à la carte menu as well, but I suspect its biggest trade comes from folks looking for the AYCE option.

For some reason I stopped in for a weekday lunch. I suppose to sate my curiosity.

I was the only person in the place, other than the two young girls manning the host station and playing on their phones (my lunch was filled with various sounds of texts and emails).  I was seated and presented with a piece of paper containing a list of items for the AYCE option, and a pencil. Just like in the old days, you mark off what you want, and the server takes your list away and returns with the food you marked off. I like that, in a "go forth, young servant, and fetch me" sort of way. Very efficient.

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Lan Sheng: Sichuan in Wallington, NJ

Lan sheng exterior

When people hear about a Sichuan restaurant opening in Wallington, the initial reaction, of course, is to compare it to Chengdu 1 and/or Chengdu 23--two very fine nearby Sichuan restaurants. I'm going to try to stay away from comparison, because it can be sort of pointless. There will always be variations in preparations from restaurant to restaurant, and Lan Sheng can certainly be described in its own terms. As far as the Michelin star business? Well, their sister restaurant in NYC has a Michelin star, and while that might matter, what really matters is what's doin' in Wallington.

And the doin', as it turns out, is mighty good.

I joined a couple of good eaters last night for dinner, folks I hadn't seen in 6 or 7 years (whaa!?!?!?!), and we ordered a decent variety of baseline dishes. Some, I admit, for comparison purposes.

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Ramen Sora: Las Vegas, NV: Super ramen, best gyoza

Ramen sora spicySpicy Ramen

What I never realized about Las Vegas is that there exists a Chinatown with all sorts of food options. Take a look. You'll find Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino. See, all of the Chinese cultures! And that's just in the Chinatown Plaza, a strip mall on Spring Mountain Road.

While getting a Sichuan fix was tempting, there was one thing that kept coming up in conversations with people, and that was ramen. Ramen, ramen, ramen.

And who am I to argue? Quite frankly I'm not even sure that I've ever had a proper ramen, so this seemed like a good opportunity to get something exceptional.

Off we went to Ramen Sora, on Spring Mountain Road (and of course, at least $20 cab ride).

Ramen sora outside

It's a small place that could fit a few more tables if they tried. Hell, if it was in NYC, there would be at least twice as many seats. So, it's roomy, and it fills up quickly. Indeed we grabbed the only available table at lunch. By the time we left at 1pm on a Friday, a few people were waiting to be seated.

The crowd was diverse, with young people, tourists, Asians, and locals. Please note that I realise these groups are not mutually exclusive. SiriusXM was cranking out today's hits, and the place was pretty lively. Very comfortable, very welcoming.

Menus are printed on laminated place mats, and have pictures, which is nice if you're like me. Some quick googling was necessary to figure out what some of the ingredients were, but I sensed no language barrier with the servers, and they were absolutely wonderful and gracious. Come to think about it, they were downright joyful.

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Sushi Roku: Las Vegas, NV

AquariumShark Reef at Mandalay Bay: do not eat

(Feel free to skip the cathartic narrative and scroll down to the food. I know I would.)

The morning after a much-too-long night at a surprisingly friendly bar called "PBR Rock Bar," which is right on the Vegas strip across from the Cosmopolitan, with an outdoor bar I should add, all I wanted was sushi. Comforting, salty, fatty--sushi.

We were heading to the largely unexceptional Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay when I saw Kumi, right off the casino floor--a restaurant that was on my list of places to consider. It was open, inviting, and empty. I could picture myself right there at the bar, enjoying a crisp white and fatty tuna. But it was only 11.30, and we figured we could check out Bodies at the neighboring Luxor before lunch.

After waiting some time for the tram to get to the Luxor, we decided to bail, and get some sushi. But, we thought we'd head back up the strip to Blue Ribbon, since it was only 11.45. We enjoyed Blue Ribbon a few nights before, and thought it would be perfect for a casual sushi lunch. Off we went to the Cosmopolitan, by $20 cab.

Finally at the Cosmopolitan, we run up the escalator, barely able to contain our excitement and hunger, and we're met with Blue Ribbon's closed doors. The fucking place isn't open for lunch. We turn around to go to Comme Ca, which has a fine burger, and they're closed too. WTF? OK, now what. I figured we could go downstairs and grab a burger at Holsteins. Well bloody hell, the place is packed, and that's a 20 minute wait. We're now flustered, and blood sugar levels are dipping, and patience is running thin.

The missus said something about Sushi Roku. Said she heard it was pretty good. And it's at Caesars. At this point I didn't want to admit defeat by going back to Mandalay Bay (the only sure bet in this game), so I (smartly, this time, if you can believe it) call to confirm that they are open, and back in a cab to Caesars it is.

We're dropped off at Caesars, $20 poorer, and try to find a map to tell us where this restaurant is. I review the map and don't see Sushi Roku, but I see Nobu! I'll take Nobu in a pinch any day. We run down to Nobu, which is apparently in the Nobu Hotel, which is a hotel within a hotel I suppose. I ask the nice people if this is where Nobu the restaurant is, and they say "yes!" I ask if it's open, and they say "no!" Well fuck me, back to the map to find Roku. Can't find it. It's not on the map.

I call them back and they tell me they're in the Forum Shops at Caesars. If you're not familiar with it, The Forum Shops at Caesars is a largely depressing mall with depressing people looking at stuff they can't afford, and at the same time getting in my damned way. I'm running around the Forum, looking for a map, trying to figure out where the hell I am in relation to the restaurant, and end up backtracking. Twice. And did I mention there are hundreds of meandering people in my way?

I finally get my bearings. Now I'm walking full steam, not letting anything stop me. Some wandering d-bag is walking right toward me (and the fountain which I'm walking next to), looking up at the painted clouds on the ceiling as if it's the Sistine Chapel, like some perfect version of a dopey clueless tourist sent to Earth specifically to annoy me. I'm watching him, waiting for him to come back to reality, see me, and alter his course. But no. He doesn't. When this lummox gets within 2 feet of my airspace, I let out a quite loud and direct "BRO!" This 6'2" fucking guy recoiled and almost fell over himself clearing my right-of-way. "Sorry, sorry," he stuttered, stumbling away, aimlessly. I didn't have time to respond. I saved him from walking into the fountain, the big goofy fucker, and that was enough.

Finally get to Roku, on the third floor of this dreary-ass mall, and it's kinda not very nice at all. Sort of unkempt. Not the sexy sleek place that you see on their website. But fuck it, we're hungry, and this is going to be it. I ask to be seated in the large main room, which is empty other than 1 large table. At least the room has windows and a nice view of the strip rather than a view of the mall. Vegas restaurants with views are very rare indeed.

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Holsteins: Las Vegas, NV

Holsteins burger1a
When I put the question of "where should I eat in Vegas" out to the internet, one reader got back to me with a place with a shit ton of booze and dry-aged burgers. I think you know what happened next.

Of course, the place immediately shot high up on my list of must-tries. The place is Holsteins. Or, more completely, Holsteins Shakes and Buns. See, they apparently have shakes. And they put booze in those, too, if you want. I guess this is what makes Holsteins an "exciting new burger concept," as they say on their website. Can we stop with the "concepts" and just call ourselves "restaurants" going forward? Thanks.

Anywho, what's important is the food and the drink and the service. All of which were spot on at Holsteins.

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Lan Sheng: Michelin starred Sichuan: in Wallington, NJ

You heard me.

Update: I met some friends for a meal here. Details are here (click me).

It seems like a joke, right? I mean, having a Sichuan restaurant open in a town known more for kielbasa and Zywiec than tripe and Tsingtao is enough to make you scratch your head. But a restaurant whose sister in NYC has a Michelin star? In Wallington?!?

I won't get too hung up on the Michelin star aspect, as this particular location certainly hasn't won any awards. But who cares? Just look at the menu!

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Valentine's Day: Thoughts on restaurant dining

Like most self-absorbed smug schmucks who consider themselves experienced eaters and restaurant-goers, I tend to turn up my nose at the excitement around Valentine's Day dining. The idea of feeling obligated to go to a restaurant on a specific night, along with all of those amateurs who clearly don't eat out very often, isn't very appealing. Add prix fixe menus, set seatings, and the pressures to have a “special” evening, and all I see is a stress-inducing night, one which keeps me safely behind my computer screen, hurling stones at those barbarians who decide to venture out and visit a restaurant.

Oh, and on top of that, it's always been my understanding that this night absolutely sucks for staff, and the restaurant basically phones it in, not trying to please one bit.  But is that really the case?

I figured some insight from people actually in the industry that I tend to blather on about might be helpful if I'm going to continue with this baseless theory. So, I asked a few owners and chefs what they think about Valentine's day dining. How they approach it at their restaurant. If they hate it like I assume they do. And I received some interesting feedback.

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Hunan Chopped Salted: Chiles

Red chiles1_edited-1
I did this because Fuchsia Dunlop speaks to me. Through her books. Through her Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking and her Hunan cookbook Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province.

In the latter you'll find the very complicated process to make these chopped salted chiles (hint: chop a pound of spicy red chiles, mix with 1/4 cup of salt, and put in a tight container so the magic can happen). Apparently this should be a staple pantry item, and who am I to argue?

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