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Posts from November 2014

Dim Sum Villa: Proper dim sum in New Providence, NJ

Dim sum villa dim sum

File under: where the heck is New Providence, NJ?

I certainly had no idea. Never heard of it, as far as I can remember. I know the area, but not this New Providence. Luckily I have a map, so I was able to locate this lovely little hamlet and the fabulous dim sum restaurant tucked into its bosom. Dim Sum Villa is the name of the place, and they've got some proper dim sum.

Dim sum villa cart

They've got cart service at Dim Sum Villa. This neither excites me nor bothers me. I really don't care if a restaurant has carts. But it's nice to see the selections up close and in person and do the pointing routine.

Here's a brief rundown of a recent dim sum lunch:

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Menya Sandaime: Ramen in Fort Lee, NJ

Menya sandaime fort lee

Fort Lee is probably one of the most exciting food destinations in New Jersey. Sure, the restaurants mostly lean toward Korean and Japanese, but the sheer volume of options alone make this town worthy of multiple return visits. I've been returning whenever I get a chance.

On this return trip, we headed over to Menya Sandaime--a Korea-based Japanese restaurant situated in a house on a side street. Ramen was calling us on this chilly autumn morning, and this newly-opened place seemed as good a spot as any.

I'm not sure if my lack of experience with ramen informs my opinions to a fault, or if the ramen I've been eating has actually been really super. But my recent experiences have really left me wanting more. Menya Sandaime was no exception.

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Are you cooking your turkey whole? Why?


Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 11.59.30 AM

I don't see much of a need to cook a 12-20 lb bird whole. In fact it makes little sense to me. Unless you do that whole 1950s magazine cover thing of surrounding the cooked bird with parsley and stuff and presenting the whole turkey to the guests before returning to the kitchen for 20 minutes to carve it. Which, of course, you don't do.

Even spatchcocking doesn't make much sense to me.

The goals of any method should be maximize the skin's exposure to the hot air, and, ensure the white meat doesn't overcook while waiting for the dark meat to finish.

Breaking down the turkey does exactly that. You cook the parts as long as you need to. If the breast is done, pull it out. If the wings are done, pull them out.


You're also getting rid of a large amount of mass and fat. The more mass that's in that oven, connected to that bird, the longer it has to cook. The longer it cooks, the more it dries out. This is one of the reasons you should never put stuffing in a bird. Why increase its mass? It'll just have to cook longer--not to mention there are some safety risks associated with putting that stuffing in the bird. And you don't need all of that fat from the back and other parts dripping into your pan. There's enough fat from the rest of the bird for your roux.

Another benefit is the carving. I really don't enjoy wrestling with a big, slippery, hot, round ball of bird while I'm trying to carve breasts off of it or remove legs. It's a hell of a lot easier to do that when the bird is cold and raw. I also take the opportunity to remove the bones from the thighs. Who wants to carve around those things? I then roll them up into little logs, which yield a lovely presentation once sliced.

And as a bonus, you can bang out some turkey stock with that back right out of the gate. I'll use it instead of chicken stock in the coming months because, quite frankly, it don't matter.

So break down your bird, you glorious freaks.

Rare spicy tuna: sandwich

Rare spicy tuna sandwich

Some years back, I would often find myself eating lunch at Riingo. Riingo was a restaurant off the lobby in the now defunct Alex Hotel in midtown Manhattan (now called the Wyndham Midtown 25). Marcus Samuelsson was a co-owner, and presumably had a hand in the operation.

I suppose you'd describe the place as "Asian-fusion," but I never gave a description much thought until now. What I did give thought to was the pleasant, bright bar area, where after-work drinks often went down (along with the occasional during-work drinks).

Riingo was a friendly place. One of the bartenders was an interesting fella. A bit of a screenwriter and actor, with a quick and sharp wit. We'd spend the time trying to out-clever each other, and he was a formidable opponent. And a pretty good bartender overall. This was certainly at the beginning of the cocktail revival, and while he didn't seem much interested in bartending as a vocation, he did spend a good amount of time thinking about cocktails and coming up with new ideas. It's hard to believe now, but, back then, finding a bartender who knew his ass from his elbow, at a hotel bar no less, was not the norm. It was exceptional.

But I didn't call this meeting to tell you about that bartender or my hobbies. I called it to tell you about this silly tuna sandwich that they had on the lunch menu. It was a standard order for me (often paired with a crisp, acidic white or hoppy beer). The sandwich was essentially seared tuna, served on ciabatta, with spicy mayo. That's it.

It almost sounds like a waste of perfectly good tuna. Or, it sounds like the world's greatest tuna sandwich.

I haven't had this sandwich in almost eight years. Gosh that seems like a very long time. I fixed this situation the other day, when I put my own together.

Salt and pepper the tuna and sear for 10 seconds on each side. Slice, across the grain as much as possible. Mix mayo and sriracha to make spicy mayo (this is essentially what the "spicy" is in spicy tuna rolls that you'll find at sushi places). Slather a baguette or other suitable bread with the spicy mayo, put the tuna in there, and that's it.

I decided to throw some thinly sliced cucumbers and scallions in as well, because why not.

Now get back to whatever it was that you were doing.




Shanghai 46: Shanghai-style Chinese in Fairfield, NJ

  Soup dumplings

Hunan Cottage is (thankfully) gone, and the Chengdu 23 people moved into the building on Rt 46 East, in Fairfield, NJ. But not with Sichuan-style food. This time, they've implemented a Shanghai-style restaurant (with a very silly-sounding name). Which is just wonderful news. It's called FU restaurant Shanghai 46 (name changed!.

Even better news is that the meal we recently has was immensely enjoyable, and no doubt an indicator of the good things to come.

The menu is set up similarly to Chengdu 23's. In fact, if you don't look closely, you'd think they were the same. But this menu is filled with Shanghainese food. The standard Americanized stuff is in separate sections of the menu, and it's relatively clear which food is authentic cooking.

That authentic Shanghai-style cooking doesn't rely as heavily on the fermented, deep, rich flavors and oil-based sauces that Sichuan food often does. Shanghainese is more about the flavors of preserved vegetables and silky, almost understated sauces. Other than some of the protiens (sea cucumber, eel, jellyfish), it's hard to think that this food could be offensive or intimidating to anyone, even if they aren't familiar with authentic Chinese cooking. It's quite agreeable, and very approachable. So, you know, try it if you haven't. Or if you have, bring your dopey friends who claim "I don't like Chinese food," even though they've never actually had Chinese food.

So I was saying...

The staff was pleasant and accommodating. I can't help but give Hunan Cottage one final kick in the groin for being such unpleasant people when I note this.

We started off with a couple of selections from the dim sum menu, and then jumped into the entrees.

Leek pancake
Leek pancake

First up was a leek pancake (Fried Leek Dumpling on the menu) type of deal. We weren't expecting the flat thing that came to the table, but the fried pastry-like dough was filled with glorious leeks. As with much Shanghai food, the flavors were subtle and clean. This isn't the punch-you-in-the-throat flavor profile of Sichuan food. A little hot mustard did provide a welcome kick, though. I guess we weren't truly ready for such subtlety.

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S. Egidio: Neapolitan-style pizza in Ridgewood, NJ

S egidio ridgewood pizza

It took me a while, but I finally had a chance to grab a pie at S. Egidio, the small, Neapolitan-style pizza place on North Broad Street in Ridgewood, NJ.

While the dinner menu isn't very large to begin with, the lunch menu is even smaller. Some salads, sandwiches, meats, and pizza. Maybe even a pasta or two. Doesn't matter. I was there for the pizza.

I went right for a Margherita pie. A better baseline for comparison you will not find. And I caved and ordered soppressata as a topping.

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Shanghai 46 in Fairfield, NJ: Shanghai-style from the folks who bring you Chendgu 23

File under: orgasm-inducing news

Update: We had a meal here recently, and it was quite good (click me).

Update: it's now called Shanghai 46. Same owners, better name.

I've been advised that the folks who run the wonderful Chengdu 23 in Wayne, NJ, have opened (just four days ago at the time of this post), a restaurant specializing in authentic Shanghai cooking. It's in the building where Hunan Cottage used to be, on the eastbound side of Route 46 in Fairfield, NJ.

Hunan Cottage was offensive, and I was not upset to see it go. Specifically, the attitude of the staff toward me and my companions was almost without exception rude, obnoxious, and, it could be argued, just downright racist. A lot of "you won't like" and "you can't order that." Not to mention the difficulty of getting a menu with authentic stuff to begin with.  The staff at Chengdu 23, conversely, has always been very gracious, and actually lets me order what I want. I'm assuming the staff at Fu Restaurant will be no different. A welcomed change.

I picked up a menu and do see lots of the usual Shanghai suspects: Lion Head meatballs, soup dumplings, lots of sea cucumber, jellyfish, pickled vegetables, preserved eggs, etc.

While I haven't given Shanghai 46 a try yet (Yeah we did: click me), I did enjoy a meal at Chengdu 23 this morning. Here are some things that we ate that you did not:

Chive dumplings

Chive dumplings (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Rice noodle with spicy sauce (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Crispy shrimp balls (available during weekend dim sum service)

Chive dumplings

Shrimp toast

Chive dumplings

Scallops of some sort. Battered and fried w/ some spicy bits.

Chive dumplings

Prawns with minced pork, pickled peppers and scallion in Cheng Du Sauce (with shell)

Shanghai 26 Restaurant : 14-18 Route 46 East : Fairfield, NJ : 973.808.5888



Chinese salt and pepper scallops: over yellow chives

Salt and pepper scallops

The daily question of "what's for dinner" is often answered with the help of a stroll through the supermarket. Not the regular supermarket, but good supermarkets. Like Asian supermarkets. These are the places you'll see items like snow pea leaves, or Thai basil, or a tongue. Like when I checked out H&Y Market in Ridgefield a while back. I saw some cow bones and that planted the seed for making pho. And then I used that broth to make an excellent fish dish.

Recently I found myself at King Fung, in River Edge, NJ. Surveying the produce aisle I noticed bright yellow chives, staring me in the face. I've never cooked these things, but I do know I love them in a dish I've had at Chengdu 23, in Wayne, NJ. The dish is very basic, and very elegant. In fact it seems to be not much more than shrimp and yellow chives. Although now that I look at the picture I see it has chunks of garlic and pickled red chillies. So much for my memory.

Chengdu 23 shrimp yellow chivesShrimp with yellow chives at Chengdu 23 in Wayne, NJ. Aparently more yellow than mine.

The subtle flavor of that shrimp/yellow chive dish never ceases to amaze me. But, I wanted something with a little more kick. I figured I'd give some scallops a very simple salt & pepper treatment, not much unlike the salt and pepper shrimp I often make.

The scallops were dusted with the mixture of white pepper, black pepper, Sichuan peppercorns, and salt, and seared briefly. The yellow chives were very simply sauteed in a wok with some peanut oil, along with some scallion for color contrast, and pickled Sichuan chillies (see, I actually got that part right!). A touch of soy and and black vinegar and sesame oil and a potato starch slurry and bing bang boom done. Here's what I did:

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Mill House Brewing: Poughkeepsie, NY: another great meal

Mill house sausage

It's becoming a habit. Whenever we're near Poughkeepsie, we stop at Mill House Brewing Company. We do this because the place is simply outstanding.

Our first visit made a real impression on us, and we were looking forward to returning. A recent trip to the Catskills gave us a reason to jump on 87 and detour across the river for lunch. We were a bit hesitant, only because the first meal was so exceptional. Too often, a second trip doesn't live up to the first. I'm here to tell you that this was not the case at Mill House. Our second meal was outstanding as well.

I think I said it all in my first post, so I won't repeat myself or go on too long. I did, however, fail to mention (or notice) the outlets under the bar. Along with hooks for bags, there are outlets. I love this attention to detail.

Here's a quick and dirty run-down of our recent meal:

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