Archive for April, 2010

Just a Quick Hello

Monday, April 26th, 2010 by virginia

Hi everyone! We’re currently in Xi’an after braving a terrible flight from Beijing and landing during a sandstorm. Needless to say it was not the most fun flight we’ve ever been on. Internet access has been spotty but it looks like we get wifi at our current hotel and hopefully we’ll be able to upload some pictures soon. We’ve just been super exhausted from all the sightseeing we’ve been doing and from jet lag so we’ve been going to sleep around 8 pm almost every night.

The highlight of the trip so far was definitely the Great Wall of China, but we’ll be going to see the terra cotta warriors tomorrow and those are also pretty incredible. Sadly, however, the food has not been great. Peking duck was pretty disappointing, and the food we’ve been eating has been pretty bland – nothing spicy or well seasoned. We’re taking lots of pictures though and copious amounts of notes on each restaurant so we’ll share details soon, if I can stay awake long enough to do some real posting!

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Big Adventures in (not so) Little China

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by virginia

We’re heading off to China today for a much-needed vacation from real life. We’ll be touring Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Wuxi. We’re super excited to climb the Great Wall, see the terra cotta warriors, and, of course, to eat. We already have a peking duck banquet and an imperial dumpling banquet planned as part of our tour package, but we’re also hoping to go out on our own and try some street eats. No worries, we have Cipro on hand just in case!

We’ll both being taking tons of photos, and Josh is bringing his computer along so hopefully we’ll be able to post along the way. I’m sure we’ll have lots to write about, and I still owe you guys posts on Flushing, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, plus a somewhat impromptu dinner we had at Jean Georges, among other good eating we’ve done recently. So please continue to check in over the next week while we embark on this exciting 11 day journey!

Fontana di Trevi

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by virginia

Josh’s parents had heard good things about a new Italian restaurant in Leonia called Fontana di Trevi so we decided to try it out for dinner one Saturday night. When Josh tried to call to see if there was a wait, he got an answering machine message that said no tables were available until after 8:45 PM. So we waited until after the specified time and tried to call again but it was the same message. We decided to head over to the restaurant and check out the situation in person.

Josh went inside first and he said that they told him it would only be a 10 minute wait, which didn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room to stand in the restaurant so we hovered by the doorway, feeling very conspicuous and bad that we were pretty much right next to the first table in the front. But we figured it would only be a short wait so we just tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. The restaurant is split into two rooms, separated by a short hallway, and the hostess stand is in the smaller room.

So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Meanwhile, they never did fix the phone message because while we were standing there waiting, Josh called the number again and he got the same message. The phone by the hostess stand didn’t even ring. How do you operate a restaurant like that? How do people make reservations if they never pick up the phone? But we continued to wait, getting increasingly more agitated. We had been waiting for over half an hour, and no one came by to check on us. The hostess basically ignored our imploring looks and carried on a conversation with a table that had already paid for over 10 minutes. We were seriously annoyed by the time she finally came by and said that they were getting our table ready, and she kind of jerked her head towards the other room.

Another 10 minutes later (by now we had been waiting for almost an hour), they finally did get our table ready – the same one where the hostess had been chatting with the previous patrons. It was not in the other room, as she had indicated, and we were pretty much disgusted with the level of service (or lack thereof) that we had received. An hour wait is certainly unacceptable when you’re told that a wait would only be 10 minutes. The only reason we stayed was because we were starving, and because the restaurant was packed. Surely the food had to be fantastic, right?

They started us off with pieces of focaccia bread that was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. It had good texture with a nice olive oil flavor, and things started to look up for the meal.

Focaccia bread

Alice and I both opted to have the Caesar salad for our appetizers. The salad is prepared tableside – always a nice touch. Anchovies, egg yolk, garlic, breadcrumbs, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and a few other ingredients were combined in a bowl to form a thick paste, which was then loosened with olive oil. The dressing was tossed with bite-sized pieces of fresh romaine. The flavor was great but the dressing was a tad too thick and clumped on some of the leaves, leaving some bites overwhelming with dressing while others totally bare. Dressing dispersion issues aside, they do top it with lots of grated cheese, which I liked.

Caesar salad made tableside

Josh had the spinach salad with cremini mushrooms and pancetta. It was tossed with a warm white vinegar dressing, and Josh seemed to enjoy it a lot. He thought the pancetta wasn’t too salty or overwhelming, and it was a light and refreshing salad.

Spinach salad with cremini mushrooms and pancetta

For his main course, Josh had the linguine with clams. The pasta was nicely cooked to al dente and the sauce packed a nice garlicky punch. There were lots of whole clams on top and was definitely the best dish of the evening.

Linguine con vogole

I had to go with the chicken parmesan, of course, which is always my test of a new Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t that good. The chicken itself was fine but the “famous” marinara sauce (as it says on their menu) was overly sour and too acidic. The cheese was melted but runny, not browned and bubbly like I prefer. Instead of a side of pasta, it came with some mushy, buttery vegetables and mashed potatoes. Those reminded me of bad hotel food. Harsh, maybe, but I expected better.

Chicken parmesan

Since we ended up eating later than we expected, especially with the super long wait, we just wanted to get home and decided to forgo dessert. Overall we weren’t all that wowed by the food we had at Fontana di Trevi, and we were less than thrilled with the service. Maybe because they were new was why they had so many issues, but I still don’t understand why they don’t even answer their phone. It doesn’t seem to hurt business though, as the restaurant was packed the entire time we were there. Nevertheless, the food was not so impressive to overcome the problems we had, and I don’t think we’ll be going back. Sad, because we’re still looking for a good Italian restaurant near our home in NJ, and this one was also a BYO.

Fontana di Trevi
248 Fort Lee Rd.
Leonia, NJ

The Ridge Diner

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I were in NJ running some errands and had lunch with Alice at The Ridge, a diner in, appropriately enough, Park Ridge. It’s fairly standard in terms of diner decor, understated and not kitschy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive menu. There were tons of breakfast-type options, assorted sandwiches, and all different kinds of wraps, burgers, entrees, etc.

There were quite a few things that looked appealing to me but ultimately I settled on a grilled chicken panini with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, and pesto sauce. The panini was pressed to a nice crisp, though I wish the cheese had been a little bit more melty. Flavor-wise it was pretty good, especially with the fresh tasting pesto sauce slathered on the flatbread. I also opted for seasoned fries, which turned out to be curly fries – score! Who doesn’t love curly fries? They were freshly fried, nicely seasoned, and very yummy.

Grilled chicken panini with fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, and pesto, plus awesome curly fries

Josh ordered the shrimp po’ boy, which was more like a shrimp cutlet sandwich. Instead of small, bite-sized pieces of fried shrimp, they used large, butterflied, breaded pieces of shrimp. It was served on a decent french roll with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce, and despite the unusual preparation, it was still a tasty sandwich. Josh opted for regular fries with his sandwich, which were sadly limp and disappointing. Curly is definitely the way to go!

Shrimp po' boy, sort of, with regular fries

Alice got a BLT on rye toast with avocado. It was a huge sandwich (she only ended up eating half) and the bacon was extra crispy, just as she asked for. The avocado, which she added on extra, was actually a clever touch. It added a nice creaminess to the sandwich and rendered mayo completely unnecessary. That’s something I’ll have to try the next time I get a BLT or a club sandwich, since I’m addicted to mayo. Avocado is a much more healthful choice.

BLT on rye toast with avocado

We also got a plate of onion rings, which were big slices of real onion that were lightly breaded. They were pretty crispy, just slightly greasy, and very tasty.

Crispy onion rings

As far as diners go, The Ridge would be a great one to have in the neighborhood. There are lots of options available, portions are large, and prices are pretty reasonable. Service was quick and attentive but they didn’t rush us at all. Too bad it’s a bit far from our hometown but I would definitely go back if I was in the area. There were still other things on the menu that I wanted to try!

The Ridge Diner
125 Kinderkamack Rd.
Park Ridge, NJ

Re-Visiting 9th Avenue Pizzeria (aka the Pizza Quest Comes Full Circle)

Thursday, April 15th, 2010 by virginia

Our pizza quest has been stalled due to some lackluster pizza that we’ve had recently. When our last craving hit, we ended up coming full circle by ordering from the first place on our quest, 9th Avenue Pizzeria. We got our usual order of a cheese pizza and a chicken parm hero, plus we decided to mix things up a bit by getting a pepperoni calzone.

Extra large cheese pizza

The pizza was exactly as I remembered, with a super thin crust that was a bit uneven on the edges. There was a good cheese to sauce ratio, and I liked that the cheese covered the whole pie, right up to the crust.

Thin crust, good cheese to sauce ratio

The crust was decently crispy with a nicely browned bottom, though it got a bit soggy towards the middle. Flavor-wise it’s a bit on the bland side but I thought it was still a solid pie overall.

Underside shot

The pepperoni calzone was filled with mozzarella, ricotta, and tons of pepperoni.

Pepperoni calzone

It had a nice crispy crust and was actually quite good, except they didn’t give us any sauce to eat it with, which I found a bit weird. As a result, all the heavy cheese and salty pepperoni got a bit too much to handle, and really needed the sweet tangy tomato sauce to help cut through the richness. Next time I’ll be sure to ask for some sauce on the side.

Calzone innards

Everything was great until we got to the chicken parm hero, which looked a bit deflated when we unwrapped the package. I guess the reason is because they make their own bread, but it ended up being a bit dense and flat, kind of like a soggy, heavy, pizza dough.

Flat and limp chicken parm hero

There also isn’t a whole lot of chicken and cheese inside, which make the dense bread even more noticeable. It wasn’t terrible, but I’ve definitely had much better chicken parm heroes elsewhere. I think it’s only $5 though for a decently long sandwich, which isn’t too bad, but you kind of get what you pay for.

Chicken parm autopsy shot

Chicken parm hero aside, we were pretty pleased with our order from 9th Avenue Pizzeria so we decided to order from there again the next time I had another irresistible urge for pizza. This time, instead of getting a pepperoni calzone, we opted for a pepperoni pizza. It arrived looking slightly disheveled but they definitely did not skimp on the pepperoni.

Extra large pepperoni pizza

The pizza was definitely greasier thanks to the pepperoni but the crust was surprisingly crispier, even in the center. I loved the saltiness that the pepperoni added, and really, who doesn’t love pepperoni grease? When it really gets to be too much though I just blot it off with a paper towel, but the flavor remains.

Lots of tasty pepperoni (and grease)

I wanted to give the homemade bread another shot so we got a meatball parm hero. Big mistake. The bread was still dense and flat, the cheese was unmelted, there was hardly any sauce, and the meatballs were pretty awful. They tasted old and stale, were super dense, and not the least bit appealing.

Sad, sad meatball parm hero

Overall I still have pretty mixed feelings about 9th Avenue Pizzeria. The pizza is pretty good, but not amazing. Josh and I disagree on the crust, which he prefers to be thinner, but I think when it’s too thin it becomes too brittle, especially around the edges. The crust also lacks depth of flavor, though the cheese and sauce are both tasty. I liked the calzone but I hated the heroes, especially the meatball parm. The bread definitely makes the sandwich suffer, and the fillings aren’t so great either. Since we typically order a hero whenever we get pizza, this really poses a problem. I’m not ready to quit on our pizza quest, especially since we just renewed our lease so I have plenty more time to find our go-to place. But who knows, maybe we’ll end up right back where we started once again.

9th Avenue Pizzeria
791 9th Ave. between 52nd and 53rd St.
New York, NY

Greek Taverna

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010 by virginia

We were visiting our parents in NJ one weekend and decided to try out a Greek restaurant in Edgewater that Josh’s parents have been raving about, appropriately called Greek Taverna. From the outside it looks like a tiny storefront restaurant but inside it’s large and spacious, with tall ceilings and a casual, slightly rustic feel. It actually did look a bit like some of the tavernas that we ate in while we were on our honeymoon in Greece. The menu was quite extensive and there were lots of things I wanted to try, but because it was a Friday during Lent, I was limited to only seafood and vegetarian options.

The restaurant is BYO and they brought us wine glasses right away and opened up our bottle of red wine. They also brought us a basket of grilled pita bread to nibble on while we looked over the menu. The bread was served warm and had a nice soft and chewy texture to it.

Grilled pita bread

We shared a few different appetizers, including a special of the night, which was a huge platter of grilled octopus, calamari, and seppie (cuttlefish). All of these have the potential to be tough, chewy, and rubbery, but they were all perfectly prepared and very tender. They had a nice smoky flavor and slight charring from the grill. My favorite pieces were the tiny seppie, which I popped into my mouth whole and they just burst with the fresh taste of the sea.

Grilled octopus, calamari, and seppie

We also got a beet salad topped with skordalia, a garlic and potato dip with lemon juice and Greek olive oil. Again, the serving was huge and the salad was fantastic. The beets were tender and flavorful, nicely dressed with red onions, pickled garlic cloves, and a tangy vinaigrette. The skordalia packed another tangy, garlicky punch, and the combination was just delicious. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

Delicious beet salad topped with skordalia

Our last appetizer was the Greek Taverna chips, which are fried zucchini and eggplant chips served with a ramekin of skordalia for dipping. The chips were cut super thin, lightly breaded, and fried to a nice crisp. The coating was not greasy at all, and never got soggy even after the chips sat for a while on the plate. I didn’t realize that the dip on the side was skordalia until it was too late; otherwise, I might have asked to change it to tzatziki (shredded cucumbers, yogurt, dill, and garlic dip), as we already had skordalia with the beet salad. I also think the lighter tzatziki would have been a better match for the fried chips. Nevertheless, it was a great appetizer to munch on, and we kept the plate on the side to snack on throughout our meal.

Crispy vegetable chips with skordalia dip

I really wanted some of the grilled meats that were giving off tempting smells from tables nearby but I had to stick with seafood. The restaurant offers fresh whole fish at market price, which they serve grilled with olive oil, lemon, and herbs drizzled on top. I wasn’t so familiar with most of the fishes offered so I opted for the Royal Dorado, which is a Mediterranean fish with a mild flavor. It was a flaky but meaty fish, and definitely wasn’t too fishy in flavor. I liked the flavor of the olive oil/lemon/herb mixture, but the fish just needed a bit more seasoning in general.

Grilled royal dorado

For my side dish, I selected the Greek Taverna fries, which were thin slices of fried potato topped with oregano and Kefalo tyri cheese. The fries weren’t as crispy as I would have liked but they were well seasoned and flavorful.

Greek fries

Josh also opted for a whole fish and greek fries, except he chose a special of the day, the branzino. His fish was prepared the same way and had similar flavor. I’m not a fish connoisseur so I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell our dishes apart.

Grilled branzino

Overall I really liked all the food that we had at Greek Taverna. All of the ingredients were clearly fresh, and everything was well prepared. The menu is similar to that of Nisi Estiatorio in Englewood, except everything is priced much lower. Nisi is more of a fine dining experience though, and you get to pick out exactly which fish you want, which I think affects the pricing. Greek Taverna is more low key and casual, but the food is just as good. Portions are huge and everything can be shared, making it a better deal in my opinion and good for large groups. The BYO aspect is another bonus. I can’t wait for our next visit to the restaurant, and now that Lent is over, I definitely plan on trying some of the grilled meats that smelled so irresistible.

Greek Taverna (multiple locations)
55 Promenade, City Place Shopping Center
Edgewater, NJ

Corner Bistro

Monday, April 12th, 2010 by virginia

Our friend Alex first introduced us to the Corner Bistro back in college (he went to NYU nearby), and it’s been my favorite burger place in the city ever since. Maybe I had some emotional attachment to it, because we would always hang out there with our friends from high school when we were home during breaks, but I thought the burgers were absolutely fantastic. They were always thick, juicy, and flavorful, and we would wash them down with countless mugs of McSorley’s dark followed by plates of crispy thin cut French fries.

When we eventually moved into the city after graduation, Corner Bistro was still a relatively frequent destination for us. If we were out drinking somewhere near the west village, we inevitably ended the night lining up for burgers at the always crowded bar/restaurant. And maybe I loved Corner Bistro because those burgers always tasted wonderful after a night of drunken debauchery.

After we moved uptown, however, we never found ourselves having the opportunity to go to the Corner Bistro. Anytime we ventured downtown we would usually end up at our favorite bar, Reade Street Pub and Kitchen. So over a year went by before Josh and I finally went back, after attending an open house up the block after work one day.

We got there at just the right time – there was no line for a table in the back room but a few minutes after we were seated, the place filled up and the familiar line soon snaked down the length of the bar. We both ordered our usual, a hamburger for me, a bistro burger for Josh, fries, and mugs of McSorley’s dark. I was happy to see that even after so long, prices have hardly risen. It was a welcome respite after seeing other burger places jack up their prices ridiculous amounts when they became more popular and well known (I’m looking at you, Burger Joint!).

Mugs of McSorley's dark

Our food arrived pretty quickly, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. The burger looked just like I remembered – thick, dripping with juice, on a soft sesame seed bun, accompanied by slices of tomato, onion, and lettuce. The only difference was that it was served on a plastic plate rather than a paper plate.

Hamburger with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles

It was huge once it was assembled, and I had to flatten it down a bit before I could take a bite. And the verdict? Disappointing.

Massive burger once assembled

The burger was cooked medium rare as requested, but the patty had sort of a gristly, crumbly texture to it. It tasted more greasy than juicy, and there was no seasoning to speak of. Even with ketchup, the meat just tasted bland. I was shocked by how bad I thought the burger was.

Autopsy shot

Maybe my disappointment was deeper because this was my favorite burger, the one that I’ve championed over the years above the Shake Shack or Burger Joint or all the other highly touted burgers. But then I thought, maybe I loved this burger because of my emotional attachment to the Corner Bistro, and back in those days my palate wasn’t the same as it is now, plus we had usually been drinking before we ate the burgers. This time I was stone cold sober, hungry but not starving, and I’ve had the opportunity to expand my palate more over the years.

Whatever the case, even though I was hugely dissatisfied, Josh still loved his bistro burger. The bistro burger is basically a bacon cheeseburger, and his was also cooked medium rare as requested. I took a bite of his burger and could see why he enjoyed it – the bacon added much needed saltiness to the burger, and the cheese provided a nice gooey texture to the otherwise crumbly patty. In that regard, the bistro burger is a better choice, because bacon and cheese can hide a lot of flaws.

Bistro burger (bacon and cheese)

At least the fries were still as good as I remembered – hot, thin, and crispy. They’re always served right of the fryer and are never greasy or soggy.

Crispy thin cut french fries

I felt pretty let down after we left the Corner Bistro, but I’m not quite ready to write the burgers off just yet. Yes, I thought the burger was really bland and unseasoned, but maybe it was an off night. Josh thinks that I should have just sprinkled some salt on the patty after I took my first bite, but I’m not in the habit of seasoning my burgers after they’ve been served to me. I plan on going back, and soon, to see if this was just a fluke. Either way, the bar is a fun place to hang out, and everything is refreshingly cheap. You can still get a burger and fries for less than $10, and mugs of McSorley’s are only $2.50 each. There are lots of TVs in the front room so you can watch a game and drink beer while you wait in line for a table. I just haven’t decided yet if the burger is still worth the wait, but I’m willing to give it another shot, if only for old time’s sake.

Corner Bistro
331 West 4th St. at Jane St. and 8th Ave.
New York, NY

Venetian Spaghetti with Sardines

Sunday, April 11th, 2010 by virginia

I saw this recipe on Serious Eats and knew that I would have to try it, since it was described as tasting like clam chowder on pasta. I love clam chowder, and I love pasta. Putting the two together just seemed simply genius to me. I ended up trying out the recipe for Lent and it worked out pretty well, but it wasn’t quite like clam chowder. The sardines definitely have a fishier flavor, which I didn’t mind, but when I reheated some in the microwave at work I was very aware of how fishy it smelled. Nevertheless, this is a pretty quick and easy pasta to make, and most of the ingredients you probably already have on hand. It’s a rich and comforting dish, and I would definitely make it again.


-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-2 medium onions, finely chopped
-One 4-ounce can olive-oil-packed sardines
-1 cup whole milk
-Salt and freshly ground pepper
-1 pound spaghetti

The directions couldn’t be easier. First, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. De-bone the sardines and chop them up into small pieces. I used sardines that were already skinned and boned, which saved me an extra step.

Skinless and boneless sardines

Then cook the onions in the butter and olive oil until they start to get brown. Chop up the sardines and throw it into the pot with the onions, then add a bit of water and mix it all together.

Sauteed onions and chopped sardines

Add in the cup of milk and bring it to a boil, stirring often so that the sardines melt into the sauce. Keep it simmering for about 10 minutes, until it thickens.

Creamy onion and sardine sauce (seriously, it's good)

Meanwhile, cook the pasta, and when it’s ready, toss it into the sauce and mix well until all the strands are coated. If it’s too thick, add some more milk or pasta water to loosen it up. Season with salt and pepper. I finished it with a bit of olive oil and a good sprinkling of pepper on top.

Venetian spaghetti with sardines

For the full recipe, please click here!


Saturday, April 10th, 2010 by virginia

So I’m going to do something that I don’t normally do, which is to review a restaurant with no photos of the food. We unintentionally left the camera in the car but I didn’t bother going back out to get it because we were a run-of-the-mill chain steakhouse, and it was Easter so I figured we deserved a break anyway. I was pretty appalled by the food we had so I changed my mind about doing a write-up, and instead I’m using this as an experiment to see how a review turns out without pictures. Given all the publicity lately about food photography (aside from Grant Achatz and Anthony Bourdain, the New York Times just ran an article about it), and the debate about taking pictures, this seemed like a good opportunity to test out what it would be like if we scaled back on photos. Please let me know what you guys think!

Josh’s mom had a craving for steak so we ended up going to Fleming’s in Edgewater for Easter Sunday dinner. I was surprised that they were open on Easter but they seemed to be fully staffed and operational, and while the restaurant wasn’t full, it was definitely more crowded than I expected it to be. We were only a party of four on this particular Sunday night so we got a nice cozy booth near the back of the restaurant, with a good view out the panoramic windows that face the city skyline.

We were given a loaf of soft rosemary bread to munch on while we looked over the menu. The bread was dense and fluffy with no real discernable crust, but I enjoyed the woodsy rosemary flavor. There were two different butters that came with the bread, one was salty and flavored with feta while the other was sweet and flavored with sun dried tomatoes. Both were pretty enjoyable slathered on the soft bread.

Josh and I had a big Easter lunch with my family and had been snacking all day so we decided to forgo appetizers. Alice and Lloyd shared the wedge, which was a quarter wedge of a large head of iceberg topped with red onion, grape tomatoes, and crumbled blue cheese. Josh and I really dislike blue cheese but I tasted a small portion of the salad and found it to be pretty good. The iceberg was crisp and fresh, the tomatoes were sweet and juicy, and the blue cheese was relatively mild compared to others I’ve tasted. I can see why this is such a popular combination for a salad.

For my entrée, I had the double thick pork rib chop that was baked with apple cider, creole mustard, and a julienne of apples and jicama. It sounded good on paper but the flavor was off in execution. It was sweet and sour in a weird way, and the flavors were muddled. I couldn’t really taste apple, or mustard, but something more maple-like and a bit smoky. The pork chop was huge but it was kind of tough and I think a bit overcooked. I had asked for it medium, which our waitress said would be pink in the center, but it was white throughout and a bit hard to chew. The julienne of apples and jicama came out like a mushy sauerkraut and had both a strange texture and flavor. Suffice it to say, I was not a fan of the dish.

Both Josh and Alice ordered the petite filet mignon. Alice’s medium rare steak ended up being more rare, so she sent it back for them to cook it a bit longer. However, Josh asked for his black and blue, and it was cooked perfectly. The outside had a nice seared crust, it was ruby red in the middle, and the seasoning was just perfect. It was a good piece of meat and pretty well executed.

Lloyd had the lamb chops served with a champagne mint sauce. I had a bite and it tasted pretty good, with a nice crust on the outside and lots of gamey flavor. Lloyd seemed to enjoy his dish and I didn’t hear any complaints.

In typical steakhouse fashion, the meats are mostly served a la carte, so there is a long list of sides you can order to accompany your main course. We got sautéed sweet corn and creamed spinach for the table. The corn was fine, with sweet kernels cooked in a buttery sauce, but it was uninteresting. The creamed spinach was mostly cream and cheese but I still thought it was tasty. It definitely could use more spinach in the mix though.

Alice and Lloyd also split a baked potato, which comes with sour cream, butter, chives, bacon and cheddar cheese. The potatoes are usually huge and fluffy on the inside, but this time their potato was only medium sized and hard in the middle. It had clearly been undercooked, so they sent it back and got another potato, which was also on the smaller side and had a big unpleasant-looking black bruise on one side that was basically inedible. Not wanting to send back a second potato, they ended up just eating around it but it wasn’t a great potato to begin with. Considering you’re spending about $7 on a baked potato, I would expect them to inspect their potatoes a bit more closely.

Josh and I split an order of the half and half, which is half French fries and half onion rings. The fries had such potential because they were thin shoestrings and obviously cut from real potatoes, but the frying left much to be desired. The fries were limp, soggy, and greasy, which was really too bad because they looked so appealing. The onion rings, however, were fantastic. Huge slices of onion were lightly breaded and fried to a perfect crisp. I wish we had a whole plate of these onion rings instead of the lackluster fries.

Overall we were pretty dissatisfied with the meal we had at Fleming’s. We’ve eaten there previously so we know it’s standard steakhouse fare, but I thought the overall execution was pretty bad. I could barely get through half my pork chop, not because of its size, but because of how it tasted. The steaks and lamb chops were better because they were simply seasoned and broiled. I think sticking with the plain meats is the way to go at this restaurant. The sides were mostly all pretty disappointing though. What makes it more unforgivable is that this is an expensive restaurant. Yes, it’s a chain, but most entrees are $30+, and they’re served a la carte. Sides are an additional $7-$9 each. The side dishes can be shared but it’s still not a cheap dinner. Service was ok but not particularly attentive. Our waitress didn’t really come by to check on us very often, and they seemed annoyed when we sent back the first potato. I just don’t think the restaurant is worth the price, and I doubt that we’ll be going back there any time soon.

Fleming’s (multiple locations)
90 Promenade, City Place Shopping Center
Edgewater, NJ

Istanbul Cafe

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by virginia

As recommended by Silva, Josh and I decided to try out Istanbul Café the last time we had a craving for Turkish food. Coincidentally, we ran into Felipe and Silva on our way to the restaurant, and Silva offered up particular dishes that she liked (the chopped tomato salad dip, the kofte, and the shepherd’s salad with feta). We ended up ordering way too much food for just the two of us, but we did manage to cover most of the items she recommended.

Before heading to the restaurant, we looked up the menu to see if they sold alcohol. Not seeing anything noted, Josh called to ask and he was told that they do not offer any alcohol. He followed up by asking if that meant we could bring our own, and he got an affirmative response. When we arrived with our bottle of wine in tow, however, we were told that they don’t serve alcohol, and we aren’t allowed to bring alcohol either. I’m guessing this is for religious reasons, but that’s not the response Josh got when he specifically called to ask. Perhaps there was some confusion on the phone, both in the questioning and in the response, as English did not seem to be the first language of the person who answered the phone.

Nevertheless, the no alcohol policy wasn’t really an issue. They were apologetic about the situation and we quickly slipped our bottle of wine under the table, out of sight. I just thought it was weird that out of all the reviews I had read about the restaurant, no one mentioned the policy. We opted for water instead, and set about looking over the menu. As always, there were lots of things that I wanted to try, given that this was our first visit to the restaurant, so we ended up ordering sampler platters for both our appetizer and our main course.

The cold appetizer platter included hummus (mashed chickpea and tahini paste), lebni (thickened yogurt mixed with dill, garlic, walnut, and herbs), chopped tomato salad (hand chopped tomato, bell peppers, onion, garlic, and walnuts mixed with red pepper paste), eggplant salad (smoked eggplant mixed with mashed garlic and roasted red pepper), and a few stuffed grape leaves.

Cold appetizer platter with hummus, lebni, chopped tomato salad, eggplant salad, and stuffed grape leaves

It came with a basket of grilled pita bread to dip with, and I thought all of the spreads were really tasty. The chopped tomato salad was flavorful and tangy, and the eggplant salad had a nice smokiness to it. The yogurt dip was thick but not too sour, and everything had a good amount of garlic in it. My least favorite was the hummus, but only because I think the hummus was a bit boring compared to the other dips. Otherwise it was a very respectable hummus.

Grilled pita bread

We ate most of the pita bread and put a good dent into the appetizer platter, but there was still tons left so we had them wrap it up for us while we went to work on our entrée, the Istanbul combo. The giant platter came with chicken shish kebab, lamb shish kebab, kofte, doner kebab, and lamb chops, all served on top a bed of rice. The rice I think was a bit undercooked, as it had a strange crunchy texture to it. I know there was orzo mixed in with the rice, but that wasn’t what was making it crunchy (I made sure to try a forkful sans orzo). There were also grilled tomatoes and peppers, but the peppers turned out to be jalapeno, and super spicy! I’m not sure why they served the jalapenos, and if it was intended to be a garnish, but they were way too spicy to be edible. Yikes!

Istanbul combo - chicken, lamb, kofte, and doner kebabs, lamb chops, peppers, tomatoes, rice

All the grilled meats, however, were well seasoned and flavorful. I especially liked the kofte, which are meatballs made with ground lamb and beef mixed with Turkish spices. The doner kebab was wonderful as well, which is thin slices of lamb shaved from a spit. The outside of the meat was crusty and crispy, and I ended up making mini gyros for myself by wrapping the meat in some pita bread. Again there was too much food, even though we stuffed ourselves silly, and we ended up taking home about half of the combo.

Overall we both thought the food at Istanbul Café was well spiced and seasoned properly, but preparation-wise it suffered a bit. The lamb and chicken kebabs were tasty but tough and overcooked, and even the kofte was a bit gristly, surprisingly. Service, however, was efficient and attentive, although the restaurant was pretty empty when we were there. They wrapped up our leftovers right away and even threw in some extra pita bread for us, which I thought was a nice touch. The no alcohol policy presents us with a bit of pickle though, as we like to enjoy a nice bottle of wine when we go out for dinner. The resolution to that problem is to have the food delivered and eat it at home. It’s available for order on Seamless Web, and I think that’s what we’ll do the next time we have a craving for good Turkish food.

Before we left the restaurant, they took us on a tour of the outdoor garden area in the back, which is really pretty. It looked like a nice place to hang out and smoke a hookah, if that’s your thing. The restaurant also offers an extensive array of desserts, which we were to full to try but some of the pastries in the glass display cases looked amazing. Turkish teas and coffees are available as well, and it’s a nice place to just sit and relax. The décor inside the restaurant is also interesting, with low tables and chairs and intricate lamps hanging all around. I definitely recommend checking it out sometime.

Istanbul Cafe
325 West 57th St. between 8th and 9th Ave.
New York, NY