Archive for June, 2011

CSA2 Week #2

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 by virginia

It’s Wednesday again so you know what that means – CSA day! We were back at our normal pickup location this week so I ran there after work to get our veggies before heading back out for a softball game. We got a wide variety of items in this share, and so far the crops have been looking great. This week our share contents included:

Garlic scapes – 0.4 lb
Lettuce – 1 head
Broccoli rabe – 0.5 lb
Fava beans – 0.5 lb
Greens – 1 lb
Mint – 2 oz
Cucumbers – 0.65 lb
Squash – 0.9 lb

Broccoli rabe, mint, garlic scapes, lettuce, fava beans, ruby chard, squash and cucumbers in front

Josh and I were both super excited to see broccoli rabe on the list. It’s something that we’ve never gotten before from the CSA, and we know exactly what we want to do with it. A few months ago we were at Becco, my favorite restaurant, and ordered a special appetizer of the day. It was burrata served on top of braised broccoli rabe and grilled bread, lightly dressed with olive oil and salt. The combination was heavenly. The burrata was rich and creamy and just melted across the broccoli rabe. The bread added a nice crunch, and it was a wonderful dish that we hope to replicate at home.

We were also happy to see fava beans, though we probably don’t have enough to make a batch of Egyptian style falafel. I’m sure we’ll figure out another good use for the beans though. Same with the cucumbers and squash – we didn’t get a whole lot of those but we can probably just prepare them simply and enjoy the freshness of the vegetables.

This week we didn’t have much choice for the greens, as all the boxes had swiss chard in them. There were a few different colors available but I stuck with the gorgeous ruby chard, since those looked the nicest. Josh and I made a delicious spaghetti carbonara with the ruby chard from last week’s share, which I plan on posting about. We also got another head of lettuce, red leaf this time, and more garlic scapes.

As for the mint, mojitos anyone?

Pho Pasteur

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011 by virginia

Ever since Josh and I tried out Vietnamese food at Pho Grand last year, we’ve been eager to explore more of the Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown. We finally found some free time to head downtown on Memorial Day and stopped into Pho Pasteur to check out the offerings there. The restaurant, which is located on the southwestern edge of Chinatown, was bright and clean and a lot of the tables were full. We got a spot in the far corner and settled in to look over the fairly extensive menu.

Even though the restaurant has “pho” in the name, we opted not to get any because it was way too hot outside to think about drinking a big bowl of hot soup. Instead, we decided to start off with one of the house specials – banh hoi bo nuong, which is barbecued beef that you wrap into rice crepes with rice vermecilli and other garnishes.

Ingredients for banh hoi bo nuong

The slices of beef were rolled into a tight spiral before they were grilled, and while they were slightly chewy, they had a nice smokey, sweet flavor.

Barbecued beef

The assorted accoutrement included pickled carrots and daikon, thin rice vermicelli noodles, and lettuce and mint leaves. The pickled vegetables provided a nice crunch, and had a sweet, tangy flavor. I also used a lot of mint in my crepes, which added a fresh brightness to each bite.

Pickled carrots and daikon

Rice vermicelli noodles

Mint and lettuce leaves

We had fun piling on the different ingredients and rolling them into the rice crepes to make our own version of summer rolls. We dipped the rolls into bowls of nuoc cham sauce, a sweet and sour dipping sauce that I really love.

An assembled roll

Nuoc cham sauce

My only complaint about the dish was that the thin rice crepes quickly got glued together on the plate and were hard to separate. While the first few crepes came off cleanly, we really struggled with the rest and ended up tearing most of them. Eventually I gave up on the crepes and wrapped the ingredients in a lettuce leaf, which was still quite tasty.

We also got an order of curry chicken with rice. We were hoping it would be like the curry chicken we had in Singapore and Malaysia, which has a thinner but flavorful curry sauce. However, this version was more like Thai massaman curry. It was a thick brown curry sauce and the chicken was slices of boneless breast meat rather than chicken on the bone. There were also potatoes in the dish, and while I usually like the combination of curry and potatoes, these were a bit undercooked and hard to eat.

Curry chicken with rice

Lastly, we got a bun – rice vermicelli noodles – topped with barbecued pork and spring rolls. The pork was delicious, with the same sweet, smokey sauce that was on the barbecued beef, but the meat was more tender and easier to eat. The spring rolls were hot and crispy, though oddly, they had a distinct vanilla flavor to them. I’m not sure what exactly contributed to the vanilla flavor, but it was slightly off-putting for me. Nevertheless, this is one of our favorite Vietnamese dishes, as it is really refreshing and delicious. The ingredients are simple but pack a lot of flavor.

Bun with barbecued pork and spring rolls

Overall we enjoyed the food at Pho Pasteur, though the curry chicken is a pass. We liked assembling our own summer rolls, and the barbecued pork in the bun noodle dish was fantastic. While I still slightly favor Pho Grand, I would definitely come back to Pho Pasteur, especially to try out their pho when the weather gets cooler. Vietnamese food is quickly becoming one of my favorite types of cuisines, though I think we need to expand our ordering horizons since we always seem to get the same dishes everywhere. If any has any suggestions on what we should try, please let us know!

Pho Pasteur
85 Baxter St. between Bayard and Walker St.
New York, NY


CSA2 Week #1

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011 by virginia

I’m happy to announce that it’s CSA time again!! Josh and I have been eagerly looking forward to the start of the CSA season, and we can’t wait to dive into all of our fresh veggies. For those of you who would like to learn more about CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), please read here. Basically we have purchased a share in a farm for the summer,  which means that we will start getting weekly vegetable deliveries for the next 22 or so weeks.

After much debate, we decided not to get the fruit share this year. While we loved all the fresh fruit and juices last year, we simply couldn’t keep up with the amount that we received. Sadly, lot of fruit ended up going to waste, and we really didn’t want to see that happen again this year. We thought about getting a bi-weekly fruit share instead, but even then I doubt we would have been able to consume it all.

There was a bit of a snafu with our usual CSA pickup location, but fortunately the organizers were able to find an alternate location that was extremely convenient. I picked up our share before heading to the gym, as Josh is away on a business trip. The earlier weeks of the share are usually smaller harvests, but I was happy with both the amount of the quality of the items we got. For our first share of this season, we received:

Lettuce – 1 head
Greens – 1 lb
Radishes (mixed colors) – 5 each
Garlic – 2 each
Garlic scapes – 8 each
Spring onions – 4 each
Beets – 3 each

Swiss chard, beets, lettuce, radishes, garlic, onions, garlic scapes in the middle

For the greens, we had a choice of kale or swiss chard. I know Josh was looking forward to making kale chips, one of our favorite CSA recipes, but the ruby stalks on the chard just looked too inviting for me to pass up. Plus I figured that we got a lot of kale last year, and only a few weeks of chard, so I wanted to take advantage of the shorter swiss chard season. For the lettuce, we had a choice between green leaf and red leaf, and I opted for the larger green variety.

The beets are a bit small but came with the leafy tops intact, so we’ll be sure to use both parts. The radishes came in an assortment of colors so I tried to get a different variety. They also had nice leafy tops that we either saute briefly or chop up and mix in with our salads.

Both the onions and the garlic came with green stalks, which I’m sure we’ll find use for. I was happy to see that we got so many garlic scapes, as I’m still experimenting with scape pesto. We also made a delicious garlic scape dip last year with white beans that I never posted about, so I’ll have to be sure to rectify that this year.

All in all it looks our CSA is off to a great start this season. We are excited to see what the harvest will bring over the next few months!

Yankee Stadium – Carl’s Steaks and Garlic Fries

Thursday, June 16th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I recently attended our first baseball game of the season, courtesy of Randy. He generously gave us his Yankees tickets for a Saturday day game against the Cleveland Indians. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t ideal, with a persistent misty rain that drizzled down on us throughout the entire game. It was also pretty windy and chilly, but fortunately we came prepared with raincoats and long pants.

We arrived at the stadium with some time to spare so we walked a loop to check out the various food options. We were searching for Mike’s Deli and its famous eggplant parmesan sandwiches but couldn’t seem to locate the stand. We asked a bunch of people and got nowhere, until finally someone was able to tell us that the deli was no longer available at the stadium. Doh! We were pretty disappointed and started looking around for a backup plan.

We were surprised to see that there was no line at Lobel’s, where we had to wait for almost an hour last year for a steak sandwich. Perhaps the novelty has worn off and people don’t want to pay $15 for a sandwich anymore? Since we had already tried the steak sandwich, we continued on our way. We also decided to bypass Johnny Rockets and Brother Jimmy’s, but that didn’t leave us with too many other choices (sorry, we still think Citi Field is nicer and has better food concessions). We finally settled on Carl’s Steaks for some Philly cheesesteaks.

I wasn’t thrilled with this option, as I know there are branches of Carl’s Steaks in the city. But given our other choices, this seemed like the best option. Josh and I decided to split a cheesesteak, but we argued about what kind of cheese to get. He wanted American, I wanted to try Cheez Whiz. Josh refused to back down so we ended up with the American cheese. I didn’t like the flavor of the cheese but the rest of the sandwich was ok. The steak was thinly sliced and we got it with the sauteed onions. I thought the filling was a bit paltry, but I saw other sandwiches being made that were fuller, so I guess it varies from sandwich to sandwich. The sub roll that it was served on was soft and chewy, and it wasn’t a terrible sandwich for $10.50 (yes, overpriced, but not overly so for a ballpark).

Cheesesteak with white American cheese and onions

To round out our lunch, we headed to the closest Garlic Fries stand because we had really enjoyed the fries from there last year.

We got a large order of the garlic fries, and were happy to see all the garlicky topping mixed throughout. Though the fries had been sitting out for a while and were slightly cold, the garlic punch really made an impact on our taste buds. If you like garlic, these fries can’t be missed. A large order cost $9.50 but is pretty big and can split among several people.

Garlic fries

After we got our food, we settled in to watch the game. Our seats were on the upper level but behind home plate, so we had a great view of the field. Coincidentally, Josh’s uncle and some of his cousins were sitting in the next section over, so we sat with them for a while as well. Despite the lousy weather, we had a great time. It was an exciting game and the Yankee victory made it all the more fun. Thanks Randy!

View from the seats

Old Sichuan Cuisine

Sunday, June 12th, 2011 by virginia

When Josh and I first moved into the city, we spent many weekends in Chinatown searching for the best soup dumplings. We never really found a soup dumpling that we didn’t enjoy, but one of our favorites was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe on Bayard St. We hadn’t been there in years but when Josh’s parents suggested Chinese food in Chinatown for Sunday night dinner, we recommended going to New Yeah because we remembered the dining room being nicer than some of our other favorites (Nice Green Bo, Joe’s Ginger for example).

It took us a little bit to find the restaurant, however, because the name had changed to Old Sichuan. To make matters more confusing, there was a place called Old Shanghai Deluxe on the corner. Yet on an advertisement outside of Old Sichuan, it said New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe. We peeked inside Old Sichuan and it didn’t look like the decor had changed much since its New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe days, so in we went. We ended up at a table in the front where the decor is kind of nonexistent but we didn’t mind. The dining room in the back is a lot nicer though so if ambiance is important, ask to be seated in the back room.

They brought us a plate of peanuts while we looked over the menu. It looked like tables with Chinese patrons received plates of seaweed salad, but the peanuts were fine for us. They were slightly toasted and warm and crunchy – good for snacking on with some Tsingtao beer.

Complimentary peanuts

We had ordered some appetizers and a few main dishes to share but they brought everything to us pretty much at the same time, so that some of the entrees arrived before some of the appetizers. We found that a bit weird, and it made the service seem rushed. Nevertheless, we were all pretty hungry so we dug into each dish as they came. Soup arrived first – we got a corn egg drop soup for 2 and a wonton soup for 2. The serving sizes were big enough that we were all able to get a taste of each (there were seven of us altogether).

Corn egg drop soup for 2

The corn egg drop soup had sweet kernels of corn and strands of egg mixed throughout. The soup had a nice, clean taste to it, though I thought it was a bit bland. It just needed a bit of salt, but Alice really enjoyed it a lot. I preferred the wonton soup, which looked pretty clear and nondescript, but the amount of flavor in the broth was actually very surprising. It was well seasoned and a bit peppery, with lots of umami flavor that I enjoyed. The wontons were soft and had a good amount of filling in them (pork I believe), but I really enjoyed just drinking the broth.

Wonton soup

Alice and I both wanted an egg roll but the only thing they had on the menu was called a vegetable roll. It turned out to be more like a spring roll, though the size was more in line with an egg roll. While I found the spring roll wrapper to be pretty crispy, Alice thought it was a tad oily. I liked the filling though, with lots of crisp shredded veggies. It was flavorful and seasoned enough that we didn’t need any sort of dipping sauce.

Vegetable rolls

One of our favorite dishes to order at any Chinese restaurant is the pan fried noodles. Old Sichuan’s version was really tasty – chock full of crunchy vegetables and lots of meat. We got the house special version that came with chicken, pork, and shrimp. My only wish was that there were more noodles in the dish. The serving of noodles was a bit paltry, and there was so much sauce and toppings that they got soggy very quickly. The best part of pan fried noodles is the fried noodles, which should be thin and super crispy. While the dish tasted good, the noodles weren’t the star that they should have been.

House special pan fried noodles

Pork with garlic sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and Old Sichuan’s version was one of the best that we’ve ever had. The dish featured plenty of shredded pork sauteed with crunchy celery and wood ear. The garlic sauce was flavorful and had a nice kick to it, with just enough spice to tingle your tongue and lips but not to overwhelm your taste buds. It’s great spooned over a nice pile of white rice, which helps temper the spiciness.

Pork with garlic sauce

We ordered sesame chicken at my request. Kind of blasphemous I guess, considering this is more of an authentic Chinese restaurant rather than a place that caters to American tastes. But I was in the mood for a sweet, sticky sauce, and I was actually blown away by how good this dish turned out to be. Usually the chicken in sesame chicken is heavily battered and fried, so that it’s hard to tell if you’re eating breading or chicken. This chicken barely had any coating on it, and it was super tender and juicy on the inside. The sauce covering the chicken wasn’t overly sweet or gloppy, and had a nice savory aspect to it. There were lots of sesame seeds sprinkled on top, and there was some plain broccoli on the side that I enjoyed dipping into the sauce and eating.

Sesame chicken

We also got an order of house special fried rice that had lots of scrambled egg and pork, chicken, and shrimp mixed in. It was fine, not too greasy, and a good complement to our other dishes.

House special fried rice

Surprisingly, one of the last dishes to arrive at our table was the soup dumplings (usually they come first as an appetizer). We got an order of the pork ones, and they were absolutely fabulous. The skins were super thin but still had a nice chew to them, the filling was intensely porky, and there was lots of hot broth to slurp up. We doused them with a bit of black vinegar and ginger, and they were just perfect.

Pork soup dumpling

Overall we really enjoyed the food at Old Sichuan Cuisine. I wonder if the owners are still the same as when it was New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe, but regardless, I would definitely go back there. Even though service seemed a bit off, with appetizers and entrees arriving all jumbled together, the food was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had recently. We ordered the perfect amount for seven people – every dish was polished off and we were all satisfied but not bursting full. Prices are incredibly reasonable, even for Chinatown. I think our bill was about $65 in total. The menu is extensive with lots of authentic Chinese dishes as well as standard Americanized favorites. Definitely try out the pork in garlic sauce if you go; Old Sichuan’s version renewed our love for this dish. And don’t forget about the soup dumplings!

Old Sichuan Cuisine
65 Bayard St. between Mott and Elizabeth St.
New York, NY


Re-visiting Fat Sal’s Pizza

Saturday, June 11th, 2011 by virginia

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve written about delivery pizza. Anyone remember our quest to find the best delivery pizza in our neighborhood? So that quest kind of stalled out, mostly because we never did end up finding a go-to place. We did settle between two options, La Traviata on West 68th St. and LJ Pizza on 10th Ave. La Traviata seems like a higher quality pie but the crust is a bit thicker than we’d like. LJ’s sauce is a bit too sweet but they have great sandwiches and are a bit cheaper as well. Either way, nothing really stood out as the best delivery pizza in our area, and believe me, we’ve pretty much exhausted our options at this point.

So a few weeks ago, we got a very interesting email from a person saying he was the owner of Fat Sal’s and that he only recently read our original post from August 2009 where we got a pizza delivery that looked like this:

Our first impression of Fat Sal's pizza

Obviously, we were horrified by the state in which our pizza arrived. There had been a mix up with our address on the order, so given the circumstances, we decided to give Fat Sal’s another chance. The pizza arrived a bit disheveled, but nothing like the first time. Still, we weren’t really impressed with the pizza, and decided to write the place off as a lost cause.

So coming back to the email that we got from the owner, he said he wanted to apologize and correct the bad impression that we had even though it was a delay of a year and eight months since our original post. He also offered us a free dinner and hoped that we would be happy with the way the food arrived, as well as the quality. Needless to say, Josh and I were pretty shocked to receive such an email, especially after such a long time since those posts. We were impressed that the owner still saw the need to write us an apology, and his offer of a free dinner was very generous.

While we decided against taking him up on his offer, we did decide to give Fat Sal’s one last shot, to see if the pizza had improved since our last order. We placed the order online, making sure to put in the correct address this time, but we didn’t give any indication of who we were or reference the owner’s letter. The pizza arrived pretty promptly, and we popped open the box eagerly to see how the it looked. To my shock, as I flung open the top, a slice of pizza went flying through the air and landed on the floor. I grabbed the slice (5 second rule!) and quickly replaced it, all the while laughing hysterically. Apparently the box had been accidentally closed on the slice so that the lid was stuck to the cheese. If I had opened the box a bit slower, the slice would have just fallen back into the box, but because I had opened it so exuberantly, the momentum caused the slice to fling into the air. It really wasn’t a big deal, but given the circumstances and our past history with Fat Sal’s, it was pretty funny.

Where the slice stuck to the box

Once I replaced the slice, the pizza looked pretty good. The crust was thin and properly browned. There looked like a good ratio of cheese and sauce, and the pizza was still hot, which is always important.

A slight pie mishap but no harm done

The pizza was pretty good, better than I remembered. The crust was thinner and crispier, but still had a nice chew. The cheese was not too thick and the sauce had a zippy tang to it.


Slice up close

The bottom of the crust had a nice char but wasn’t overcooked. I like a good amount of browning but I hate it when there are black spots that just taste burnt. This was a nice balance and made the crust delicately crispy rather than crunchy.


Underside shot

We also got a meatball hero, which I was a big fan of the last time we ordered. On the ordering website, I forgot to select the “parm” option so it came without cheese, but the meatballs were still flavorful and pretty tender. The red sauce on top was great, not too sweet with just the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of the meat. The bread was toasted so it was crispy on the outside but still soft and chewy on the inside.

Meatball hero

Lastly, we got an order of garlic knots. They were a bit chewy and slightly cold but were covered in lots of tasty garlic. Popping them in the oven to reheat briefly really improved their texture.

Garlic knots

Overall we were actually pretty pleased with our order from Fat Sal’s. We could see that it had improved in quality since the last time we ordered, back in December 2009, and the food arrived pretty quickly. There was a slight mishap with the slice stuck to the box but nothing major like the first time we got a pizza from there. The food is very reasonably priced, on par with most of the pizza places around here, and we found a $3 off coupon on their website that we were able to print out and use without any issues. I’d definitely consider Fat Sal’s the next time we have a pizza craving. Kudos to the owner for sending us that email because if we hadn’t heard from him, we probably wouldn’t have ordered from there ever again, and we wouldn’t have known their food had improved. In the end, we were glad that we decided to give the place another shot.

Fat Sal’s Pizza (multiple locations)
730 1oth Ave. at 50th St.
New York, NY

Chifa Sipan (Cusco, Peru)

Friday, June 10th, 2011 by virginia

As strange as it may sound, Chinese food is actually really popular in Peru. We saw lots of Chinese restaurants in Cusco and Lima and wondered if we should give it a shot. Our tour guide in Cusco recommended a place for lunch called Chifa Sipan, saying that it offered classic Peruvian Chinese food. Not knowing what that meant, we decided to take him up on his recommendation and try it out.

Josh saw peking duck on the menu and immediately jumped on it. Peking duck is one of his favorite dishes, but this version was like nothing we had seen before. It turned out to be thin slices of duck on a bed of deep fried rice noodles. There was no crispy skin, no wraps or buns, no strips of raw scallions or cucumbers, and no hoisin sauce. It definitely wasn’t peking duck as we know it, but at least the duck itself was tender, and the brown sauce it was doused in had decent flavor.

"Peking duck" Peruvian style

We also picked another one of Josh’s favorite dishes, pork in garlic sauce. Again, this particular version wasn’t recognizable to us. The pork was in large slices rather than the smaller, shredded kind we’re used to, and it was much darker in color than we expected pork to be. Unfortunately the meat was kind of tough and chewy. The pork was sauteed with lots of veggies – broccoli, peppers, scallions – which I liked for the health factor (we hadn’t been eating too many vegetables on our trip) and the crunchiness factor.

Pork with garlic sauce

We also got an order of chaufa – fried rice – to round out our meal. The fried rice was the most recognizable dish for us, and had lots of roast pork in it. This pork was much tastier and tender compared to the pork in garlic sauce, and it had the barbecue flavor we’re used to in char siu.

Chaufa especial - fried rice

Overall we found the Chinese food at Chifa Sipan to be a bit of a mixed bag. I think we just didn’t know what to order and tried to order dishes like we normally like here in the U.S., but the Peruvian version was not what we were expecting. I wouldn’t be adverse to trying it again if I knew what the specialty dishes are, or at least what locals usually order. The restaurant itself had kind of an old school Chinese joint decor, and service was fine. The three dishes we ordered was a lot of food, more than we could finish. Prices were very reasonable, and our meal with a few sodas came out to 52 soles, or less than US$20. It might feel counter-intuitive to eat Chinese food in Peru, but it really is part of their local culture. Peruvian fusion food isn’t new to us here in NYC either – Nobu is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and there is a restaurant in Chinatown called Red Egg that is Chinese-Peruvian fusion. I would love to eat at Nobu, of course, but I’m also curious enough to give Red Egg a shot one of these days. If you’re in Peru, try it out. Just ask for recommendations or specialties first.

Chifa Sipan
Calle Quera 251
Cusco, Peru

Peru Days 13 & 14 – Cusco

Sunday, June 5th, 2011 by virginia

We had two full free days in Cusco and spent our time relaxing, wandering through the city, shopping, drinking and, of course, eating. It was a nice way to wind down our trip, since our itinerary had been so jam packed up until this point. We basically slept in, had breakfast, walked around, did a little shopping, grabbed lunch, walked around some more, then went back to our hotel for a little rest. Afterward, we’d head out to a pub for a drink, then go for dinner. Not a bad way to spend our time!

Scenery around Cusco:

One of the areas we walked around was called San Blas, which is the artists’ district. It’s uphill from the center of Cusco, which made it a pretty tiring walk because we had to climb up a lot of steep steps. Once we got there, however, we saw lots of funky little shops selling all kinds of art, as well as larger workshops where they do the actual handiwork. We looked around for a while but most of the items we liked were pretty expensive.

Artist workshop

Courtyard behind the church of San Blas

Church bells

Fortunately the artisan market was a more reasonable place to shop. There were lots of stalls to browse through, and choices between mass produced items and handmade crafts. We did a little bargaining while we were there, though prices weren’t too bad to begin with. The key to bargaining is to get larger quantities of items, rather than trying to negotiate for a single piece.

Fountain near the artisan market

Another fountain

We also shopped at some smaller markets, which we would stumble upon randomly while we walked through the streets. There was a pretty good one near the famous 12 sided Inca stone. The stone is sort of hidden in an alleyway among many other Inca stones, so just look for a crowd gathered around a particular spot.

12-sided Inca stone - count 'em!

As for the pubs we visited, we mostly stayed around the main square. There was one in particular, the Cross Keys, that we liked. It had a British theme and it seemed like a hang out for English speaking foreigners. They were showing soccer on TVs and we just hung out for a while. I stuck with Cusquenos but Josh was craving something darker and tried out a few of the English beers they had on hand. A lot of the bars around the main square have 2-for-1 happy hours, but just for mixed drinks, not beers. I didn’t mind, as I found pisco sours to be tasty, refreshing, and intoxicating.

All in all, Cusco was a great place to finish up our trip. It’s a low key city that’s nice to walk around. There was lots to see in terms of beautiful buildings and intricate Inca stonework, but we didn’t feel any pressure to constantly be in tourist mode. Our favorite parts were just hanging out, eating/drinking on balconies overlooking the square. We had some good meals and a not so great restaurant experience, but more on that later. I promise, we’re almost done!


Wednesday, June 1st, 2011 by virginia

There have been lots of different burger chains popping up around NYC and northern NJ recently. It seems like I’m reading about a new burger place opening up every week. Smashburger was one of the chains that I’ve been really eager to try. It’s gotten good reviews from several sources, and I liked variety of toppings and side dishes available on the menu. One Saturday afternoon, Josh and I were left to our own devices in NJ and we headed to Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack to check out the Smashburger branch that was closest to us.

There was a relatively long line to order, though it moved fairly quickly. We had time to peruse the menu posted on the wall and make our selections. After we placed our order, we found seats and got sodas from the fountain. The food was delivered to our table shortly afterward (when you order, they give you a number that you display on your table so they know where to bring your food).

First up, the burgers, of course. I decided to create my own burger and chose a 1/3 pound patty on a classic egg bun with aged swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles.

A 1/3 pound burger with swiss

The burger was true to its name, smashed flat while it cooked so that the edges were crisped up and the patty had a somewhat irregular shape to it. However, I found it to be a bit dry and incredibly bland. The swiss cheese helped, as did the toppings, but I ended up drowning it in ketchup to add some much needed moisture and flavor. It just seemed like the meat hadn’t been seasoned at all before it was cooked, and I was pretty disappointed.

Autopsy shot

Josh also decided to create his own burger, choosing a 1/2 pound patty on an egg bun with sharp cheddar, bacon, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and pickles. He also got some smash sauce, which came on the side and tasted a bit like russian dressing. What we found weird with his burger was that even though it was a 1/2 pound patty as opposed to the 1/3 pounder I got, his burger was smashed to the same degree of flatness, meaning that his burger was much bigger in diameter. That would have been fine except they use the same exact bun, and the burger overhang was way out of proportion. So much of the meat was off the bun, and because it was smashed so thin, the patty fell apart right away. He ended up having mostly burger with no bun, and it was incredibly messy to eat. His patty was also pretty tasteless, and while the cheddar and bacon helped, the cheese barely covered half the meat, and the three strips of bacon were pretty paltry compared to the size of the burger.

A 1/2 pound burger with bacon and cheddar

For our sides, we got an order of smashfries. They were shoestring fries tossed with rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. I liked that the fries were thin and crispy but surprisingly, the rosemary and garlic detracted from their flavor. I think there was too much rosemary and not enough garlic, but the taste was also kind of artificial. The olive oil also made the fries seem extremely greasy. I was incredibly disappointed with these fries, and probably would have enjoyed the plain french fries much more.

Rosemary and garlic smashfries

The haystack onions were much better, with thinly sliced and battered onions fried to crisp perfection. The onion strings were well seasoned, and we gobbled down a good portion of the basket.

Haystack onions

We also got an order of fried pickles because, why not? The thin slices of dill pickles were also battered and fried, and I like the sourness mixed with the saltiness of the batter. The pickles still had a nice crunch to them, and they came with buttermilk ranch dressing on the side for dipping.

Fried pickles

Overall Josh and I were both pretty disappointed with our Smashburger experience. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, or even that good. The burgers were pretty dry and tasteless, and smashing the patty was pretty detrimental to the larger 1/2 pound burger. I did like being able to create my own burger and having lots of different options to choose from, but in the end, the burger just wasn’t that impressive. I was also unimpressed with the smashfries, though I did like the other sides we got, especially the haystack onions. Prices are pretty reasonable, starting at $4.99 for the 1/3 pounder and $5.99 for the 1/2 pounder. Cheese is included, as are basic toppings, but certain add ons cost extra. Sides average around $2 each, and portions are pretty big and easily shareable. They also have chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, and salads available, but I’m guessing most people go to Smashburger for the burgers. Reading the menu now, it looks so good on paper. However, our experience just didn’t live up to expectations. I’m not really itching to go back, though I might give it another shot sometime just to make sure this wasn’t just a fluke. Otherwise, for me right now, it’s just another burger chain I can pass up.

Smashburger (multiple locations)
390 Hackensack Ave.
Hackensack, NJ