Posts Tagged ‘NJ’

The Saddle River Inn

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by virginia

Although I missed the blog’s third anniversary, Josh and I did celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary in May (yes, May) with a special meal at The Saddle River Inn. It was a celebration on multiple fronts, as we had also just closed on our new house the week beforehand. While I was in the middle of the second trimester and still feeling indifferent about food at the time, I was happy to go to The Saddle River Inn because it was the first “nice” restaurant that Josh and I ate in together, back in 1998 for his 17th birthday.

That was also the last time that we were there, and walking up to the restaurant, it looked exactly as how I remembered. The inside looked the same as well, although the room seemed a bit smaller and less imposing to me, 14 years later. Even though it was relatively late on a weekday, the dining room was surprisingly busy, though not packed. At the time, the restaurant offered a weekday prix fixe special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – 3 courses for $42, which isn’t too shabby considering entrees normally top $30.

The restaurant is a BYO, which is another bonus. Since we were celebrating, I wanted more than just a soda or water. We brought along a bottle of carmenere for Josh, and a bottle of sparkling grape juice for me. I wasn’t sure how the restaurant would handle the grape juice, since BYO doesn’t usually include non-alcoholic beverages, but our waiter initially mistook it for champagne and poured us both a fluteful to toast. Once he realized what it was, he just laughed and kept topping off my flute during dinner while Josh stuck with the wine. He didn’t make an issue about the grape juice or make me feel embarrassed about having it, which I appreciated.

Bread was served first, a thick piece of rustic sourdough bread with a heavy, crispy crust. The crust was a tad bit on the well done side, but I still enjoyed it slathered with a thick layer of butter.

Crusty sourdough bread

As usual, Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, although we had to be careful about picking items that I could eat. We started off with seared scallops and crab salad for our appetizer course. The seared scallops were served with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter. While the scallops were cooked perfectly, I found the dish to be entirely too sweet. To me, the sauce was a bit sticky and cloying, and I didn’t love the combination with the raisins. Josh, on the other hand, loved the dish, and found it to be well balanced and flavorful. It just goes to show that we don’t always have the same tastes!

Seared scallops with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter

On the other hand, I was a bigger fan of the crab salad than Josh was. The salad, which was a special that evening, featured lump crab meat served with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree. The crab was plump and fresh tasting, and paired perfectly with the tangy fruits and crunchy vegetables. It was a light and bright dish, simple, but flavorful enough to wake up my taste buds.

Crab salad with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree

For our main course, we shared the pork tenderloin and Pekin duck breast. The pork was served with a blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle. The dish sounded like it might be on the sweet side with the fruit compote, but the portwine sauce actually made the pork taste very savory, with a meaty, steak-like flavor. The pork was nice and tender, and I liked the chewiness of the spaetzle.

Pork tenderloin with blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle

On the other hand, the duck was served with a black peppercorn sauce, which I thought would be really savory, but it was mixed with raisins, which added a sweet element. Even though we asked for it to be cooked medium, the duck was pretty rare, which I would normally like, but given my pregnancy restrictions, I only nibbled on the more cooked end pieces and let Josh eat most of the dish.

Pekin duck breast with sweet potato crepe, raisins, and black peppercorn sauce

For dessert, Josh picked the frozen cappuccino, which was pretty much what it sounded like – espresso at the bottom, coffee ice cream, whipped cream foam on top. Tasty, though not very exciting.

Frozen cappuccino dessert

I chose the passion fruit tart, which really hit the spot. The passion fruit filling was slightly tart, not too sweet. The crust was subtly almond flavored, and the coconut gelato on the side really gave the dessert a tropical feel.

Passion fruit tart with almond crust and coconut gelato

Overall, we found the food at The Saddle River Inn to be pretty solid, though nothing was spectacular. We weren’t wowed by any of the dishes, but nothing really turned us off either, although the scallop appetizer was borderline for me. I thought the prix fixe was a good deal, but if we had been paying a la carte prices, I might have felt more disappointed. I think everything fell just slightly short in execution, and while it was mostly tasty, there wasn’t anything really exciting about the food. It’s a nice restaurant though, with good service, and I might give it another shot for another special occasion, but it isn’t really somewhere that we would go regularly.

The Saddle River Inn
2 Barnstable Court
Saddle River, NJ

Cafe La Maison

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by virginia

Like Joey from Friends, I love sandwiches. I like the endless possibilities that sandwiches offer – different breads, different fillings, different condiments. You can make up a different combination every time. When Josh’s parents introduced us to Cafe La Maison in Fort Lee, it was like sandwich heaven. They have 30 varieties of gourmet sandwiches, on your choice of bread, plus assorted wraps, salads, and pastas.

The first time we went, Josh and I had a hard time deciding which sandwiches to try. We ended up splitting the Garden State sandwich and the Fab Four grilled cheese. The Garden State featured turkey, fresh mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, arugula, and olive oil. We opted for a soft Italian hero, which had a nice chewy texture but was a bit too thick and dense. The turkey was thickly sliced and tasted fresh, though between that and all the bread, the sandwich did get a bit dry. The sun dried tomatoes helped cut through it with its tangy saltiness, but I wished there was some sort of dressing on it, and more olive oil. I ended up using some honey mustard, which provided some much needed moisture. I’m sure I could have gotten some balsamic vinaigrette, or better yet, some pesto sauce, if I had asked for some.

The Garden State sandwich

The Fab Four grilled cheese featured fresh mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, swiss, bacon, and tomato. We chose rye bread, which was buttered before it was grilled, making the outside nice and crispy while the filling was just oozing warm, melted cheese. The bacon added yet another layer of richness and decadence, but the tomato sort of faked you into thinking that the sandwich really wasn’t that bad for you. Hey, at least we split one, right? Truthfully, the sandwich was so delicious and such a hit with us that we ordered it on our next visit to Cafe La Maison as well.

Fab Four Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese innards

On our second visit, we also shared the grilled chicken and eggplant hero on Italian bread. The sandwich had a thick piece of grilled chicken breast, thin slices of breaded eggplant, fresh mozzarella, marinara sauce, and pesto on it. It was like a chicken/eggplant parm sandwich, only better. The chicken was moist and and tender, and the eggplant wasn’t soggy or greasy. The pesto added a nice basil flavor, and the marinara sauce was sweet and tangy. Even the bread was better this time around, more crisp on the outside and not as thick. It was a really well constructed sandwich.

Grilled chicken and eggplant hero

All of the sandwiches are served with a light cole slaw that isn’t drowning in mayo, and a sour pickle spear. On the first visit, we shared a basket of sweet potato fries. The fries were fantastic – light, crispy, not the least bit greasy. We happily dipped them in honey mustard sauce.

Sweet potato fries

On our second visit, we opted for the regular fries. These were also crispy and grease-less, but they were pretty flavorless as well. We tried salting them liberally with salt from the shaker but even that didn’t help. I would stick with the sweet potato fries from now on, which not only tasted better, but are probably a bit more nutritious as well.

Regular french fries

Overall I think Cafe La Maison is one of my new favorite lunch places to go to when we’re in NJ. The restaurant is kind of small but it’s bright and comfortable. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the kinds of sandwiches they offer, but I haven’t seen anyone disappointed with their choices so far. The ingredients they use are fresh and top notch, and it’s the kind of place where we’ll happily return to time and time again. The menu is very reasonably priced, with most of the sandwiches, wraps, and salads coming in under $10. They also serve assorted baked goods and breakfast items, like eggs and pancakes. It’s definitely a nice little place to have in the neighborhood.

Cafe La Maison
140 Main St.
Fort Lee, NJ

Cafe Panache

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 by virginia

This meal took place in September so I apologize if my details are a bit fuzzy. We had heard that Cafe Panache was one of the best restaurants in Bergen County, NJ and I had read several positive reviews about the food so we decided to try it out one weekend with Josh’s parents. We called for a reservation earlier in the day and were happy to find out that they would be able to seat us that night. The restaurant is located in Ramsey and is on Main St. so it was pretty easy to find.

When we walked into the restaurant, we were seated pretty much immediately. Unfortunately, I think we had the worst table in the house. We were in an alcove away from the main dining room, and we were seated at the very last table, right in front of the kitchen. There were servers and busboys constantly coming in and out of the kitchen, and it was sort of disruptive. We probably should have asked for a new table but we didn’t realize we would be in the middle of the hustle and bustle until after we had already settled in and had started drinking our wine (the restaurant is BYO).

We figured that we got the bad table because we had made a same day reservation so we tried to brush it off. After all, we were here for the food. We made our dinner selections and snacked on the olives and bread they brought us. The olives were covered in some oil and chili flakes, which gave them a nice little kick. The bread was white dinner rolls that had a decent crust but were pretty standard.

Assorted olives

Dinner roll

Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, per usual. For our appetizers, Josh selected the filet mignon ravioli with truffle butter while I chose the crostini of foie gras mousse. We were drawn in by the truffle butter advertised with the raviolis, but also because we had never seen filet mignon as a filling before. The filling had an intensely beefy flavor, though it was sort of mushy. As for the truffle butter, we couldn’t detect much truffle flavor at all, which was kind of disappointing since we’re both huge truffle fans. Nevertheless, it was a decent dish, and rich enough that the three ravioli portion was still satisfying.

Filet mignon ravioli

The crostini of foie gras mousse was also a pretty rich appetizer. The mousse was spread on top of three fairly large pieces of toasted bread and served with a small salad and apple slices. The mousse was creamy and thick but it didn’t have the subtle foie gras flavor that I was expecting. It had a pretty strong liver taste and if I didn’t know it was supposed to be foie gras mousse, I would have thought it was chicken liver pate. The salad helped cut through the richness of the mousse, and I liked the crispy apple slices that balanced out the creaminess of the liver.

Crostini of foie gras mousse

For the main course, Josh chose a duck dish while I opted for a steak dish. To be honest, I don’t remember how the duck was prepared. All I remember was that the duck was really, really rare. We like rare meat, even for duck, but this was beyond rare. The duck had a gelatinous texture and was pretty chewy. We probably should have sent it back but just didn’t think it was worth waiting for. That would have thrown off the flow of the meal, and we weren’t so thrilled with the overall dish to begin with.

Super rare duck breast

I was intrigued by the steak dish because the menu called it a sirloin steak confit. I’ve never had a steak that was confited before, and I was curious as to how it would turn out. From my understanding, confit is usually duck cooked in its own fat. So I thought the steak would be poached in beef fat and have a soft, falling apart kind of texture to it. Maybe the steak was just pan fried in beef fat, because to me, it just had the texture of regular steak. There was nothing really different about it, and while it was a fine piece of meat, the accompanying garlic soy reduction just completely overpowered the beef. The steak was absolutely covered in the sauce, which made the meat extremely salty. My mouth was puckering after a few bites, and I ended up trying to cut the meat so that I avoided the sauce completely. It was really too bad because the steak was cooked nicely to a beautiful rare, as ordered, but the sauce pretty much ruined the meat.

Sirloin steak confit with garlic and soy reduction

Steak autopsy shot

For dessert, we all decided to share a creme brulee. It was perfectly fine, with a crackly sugar crust on top and good vanilla flavor.

Creme brulee

Our waiter brought us an additional dessert on the house, which was very nice of him. I think it was some sort of peach cake with whipped cream on the side. The cake was very moist and not too sweet. It had great peach flavor, and I actually liked the cake more than the creme brulee, though both were very well prepared.

Peach cake dessert

Overall I think we were all pretty disappointed with our food at Cafe Panache. We had high expectations for it because we had heard/read some very nice things about the restaurant but it didn’t measure up for us in the end. There were definite missteps with our meal, like the undercooked duck and the overly salty steak. While our appetizers were passable, they just don’t wow us. Desserts were the highlight of the meal, and since neither Josh nor I have much a sweet tooth, that’s not really a good thing. It wasn’t only just me and Josh who were displeased. Alice ordered a homemade pasta with lobster for her entree, a special of the evening, and while the pasta was beautifully cooked and there was massive amounts of lobster mixed in, the dish was completely flavorless. Even the lobster was bland. We were pretty flabbergasted by that. Service was fine, and we appreciated the extra dessert our waiter brought. Maybe he noticed that none of us seemed thrilled with our food but whatever the reason, it was a nice gesture. Still, I don’t think that we’ll be coming back anytime soon. I did like the fact that the restaurant is BYO but it’s still pretty expensive, and I’m not sure that it was really worth it.

Cafe Panache
130 East Main St.
Ramsey, NJ

Country Pancake House and Restaurant

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010 by virginia

We were in NJ one weekend and went for brunch with Alice at the Country Pancake House and Restaurant in Ridgewood. It’s sort of like a homestyle diner, with a massive menu and even more massive portions. There’s a huge list of breakfast options, with many different kinds of eggs, omelettes, waffles, frittatas, etc., and, of course, pancakes. There are also multiple lunch/dinner options, with sandwiches, burgers, chicken, even seafood and steaks. Since it was still early, we decided to stick with the breakfast items, though there were so many choices that it was a bit overwhelming. We finally made our selections and settled in to munch on the basket of chocolate chip cornbread that they brought us.

Chocolate chip cornbread

The cornbread was sweet and fluffy, lightly toasted on the outside, and chock full of chocolate chips. They were a tad on the sweet side but still a pretty tasty way to start off the meal.

The restaurant also has a pretty extensive juice bar, so Josh decided to get a glass of cantaloupe and carrot juice. It was bright orange and a little frothy on top. Taste-wise, I thought the carrot flavor was stronger than the cantaloupe flavor. It was pretty refreshing though, with the natural sweetness of the vegetable and fruit shining through. I felt healthier just drinking a little bit of it.

Cantaloupe and carrot juice

For breakfast, I chose the country corned beef hash platter, which was a huge pile of corned beef hash topped with three poached eggs. It came with a side of home fries, but I substituted french fries, and two giant pancakes (I selected chocolate chip). The amount of food I got was just ridiculous, and there was no way for me to finish it all.

Corned beef hash, three poached eggs, french fries

The eggs were all perfectly poached, soft on the outside and runny on the inside. The corned beef has was nice and meaty, with not too much diced potato filler. It wasn’t overly salty, and when I mixed it with the egg yolks it became rich and velvety. The french fries were crispy and a little seasoned, just the way I like them.

Nicely poached eggs with runny yolks

The chocolate chip pancakes that came with my platter were the size of dinner plates, and there were two of them. They were light and fluffy and studded with lots of chips.

Chocolate chip pancakes

Both Josh and Alice chose the country spirit platter, which came with three eggs any style (they opted for over easy), bacon, sausage, ham, home fries, and pancakes. And no, it wasn’t a choice between bacon, sausage, or ham, the platter came with all three. They both also opted for blueberry pancakes, which were just as large as mine.

Blueberry pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, ham, home fries

We barely made a dent in our platters though, and all around us, everyone was getting huge doggy bags to go. After we had eaten our fill, I combined all of our leftovers and ended up taking home four eggs, four pieces of bacon, two pieces of ham, one sausage, about a pound of home fries, a huge pile of corned beef hash, and a huge pile of french fries. On top of that, we had four pancakes left over, three blueberry and one chocolate chip. This amount of food lasted me the entire week. I ended up eating some of it for lunch and some of it for dinner.

Despite the insane amount of food we each received, everything was well prepared and properly cooked. All of our eggs were appropriately runny, the bacon was perfectly crispy, and everything was served hot. To top it off, our platters were under $10 each. How can you beat that?

I feel like there’s some sort of Man vs. Food challenge in here somewhere. Adam Richman – if you’re looking for a place to visit in the northern NJ area, the Country Pancake House and Restaurant definitely fits the bill!

Country Pancake House and Restaurant
140 East Ridgewood Ave.
Ridgewood, NJ

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

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


Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by virginia

Josh left for one of his business trips on a Sunday morning, which was a bit unusual as he typically has weekends free even with all the traveling he does. Luckily for me, Josh’s parents kept up the Sunday night dinner tradition even though both Jess and Lisa were out of commission that particular Sunday as well. Instead of eating in the city, however, they picked me up earlier in the evening and we decided to try out an Italian restaurant in NJ called Tomaso’s, in Edgewater.

The restaurant is kind of in an awkward location, as its parking lot entrance is on River Road but the restaurant itself is set further back, away from the main road. The building is a bit nondescript from the outside but the décor on the inside had an understated elegance to it. We were given a basket of bread to munch on while we looked over the menu, and it was really good, crispy bread that bode well for things to come.

The bread was served warm and had a crust that shattered nicely. The inside was chewy, and when spread with a little bit of butter, it was totally addictive to eat. I think we went through three baskets before our meal was over, which is impressive considering there were only three of us.

Crispy and chewy bread

There was kind of a mix-up with our appetizer order, as we all wanted to try the antipasto caldo that featured clams oreganata, shrimp, eggplant rollatini, mozzarella en carrozza, and stuffed mushrooms. Lloyd ordered “the hot antipasto for three”, and our waiter said that there was only one of each item in one order, and we said it was fine, but we wanted it for three people. I guess he misunderstood what was said and thought that we wanted to share one antipasto order with three people, instead of three antipasto orders, so they only brought one dish. Sure enough there was only one of each item except for the clams oreganata, which came with two, but the eggplant rollatini and mozzarella en carrozza were big enough to share. Realizing the mistake, we quickly placed an order for another antipasto dish, seeing that two orders would be enough for the three of us, and divvied up what was already brought.

Antipasto caldo

The mozzarella en carrozza was my favorite, with a light, crispy outside and gooey cheese in the middle. It was better than any frozen mozzarella stick, for sure. The eggplant rollatini was really tasty as well, tender and cheesy, and the restaurant definitely makes a really good red sauce that is tangy and not too sweet. While the clams tasted predominately of bacon, the stuffed mushroom was flavorful and earthy, and the shrimp was perfectly cooked.

We also ordered a Caesar salad to share between the three of us, which might have added to the confusion regarding the hot antipasto order. The salad was lightly dressed but packed a good garlic punch, and we all enjoyed it a lot.

Caesar salad

Since it was our first visit to this restaurant, I had to get my chicken parmigiana tester. And fortunately, it passed with flying colors. The chicken was pounded thin, had a nice crust, and was covered in a good amount of sauce and cheese. The red sauce here is really exemplary, one of the best that I’ve had. The chicken came with a side of spaghetti that was cooked al dente, and the portion was quite generous.

Chicken parmigiana with spaghetti

Alice went with the meat lasagna, which was also a large portion. The meat sauce was flavorful and there was lots of cheese throughout, making the dish very rich overall. I ended up taking home both my leftovers and hers, which I ate for lunch the next two days.

Meat lasagna

Lloyd had the veal saltimbocca, which was thin pieces of veal topped with prosciutto and sautéed in white wine. The veal was served with spinach and mashed potatoes that were ok but we all thought that the meat was a bit tough, and there was too much prosciutto on top. It wasn’t terrible, but definitely not as good as the dishes that featured red sauce.

Overall we thought our meal at Tomaso’s hit some pretty high highs and not too many lows. We loved the red sauce they served, and the wonderfully crispy bread. I think your best bet would be to stick with classic Italian dishes, like parmigiana and pasta. The portions are large and the food is comforting and hearty. Aside from the early mix-up regarding our appetizers, service was attentive and efficient. Prices are pretty reasonable, and its proximity to the city is always a bonus for us. I’m sure we’ll be back here, especially since most of the Sunday dinner crew missed out on this enjoyable meal.

163 River Road
Edgewater, NJ

In Search of the Elusive Shamrock Shake

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by virginia

After filling our bellies with burgers and fries at White Manna, Josh and I continued on our Jersey food adventure and went in search of the famous Shamrock Shakes from McDonald’s. I’ve heard about Shamrock Shakes in passing but admittedly never thought too much about them. After reading about them on Serious Eats and on various other blogs, I started to get curious about how hard or easy it would be to find the shake in northern NJ, since they don’t seem to be available anywhere in Manhattan.

There is a McDonald’s almost directly across the street from White Manna but we didn’t see any signs for the Shamrock Shake, and it’s hard to make the left turn onto River Street from White Manna. Instead, Josh decided to search on his iphone for Shamrock Shake sightings on, the website where people post confirmations about which McDonald’s offer the shake and which do not.

The closest confirmed sighting was in Paramus on Route 17 North. We headed for the highway but the mall traffic on Route 4 diverted us from going the more direct way. We decided to take back roads, and in doing so I knew that we would be passing by a McDonald’s in River Edge that was much closer. We pulled into the lot but didn’t see any Shamrock Shake posters there either. Bad sign.

Undeterred, Josh hopped out of the car and went inside to ask. He was gone for 10 minutes, and I figured that he must have been successful. Indeed, he came out carrying two shakes in medium sized soda cups. He said that when he first walked in and asked about the Shamrock Shakes, he was promptly rejected. As he turned to walk out, the counterperson called him back and said that he was wrong, they had just gotten the shakes in that day. Perfect!!

I quickly removed the lid from one of the cups and took a peek at my very first Shamrock Shake. At first glance, the shakes were a very light green in color, with darker green swirls. A quick sip yielded mostly vanilla flavor, with a few hints of mint.

Darker green swirls in an unmixed Shamrock Shake

Using the straw, I mixed up the shake as best as I could so that it was a pale green color overall, without the darker green swirls. My second sip yielded more minty flavor, but it was still pretty subtle.

After mixing, the shake is a pale green color with subtle mint flavor

The verdict? Not bad, but also not mind blowing. It did have a refreshing minty-ness to it without tasting like toothpaste, which was a good thing, but if you really didn’t know what you were drinking you’d probably think it was just vanilla flavored.

Some people on other sites complained about getting whipped cream and a cherry on top, but ours didn’t come with those. Our shakes also weren’t served in the smaller clear McCafe cups, but in regular medium sized soda cups. They definitely didn’t mix the syrup into the shake very well but that was easily remedied using the straw. I can’t comment on the mint factor though, or lack thereof, since I’ve never had a Shamrock Shake before.

I do think that the main appeal of these shakes are that they’re only offered for a limited time, and finding a McDonald’s that serves one is half the fun. Josh and I were more thrilled with our success than with the actual shake itself. Would I drink another one? Sure, but I won’t go out of my way to find one the next time.

McDonald’s (multiple locations)
1118 Main Street
River Edge, NJ

White Manna

Sunday, February 28th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I grew up less than five minutes away from the White Manna hamburger stand in Hackensack, NJ but we never ate there until after we had moved into the city. It’s kind of sad when we think about how many burgers we missed out on over the years so whenever we’re home visiting our parents, we always try to make a trip to White Manna either for lunch or a quick snack. In recent years, however, the stand’s popularity has really increased due to more exposure on food blogs and on TV shows, such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. As a result, every time we try to go, the line is usually out the door.

The restaurant is tiny and has approximately 20 stools altogether. The prime spots are at the main counter where you can watch the burgers cooking on the large griddle. Surprisingly, it’s not too difficult to get a seat even when the restaurant is busy, as most people take their orders to go.

The menu

The menu is posted up on the wall behind the main counter. In addition to burgers, they also offer cheesesteaks and breakfast items such as omelets, though I’ve never seen anyone order breakfast. I wonder if they really do even make those? While it can get a bit hectic, especially when it’s crowded and people are packed into the small space, there’s still some semblance of order. People line up and call out their burger requests to the cook manning the grill, and it’s amazing that nothing is written down, yet the cook always remembers each order exactly. To prevent from sounding like a newbie, there are a few simple rules to remember:

1. Know where you are in line. Though people try to line up single file down the middle of the restaurant, the line tends to mash up when more people try to smush their way into the restaurant. The people working behind the counter don’t know who’s next so everyone is on the honor system to order only when it’s their turn. If you call out when it’s not your turn, the people ahead of you will make it quite known that you’re out of order.

2. When it’s your turn to order, call out to the cook what kind of burgers you want and how many of each. When ordering your burgers, you can either get it with cheese or without, with onions or without, and single or double patties. It’s important to note that the cook only takes burger orders. If you want a drink or french fries, someone else behind the counter will take that order.

3. When your burgers are almost ready, the cook will ask if you’re staying or going. If you’re staying, they’ll pile your burgers onto a paper plate with a large handful of pickle slices. There are ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce bottles on the counters so you can use whichever condiments you prefer. If you’re taking your order to go, you’ll have to tell them if you want pickles, and which condiments to put on the burgers. Each burger is then wrapped individually in wax paper and given to you in a paper bag.

4. When you’re paying, it’s up to you to remember exactly what you ordered as there is no bill or check. Usually when you eat in, you can pay when you’re finished. Just remember that there are no free refills on soda, so count each drink individually.

5. While service is informal, it’s still nice to leave a tip for the cook and the counter workers as they’re really busy standing on their feet all day getting orders out as quickly as possible to keep up with the demand. There’s a tip bucket on the counter in front of the cook so you can just drop in a few bucks before you leave. Prices are super cheap so it’s easy to leave a decent tip, percentage-wise.

On this particular visit, Josh and I had been craving White Manna burgers for months so we decided that we would stay no matter what the line looked like. As usual, when we pulled up, the line was snaking its way out the door. We waited outside for a few minutes until more space opened up inside, and then we squeezed our way into the tiny restaurant. I snagged some empty counter seats for us while Josh stood in line to place our order.

Even though the line was relatively long, it only took about 10 minutes for our turn to order, and another 20 minutes to get the food. It wasn’t super fast, but it wasn’t too long either, and we entertained ourselves by observing how the burgers are made.

Watching the burgers cooking up on the griddle

We also got two sodas and an order of fries, which came almost immediately so we munched on the fries while we waited for our burgers. The fries are the crinkle cut frozen variety, a la the Shake Shack, but they’re always just-fried, piping hot, crispy on the outside, and have nice potato flavor on the inside.

Crispy crinkle cut french fries

We got five hamburgers and five cheeseburgers, all singles and with onions. They’re not huge burgers, maybe a little over an ounce each, so they’re closer to sliders than regular burgers.

A pile of burgers with pickle slices on the side

The cheeseburgers are each covered with a slice of American cheese that are the perfect size for these small patties. The onions are sliced super thin so they get nice and caramelized during their time on the griddle, and they add an extra boost of flavor.

Cheeseburger with onions, up close

The hamburgers seemed just a bit drier in texture, mostly because they didn’t have the coating of melted cheese. The burger patties are so small that they’re not really cooked to order, so some may get a bit more well done than others. The meat is somewhat coarsely ground and the patties are broken up a bit when they’re smashed on the griddle, resulting in a looser texture. The Martin’s potato rolls that they use are just perfect for soaking up all the juices that come off the burgers and the onions, and I love the squishiness of the buns.

Hamburger with pickles and onions, up close

We ended up getting way more food than we could actually eat, as the burgers are bigger and more filling than you think. Not a problem, we just got some wax paper from one of the counter workers and wrapped up the extra burgers to go. And the cost of our burger feast that included five hamburgers, five cheeseburgers, an order of fries, and three medium sodas? Just $20.06 after tax. We tossed a couple of bucks into the tip bucket and walked out with full bellies and a sack of leftover burgers, perfect for snacking on later. And when we left, the line was still out the door.

White Manna
358 River Street
Hackensack, NJ