This little piggy went to my belly!

Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar Is Turning Heads, in Bloomfield and Beyond

“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”    There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives.  As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself.   This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal.  Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.

I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong.  I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from.  If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.

In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work.  I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity.  This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer.  I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought!  My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it.  Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.

The anticipation was killing me!

The anticipation was killing me!

Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ.  I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about.  Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping.  We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.

Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right.  First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words.  It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie.  Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice!  That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE!  We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu.  Don’t judge us!  You would do the same thing!  It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.

Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon.  This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails.  We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute.  However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as,  Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System.  (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)

As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires.  In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in.  This occasion was no exception to our rule.

We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts.  Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop.  Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.

BACON ON BACON!!!!

BACON ON BACON!!!!

The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon.  I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward.  Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other.  Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel.

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences.  These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio.  Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings.  You get my point!

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce.  I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world.  No!  Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter.  The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win.  On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man.

To paraphrase Rick James, "Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! "

To paraphrase Rick James, “Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! “

Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived.  Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness.  WE WERE WRONG!  This was by far our favorite small plate of the night.  These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness.  The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass.  Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this.  There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.

While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal.  Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points).  This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive.  His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites.  My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point.  I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master.  A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside.  Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew.  My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth.  (TWSS)

This little piggy went to my belly!

This little piggy went to my belly!

After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship.  Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art.  Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good.  The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.

If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you.  Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine.  The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better.  In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands.  If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home.  Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!

 

if you don't order Oysters when you visit Brigantine Seafood we can no longer be friends.

Brigantine Seafood: New Location, Same Amount Of Awesome!

Ask any gallivanting gastronome to recommend a spot to eat in his or her neighborhood and you will find yourself in an hour long culinary conference discussing the innumerable options that are available.  You will be inundated with countless suggestions including, but not limited to, several steak slingers, a handful of hamburger hawkers, the rare ramen retailers, a surplus of sushi sellers, and a plethora of peddlers of Parisian fare. Foodies are as passionate about their local eateries as that guy, from work, that corners you near the water cooler to talk about his 16 fantasy football leagues, just a little less annoying.

During these delectable debates, a true fanatical foodie will often offer several recommendations for each type of fare that is discussed.  However, there is one category of restaurant that an epicurean usually only has one suggestion for because a truly superb one is extremely rare.  This unicorn of the gastronomic galaxy is none other than the five-star seafood joint, and this foodie’s recommendation is the ever impressive Brigantine Seafood, now located at 312 Lafayette Avenue in Hawthorne, NJ.

Brigantine Seafood

The relationship between a food lover and his or her Seafood Restaurant is a special bond that is about as stable as Gary Busey on a week-long bender teeming with crack-cocaine and hookers.  Seafood, in general, is one of the hardest foods to consistently deliver to a customer base at a high quality, for a good price, because of its delicate flavor and perishability.  These factors create a unique and daunting task for a Chef attempting to be creative in the kitchen without tossing all of his/her profits in the dumpster.  Furthermore, it only takes one or two disappointing dishes to spook the feral foodie causing him or her to seek out a new fish monger.

There are several reasons that Brigantine Seafood and I are still BFF’s after several years.  First off, the Owner and Chef, Alfred Ianniello, is as enthusiastic about the fish that he serves to his customers as his customers are about eating it.  Chef Al proves this zeal each and every day by traveling to the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, where he personally selects only the finest seafood.  Secondly, Chef Al does not skimp on the portions that are served at his restaurant, like some other spots that I have visited, and as you know, I can eat, so I appreciate this fact immensely.  Lastly, Brigantine Seafood has never scorned me, meaning that every time I eat there I not only leave satiated but satisfied as well.

Fish is a dish best served cold!

Click the picture to see my last review on this epic eatery!

If you read my blog regularly you are probably having a slight case of Déjà vu.  Relax, you are not crazy. I did in fact write a review on Brigantine Seafood once before, but they recently moved to a new, much larger, location in Hawthorne and I thought they could use the love of the interwebs.  The new digs are beautiful and add a wonderful touch of elegance that goes hand in hand with the fantastic food that is served at this eatery.  Plus, as stated above, I freaking love their food, so any excuse to visit Chef Al, is a win in my book.  Now, without further ado, I present to you the amazing food porn of Brigantine Seafood.

BYOB!!! Hooray!!!

BYOB!!! Hooray!!!

Since I am a fan of social outings that include booze, food, and friends, Kat and I invited our foodie friends Alex and Steph to join us for our most recent trip to Brigantine.  With us, we brought an eight pack of assorted craft beers, because Brigantine Seafood not only provides some of the best Seafood in the Tri-state area, they are also BYOB!  FTW!

Each time I go to Brigantine Seafood, I never know what I am going to eat, except of course for an order of Oysters, which are always out of this world.  I am sure the regular items on the menu are all great, however, a true Brigantine junkie knows it is all about the specials, and since Chef Al picks out the seafood daily, you just never know what you are going to get until the waitress rattles them off.  Brace yourselves too, because there are a crap load of specials, and each one sounds better than the last.

House of Carbs!

House of Carbs!

Other than the requisite oysters, we ordered the Grilled Octopus with White Bean Salad and a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Fried Goat Cheese for our appetizers, while we pondered our main course.  While discussing the most important decision of the evening we helped ourselves to some of fresh baked bread, olive oil, and opened our first beer.

Kat is not a fan of seafood, and at some Seafood Restaurants that could pose a problem, luckily Brigantine is not a one trick pony, and creates a few dishes for those who suffer from ichthyophobia. On this occasion, she chose the Pasta Primavera in a Vodka Sauce, but she wanted me to stress that her favorite dish is the Chicken Scarpariello, which she adores.  However, we were told by Chef Al, that he is adding aged steaks to the menu shortly and that might give that Chicken dish a solid run for its money.  Alex decided to go with the scallop dish, and Steph and I are suckers for whole fish, so we both decided on the Whole Bronzino.

if you don't order Oysters when you visit Brigantine Seafood we can no longer be friends.

If you don’t order Oysters when you visit Brigantine Seafood we can no longer be friends.

The oysters hit the table first and we were ecstatic.  As always they were scrumptious and ever so fresh.  The subtle, yet complex flavor of the oyster combined with the vinegar and horseradish sauces create a flavor that is both unique and memorable.  If you have yet to try raw oysters, I highly recommend ordering a sixer of these slippery wonders of the sea when you visit Brigantine.  You will not be disappointed!

I love Octopus, but not quite as much as those Manga weirdos.

I love Octopus, but not quite as much as those Manga weirdos.

While we were demolishing the Oyster plate, our Grilled Octopus was delivered, and it looked and smelled magnificent.  Most chefs will tell you that Octopus is a tough dish to prepare.  The fragile flavor of the meat is unassertive, creating an extremely fine margin of error when seasoning the dish.  Furthermore, under cooked octopus has a distinct rubbery texture, whereas if it is overcooked it will be dry and tasteless.  Due to these reasons, I only order Octopus at restaurants where I trust the Chef and his supply.  Luckily for us and now for you, this ain’t Chef Al’s first tentacle filled rodeo and this dish was stupendous!  The shy flesh of the octopus was the star of the dish, without being bland and it was grilled to perfection giving it the perfect mouthfeel.

Sorry Bessy, Goat Cheese is the number one salad cheese!

Sorry Bessy, Goat Cheese is the number one salad cheese!

As stated above, Kat is not a seafood fan, like the rest of us normal people, so while we were eating our treasures from the sea, she was partaking in this beautiful bed of greens paired with a warm, crispy, and creamy goat cheese croquette.  Even though I always order too much food when we visit Brigantine, Kat loves me, so she shares her exquisite croquette with me.  She is well aware that the map to my heart not only runs through my stomach but spends the weekend there.

Hello friends, meet these life altering scallops.

Hello friends, meet these life altering scallops.

After we finished our appetizers and the table was cleared our entrees began to arrive. Much like the many octopi dishes I have had in the past, Scallop dishes are always a gamble.  UNLESS you are at Brigantine, where Chef Al makes you wonder if you have ever actually eaten a scallop in your long and food filled life.  Alex allowed me to sample these delightful treats, and they so soft and buttery that I had food envy for a minute or two, as I savored this bite of brilliance.  Not to mention that when they were paired with the provided sauce I damn near mugged Alex for his remaining morsels of amazeballs.

If you are a vegitarian or vegan stop reading this caption it will only offend you.... You have been warned... I LOVE EATING AN ENTIRE ORGANISM!

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan stop reading this caption! It will only offend you…. You have been warned… I LOVE EATING AN ENTIRE ORGANISM!

My affliction of food envy was cured in a matters of moments when I took another bite of my meal.  There is something about the presentation and ritual of  eating a whole fish, I absolutely love.  It also helped that the fish itself was delicious.  I have had Bronzino that is overly salted and seasoned which ruins the gentle flavor of this European delicacy.  This fish however was seasoned expertly and cooked properly creating a balanced and flavorful dish without stomping on the fish’s widely celebrated flavor.

Hasta La Pasta. Get In My Belly!

Hasta La Pasta. Get In My Belly!

As far as Kat’s dish; sans fish, it was a solid pasta.  The sauce was on point, which is of course the back bone to any pasta dish, and the pasta itself was cooked as it should be, Al dente.  The addition of the fresh zucchini and mushrooms that were sharing space with the pasta added to the overall success of this dish.  I believe this would be the perfect option for a vegetarian if they were to find themselves as your dinner guests at Brigantine.

However you say it doesn't matter as long as you eat it!

It is okay to say no to drugs and war, but it is a travesty when you say no to pie!

This time around we decided not to get dessert because we were extremely full from our gluttonous meal, however if you are a dessert person do not miss out on their daily dessert specials.  Ask your server and she will discuss the mouthwatering options that were made fresh that day.

As a bonus, since Brigantine moved into a space that is double if not triple the size of their old spot, Chef Al now has room to host events.  This new venture allows you to eat all the amazing seafood that Brigantine offers, while celebrating that upcoming baby shower, bridal shower, birthday, or engagement party.  It is okay, I won’t tell the person who you are celebrating that you are happier to be eating at Brigantine, than to be celebrating their special day.  It will be our little secret.

I can’t stress enough that Brigantine is an amazing eatery and holds a special place in the center of my foodie heart.  I implore you all to give this magical seafood haven a whirl, and remember to bring your appetites because you will not leave hungry.  One last tip before you take your trip to Brigantine Seafood’s new location312 Lafayette Avenue, Hawthorne, NJ, to visit Chef Al and sample his outstanding creations.  Make sure to make a reservation, because nothing is worse than having to smell all the awesome, while you are waiting on the sidelines for a table.

 

Brigantine Seafood Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

♫♪♫Austin Cho you taste so good!♫♪♫

Kimchi Smoke: It’s Not Fusion, It’s Innovation!

There is one type of food in this world that makes this Blue Collar Foodie squee like a fangirl meeting Justin Bieber. This particular cuisine epitomizes the Blue Collar Foodie movement and if I could, I would nominate this delicious gastronomical cooking method as the one, true, American Fare. I am of course talking about the meaty, saucy, smoky, and absolutely intoxicating art of Barbecue.

Kimchi Smoke

[Disclaimer]

–The following article is written by a food lover that does not discriminate! I am an equal opportunity foodie and I will not tolerate hate mail from the fascist barbecue Nazis that troll the internets. I love all types of Barbecue, even the ones spelled BBQ. Smoked, Grilled, Charred, Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, or Memphis. I don’t care about the method or the region, they are all invited to my belly and I love them all the same. –

[Disclaimer]

The North East may not be known for its amazing Barbecue, but that does not stop our region from attempting to copy, mimic, and impersonate the wonderfulness that is the BBQ subculture. Now, I agree that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I also yearn for originality and creativity. So, even though I thoroughly enjoy visiting my favorite barbecue spots, i.e. Dinosaur BBQ, Bourbon BBQ, and Hot Rods, I feel obligated to inform you about a joint that is attempting to innovate rather than imitate.

This relatively new restaurant should already be on every foodie’s radar, considering the owner Rob Cho, has been tirelessly showing off his culinary prowess from the back of food truck for quite some time. However, following food trucks can be an exhausting endeavor and we don’t live in a land of perpetual 75 degrees and sunny weather, #FULosAngeles, so the fact that KIMCHI SMOKE now has a brick and mortar is amazeballs.

Kimchi Smoke Logo

That is right, Kimchi Smoke, the award winning barbecue masterminds behind the Chonut, a smoked brisket sandwich with bacon, cheese, and smoked kimchi on a freaking glazed donut, has finally found a home in Bergen County. Their new address is 49 W.Church St. Bergenfield, NJ and you should enter that into your GPS right now and drive your ass there immediately.

Oh… You’re still here? I hope you are not reading this in the car.  Looking at food porn and driving is the leading cause of car accidents in foodies ages 18-35. If you are in the car heading to Kimchi Smoke, put the phone down, you will see the awesomeness in person soon enough and you can Instagram the hell out of it. However, if you still need some convincing, keep reading.

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

I recently visited Kimchi Smoke during their soft opening period and considering I have chased their food truck around more than once, I knew I was in for a treat. Kat and I placed an order for pick-up, there is very limited seating, which consisted of the Korean Redneck Tacos, the Austin Cho, two ¼ racks of the Championship Ribs, and of course a freaking-fracking CHONUT!!!

Our food was prepared and packaged quickly and by the time we arrived it was ready to go. The drive home was excruciating. The wondrous smells that wafted from the bag and filled the cockpit of my ride were taunting me. As the drive progressed I found myself driving faster and faster, trying to get home so I could sink my teeth into all the awesome sauce that is Kimchi Smoke.  I would have gave my left pinky toe to be in Mario Cart, armed with unlimited red turtle shells, so I could remove the army of people on Rt. 4 obeying the traffic laws, with no remorse.

Finally we pulled into our driveway and rushed inside with the goods. For just a second I hated all of you! I realized in that moment, I had to take photos of everything we ordered before we stuffed it in our waiting food holes. However, my hatred diminished rather quickly, and I took the requisite shots.  You’re welcome America! We then began our epic feast, starting with the Red Neck Tacos.

Tacos 2.0

Taco flavored kisses never tasted so good!

The Redneck Tacos consist of 2 tacos chock full of Smoked Pork Shoulder topped with Fatboy Sauce, Korean Slaw or Kimchi all wrapped in a 6″ Flour Tortilla. The regular price for this item is $10, but I recommend upgrading to the Smoked Brisket for a $2 supplement so you can experience euphoria, one beefy bite after another. The brisket is just the right amount of tender and delivers an immense smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with the crunchy and umami laden kimchi. The Fatboy sauce packs a punch without destroying your palate, thus allowing you to thoroughly enjoy each lovely morsel of taco goodness.

♫♪♫Austin Cho you taste so good!♫♪♫

♫♪♫Austin Cho you taste so good!♫♪♫

Next up was The Austin Cho, a Smoked Brisket sandwich topped with Fatboy Sauce and Smoked Kimchi. According to Kimchi Smoke’s website this is their most popular sandwich and it is easy to see why. Kimchi Smoke’s Brisket is the LeBron James of smoked meats, it is not only the best there is, it makes every other thing around it better. The smoked kimchi and Fatboy Sauce may not be the star of this show, but their presence is felt, and even better, tasted throughout the experience. Even the lowly scallion, which on most sandwiches is merely a garnish, is lifted to another level by this magical meat.

I love Ribs. Riby, Ribs, Ribs. Here it goes down, down into my belly...

I love Ribs. Riby, Ribs, Ribs. Here it goes down, down into my belly…

Brisket may be the most difficult meat to smoke (TWSS), but the holy grail of the BBQ world, is the one and only pork rib. Before you send me hate mail, read the disclaimer above once more and in the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers  R-E-L-A-X. Ribs exemplify barbecue in a way that no other meat can. There is something primal and oddly satisfying about eating a hunk of smoky goodness off a charred bone. The flavor, the feeling, the lack of utensils embody what BBQ is all about, and each and every time I sink my teeth into any kind of rib, I fall in love with Barbecue all over again. What I am trying to say is, if brisket is Lebron, then ribs are John Cusack holding a boom box over his head.

Kimchi Smoke’s Championship Ribs are covered with Karis Dust, hickory smoked to perfection for 4-6 hours, and then slathered with Fatboy glaze. They have just the right texture, meaning they are bite off the bone, not fall off the bone, and the flavor…Ohhhh the flavor. I could write poetry about these ribs. Come to think of it, I will. Roses are red, Violets are blue, Flowers aren’t ribs, MMM Ribs Woo Hoo!

Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my.

Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my.

Once we licked all the rib sauce off our digits, we set our sights on our dessert, the Chonut. The aforementioned, pièce de résistance, is a must try for Kimchi Smoke virgins. To reiterate, this magnificent beast, is a Smoked Brisket sandwich topped with Smoked Kimchi, Cheese and Bacon all resting on a glorious glazed Donut! Before I had this sandwich, I was skeptical, but now that I have tasted it, if it ceases to exist a small piece of my soul with die with it.

You hear that Rob, don’t kill a piece of my soul, keep rocking the Chonut. Furthermore, you as readers of this blog should go forth to Kimchi Smoke to not only experience some of the best barbecue in the Tri-state area, but to save what little soul I have left.  I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

Featured

How to Win Valentine’s Day!

Well folks, it is that time of year again. February 14th is around the corner and we all know this facacta holiday brings undue stress to our already taxing existences. For all the single men and women that populate the internets, I know that Valentine’s Day sucks harder than Carson Palmer’s NFC Championship Game Performance. It is just another reminder of your seemingly endless search for the perfect companion, much like romantic comedies and annoyingly loud public displays of affection.

Damn, he sucked!

Damn, he sucked!

However, not many people take the plight of the coupled into consideration on this “joyous” occasion. Single people might feel lonely or depressed on the 14th, but they can just go out to the bar on the 15th and bump uglies with a stranger and their Valentine’s Day woes are in the rear view mirror. Those lucky enough to have found their Valentine, know, or at least should know, one wrong move on the 14th, could land you in the dog house for the foreseeable future.

If you bought this gift, go to directly to gift-jail, do not pass the bedroom, do not collect your holiday whoopie.

If you bought this gift, go to directly to gift-jail, do not pass the bedroom, do not collect your holiday whoopie.

Gift giving on Valentine’s Day is not something that one should take lightly. There is a science to it, a formula if you will. There are many factors that must be considered. How long have you been with this person, are you married, do you plan on marrying said person, and the presence of children or lack thereof, are just a few of the important elements of V-Day gifting. Unfortunately, normally the formula for gift giving is highly specific to the people involved, every single relationship has its own equation and only those in said relationship could figure the figures.

What's on your white board?

What’s on your white board?

That is until now. I, The Blue Collar Foodie, have derived a universal formula that will allow you to win Valentine’s Day. The formula is actually quite simple. X= F + (O * E). Most gifts include one, maybe, two of these elements, but that just ain’t gonna cut it during the month of love. Let me break this lovely equation down for you, John Madden style:
X: This integer stands for “For the Win,” or FTW as the kids say. It is what we are trying to accomplish.

F: The F stands for Forethought. Sure you can buy your love a diamond ring, 4 dozen roses, and a puppy, but unless those gifts have meaning backing them up, your gift will earn you nothing but a passing tweet or Instagram post. Forethought shows that you did not just stop at a gas station on the way home on the 14th, but you actually planned this gift, and put some thought into it. A delivered gift ensures this component.

O: The O stands for Originality and that shit is key. A poem comes to mind; Roses are Red, Violets are blue, Flowers are Lame, and So Are You! It is not enough to just send flowers to your sweetheart on the highest of holy days of love, because everyone gets them. Save the flowers for your mom, or your grandma when she breaks her hip.  Remember if your gift has the big O, you are sure to have one too.

E: The E stands for Envy. Every girl that is reading this post is silently saying to themselves, “That is Bullshit! I don’t care what anyone else thinks!” I don’t need Maury Povich’s lie detector to confirm or deny this claim. I am not saying every female is a psycho hose beast that feeds off the jealously of their peers, but I am saying that on Valentine’s Day, shit is different, shit is real! Believe me, your girl wants every single lady, whether friend or foe, in the room not only to notice the gift you bought her, but resent her, and in turn, you, for winning Valentine’s Day.

Knowing is half the battle!

Knowing is half the battle!

That formula once again is, WIN=Forethought + (Originality * Envy). You can ask my wife, Kat, I have delivered quite a few gifts that follow this formula, not only FTW mind you, but because I am a closet romantic. Some of the more memorable ones have been, A Barber Shop Quartet delivered to her job, our animal’s DNA made into a necklace, a mix tape complete with 42 Haikus, A bouquet of flowers paired with a book of poetry describing why I chose each particular flower, and a Children’s Book about our life together. Each and every one of those gifts combined the three essential parts that were mentioned above in detail, and she loved them because of it.

For those of you that are less artsy fartsy and more about making shit happen, I have found the perfect gift for your dearest love. Not only does it follow the formula, which is the damn point of this exercise, but it won’t break the bank…too much.  My suggestion is a fantastically beautiful edible bouquet from the wonderful folks at Gardenia’s Fire , located in Teaneck, NJ.

GF LOGO

What is so special about this gift? I am glad you asked, understandably speculative blog reader. You see the formula is sound, and this gift follows it to a tee, therefore using the law of transitive properties, this gift fucking rocks.  Still don’t’ believe me… Fine, I will show my work.  First off, you must order it ahead of time, so it shows Forethought. I can guarantee that most of the people in your loved one’s office have never seen an edible bouquet like this one before, which covers the O and leads straight to the Mother F-Ing E. Boom! Gifted!

Boom!  Gifted!

Boom! Gifted!

I hear you haters, barking and moaning about Edible Arrangements and the fact that edible bouquets are about as original as Brady throwing to Gronkowski on 4th and whatever, but calm your rage. Edible Arrangements are made of fruit, people, FRUIT. Who the hell has ever been envious of fruit! This epic bouquets brought to you by Gardenia’s Fire are constructed with a heavenly variety of Cake, Chocolate, Macaroons, and other sweet-sweet yumminess.

Damn that is pretty!

Damn that is pretty!

Not only are these artisanal pastry/cupcake bouquets of awesomeness made of the stuff your lovely lady dreams of, they also look absolutely gorgeous. Just look at the specimen above that I sent Kat, seriously look at it! Damn near every person who walked past her work space asked her about it, which lead to the story behind it, which just kept racking up gift points for me. Not to mention she brought a little home for me to sample, and it was straight-up Amazeballs!

GF kept promises

Cupcake flowers throttle actual flowers!

If you really want to sweep your lady friend off her feet you can add supplemental gifts to this wonderful present, that you can give to her when you are alone. This gift can stand by itself, but a handwritten poem or a piece of jewelry handed to her at dinner couldn’t hurt.  Don’t worry about your poem writing prowess here, you could scrawl the worst poem ever written in crayon, and your love drunk partner would weep like a baby.

Maybe Red Is Not Her Color!

Maybe Red Is Not Her Color!

Whether you hit up Gardenia’s Fire or not, which I suggest you do, follow the formula all the way to the Win!  Your friends may despise you for making them look bad, but your Valentine will be ecstatic.  Be careful though, once you walk down this path, you will have to continue to plod along the trail of love for as long as your lady will have you. There is no going back or there will be hell to pay.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

The Garden State Ale House Opens Its Doors and Throws Down The Gauntlet

As a foodie and a Certified Cicerone the opening of a new Gastropub gets me about as giddy as a sci-fi geek hearing that Joss Whedon is working on a new show. However, since these craft beer slinging, epic eateries are popping up faster than a Lindsay Lohan relapse, I tend to be slightly apprehensive about getting too excited before visiting these potential honey holes.

In the last year or so, within my immediate review radius, there have been several new taverns, pubs, lounges, saloons, and bars that opened their doors promising true craft beer with epicurean eats, only to leave this Blue Collar Foodie, wanting and melancholy. Some of them fell short on delivering genuine craft beer, offering a plethora of Anheuser-Busch InBev owned brands masquerading as bona fide craft, while others advertised high-end pub fare, but instead offered dishes that were basically frozen chicken fingers with a side of Sriracha mayonnaise. Then there were one or two that hit the food and drink notes like a trained vocalist yet failed to stick the dismount, due to their décor, customer service, and douchey clientele.  If I believed in bad reviews, I would insert the names of theses asshat asylums, but I don’t, so I won’t, but you will know them as soon as you walk through the door.

I know what some of you are thinking. WTF, man, you are being uncharacteristically critical, and leaving douche droppings all over the internets. You must understand, that my high expectations for a gastropub stems from the fact that I live within 3 miles of one of the best craft beer and food emporiums in the North Jersey region, and therefore, I hold all establishments to the standard that is The Twisted Elm, in Elmwood Park.

Garden State Ale House LOGO

Enter, the new kid on the block, and I am not talking about Donny and Joey, I am talking about the Garden State Ale House, located at 340 Paterson Ave., in East Rutherford, NJ. When I say new, I don’t mean opened two months ago either, I mean like opened on December 28th, new.

As a rule, I normally don’t visit an establishment during their first month of operation, because I have worked in the restaurant industry before, and I completely understand it takes a while to work out the kinks. With that said, this joint is within walking distance of my friend’s apartment and we decided to break my tenet and check it out on opening day.

I was not going to write this review to be honest, because I expected a general shit-show, which is to be expected from a restaurant that is literally minutes old.  However, The Garden State Ale House, spoiler alert, fucking nailed it so hard, I felt I was doing my readers a disservice by not spewing these glowing words all over the interwebs.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

As we entered, a smiling hostess greeted us, and seated us almost immediately, even though the dining room was quite crowded. The excellent customer service continued, when Christian arrived at our table with the food, beer, wine, and cocktail menus. Since, they just opened their doors and it was obvious that we had not been to Garden State Ale House in the past, Christian took the time to explain each menu, and informed us that if we had any questions to flag him down.

The beer menu was solid, offering a wide selection of not only exceptional brands, but varied styles as well. Of course, the menu was IPA heavy, but that is to be expected, because ‘merica. However, Stouts, Porters, and Saisons could be found as well, which is always a bonus. For those of you that have friends or fathers that feel that hops, barley, water, and yeast should taste like, well, water, they got you covered too, with a few not so craft beers that will wet their whistle.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

We ordered our beers and began to peruse the food menu. Although, I like my gastropubs to push the epicurean envelope and deliver a diverse menu, full of  an assortment of cuisines, I actually judge them first on their burger. I feel that this item embodies what a gastropub should be, and is the perfect vessel to express the chef’s creativity and flavor. Therefore, I immediately flipped to the burger section, and began the decision making process.

Normally, it takes quite a bit of time for me to choose the perfect burger to test the wherewithal of the cooking staff, but not on this occasion. The Garden State Ale House literally must have been thinking of me, and my kin, when they created the prodigious Das Burger. Described as an 8oz, 100% certified Angus Beef burger, topped with fried Gouda, fried egg, bacon, Taylor ham, a jumbo onion ring, and chipotle mayonnaise. Holy hell, I could feel my arteries constricting, and I fucking loved it.

My comrades also made their choices rather quickly and we flagged down Christian to place our order. Kat went with the Pickle & Horseradish Steak wrap, Buro decided to join me on my burger adventure with the Blazin’ Cajun Burger, Steph rocked the Adult Grilled Cheese, and Alex chose the Guinness Stew. Since we were all damn near starving we also ordered the Taste of Thanksgiving and the Smokin’ Calamari for the table.

Smokin' Calamari

Smokin’ Calamari

The appetizers arrived shortly after we ordered them, and they not only smelled fantastic but they also looked appealing, which is a testament to the kitchen staff’s attention to detail. The Smokin’ Calamari was described as lightly battered fried calamari, sauteed with hot peppers, served with a citrus aioli and marinara sauce. The calamari itself was prepared extraordinarily well, and the spicy flavor of the hot peppers was present, but not overbearing. My only critique of this dish was it was missing the citrus aioli, but the marinara was flavorful enough to make up for this minor infraction.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

Since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the food that is served on this highest of holy days, is in my opinion, foodgasmic, I am cautious when ordering menu items that attempt to summon their essence. But, when dining with a crowd, democracy rules, so I went with it. All hail democracy friends! These fried spheres of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were nothing short of amazeballs. I mean it; they were literally balls of amaze! When you bring your ass to this spot, and after reading this article, why wouldn’t you, do yourself a favor and put these in your food hole.

You can't go wrong with Beer Stew.

You can’t go wrong with Beer Stew.

Before, I wax poetic about my legendary burger, I will touch on the entrees that my cohorts chose. Firstly, Alex’s Guinness Stew, which was described as a hearty stew with generous chunks of tenderloin steak, slowly cooked in Guinness, finished with Jameson Irish Whiskey, served over mashed potatoes. This dish was rich and hearty as advertised, complete with an excellent robust flavor. The gravy, was the star of this meal, and I could not help but dip a nice chunk of bread in the ooey, gooey deliciousness when Alex tapped out, and I was not disappointed at all.  The portion size of the entree was concerning at first, but each item that comprised this meal was so sturdy that it was more than enough to feed an average eater.

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

As a spice fiend, when restaurants describe things as “Spicy,” “Ultra Hot,” or in this case “Blazin’,” I expect a weak, half-assed, attempt at tantalizing my taste buds. I almost always have to add hot sauce just to get the dish to an acceptable level of heat. This was not the case at The Garden State Ale House. After the first bite, Buro began to sweat, and with a smile on his face he housed the whole burger. This burger was not all about heat though, it was the perfect melody of burgery deliciousness, bready awesomeness, and  jalapeño fierceness.  If you are a fan of flavor, this could very well be your go to order when you visit.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

We all grew up eating Grilled Cheese, at least we should have. If you didn’t, I call your parent’s parenting into question, but that is a topic for some other blog, maybe called TheBlueCollarBabyMaker.Com.  This grilled cheese, however, was not your grandma’s Wonder Bread and processed cheese sandwich. This son of a bitch is two slices of Texas toast crammed with cheddar, pepper-jack, and smoked gouda, served with house chips and tomato fondue. I am all for nostalgia, but you can’t tell me that this sandwich doesn’t crap all over your G-ma’s bullshit ass Grilled Oil on GMOS! I was impressed with the melding of the three cheeses and this dish was exactly what I would want an adult grilled cheese to taste like. Unfortunately, it was delivered to the table without the tomato fondue, which would have brought this meal to whole other level. We chocked this faux pas up to an opening day oops and I will order this again to see how the tomato soup adds to this already impressive sandwich.

Steakey...Steakey...Steak...I love Steak!

Steakey…Steakey…Steak…I love Steak!

Since it was a Monday, Kat was trying to be somewhat healthy, so she went with the Pickle Horseradish Steak Wrap with a side of Cole slaw. This wrap was full of chopped steak, smoked Gouda, hot cherry peppers, hot pepper brined pickles, baby arugula, sliced tomatoes, red onion, and horseradish honey mustard. Although there appears to be a surplus of ingredients joining the party within this wrap, they all play very nicely with each other. No one piece of the puzzle overshadowed the other and thus complemented one another quite well. For a healthier option, I feel like this dish was a resounding success, and Kat seemed to be happy with her selection.

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Now for the pièce de résistance, the magnum opus, the crowning achievement of the evening. THE DAS BURGER! First off, I ordered this beast at Medium Rare, and it arrived expertly cooked. I  was slightly nervous that I would not be able to fit this monstrous slab of yummy in my mouth, but with a little squishing, and cutting it in half, I was able to take the perfect first bite. As, angelic music was playing in my head, I chewed that first bite, savoring each and every second this amalgamation of salty, spicy, and meaty was frolicking with my taste buds. Lucky for me, after swallowing that first lovely mouthful, TWSS, there was so much more burger to be had, not to mention the pile of BACON, RANCH, CHEESE FRIES!

BaconRanchFriesGSAH

Look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death!

You know there is no way I couldn’t mention the Bacon, Fucking, Ranch, Fucking, Cheese Fries. I mean come on dude, look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death! As good as the fries were, the superstar of this plate was definitely the burger. It was juicy to the last bite, the bun held up, and I have to confess it was the first burger, in a long time, that almost defeated me. I had to force the last flavorful tidbit of super tasty burger in my mouth, but it was a labor of love people.

Every element of the Garden State Ale House seemed like it was painstakingly taken into consideration. The décor, the placement of the televisions, and even the tables themselves seemed like an interior designer was hired to construct the prefect atmosphere to enjoy the food and drink they serve. Furthermore, the beer selection was on point, delivering the perfect blend of high-end Cicerone approved rarity and approachable brews for general consumption. All in all, The Garden State Ale House, was extremely well received by the motley crew that I rolled in with and that is high praise, especially on their first night open. In the immortal words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back!”

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

HOT DAMN! Lan Sheng Is Good

In the restaurant world there are a plethora of accolades that establishments can earn. Most of these awards originate from local newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, and good old-fashion cook-offs. These trophies, plaques, and certificates adorn the walls of many an eatery. The most coveted of these honors is known as the Michelin Star and in order to obtain this prestigious praise a restaurant must be something quite special.

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

You may be asking yourself, what the hell does a fat man made of tires know about food and why does his recommendation catapult a restaurant into the highest level of gastronomic notoriety.   The short answer is the Michelin Guide has been around since 1900 and each and every year this prominent guidebook reads like the who’s who of the culinary world. Most of the epic eateries that are found in this cookery compendium are located in large cities like San Francisco, Paris, London, and of course the greatest city in the world, New York, which to some is expensive and inconvenient.

However, what if I told you, you can experience all the straight-up awesome sauce of a Michelin Star restaurant, without exiting the fine state of New Jersey. Where in New Jersey you ask? You might think the answer to that question would be Hoboken, Morristown, or maybe even somewhere down in the might as well be Alabama part of New Jersey, like Cape May, or Wildwood. You sir, would be wrong. The town that this restaurant resides in, is none other than Wallington, NJ.

There it is!

There it is!

That is right, Wallington, New Jersey. Don’t lie, some of you just had to google where that is! Others just uttered the phrase, “what the fuck is a Wallington,” out loud, making your co-workers tilt their head like a confused puppy. Let me save you some time people, Wallington is a one square mile town in Bergen County, which is best known for its Bowling Alley. That is until now. Wallington is now home to a restaurant with a Michelin Star and after you read this post you need to get into your car and enter 209 Paterson Avenue, Wallington, NJ into your GPS and drive your ass to Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant.

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

To be honest, I have been eating at Lan Sheng for quite some time now and I loved it since the moment I walked in. The reason I have yet to post about the amazing food that can be found at this modest eatery off the beaten path, is because I had a brief but justified internal conflict. One side of me wanted to climb on top of the Internets and shout the praises of this establishment as loud as my blogospheric voice would allow me, while the other side wanted to Gollum the hell out this precious establishment and keep it all to myself. Finally, I decided that I needed to share Lan Sheng with the world, and this post is the byproduct of the winning punch that knocked Sméagol out cold.

Have a seat...

Have a seat…

Lan Sheng isn’t overly extravagant like some opulent eateries that I have frequented, but it is classy in a subdued way. Not sophisticated enough to force you to rock a suit and tie, but cultured enough that one should not recite dirty limericks while waiting for their waiter. When you enter Lan Sheng, you will be greeted by a host or hostess and promptly seated at a table. The menus will land, water will be poured, drink orders taken, and then you are left to peruse the insanely diverse and eclectic pages of their food bible.

This ain’t your Grandmother’s Chinese takeout either! Choosing what to grace your taste buds with is a struggle and the struggle is real. There are way too many options to list them all, but some of the highlights are the Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, Spicy Rabbit, Hot and Spicy Frog, Hot Spicy Mix Pot, and the recently rare and highly sought-after Sliced Conch. By the way, if you do end up visiting this joint ask for the Conch each and every time you visit. The two reasons for this request are; A: If you score it your mouth with have a flavorgasm, and B: If everyone asks for it, they might offer it all the time, and thus you pass along that flavorgasm, like a STD in an old folk’s home.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

The way we like to experience Lan Sheng is family style and I recommend this to you as well. This way you can try a variety of dishes as opposed to trying to narrow your selection to just one tasty treat. Furthermore, I love dining this way because I can sneak in an out of the ordinary dish like Spicy Duck Tongue, Beef Tar Tar, Sichuan Spicy Dry Pig Feet, or Chongqing Style Pork Blood Curd.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

However, if you happen to be less adventurous than me and mine, Lan Sheng has you covered as well, you can pass on the Julienne Jelly Fish Appetizer, which is real and particularly tasty, and order something like Chengdu Wontons in Broth paired with an order of Volcano Beef , Tangerine Chicken, or Spicy Chicken and you’ve got yourself an epic meal that won’t make you squirm.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

As I am writing this post I am starting to salivate and I hope you are too, but I know a lot of you are thinking, “WTF BCF, these dishes sound not only incredible but incredibly expensive. Therein lies the rub faithful readers, Lan Sheng is pumping out quality grub at reasonable prices on a consistent basis, and in the restaurant world that is the Unicorn. Hence why I contemplated not writing this post, if word gets out about this impressive establishment it could be flooded with people, and then I would have to wait longer to shovel their miraculous fare into to my talking hole. However, if word does not get out, and they fold, I would never forgive myself!

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

The dishes that I have mentioned above are a mere fragment of the selection that Lan Sheng offers its customers. Furthermore, the Chefs at Lan Sheng have never, not once, disappointed me, and we have ordered quite a bit off the extensive menu. Each and every dish is seasoned to perfection, cooked expertly, and served beautifully.

A big ol' pile of the other white meat!

A big ol’ pile of the other white meat!

All the ingredients that are precisely positioned on the dishes that Lan Sheng serves are not only prepared properly but they are exceedingly fresh. The color, texture, and flavor almost make you believe that some of these fixings are being grown in the backyard in some type of clandestine enchanted farm. I know we are known as the Garden State, but something tells me that when the Public Relations department of New Jersey came up with that slogan, Wallington was far from their minds.

Damn that is pretty!

Damn that is pretty!

I am not talking about lettuce and tomato here either people, which Boston freaking Market can get fresh. I am referring to the likes of Bamboo Shoots, Shanghai Choi, Chinese cabbage, Lotus Roots, and something called a Garlic Bolt. Not to mention the countless elements that find their way into the obscure dishes that I order, that I can only identify as Yummy 1 or Yummy 2.

Green can be good too!

Green can be good too!

More so, if it is labeled as spicy, it is! Not burn your face off, can’t taste anything through the fire spicy either. The kind of piquant that sits on your tongue for a minute or two and challenges your taste buds to a duel, yet ultimately dissipates leaving a palatable aftertaste, which in turn leaves you longing for another bite.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.  This duck tongue will win every time.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.

You know I love BYOBs, and unfortunately Lan Sheng is not one of these money saving honey holes. However, if you are feeling adventurous, they have some tantalizing specialty cocktails like a Lychee Martini. You can conversely go the traditional route and treat yourself to a Tsingtao or a Sapporo, which may not be the best beer in the world, but when in Rome, right.

Lan Sheng is the perfect combination of affordable, approachable, and appetizing blending dishes with tremendous depth, attentive service, and adventurous eating. These components have made this restaurant my new go to joint when Kat and I are having a hard time deciding on where we should dine. It has come down to, if one of us invokes the name of this spot, it is an automatic, the foodie trump card, if you will. If you were ever thinking about trying Szechuan or if you love it already, I highly recommend this extraordinary restaurant!

Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

Green Dragon Brings World Class Sushi Back To Fair Lawn

As a local restaurant slowly becomes your go to spot, it is comparable to a blossoming friendship. At first you stick to the basics, small talk is tantamount to the rudimentary menu items, but as the relationship continues, a sense of trust develops and gradually, this new friend, errrrrr… eatery can do no wrong. In other words you have rocked every item on the menu and have never been disappointed.

Sadly, much like some of your most memorable BFF’s, these local haunts relocate without notice. No matter the reason, taxes, rent, or the necessity for more space, at first you feel optimistic. What is a thirty minute drive among friends after all? Unfortunately, as many a bumper sticker from the 1980’s communicated, “Shit Happens,” and as we all know Life Happens as well. Your visits become less frequent and excuses are flung around like excrement at a monkey preserve.

Most of the time, this is where the story ends, however recently, I was able to rekindle a foodie friendship with an amazing Chef that happened to move right back into my hometown. The restaurant I am referring to is Green Dragon and the amazing culinary mind behind there cuisine is Chef Huarong Chen A.K.A. Ken. This kids is the story of How I Met Your Sushi Chef. Ba Bum Bum Bum Bum Ba Ba Ba Baaaaaaa…

One of the first places I reviewed as The Blue Collar Foodie was the amazing Six Happiness that was located on Morlot Avenue, in Fair Lawn New Jersey. One of the reasons I fell in love with this seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary, Chinese Take-Out joint, was the addition of Chef Ken, who was churning out some of the most intriguing and remarkable Sushi I have ever eaten. We are talking NYC good people!

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Sadly, Six Happiness went through some changes and the original staff moved to Lodi under the name of Taste of Asian, located at 122 Essex Street in Lodi, and the food at the Fair Lawn location was never the same. To add insult to injury, Chef Ken disappeared from my life for quite some time and I was forced to eat sub-par sushi like a common street vagrant. I know… I know… First world problems, but still a problem none the less.

Thinking I had tasted Chef Ken’s epic oceanic goodness for the last time, I tried to put it out of my mind. That is until I walked into Green Dragon for the first time! In my head, Chef Ken jumped over the counter in slow motion and ran towards me, Bay Watch style, as I threw chairs and tables out of my way as I ran to him even slower. As we met in the middle of the restaurant we embraced in the greatest man hug of all time, the man hug between the foodie and the long lost Chef. In all reality, we saw each other from across the restaurant, and gave each other the obligatory standard manly greeting, the nod of acknowledgement,  but that doesn’t seem like a good ending to this anecdote at all, so we will just say the first version happened and forget about the boring truth.

Green Dragon recently opened its doors at 19-01 Fair Lawn Avenue in Fair Lawn New Jersey in place of Dish Eatery. Even though it is always unfortunate to see a new-ish restaurant like Dish close its doors, I was extremely happy to see that a Sushi and Chinese Restaurant was moving back to Fair Lawn. This happiness turned to unbridled jubilation when I saw that it was Chef Ken at the helm.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

This establishment ain’t your normal Chinese Food take-out spot though, this is a sit-down restaurant with a fair amount of tables and a pretty extensive menu. They of course have the elementary Chinese food fare that we all crave from time to time, but they also offer specialties like Duck Fried Rice, a Bento Box, and the aforementioned Sushi.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

The first time I visited Green Dragon I phoned in an order for normal, everyday Chinese Food and picked it up because that is what Kat and I were craving.  However, after seeing Chef Ken behind the Sushi counter I knew we were coming back. A few short days later, Kat and I returned to Green Dragon to experience a sit down meal at this somewhat new eatery and… Spoiler alert, we were not disappointed.

When we were seated our delightful waitress brought us a couple of glasses of water as well as a portion of Crispy Chinese Noodles complete with a side of duck sauce. *Note, I scoured the internets to find what these scrumptious little fried crunchy strips of amazeballs are actually called and came up with the utterly unimaginative designation you see above.* However, whatever you call them, they are always welcome on my table and never unappreciated.

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Kat and I then began the constantly slothful and arduous task of ordering something from a menu that is new to us. With only a small amount of hemming and hawing Kat and I were able to come up with what we thought was a solid selection. I ordered the Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box which comes with a garden salad, shrimp shumai, haru maki, rice, and normally a California Roll, which I paid extra to bench, and replaced it with a spicy tuna. Kat decided on the Fried Tofu and invited a Peanut Avocado Roll to the party as its plus one.

The only reason I order a salad at a Chinese Restaurant is the heavenly ginger dressing that tops the roughage. With an almost paste like consistency, this dressing is what really separates this salad from that of an ordinary pizzeria salad. Simple and fresh components make up the body of this garden salad and the ginger dressing adds a much needed flair to make it worth the nod, instead of any soup on the menu.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

After our salads were devoured our entrees hit the table and Kat’s looked magical. The crispy outside of the fried tofu was the perfect complement of the warm silky inside, and when paired with the tangy sauce, this dish was spot on. Not to mention the vegetables that were served with it were fresh and had a distinct bite to them, which is always a bonus when dealing with steamed vegetables.

#AnyFriedTastesBetter #Don'tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

#AnythingFriedTastesBetter #Don’tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

As for my Bento Box, it what everything I wanted and more. For one thing the reason why I love Bento Boxes is not only the glutenous amount of food that is provided, but the variety as well. This box was no magnificent! (TWSS) Each element that graced this dish was undeniably tastier than the last… Until of course I took a bite of something else. The only problem I had with this wonderful meal was which bite would be my last… It was the Sushi… I freaking love that stuff. In fact, as I write this I am now realizing that I have to have more tonight.  *Edit:  I did in fact go to green dragon after writing this, and it was glorious.*

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Speaking of Sushi, Kat’s was not half bad either, I mean for being fake Sushi and not containing any seafood at all. The presentation though was beautiful and the sushi rice was cooked expertly. Take that California, we know how to eat Avocado too and we have four seasons! HA! NEW JERSEY 1 – CALIFORNIA 0

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

In case you just looked at the Food Porn and failed to read any of the words that seeped out of my brain and landed firmly on the interwebs, I highly recommend hitting up Green Dragon. Not only is it my new Sushi spot, but it is also my new Chinese Restaurant too.

Green Dragon Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato