Happy Birthday! Love, Prune Restaurant

To some people food is just merely for survival.  A means to an end, that allows them to continue doing the things they love to do.  These are the people that can’t wait for science to create meal pills that will make eating as easy as taking vitamins in the morning.  I am not one of those people.  I literally work my 9-5 to be able to seek out fare that makes my endorphins hum like a finely tuned American V-8.

This blog usually focuses on establishments that serve inspiring food at reasonable prices. However, sometimes I am forced to leave my wallet’s comfort zone, on special occasions, in order to experience food that is transcendent.  Food that one usually only gets to see on Netflix Documentaries accompanied by orchestra music and top notch cinematography.  I am talking about that Anthony Bourdain kind of “ish” that makes your mouth water all the way from T.V. land.

My friend Alex and I share a birthday, and since my wife, Kat, and his girl, Steph, recognize our epicurean affliction, we were gifted a birthday meal of our choosing.  Alex and I discussed, debated, pondered, and deliberated over the course of a few days before we came to a conclusion.  I wonder if our ladies knew that this decision potentially could have ended not only our friendship but our corresponding relationships.

This was not an easy task, we live moments away from the greatest food city in the world.  Nevertheless, once we determined where we were going to celebrate our birthday we both knew it was the obvious and inevitable end of our dining dilemma.  Our selection was none other than the award winning, highly acclaimed, Prune Restaurant, located at 54 E 1st St # 1, New York, NY 10003.

You may have seen Chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s intimate neighborhood spot on PBS’s Mind of the Chef recently.  That is right, PBS isn’t just about Puppets, Reading Rainbows, and Happy Trees; they have wonderful food porn too.  In fact, before food was cool, I watched the OG foodies on Public Broadcasting.  I am pretty sure they are solely responsible for my love of all things food, so in reality this blog is PBS’s fault, not mine.  On the real though, support PBS and don’t support any politician that does not!  #YanCanCook #JuliaChilds #TheBudgetGourmet #SeasameStreetForLife

Sorry about that tangent…Now back to your regularly scheduled program!

First thing is first, when you are about to rock a super sweet meal that dreams are made of, one cannot, and should not assume there will be last minute availability at said eatery.  Plan ahead people, this is a special occasion and should be treated as one.  You would not just roll up to a wedding without RSVPin’, and unless you are a baller like Trevor Noah or Noah Syndergaard you are going to have to call ahead.  Luckily for us, Steph was on point and made sure we had a table.

Another thing to keep in mind if you are visiting Prune, is the dining space is well…small.  If I was a real estate agent I would call it quaint, charming, or cozy but I ain’t, so I won’t.  I am not knocking the dining hall either, it is part of Prune’s appeal.  Just know that if you want a table call early and plan accordingly.  We were luckily enough to score the semi-private dining area in the basement which allowed us to stretch our legs out a little bit and take pictures of all our dishes without upsetting the restaurant’s atmosphere.  Rumor has it that Prune’s staff is not a big fan of food photography.  #SorryNotSorry

The last thing to know before we begin the food porn parade is that Prune’s menu is always evolving, morphing, and changing like most highly sought after establishments.  Unless you go twice in one week you will probably never see the same menu and that my friends is a good thing.

Say Cheese!

After being seated we ordered a few cocktails and sat with our menus for a little while, contemplating what epic eats we should order.  We discussed each of our decisions as if this was our last meal on earth and weighed our options before coming up with a plan for the meal that I believe most gastronomic architects would have been proud of.

I Heart Oysters! Wellfleets to be specific.

Oysters have a special place in my heart.  I think it has to do with it seeing the adults, the patriarchs to be exact, eating them when I was younger.  As a child, I thought they were atrocious, but the elders in my tribe seemed to love them.  Enjoying them was a goal that I aspired to achieve when I first began running the cultural marathon that I embarked on when I became a foodie.  For many years now I have enjoyed Oysters and when they are good, there is something spiritual that lights up inside me.  These Oysters were perfectly brackish and decadently delicate.  They were the perfect start to our meal and foreshadowed the enlightened dishes that were to follow.

Everything is better when it is fried!

Since Kat would rather lick a subway hand rail on a Saturday morning than eat an Oyster, she chose to order Fried Green Beans as her appetizer.  The batter these lovely fried beans were coated in was light and crispy.  They had a very Tempuraish texture, and when dipped in the accompanying sauce they were very pleasing.

As Luke Cage would say, “Sweet Christmas!”

The moment we saw the Sweetbreads on the menu, there was not a discussion of whether we getting them, there was only a conversation about how many orders we should procure.  For those of you that are new to the foodie scene, Sweetbreads are pancreas or thymus from either calves or lambs.

I don’t know what the Chef’s at Prune did to these Sweetbreads but they should do it to every Sweetbread on the planet forever until the end of time.  I have had some good Sweets in the past but they all pale in comparison to this dish.  Other offal, including other sweetbreads, which I eaten has a heavy irony taste that is off putting but these tantalizing titbits of terrific were nothing short of amazing.  The combination of the crispy exterior and tender, almost buttery meat, created the perfect bite with each forkful.

The only thing better than butter is Meat Butter!

If you have not had the opportunity to eat the Marrow out of a Bone smeared on crusty bread, the above picture probably does nothing for you.  If you have used marrow like butter and savored the opulent decadence that this dish delivers, you probably feel like a 12 year old again that can’t walk to the Chalkboard.  I care not that this dish raised my cholesterol and perhaps stole a day of my life from me, it can have it.  To be honest, I would have given it two more, so I feel like I got a deal.

There was a fungus among us!

In a futile attempt to feign being healthy we ordered a dish of mushrooms to round out our appetizer course.  I was happy to find that these beautiful fungi were swimming in a delicious sauce thus slightly negating their healthiness and adding to their robust flavor.

With the appetizers merely a memory and another drink ordered we awaited our entrees and discussed politics, world-travel, sports, and physics.  A belly full of awe inspiring food and Prune’s ambience mixed with an adequate amount of social lubricant made us all into philosophers.  While the Chef’s inside the kitchen were toiling away creating our entrees we continued conversing.

I almost Shanked Alex for this Lamb!

I am not going to lie, the photo above was Alex’s choice, and it gave me the biggest base of food envy I have had in quite some time.  Ladies and Gentleman, that right there is a Shank of Lamb.  Not just any Lamb Shank, either.  A fall off the bone, tender, flavorful, lovingly prepared Lamb Shank that I did not order!  However, Alex was kind enough to allow me to sample this supple lamb swimming in a bright and intense gravy.  It only made me hate him more!

Just like Grandma used to make, only different.

Kat went with the Chicken Stew and as the smell of her dish wafted over the table I immediately thought of my Grandmother’s Matzoh Ball soup.  Our olfactory senses are something of a mystery but I know for sure that they tend to be the strongest link for me to happy memories, and the fact that this dish brought me back to my childhood and one of my favorite soups of all times, made it clear that I was going to love this dish.  I was not wrong, because as I tasted this liquid gold I fell in love.

Luckily Steph was not shellfish and allowed to taste this bowl of yummy. See what I did there! #DadJokes

Steph decided on the Seafood Stew and it was not only beautiful but scrumptious as well.  The delicate morsels of seafood were bathed in a tangy broth that combined to create one fantastic bite after another.  I was lucky enough to get a few mouthfuls of this amazing dish as well and it was difficult to decipher which piece of fresh seafood I liked the best.

Here fishy fishy fishy!

Even though the lamb shank that Alex ordered was my favorite dish that was ordered and my jealousy almost consumed me.  I was happy that I ordered the whole fish.  It was expertly prepared and seasoned and left me wondering how other restaurants can mess up such a simple, yet fantastic dish.  The fish itself was flaky and flavorful and the sauce was liquid perfection.  I thoroughly enjoy this style of preparation and was ecstatic to see that Prune does it right.

I would eat a lot more veggies if they all tasted like this!

In another attempt to appear as if we were eating healthy we ordered a side of greens for the table.  Once again the vegetables were smothered in a mouthwatering au jus of awesome sauce and I found myself not being able to stop consuming them.

Normally I am a not a dessert person at restaurants.  Don’t get it twisted I thoroughly enjoy sweets of all makes and models, however, I like them hours after I eat a large savory meal.  With that said, I simply could not pass up two of Prune’s desserts because they were not your typical after meal cakes or pastries.

I love cheese more than most people love their wives.

We ordered an aged cheese that was just south of funky enough to make you question every bite of cheese you have ever eaten.  Plus they paired it with a sweet honey drizzle that cut the funk enough to call it a dessert. We also ordered a salt crusted baked pear that was served with a walnut glaze that was utterly fantastic.  The salty tartness of the pear dancing with the nutty glaze lead to a superb end to out opulent meal.

Prune is the type of restaurants that make a foodie’s dream a reality.  Each dish they prepare is well thought out, artfully plated, and extraordinarily delicious.  There is a reason they were showcased on a television show that celebrates the unadulterated love of food and culinary imagination.  I highly recommend that every foodie that reads this blog starts saving money right now to visit this illustrious eatery.  There are good meals, there are great meals, and then there are meals that are spiritually enlightening. Prune serves the latter with a side of epicurean delight.

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Read, Solve, Eat… Repeat! A Gastronaut Scavenger Hunt

If I were to create a hierarchy of things that make this Blue Collar Foodie smile wider than the Cheshire Cat on Molly, food would be damn near at the apex of this mountain of amazeballs and competition would not be too far behind.  Relax, my wife, my family, the Sunday Sippers, my furry babies, and all that other sappy crap are on that short list too, but this is a food blog and not the Hallmark Channel so how about we focus on the first two and try not to catch the feels.

We all know I love food, and shit you do too if you are reading this inane excuse to stare at food porn, but I feel I should explain my need, no my desire to compete.  I am a recovering jock and I go to meetings, in the form of playing all sorts of sports that is, about once a week for 10 months out of the year.  However, my sickness goes much deeper, I will debate a topic at a bar that I don’t even care about, shit, sometimes I will take the side of an argument that I oppose simply to see if I can win.  It is also not rare at all that a night of drinking ends in a push-up contest, race, or some cockamamie made up game.  During one particular relapse, I created a game called dreidel wars and battled my friends for hours, and I am quite ashamed about how intense our “game” got.  Let’s just say that Kat has banned D-Dub during the holiday season.

Normally my food obsession and my aspiration to compete have to take turns controlling my easily distracted frontal lobe.  That is until my favorite secret adventurous eating society, the Gastronauts, teamed up with the remarkable game designers at Interactive Escapes to create a no holds barred food focused Scavenger Hunt.

Gastronauts_LOGO

Yes, I understand that since I used a hyperlink to point you in the direction of the “Secret Adventurous Eating Society,” I am a member of, it means that this particular group is not as secret as I may have led you to believe.  However, it sounds so much cooler to be a member of a secret society, I mean I can place a link to the Freemasons here, it does not mean that they don’t control the world of finance, and I could link to Scientology as well.   I won’t because I ain’t trying to be on that list, that list gets you murked.  Those bitches be crazy.  Can’t you guys just let me have this one?  No?  Fine, I hate you internets, I truly do.

Now that you have crushed my dreams, I guess I can move on to discussing the epic scavenger hunt Kat, our friend Alex, and I participated in on Saturday November 5, 2016 in Jackson Heights, NY.  First off, I think I would do you guys a disservice to explain each and every aspect of this highly interactive adventure that was cooked up by the ingenious minds of the dynamic duo, that I have deemed the Gastro Game Gangstas A.K.A. Curtiss and Prescott.

Instead of walking you through the entire game and boring you with my furious verbosity I will simply summarize the plot of the game and then move onto the all-important food porn.  Yes, there was a plot, and it was both well thought out and executed.  This wasn’t one of those bullshit scavenger hunts where you have to find 10 items that were haphazardly placed throughout the city for no other reason but because the game master said so.

MeetUp

When we arrived at the arranged meeting place we were divided into teams and informed that we all had a rougher night than Hillary on November 8th.  Apparently, we all attended a bachelor party celebration and we not only lost our wallets but we lost our dignity as well.  The good news was the MTA found our wallets, however the bad news was we lost The Groom!!!  (Cue overly dramatic music and fake gasp!)

Team Ela!!!

Team Ela!!!

Our mission was to shake our hangover off, retrace our steps, and get the groom to his wedding.  Easy, peasy, Right?  Wrong!  Due to us drinking heavier than Bill Murray after the Cubbies spanked the Tribe in Game 7, we remember very little from the previous night, making this task slightly harder than one would expect.

Game On!!!

Game On!!!

We were instructed not to open our provided wallets until we entered the Subway and began our journey to Jackson Heights.  Moments later we found ourselves on a Subway Car feverishly searching our wallet for clues that needed to be solved, and there were quite a few.  The game was a foot and we were eager to destroy the competition, Highlander style!  THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!

We solved the first puzzle almost immediately which was a hint to access the provided twitter account that Prescott and Curtiss had created specifically for the game.  From there we made some educated guesses on what the other clues could potentially mean, studied the boundary map, inspected every crevasse of our wallet and scoured every scrap of paper for information.  By the time we arrived at our station the five of us, emerged as Team Ela, our new found identity and we raced to our first stop.

Team Ela Unite!

Team Ela Unite!

The clues that were given were designed so as they could not simply be googled, however throughout the game we used the internet quite a bit.  Maps to find our way around, IMDB, Twitter, and of course the google machine to assist whenever it was needed.  That was the magic of the game play and one of the reasons I loved this hunt so much.  I was extremely impressed on how Interactive Escapes was able to create challenging, yet attainable goals that were not completely ruined by the internets, if anything allowing the use of a Smart Phone only enhanced the game.

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor...

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor…

The mechanics of the game were pretty straightforward, solve a clue, go to that establishment, eat the dish that you are supposed to order, and Tweet a photo of your team eating the yumminess.  Since food is the source of miraculous healing, once the game masters saw this Tweet they would send you a “memory”, which would be used later to locate the final meeting spot.  The more puzzles you solved the more food you ate, and this was no ordinary food either.  We rocked dumplings, momos, brains, booze, and more!

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

The scavenger hunt itself would have been fun but the addition of the food added to the overall enjoyment immensely.  Not to mention, the level of competition was fierce and contagious.  As we ran up and down city blocks, hectically trying to solve the clues that were being tweeted to us via Direct Message, we filled our bellies with the amazing food that this specific neighborhood of Jackson Heights had to offer.

If these Momos are wrong, I don't want to be right!

If these Momos are wrong, I don’t want to be right!

As we stuffed our talking holes with these delightful morsels we followed the Twitter Feed and hoped that we would be victorious.  We fought hard and earned a respectable amount of points but due to a mistake on our part, waiting 25 minutes for the wrong Momo’s, early in the game, we failed to take the crown.  We did however come in third and were the only team to find the secret Easter Egg that Curtiss and Prescott had placed in the game grid.

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

I implore all of you that are reading this to bug, pester, annoy, and harass Curtiss and Prescott to set another one of these up, and soon!  Not only do I think this a must for any Foodie in the NYC Area, I really want to do this again, but this time I want to WIN!  Thanks for the heaping spoonful of Awesome Sauce Curtiss and Prescott, can’t wait until next time!

Of Course there was beer too!!!

Even theme specific beer made an appearance!

P.S. If you are into scavenger hunts but not into leaving the house, check out Interactive Escapes Free Online Scavenger Hunt.  Only one person has beaten it so far, but I am on my way!  Good Luck, it can be infuriating.

Hat City Kitchen Fills Your Belly and Your Soul!

Back in the day, before I was The Blue Collar Foodie, while Michael Phelps was taking bong rips and Kanye was telling Taylor Swift that he was going to let her finish, I was driving across this crazy country of ours.  The year was 2009, Kat, her brother Benni, and I decided to jump in an SUV and drive from one ocean to the other, just ‘cause.  I got the zany idea to blog about our adventure and thus I was bitten by the blog bug, which in turn gave birth to the site you are reading now.  So, I guess Stan, Cartman, Kenny, and Kyle were wrong, it is not Canada that is to blame after all, it is California… and Kanye… Always blame Kayne!

Love and marriage, love and marriage It's an institute you can't disparage

Love and marriage, love and marriage
It’s an institute you can’t disparage

During our expedition westward we visited countless cities that contained locations that we never thought we would see with our own six eyeballs.  Some of them were the ordinary tourist traps, while others were happy accidents that were nothing short of spectacular.  One such surprise was in a little town called Chicago!  The windy city treated us right, gifting us with the fountain from the beginning sequence of Married with Children, a giant deep dish pizza from Giordano’s, a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and a true Chicago Blues experience at a spot recommended by one of the natives.

While we were having our nightcap at this local after-hours joint, enjoying the live music and mouthwatering food, I remember trying to figure out why New Jersey did not have a spot like this.  Sure, New Jersey has a few local bars that have live music, but there was something about the energy and the vibe of this place that was utterly authentic.

It has been seven years and I thought I would never experience a place as real and raw as this tiny Chicago club in good ol’ Jersey.  That is, until I was turned onto a little place called Hat City Kitchen, located at 459 Valley Street, in Orange, NJ.

Welcome to Hat City Kitchen

Welcome to Hat City Kitchen

***Before my custom built D-Bag filter catches all your angry hate mail, let me add this little caveat. I am well aware that we live across the river from the music and food mecca known as NYC. I venture there quite often.  However, as a card carrying New Jersian, you can’t tell me that crossing those bridges and tunnels all the damn time doesn’t get F-ing annoying after a while.  Sometimes, hitting up a local, and epic eatery in this armpit we call our home, is just what the foodie ordered.***

Enter Hat City Kitchen, an eclectic eatery with live music six nights a week, a fully stocked bar complete with craft beers, and food that is so damn good it will make you sing.  The first time we visited this relatively new spot we were not sure what to expect, but as always we drove to the Restaurant with an open mind and empty stomachs.

Not a bad seat in the house!

Not a bad seat in the house!

The exterior of Hat City Kitchen is extremely welcoming and has an almost old school Saloon feel to it, which immediately set the mood for what we were about to experience.  As we entered, we were instantaneously greeted by the welcoming hostess and sat down within seconds.  The band was still setting up and the dining area near the stage was almost full, yet the service was still impeccable.  Our drink orders were taken within minutes of our arrival by our extremely vibrant waitress and we were left to peruse the menu and soak in the ambience.

Hat City Kitchen is decorated with numerous paintings of famous musicians that would have played at a venue just like this, when venues like this actually still existed.  We played the fun game of guess the artist with each painting in the room while we carefully read the menu in order to choose just the right meals for our night. To be honest, after tasting what we chose, I am not sure if we would have been disappointed with any of the selections we were hemming and hawing about.

We decided to go with an order of the Hot Buttered Mushrooms to prime our appetites before diving head first into the entrees.   Kat decided to heed our helpful waitress’ advice and order from the specials menu, which will soon become the New Fall Menu at Hat City, and went with the Braised Short Ribs whereas I could not help but order the Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken.  Since our entrées came with a side dish each we chose to go with the Garlic Mashed Potatoes and The Collard Greens.

As we ordered our food, our first round of beers arrived and soon we were left to our own devices to enjoy the band that was about to begin their first set.  In no time I was transported back to that bar in Chicago, as the room transformed into a scene out of a movie.  That vibe that I had been longing for quite some time slowly creeped into the city of Orange that night, all thanks to Hat City Kitchen, and I loved every second of it.

MMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmushrooms

MMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmushrooms

Just when I thought this spot could not get any better, our first course arrived.  At first, when the dish arrived I was a little under whelmed.  As I am sure you can see from the photo, this crock full of mushrooms did not look like anything special.  Once again, I failed to mind my Grandmother’s wise words about never judging a book by its cover.  Upon tasting this bowl for amazing, I realized that the mushrooms were simply a vessel for the sauce that if sold at a grocery store could most definitely rock the label, Awesome Sauce.  This lemony, garlic concoction was not only on the mushrooms, but had absorbed into the mushrooms during cooking and created the perfect juicy bite.  I am not ashamed to say that I literally drank the sauce from the bowl.  Although the people sitting next to us seemed to be judging me as I sipped the ramekin like the Queen at high tea, pinky out and all, like the majestic honey badger, I didn’t give a shit.

As we finished our appetizer, we ordered another drink and once again allowed the band to make sweet, sweet, love to our ears.  Yup, I heard it as I typed it.  That was a weird, weird sentence. Sorry for that internets.  Anyhow, the entrees arrived and the sheer size of the dishes took us by surprise.  Both of our entrees were ginormous, and I am not going to lie, their girth combined with the aroma that was emanating from them made me one happy foodie.

Nothing is better than a giant plate of meat!

Nothing is better than a giant plate of meat!

We decided to dig into the Braised Short Ribs first.  The meat was fork fight tender, which is what I look for in a good Short Rib and cooked expertly.  Even though, the meat was phenomenal, once again the sauce stole the show.  Not to mention the fact that when I dipped the Garlic Mashed Potatoes in the gravy, I took a one way trip to flavor town!

Holy Hot Honey Batman!

Holy Hot Honey Batman!

We then, at first reluctantly, moved on to the Fried Chicken and Collard Greens.  At this point in the meal I was starting to see a pattern.  The food at Hat City Kitchen is not only top notch, but it is drizzled, slathered, or swimming in dressings, sauces, or pastes that are otherworldly.  So, when I saw a small container of what appeared to be honey sitting next to my chicken I could not help but dip my fork in it and give it a quick taste.  I was not wrong to do so.  This bold, fiery, mixture was none other than homemade hot honey and it was glorious all by itself, but when paired with the juicy, dare I say the forbidden foodie word, moist, fried chicken, it was straight up tastegasmic.  Look at that chicken people!  Okay, stop looking, you are drooling on your keyboard and your co-workers are starting to wonder about you.

No Bread Pudding For Me, Said No Sane Person Ever!

No Bread Pudding For Me, Said No Sane Person Ever!

Somehow we managed to eat all the food that was placed in front of us and just when we thought we could not fit one more bite of food in our mouths, the waitress came over and said the words that always seem to fix our stomach capacity issues, Homemade Bread Pudding.  Kat and I both locked eyes and lovingly, yet somewhat begrudgingly said “yes, please!,” in unison.  Do yourself a favor and order this sweet treat when you go to Hat City, it is a legitimate contender for best bread pudding I have ever stuffed in my craw!  This unique dessert tastes like bread pudding and creme brulee did it like they do on the discovery channel and had a baby.  Then of course, Hat City Kitchen, takes this wondrous hybrid and plates it with a sauce that is both decadent and divine.

The next time you are looking for a new place to eat, drink, and be merry I highly recommend you jump on the Parkway and head over to Hat City Kitchen.  From first dates to dinner with friends this spot can accommodate all.  I mean if you don’t like great food, lively music, and drinking beer then by all means sit at home in your recliner and watch PBS. However, if you still have a heartbeat and strive for something fun and exciting to do with your evenings, do yourself a favor and get your keister down to Hat City Kitchen, you won’t regret your decision.

The Essential Epicurean Guide To Restaurant Week in NYC: Summer 2016 Edition

This is not a drill people, Restaurant Week is once again upon us! Despite what the haters and hipsters have to say, I, for one, am super excited to head over to the greatest city in the world and chow down on some epic eats! This year’s Restaurant “Week” runs from July 25, 2016 to August 19, 2016 (I know that is more than a week, DEAL WITH IT!) and will run you $29.00 for lunch and $42.00 for dinner. Here is a link to all the participating restaurants; NYCGO.

Restaurant-week-2016-summer

However, if picking a restaurant seems more daunting than hitting a Noah Syndergaard fastball, then keep reading. To make your life easier, I have compiled my essential epicurean guide to this event once again. This time, I embarked on a mission to steer clear of the ordinary haunts and attempted to find the spots that are slightly off the beaten path, gastronomically speaking.

These restaurants might scare people off on a regular Monday, due to their rather adventurous cuisine and, let’s be honest, New York City price tags. However, thanks to the beauty of Restaurant Week, we can give these eclectic establishments a whirl without the worry of buyer’s remorse. So, without further ado, let’s take a Gastronomic walkabout around the globe, simply by driving across a river. (The following list is in no particular order, so make sure to scroll to the end)

The Cecil

Cuisine: African

Restaurant: The Cecil

Address: 210 West 118th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue New York, NY 10026

Why You Should Go: The Cecil has basically created a culinary style that is unique to their establishment deemed Afro-Asian-American. Pair that awesome sauce with their chic décor and hip ambience and you have a recipe for a memorable night out.        

What You Should Order: Collar Green Salad, Fried Chicken Fried Rice, and Triple Chocolate Cake

TenderSteak

Cuisine: American New, Japanese Sushi

Restaurant: Tender Steak + Sushi

Address: 130 West 47th Street, NY 10036  

Why You Should Go: This unique and modern eatery flawlessly combines a traditional American Steakhouse with an authentic high end Sushi joint. Tender made my list because of its culinary range, offering everything from burgers to sushi. This restaurant is great for the group that just can’t decide on one type of cuisine.

What You Should Order: Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice, Tender Wagyu Burger, and Crème Brulee

Distilled NYC

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Distilled New York

Address: 211 W Broadway, New York, NY 10013

Why You Should Go: Distilled New York is a throwback to a near forgotten era where public houses, pubs, and bars were not just full of D-Bags looking to get drunk and laid. Back in the day, these establishments were home to impromptu town hall meetings and actual political discussions, based on informed opinions as opposed to what party you are affiliated with. Distilled is trying to harness that vibe and reinvent the old school Public House. Not to mention they have a standup beer menu and their food is pretty epic.

What You Should Order: Distilled Wings, Country Fried Duck and Waffle, Night Cap

Chefs Club

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Chef’s Club

Address: 275 Mulberry St. Manhattan, NY 10012

Why You Should Go: Brought to you by Food & Wine, this swanky restaurant boasts a collaborative menu from a rotating list of some of the world’s most renowned young Chefs. The Chef’s Club also offers eaters the unique experience of watching the drama of the kitchen unfold before their eyes thanks to their open kitchen, which is located in the center of the eatery.

What You Should Order: Calamari & Giardiniera Salad, Spicy Beef Ribs, and Chocolate Pretzel Whoopie Pie

Blenheim

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Blenheim

Address: 283 W. 12th St. New York, NY 10014

Why You Should Go: First and foremost this sexy eatery has just earned itself a Michelin Star, which should be reason enough to visit. However, that is only the tip of the romaine. Blenheim is redefining the term Farm to Table, by literally growing the food that appears on their impressive menu on their own farm, located in the Catskills. Plus, they are serving this amazingly fresh fare in a beautifully inviting atmosphere. Reservations are hard to come by, but try to score one of the outdoor tables which allow you to enjoy your dinner while participating in one of my favorite NYC past times, people watching.

What You Should Order: Poached Farm Egg, Roast Chicken, and Honey Semifreddo

smoke jazz club

Cuisine: American New

Restaurant: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club

Address: 2751 Broadway Manhattan, NY 10025

Why You Should Go: Smoke Jazz & Supper Club is one of NYC’s most distinguished Jazz Clubs and they just so happen to have a world renowned Chef playing her tunes in the Kitchen to boot. Let Smoke set the mood for your date night with their vintage décor, candlelit tables, soulful live jazz performances, and remarkable food. It is like the Barry White songs of restaurants, if you are picking up what I am putting down.

What You Should Order: Mousse of Foie Gras, Lobster Ravioli, S’mores Brownie

BurkeWillsNYC

Cuisine: Australian

Restaurant: Burke & Willis

Address: 226 W 79th St, New York, NY 10024

Why You Should Go: Visiting Australia has always been a dream of mine, alas the never ending plane ride has always scared me away. Thanks to Burke & Willis, I can now try traditional Southern Hemisphere food, without having to endure crying infants, stale air, and 3 inches of leg room for 21 hours twice in 2 weeks.  

What You Should Order: Kangaroo Ham (+$5.00), Australian Lamb Rack (+$10.00), Affogato

Resto_Logo

Cuisine: Belgian

Restaurant: Resto

Address: 111 East 29th Street New York, NY 10016

Why You Should Go: Resto’s attempt to replicate the quant bistros that are all over Paris and Brussels is spot on, and the food transports you to these foodie havens as well. Furthermore, Resto offers outdoor seating to add to the already wonderful dining experience.

What You Should Order: Country Ham, Chicken & Liege Waffles Bacon, Honey Panna Cotta

Vermillion

Cuisine: Eclectic

Restaurant: Vermillion

Address: 480 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10017

Why You Should Go: Sticking with the theme of this article, Vermillion’s culinary exploration of the intersection of Indian and Latin-American cuisine is distinctive and playful. The Restaurant Week menu was not available at the time that I published this post, which usually keeps a restaurant off my list, but I am a sucker for Indian Cuisine and their regular menu looked straight up fantastic.

What You Should Order: Your guess is as good as mine…

 Noreetuh

Cuisine: Hawaiian

Restaurant: Noreetuh

Address: 128 First Avenue Manhattan, NY 10009

Why You Should Go: Why shouldn’t you go? Unless you have access to a private jet and unlimited money, I would imagine that you don’t eat traditional Hawaiian food very often. Noreetuh offers a small slice of paradise in this otherwise brick-faced world. Plus they have a decent craft beer list and an impressive wine selection to get you into that serious vacation mood.

What You Should Order: Noreetuh Salumi, Mentaiko Spaghetti, and King’s Hawaiian Bread Pudding

KHE YO

Cuisine: Laotian

Restaurant: Khe-Yo

Address: 157 Duane St. Manhattan, NY 10013

Why You Should Go: I pride myself on rocking every single style of food that I can literally and figuratively sink my teeth into, and I have yet to have Laotian food. So, to be honest, I am not exactly sure what I would order or if it will be at the level of some of the other spots on the list. However, I am damn sure, that it will be an experience and just a quick peek at their website will show you that although I can’t guarantee anything, I am betting on Khe-Yo punching me right in the taste buds.

What You Should Order: Maine Lobster Dumplings, Steamed Red Snapper in Banana Leaf, Vanilla Rice Pudding

 Pig and Khao

Cuisine: Malaysian

Restaurant: Pig And Khao

Address: 68 Clinton St. Manhattan, NY 10002

Why You Should Go: It is not a secret here on the internets that I love pork more than the internets loves videos of cats. I have a rule whenever I am searching for a restaurant or bar and it is quite simple; follow the pig. While it may have been the name of this eatery that drew me in, it was the pork centric menu that landed it on my exclusive list of where you should eat. Oh, Pig And Khao, you had me at Pork Jowls.

What You Should Order: Grilled Pork Jowl, Pork Belly Adobo, Baby Back Ribs, Turon

Russian Tea Room

Cuisine: Russian

Restaurant: The Russian Tea Room

Address: 150 W. 57th St. Manhattan, NY 10019

Why You Should Go: For 80 years, the Russian Tea Room and its ornate décor has been wining and dining NYC’s elite. Much like a baseball fan walking into Wrigley Field, a foodie can feel the culinary history oozing from this legendary eatery. Not to mention they have, arguably, the best Russian Food this side of the Atlantic.

What You Should Order:  Team Room Red Borscht, Boeuf à la Stroganoff, Cheesecake

Root and Bone

Cuisine: Southern Fare

Restaurant: Root & Bone

Address: 200 E. 3rd St. Manhattan, NY 10009

Why You Should Go: Southern food is not for everyone, I respect and acknowledge that. However, I assure you, Southern food is for me and that is why Root & Bone lands firmly on my short list of must visit eateries in NYC. Root & Bone combines high end comfort food, southern hospitality, and culinary expertise to form, IMHO, one of the best true eating experiences the city has to offer.

What You Should Order: Grandma Daisy’s Angel Biscuits, Braised Short Rib Meatloaf, and S’mores

socarrat paella bar

Cuisine: Spanish

Restaurant: Socarrat-Paella Bar

Address: 953 2nd Avenue New York, NY 10022 / 284 Mulberry Street New York, NY 10012 / 259 West 19th Street New York, NY 10011

Why You Should Go: What is not to like about Paella? The math is sound folks! Handfuls of amazingly seasoned seafood, meat, and vegetables + perfectly prepared rice + gigantic portions = Hot Damn. Socarrat-Paella Bar brings this amazing dish to Restaurant Week in style with several variations available.

What: Pulpo a la Plancha (Grilled Octopus), Paella de Arroz Negro (Seafood Paella with squid ink), and Churros Con Chocolate.

Momofuku Noodle Bar: This Ain’t Your College Ramen

If you are a foodie, and I would imagine you are, you most likely have heard of the acclaimed PBS show The Mind of a Chef.  If you have yet to watch this Foodographic program, you should immediately jump onto your hipster cable network, use whatever Netflix account you “borrow,” and commence what will become a serious binge watching session.  This is not a Netflix and Chill show either, you are going to want to pay attention to it, so hands off, Handsy McPerv Pants, and watch, as you enter the Mind of a Chef.

Don't sue me PBS, I am giving you free advertising!

Don’t sue me PBS, I am giving you free advertising!

The first season of this unique epicurean show follows, Chef David Chang, an American restaurateur, author, and promising television personality as he gallivants around the globe talking to other awe-inspiring Chefs about what goes on in their both food centric and eccentric minds.  Chef Chang is known to most of us, as the brilliant mind behind the Momofuku Restaurant Group. (No I did not just call you a lover of someone else’s mother, that is an entirely different combination of the letters M and F.)  After watching the complete first season of The Mind of a Chef, in a matter of few short days, I was craving Chef Chang’s ramen more than Lebron James yearns to be loved.

Luckily for me, I don’t live in one of the fly over states, sorry-not-sorry Kansas, so an epic plan was set in motion.  The New York Mets happened to be in town last Friday, battling the Milwaukee Brewers and it was Free Shirt Friday to boot.  So Kat, Alex, Steph, and I decided to not only visit Citi Field and root-root-root for the home team, but to hit up the Momofuku Noodle Bar afterwards for some late night Ramen with an added nightcap.

For those of you who care, The Mets won 3 to 2, thanks to a brilliant performance by Steven Matz and a clutch home run by Michael Conforto.  If you want to know more about this game, check out uber Mets Fan Jim Breuer’s recap below.  Seriously people, watch it, like it, and subscribe to it, he is terrific.

Sorry for the tangent, but I like Mets a lot, like almost as much as I like food and beer, and that my friends is saying something.  Where was I, Oh yes!!! Momofuku!  The Noodle Bar which opened its doors in 2004, was the first of now, many restaurants that make up the Momofuku Restaurant Group.  For those of you that are keeping score, that is well before the recent ramen rage, making Chef David Chang the Ice-T or, Schoolly D for those of you in the know, of the NYC Ramen scene.  You know, minus the illegal activity and mad fat beats, he is straight up OG… errrrrrrrr… OC…

In NYC a brown paper bag is like a condom.  You use it for your protection!  Photo Borrowed from http://infinitelegroom.com

In NYC a brown paper bag is like a condom. You use it for your protection! Photo Borrowed from http://infinitelegroom.com

Before we arrived at Momofuku, located at 171 1st Avenue, between 10th and 11th Street, New York, NY 10003, we stopped at a local bodega to grab a few pre-dinner IPAs because the wait for this awesome eatery can sometimes reach a sobering 1 hour mark.  With our road sodas in hand, in paper bags of course, we are not animals, we approached this utopian Ramen Shangri-La and amongst the bustling noise of noodle slurping, kitchen clanging, and customers Instagramming, we placed our names in the queue.  Luckily for our bellies the wait was only 30 minutes, which conversely was unlucky for our livers, which now had to process our, damn near 8 percent, IPAs much quicker than we anticipated.

As we sipped from our discreet vessels of hops, barley, yeast and water we perused the menu that the hostess was kind enough to provide when we checked in.  Just when our bottles were empty and our bladders were full, our names were called and we took a seat at one of the shared wooden tables in the dining area.

We were greeted by our server, with a smile and menus.  Three of us ordered another round of beers and one of us, the responsible one, ordered a Coke because she was driving.  (Thanks by the way, because I was celebrating the Mets win and Ramen, so I was going to be in no condition to drive.)  Next, we ordered our meal for the evening, and even though the menu is small, it was not an easy choice. In the end, we decided on the Beef Tartare and the Chicken Meatball Buns as appetizers, and 4 bowls of Ramen with a kicker of Kimchi for our entrees.

While we nursed our beers and conversed the anticipation of finally eating at a Chef Chang establishment slowly built.  We were like a hot water heater on Mythbusters, the pressure was building with each and every minute.  Fortunately, even though the place was crowded, the service was actually quite quick and our appetizers arrived in no time at all.

Meet the MEAT!

Meet the MEAT!

The first dish to make an appearance at our table was the Beef Tartare.  For those of you that are not extremely well versed in the language of cookery, the word Tartare is usually synonymous with raw, and this was no exception.  This particular dish featured finely diced high-quality raw beef, seasoned with brown butter and herbs, served with rice crackers.  Alex and I are huge fans of Beef Tartare, which means that we are also pretty tough critics when it comes to eating it, but IMHO this dish was the real the deal.  The beef was not overly salted, the texture was spot on, and the brown butter added just the right amount of nutty notes to the meat, without overpowering its rather delicate flavor that the raw form tends to have.  Furthermore, when we added the tangy SSam sauce, which is placed on every table in the restaurant, this dish went from a 9 to a damn near 10.

That Ssam-I-Am, That Ssam-I-Am, I do indeed like that Ssam-I-Am

That Ssam-I-Am, That Ssam-I-Am, I do indeed like that Ssam-I-Am

While we were polishing off the Tartare, the Chicken Meatball Buns arrived.  ***I failed to take a picture of this dish because I was in awe of the Tartare.  Sue me! No wait don’t sue me, this is America, and you would probably win.  The bun was the star of this dish because it was the perfect consistency and did not fall apart, as we split them in half.  As a supporting cast the Chicken Meatball and the Paprika Mayo did just fine, no Oscar nominations, but a solid performance  which elevated the leading role.  The meatball itself was moist, which was nice, considering Chicken dries out if you look at it the wrong way.  (Suck it moist haters! I find this word descriptive and I like using it.  I find your hatred of this word to be offensive and linguistically racist!)

The moment of truth was almost here.  A bowl of Chef David Chang’s Ramen was on the horizon and I could not wait to dive into it like Scrooge McDuck into a building full of gold coins.  Every bowl that exited the kitchen distracted me from our ongoing conversation.  I was like a freaking gold fish!  As I followed the wait staff around the dining room with my eyes, one waitress scooped up two bowls of brothy goodness and headed directly for our table.  I was giddy, I was happy, I was excited, I was scared.  What if I didn’t like it?  Would I be exiled from the foodie community for not loving Chef Chang’s bowl of accolades and awards?

The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

Behold!  The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

The moment my Ramen hit the table all my anxiety disappeared like the Matt Harvey fans in 2016. (Don’t worry Matt, I still got your back!  To hell with those fair weather fans!)   For those non-baseball fans, they melted away like Frosty the Snowman, in the very-very short and ill-conceived film, Frosty Takes Hawaii.   Just look at the gorgeous composition of that souptacular bowl of temptation.  This bowl of Ramen could be the cover girl for the little known adult-themed food fetish magazine, known as Penthouse Forum:  The Slutty Kitchen Edition.

I was in love at first slurp with this brilliant bowl of amazeballs. The broth was extremely flavorful with a hearty dose of pork, the slow poached egg was done to perfection, and the noodles…don’t even get me started on the noodles.  I tried each element of this dish separately before going in for the kill and mixing it all together like a savage.  I am not sure if that is proper Ramen etiquette but it felt like the right thing to do.  The sum of all this dish’s parts coming together was tantamount to the combination of the five astronaut’s ships that created Voltron: Defender of the Universe.  Just when I thought this meal could not get much better, I added a few dashes of the SSam sauce to the party and I was in Ramen Nirvana.

Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!  Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!   Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!   Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!

Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY! Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions Oh MY!

Since Kat is awesome or because I gave her the sad puppy dog face, or perhaps a combination of those things, she let me give her meal a whirl.  She and Steph decided on the Hozon Ramen Bowl, which incorporated Chickpeas, Kale, and Scallions.  I was extremely surprised when I tasted the broth of the Hozon Ramen.  It was not just the same broth that was ladled into my bowl, it was completely different, but equally as complex.  Furthermore, as you can see from the picture above, it was also a stunning dish that was plated…errrrrr bowled, flawlessly.

Suck It Dunkin' Donuts!!! Just kidding I love you.  Please don't take my coffee away!

Suck It Dunkin’ Donuts!!! Just kidding, I love you. Please don’t take my coffee away!

Even though we were well-satiated, to say it lightly, we felt obligated to try at least one dessert to share while we were at Momofuku.  This was a necessity because the desserts at Momofuku are provided by the always impressive Christina Tosi, the founder of Milk.  We ordered the Birthday Cake Truffles because we were told they would be easier to split and to be honest how could those not be fantastic.  These little Munchkin looking bastards make Dunkin’ Donut’s Munchkins taste like cardboard covered in sawdust.  They were the perfect ending to our Momofuku experience!

In summation, get your arse to The Momofuku Noodle Bar immediately!  No check that, faster than immediately!  Go steal THE friggin’ DeLorean right now from Doc Brown and go yesterday.  Don’t wait for a special occasion, make Momofuku THE special occasion and then hang out in the city until you can’t hang no more.  Believe me this restaurant is worth the astronomical bridge and tunnel fares and the Kal-if-fee that will ensue while you attempt to find parking.

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!

 

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