Chef Eric LeVine and Morris Tap & Grill Introduce A True Foodie Experience: The Kitchen Bar

Being a foodie is not just about stuffing your face with the latest food trends, posting pictures on Instagram, and writing copious amounts of Yelp reviews, blog posts, and comments. A true foodie should always be on the lookout for epicurean adventures that transcend basic consumption and craft a memorable experience.

I am not talking about Medieval Times or the Renaissance Faire either. Not that eating a giant turkey leg wrapped in bacon, chugging a beer from a leather skin, and saying “Ye’ old” all day is not a fantastic freakin’ time, but I don’t consider them to be food centric. These types of attractions tend to focus almost exclusively on the spectacle of the affair, and therefore, the food is merely an afterthought.

I am referring to the type of gastronomic experience that begins as a seed in a talented Chef’s mind and blossoms into an edible journey unlike any other. One such experience can be found at Morris Tap & Grill, located at 500 NJ-10, Randolph, NJ. This magnificent foodie find is the brain child of Chef Eric LeVine, and is known as the Kitchen Bar.

Kat and I were recently invited to join Chef Eric, literally in the kitchen, of Morris Tap & Grill for a meal that we would not soon forget. If you have ever worked in the food service business, you are aware of the chaotic rush that occurs behind those dangerous swinging doors that act like sentinels for the kitchen. For those of you that have never had the opportunity to don an apron, memorize the specials, and get a 2% tip from a jerk in a Jaguar, your table is waiting at Morris Tap and Grill.

I have to admit, it has been a while since I was behind the scenes at a restaurant, so I was extremely excited to be in the thick of it once again. Not to mention, I knew that Chef Eric and his team of culinary wunderkinds were going to drop a foodtastic bomb on us unlike any other, and that just added to my enthusiasm.

As we entered the restaurant we were escorted to the kitchen where a private table for two was set overlooking Chef Eric’s pristine kitchen. We were seated at once and handed drink menus that showcased the impressive beer selection that I have come to love and expect from Morris Tap & Grill. While perusing the effervescent offerings, our waitress introduced herself and placed a basket of homemade seven dust chips on our table complete with a dipping sauce.

Mmmmmmmmm Beer!

She’s Crafty and just my type!!!

After a brief discussion about the rare gems that littered the beer menu we placed our drink orders with our server who was extremely knowledgeable about the extensive beer list. Upon finishing the order I apologized for asking so many questions. Our server informed me and wanted me to inform you that they enjoy conversing about the libation menu at the Morris Tap and would rather you choose the right drink to pair with your meal, than choose the wrong one and have a bad experience.  Cheers to that!

Crispy fried slices of fantastic wonder, covered in the seven spices that fall from the sky in nirvana.

Crispy fried slices of fantastic wonder, covered in the seven spices that fall from the sky in nirvana.

We then turned our attention to the basket of Seven Dust Chips which are leaps and bounds above any loaf of bread that you receive at most restaurants. Bursting with flavor, these crispy-fried-slices-of-fantastic wonder tasted even better when dredged in the chipotle dipping sauce that made my mouth happier than a crooked politician in New Jersey.

As we were enjoying the first of many courses that we would see that night, Chef Eric arrived at our table and welcomed us to his Kitchen. He confirmed that Kat and I don’t have any food allergies or any aversion to specific types of food. After we verified that we would eat just about anything that he could possibly place in front us, we began talking about that evening’s agenda and beyond.

The Kitchen Bar experience is unlike your normal dinner out on the town. Chef Eric contacts you via email and discusses the menu with you before your reservation. Although, you won’t know exactly what you are having, which is half the fun, the Chef will create a meal that is specifically designed for you and your group. The only catch is that the whole table has to commit to the same meal prior to your arrival. In other words, if you choose to bring a vegetarian, Chef Eric will create a vegetarian meal that will convert most carnivores, but all of you will get no meat.

Sushi ain't got nothing on this perfect summer dish!

Sushi ain’t got nothing on this perfect summer dish!

While members of the staff danced around the kitchen as if Fred Astaire himself created the choreography, Kat and I watched intently as Chef Eric was diligently working on our next course.   The Chef plated and delivered a beautiful and remarkably flavorful Tuna Tartare Flatbread dish.   The peaceful tuna tossed in a slightly tumultuous Ginger Scallion Sauce served with a downright boisterous Wasabi Mayo created a dish with levels of depth that made the Grand Canyon look like a Hāngi HoleChef Eric and the staff allowed Kat and I to enjoy each course before removing the plates from our table and starting to prepare the next. As we savored each bite of the Tuna, we listened to the clamoring of the kitchen, complete with a soundtrack of orders being barked, food being prepped, and pans rattling.

Tempura Battered & Lightly Fried Asparagus & Broccolini served with Crispy Carrot Threads and a Soy Scallion Ginger Sauce

Ohhhh Crispy Carrot Threads You My Only Friend!

Shortly after we were done with the Tartare, Chef Eric once again delivered a plate to our table. This time we were gifted with a Tempura Battered & Lightly Fried Asparagus & Broccolini served with Crispy Carrot Threads and a Soy Scallion Ginger Sauce. This dish is bar none of our favorites at Morris Tap, and we were very happy to see it. The true star of the this dish are the Crispy Carrot threads, which according to Chef Eric, not a lot of people even eat because they think they are a garnish. If you do ever find yourself at Morris Tap & Grill, even in the normal dining room, do yourself a favor, order this app, and promise me you will eat the whole damn thing!

Fire it up!

Fire it up!

While we were demolishing the tempura dish, Chef Eric began to work on our next course, and he said it was a special one. Kat and I were both filled with intrigue and wonder as he prepared the dish merely feet away from us. We were trying to peer over his shoulder and use all of our senses to make an educated guess on what our next gastronomic dish could be. We channeled everything we ever learned from watching Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and we were only able to decipher that he was prepping raviolis of some sort. Unfortunately, the exact variety was still a mystery.

The Ravioli Revolution will not be televised, so I will be sure to Blog the hell out of it.

The Ravioli Revolution will not be televised, so I will be sure to Blog the hell out of it.

However, the moment the plate hit the table, I instantly knew that these stunning stuffed pockets of pasta were none other than Chef Eric LeVine’s world renowned Lobster Ravioli. Not only do these ravioli house an extremely generous portion of actual lobster meat, they are topped with a Chipotle Shallot Shrimp Sauce that boasts more shrimp than George Constanza could eat in a two hour long meeting.

If you don't order this you should go directly to the Jerk Store!

If you don’t order this you should go directly to the Jerk Store!

As we relished in the sheer awesomeness of this course, Chef Eric discussed his most recent project, Chef Eric’s Ravioli Revolution. Although this revolution will not be televised, it will bring these glorious pasta pouches, as well as other varieties to grocery stores all across New Jersey and, hopefully, the country. In other words, on the nights you can’t get to the one of Chef Eric’s bad ass eateries, you can still enjoy these marvelous morsels.

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

Excuse me while I take a Selfie!!!

Even though Kat and I were approaching the food wall, we could not let any of those luxurious raviolis go to waste. Chef Eric and his staff recognized our dilemma and automatically decelerated the pace of our meal. This reduction allowed us to interact with the kitchen staff a little, and Chef Eric took this opportunity to introduce to us the key players that keep the kitchen running like a well-oiled machine and allow him to bounce around from Paragon Tap & Table to Morris Tap & Grill like an errant beer pong ball.

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

Oxtail, Corn Pudding, Chorizo, Ohhh My!

After some brief introductions and a much needed hiatus from the conveyor belt of yummy, we were ready to jump back into the ring and see what else Chef Eric had in store for our feast. Next to arrive was the House Made Chorizo on Corn Pudding paired with Smoked Oxtail which is served on Herb Crostini. Although the oxtail was expertly prepared and was melt in your mouth tender, the show stopper on this plate was the corn pudding paired with the Chorizo. The spicy kick of the chorizo balances the sweetness of the corn pudding creates a combination that is straight up perfection. Not to mention it is almost as gorgeous as my wife.   Relax, I said almost!

Sweet, Sweet Porky Goodness!

Sweet-Sweet Porky Goodness!

Our appetites were once again satiated, but as soon as the next course hit our table, we were instantaneously hungry. One of the main reasons that Kat and I do not own a pig is because we love pork to damn much to give it up, so when this pork tenderloin dish was served I knew it did not have a chance. To make its chances of survival worse it was paired with risotto, which happens to be another weakness of ours, because I make Risotto like Joffrey from Game of Thrones makes friends…Spoiler Alert… Poorly!

Chef Eric's Decadent Masterpiece

Chef Eric’s Decadent Masterpiece

The Kitchen Bar experience includes a dessert unlike any other in the world. That is because it is created while you watch while Chef Eric himself and no two are ever quite the same. It is the perfect way to finish this unique foodie voyage that breaks down the fourth wall of the restaurant business for all to see.

Beautiful and Edible

Beautiful and Edible

Chef Eric has deemed this distinctive dessert, The Dessert Scape, and it is created on your table top from various syrups, cakes, toppings, and candies. As with actual artwork, pictures just don’t do it justice.   Watching it being constructed might be half the fun, but the temptation to eat it before it is finished is stronger than the Schwartz that is contained within Yogurt.

Ohhh Myspace angles, you can even make dessert look better.

Ohhh Myspace angles, you can even make dessert look better.

The wait however is well worth it; because once this masterpiece was completed, eating it was as rewarding as sneaking a selfie at the Sistine Chapel.  Each sauce dollop and syrup smear, when combined with the pastries that were strewn about the table, created a new and exciting forkful of amazeballs. Although I was slightly sad to destroy Chef Eric’s craftsmanship, I did not feel bad enough to stop eating every last bite of his sweet-sweet sculpture of yummy.

Chef Eric LeVine could build a fortress with all of his accolades and from this stronghold watch as his multitude of projects prosper. However, that is simply not how Chef Eric LeVine rolls. He is one of the hardest working Chefs in the business, and is constantly looking to cultivate innovative and exciting business ventures. In other words, Chef Eric LeVine only has one speed, and that speed is Ludicrous Speed!

If two parts eating orgy and one part kitchen drama sounds right up your alley contact Morris Tap & Grill via their website to discuss the Kitchen Bar details. If this does not sound like your cup of tea, then at the very least visit Morris Tap & Grill or Paragon Tap & Table to experience Chef Eric Levine’s masterful creations.

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The Evolution Of Morris Tap & Grill

Most restaurateurs and Chefs are content with resting on their laurels and patting themselves on the back about past successes. They use their meteoric rise in the foodie subculture as an excuse to become soft and complacent. These actions cause most of them to quickly fall from the pedestal they have placed themselves on and return back to the middle of the pack as they are replaced by hungry young culinary minds, eager to prove their worth.

Luckily for the New Jersey food scene, Chef Eric Levine has never been this kind of Chef. Since the beginning of his career, he has knocked down one barrier after another, barely pausing to bask in the greatness of his accomplishment.

Chef Eric traveled the world gathering culinary techniques at every turn. He worked in France, Italy, and Japan at world-renowned restaurants alongside of highly acclaimed Chefs before returning to his hometown of New York City to become Chef de Cuisine at the famed Marriott Marquis in New York City.

Was this enough for Chef Eric? Nope! Chef Eric continued to take the restaurant world by storm collecting accolades like Justin Bieber accumulates haters. In 2011, Chef Eric appeared on Food Network’s Chopped and his personality and talent left the competition on the chopping block, as he was declared the champion.

Morris Tap & Grill

Morris Tap & Grill

This illustrious victory was parlayed into the opening of Morris Tap & Grill located at 500 Route 10 in Randolph, NJ. Chef Eric busted into the New Jersey Restaurant scene with reckless abandon offering an innovative menu paired with a beer list that could make a Cicerone weep.

Still not satiated, this gastronomic juggernaut refused to take his foot off the pedal. As Morris Tap & Grill was creating a name for itself in the Pantheon of New Jersey eateries, Chef Eric and #TeamKickAss opened up Paragon Tap & Table located at 77 Central Avenue in Clark, NJ.

One would think that operating two of New Jersey’s top restaurants would earn Chef Eric a reason to sit back, relax, and watch his hard work simply flourish. If this is your thought, you apparently don’t know Mr. Levine.

Instead of allowing his establishments to become stale in the ever-so finicky restaurant market, Chef Eric immersed himself in his passion once again and decided to unveil a new menu at his flagship restaurant Morris Tap & Grill.

Last week, Kat and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Morris Tap as Chef Eric’s guests amongst several other writers, bloggers, and foodies to taste the exciting offerings that will populate the new menu, which is only one aspect of the evolution of Morris Tap & Grill.

Wasabi, Truffle, and BBQ Oh MY!

Wasabi, Truffle Butter, and BBQ Oh MY!

The first course we were introduced to was the Trio of Popcorn appetizer that featured three unique and fun flavors that are not usually associated with this movie theater staple. Barbecue, Wasabi, and Truffle Butter seasoning topped the perfectly popped kernels of corn that made Orville Redenbacher’s old school offerings taste like stale matzo. This casual yet witty preparation breathed new life into a forgotten dish, creating a boldly flavored appetizer ideal for the barroom hero that has refined his palate since shotgunning PBRs in a college dorm room.

As I was daydreaming of Magnitude from Community reciting his famous line, “Pop! Pop!” about the trio, Chef Eric hit us with the second course of the night, a tempura fried broccoli and asparagus platter paired with crispy carrot shavings and a scallion ginger dipping sauce.

I will dream of these carrot shavings and it might not be the driest dream I have ever had.

I will dream of these carrot shavings and it might not be the driest dream I have ever had.

I am not usually one to rock appetizers, but this dish very well may convert me. The tempura battered veggies were light, crunchy, and flavorful, and when combined with the dipping sauce, it created a party in my mouth. However, the true star of this plate was the deep fried carrot tidbits that flawlessly walked the line between salty and sweet. Not only was this dish enormously tasty due to the fact that it was mostly comprised of vegetables, it made me feel like I was trying to eat healthy.

Up next was the Smoked Shrimp paired with a Fennel salad topped with a garlic pesto dressing. Chef Eric informed us that the new menu is littered with items that will be prepared via the in-house smoker that will be cranking at damn near full tilt around the clock.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Smoke ’em if you got ’em!

When most people think about smoked dishes, images of heavy, sauce-laden entrees like ribs, brisket, and pork shoulder immediately come to mind. As we discussed earlier, Chef Eric is not like most people, and therefore, this avant-garde offering was a welcome change to this thought process.

I thoroughly enjoyed the delicate smoke flavor that was imparted on the shrimp that was finished on the grill. Furthermore, the fennel topped with a pesto garlic sauce, which boasted a hint of chili oil, was a flawless and healthy substitute for the traditional pasta that would be served with a dish like this.

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

Mmmmmmm Buttery!

If this expertly prepared Shrimp was not enough to solidify our opinion on Chef Eric’s seafood skill, the next course dropped the hammer. The next offering was Seared Scallops served on top of a Corn Risotto. Separately these components were magical, but when married together, each forkful was simply divine. The buttery scallops combined with the creamy risotto were a better match than Zack Morris and Kelly Kapowski.

At this point in the tasting, my cohorts and I were feeling as if we were a Thanksgiving Turkey in the 1960’s…Stuffed! Some of us were even thinking about waiving the white towel and tapping out, that is until the next dish hit our tables. A beautifully presented braised oxtail entrée that was served on an herb crostini paired with a chorizo sausage and poblano cream topped corn pudding.

This dish had it all!  I could eat this everyday.

I could marry this dish!

This was by far my favorite meal of the night! The Oxtail was prepared in the traditional fashion, which allows the fatty nature of the meat to deliver an immense flavor and a wonderful texture. I was under the impression that after shoveling a few pieces of the oxtail into my craw, nothing was going to compete with the amount of happy my taste-buds were experiencing, but then I tried the corn pudding and chorizo tag team, which conveyed a spicy, sweet juxtaposition that was delightful.

This dish could be my Mistress.  Shhhhh don't tell the Oxtail!

This dish could be my Mistress. Shhhhh… don’t tell the Oxtail!

Just when I thought Chef Eric could not top the previous meal, the House Cured Pork Belly and Tomatillo Salad was brought to the party. When reviewing my notes for this dish, I noticed that I wrote three words that I still feel describes this dish flawlessly, “Holy Hot Damn!” This was Kat’s favorite, and I can see why. The tomatillo salad was exquisitely spicy and the House Cured Pork Belly was nothing short of perfection.

So sweet and yummy!

So sweet and yummy!

The crew at Morris Tap & Grill wowed us all with their innovative, fun, and playful new culinary creations that would soon grace their everyday lineup all night, and just when we thought we were done, dessert was served. A Caramel Trio concoction composed of caramel chocolate mousse, caramel cake, and a chocolate bar topped with dulce de leche and a play on a traditional Mirepoix, served as a Dessert, featuring carrot cake, fig onion marmalade, and a lichee sorbet hit the table. Although both desserts were great, I am a sucker for chocolate and caramel and therefore this dish reigned supreme in the dessert round!

MTG Mirepoix

Go ahead you can look up WTF a Mirepoix is… I had to.

If the 1300 or so words of praise that I just spewed on this page combined with the crap load of food porn that I uploaded don’t sway you to visit Morris Tap & Grill, maybe this last little bit of information will. MT&G is also adding several original cocktails that were created by a serious mixologist to their already insane craft beer list. Perhaps you are a math person instead of a verbose foodie like me, so let me explain it in a way that you might understand. AMAZING FOOD + TOP FLIGHT BOOZE = SHEER AMAZEBALLS

Regulars at Morris Tap & Grill should refrain from mourning the death of the classic dishes they have grown to love over the years. Chef Eric ensured us that these new menu items would not replace the crowd-pleasing fare that Morris Tappers have been enjoying since the restaurants inception. However, I implore each and every one of you to give these contemporary meals a whirl next time you decide to visit MT&G. Just please don’t take my reservation!

Morris Tap and Grill on Urbanspoon

The Ultimate 2015 NYC Restaurant Week Survival Guide

NYC Restaurant Week

Well, it is that time of year again folks. Old man winter is being his normal douchebag self and the rich folk are hibernating or vacationing. We can all put on our Grumpy Cat sweat shirts, hunker down in our houses, and hate them as hard as Yankee fans will soon hate A-Roid or we can embrace one of the few perks that accompanies this frigid season.

Since this is a food blog it should be quite obvious that I am referring to the bi-annual event known as Restaurant Week. From February 16, 2015 until March 6, 2015 we, the commoners, can dine like royalty for a fraction of the normal damage that these heavy-weight gastronomic contenders would normally do to our wallets.

Instead of bills that are larger than the New York Mets budget for 2015, if you visit one of the 340 restaurants that are participating in Restaurant Week this year (The most ever by the way), you will only pay $25.00 for Lunch and $38.00 for Dinner. To make things even better, those prices include an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert.

As with everything else in life, you should always be wary of deals that sound too good to be true, and there are a few things one should know before you venture out to the great city of Gotham, in search of foodie gold.

1: Friends Don’t Let Friends Binge Drink and Dine

This ain’t college anymore Jockey Mc. FratPants. At this fine establishments the hooch is expensive and the fare is skillfully seasoned. If you still answer to a nickname such as Drunk Tom, The Slutbuster, or Senor Tequila, this event may not be for you.

Furthermore, if you are from New Jersey you are probably used to BYOB establishments that help alleviate the cost of dining out at most local restaurants. In New York, however, liquor licenses are easier to get than the internet clap from a torrent file. The liquor bill at these eateries can quickly and inadvertently surpass the price of the food, thus negating the savings you expected. I suggest meeting your party at a local bar in the neighborhood for a little pregame, drinking a moderately priced wine with your meal, and then finding an inexpensive night cap location before heading out of the city.

2: Do Your Homework

With 340 restaurants to choose from, follow the phrase, “know before you go.” A restaurant that is participating in Restaurant Week but does not display a menu on their website is not an automatic no, but it does raise a red flag. Think of your Tinder account here guys, would you meet that random horny cougar without at least seeing her slightly blurry, ten year old photo that was taken from an angle that only the Hubble telescope could actually capture. In other words, do your research and you will not be disappointed.

3: Suit-Up…Maybe

A lot of these establishments have a dress code and these rules are strictly enforced. You are not going to White Castle after a Tigerman show at the Clash Bar. Always check the website of the eatery of your choosing to find out what the required level of dress is for both males and females. I love jeans and a t-shirt, but nothing is worse than arriving at one of these restaurants with your lovely significant other in tow and being turned away at the door because you are rocking the wrong gear.

4: Arrive On Time

Most of the participating restaurants add extra tables and bring on additional servers for this epic event because they are booked solid for the entire duration of Restaurant Week. This means if you are late for your reservation they will give your table away without a second thought. The excuses that normally work at most eateries, simply won’t fly. Telling a New Yorker you got stuck in traffic will get you as much sympathy as telling your girlfriend that you cheated on her because you were drunk, and you thought you were playing the bongos on her ass. Do yourself a favor and get a late reservation so your on-time arrival is guaranteed and you can get your pregame on properly.

5: Eat Outside Your Comfort Zone

Restaurant Week is all about expanding your culinary aptitude and foodie street cred. This is not the time to order a safe meal that you can acquire at any old eatery. In other words go big or don’t go at all. I assure you, everything you eat at these restaurants is going to taste good, so why not try the grilled octopus instead of the Caesar salad or perhaps order the Foie Gras as opposed to the French Onion Soup. Your Instagram followers and your belly will thank you.

Since the number of restaurants that are involved in Restaurant Week can be slightly intimidating, I have decided to do you a solid. I have scoured through this year’s participants and have chosen what I consider to be the best of the best. The following are The Blue Collar Foodie’s Top Picks for each most of the culinary styles that appear on this massive list. This is by no means an all inclusive list and if you are a seasoned NYCRW veteran, I urge you to explore the directory on your own. However, if you are new to this game these are a few of the restaurants that will impress even the most persnickety epicurean.

American New

Park Avenue Winter

Park Avenue WinterWhere:

360 Park Ave. South (Park Av So/26 St)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-644-1900

http://www.parkavenyc.com

Why:

This trendy eatery changes its name, design, and menu along with the seasons. Even if you were to eat at this spot four times a year, you would never get bored.

What:

Appetizer: Steak Tartare Rossini Foie Gras & Black Truffle ($5 supplement)

Entrée: Everything-Crusted Branzino with Smoked Cream Cheese and Pickled Onions

Dessert: Salted Pistachio Sundae with Orange Marmalade and Dark Chocolate Caramel

American Traditional

21 Club

21 ClubWhere:

21 West 52nd Street

New York, NY 10019

(212) 582-7200

http://www.21club.com/

Why:

Once a Pimp Ass speakeasy, this now upscale restaurant is not only celebrated but it is a celebrity favorite as well. If you are a TMZ fan, this one is for you. Some of the A-listers that have dined at this spot include; Harrison Ford, Bill Fucking Murray, Bill and Melinda Gates, Bo Jackson, Ernest Hemingway, and Frank Sinatra. Hell, the last time I ate at the 21 we were sitting two tables away from Geraldo Rivera and his super stashe.

*DRESS CODE: No jeans or sneakers. Jackets are necessary for gentlemen.

What:

Appetizer: Head-On Maya Prawn – Tomato Eggplant Chutney, Picholine Olives, Lemon Preserve, Chili Oil

Entrée: Lamb Bolognese – Garganelli Pasta, Roasted Tomatoes, Basil, Chili Flakes, Manchego

Dessert: Caramel Banana Sundae – Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, Whiskey Caramel, Banana Slices

Asian Fusion

Spice Market

Spice MarketWhere:

403 W. 13th St. (13 St/9 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-675-2322

www.spicemarketnewyork.com

Why:

This Meatpacking District gem focuses on Asian inspired street food the Chef fell in love with while traveling throughout South East Asia.  

What:

Appetizer: Soy Cured Salmon with Cilantro Crème Fraiche

Entrée: Roast Pork Steamed Buns with Yuzu Pickles and Chili

Dessert: Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Pomegranate and Condensed Milk

Brazilian

Fogo de Chão Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse

Fogo de ChaoWhere:

40 W. 53rd St. (53 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-969-9980

www.fogodechao.com

Why:

Fogo de Chão is a Churrascaria. In English, that roughly translates to MEAT! Holy Hot Damn, MEAT Everywhere! With unlimited trips to the salad bar, bread and side dishes served at the table, and endless cuts of Sirloin, Leg of Lamb, Pork Sausage, Pork Ribs, Pork Loin, and Chicken Breast wrapped in Bacon you better wear your buffet pants.

What:  

EVERYTHING YOU GLUTTONOUS BEAUTIFUL BASTARD!!!!

Chinese

Hakkasan New York

Hakkasan New YorkWhere:

311 W. 43rd St. (43 St/8 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10036

212-776-1818

www.hakkasan.com

Why:

It is one of only a few Restaurant Week Participants that is rocking a coveted Michelin star.

What:

Appetizer: Hakka Fried Dim Sum Platter – Sesame Prawn Toast with Foie Gras, Crispy Fried Prawn Dumpling with Plum Sauce

Entrée: Tofu, Aubergine and Shiitake Mushroom Clay Pot with Chili Black Bean Sauce

Dessert: Mango Parfait – Pink grapefruit & Szechuan Sorbet with Coconut Dacquoise

Continental
Petrossian

petrossianWhere:

182 W. 58th St. (58 St/7 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-245-2214

www.petrossian.com

Why:

If you are looking to impress, this is the spot to take that someone special. Quiet, extravagant, and romantic are adjectives that have been used to describe this French influenced foodie haven. I am usually against a large supplement cost but Petrossian is so well known for their Caviar, I suggest you shell out the extra $12 bucks and eat some serious Fish Eggs.

What:
Appetizer: Transmontanus USA farmed caviar 12 g presentation ($ 12.00 supplement)

Entrée: Pan Roasted West Coast Sturgeon with Cauliflower Ribs, Zucchini Pearls, and Stewed Eggplant

Dessert: Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

French

Benoit Restaurant & Bar

BENOIT NYCWhere:

60 W. 55th St. (55 St/6 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10019

646-943-7373

www.benoitny.com

Why:

Since most of us can’t jump on our G6 and float over to Paris any damn time we want, we rarely get to experience an authentic French Bistro. That is until Benoit opened its doors in 2005. The highly touted Chef Alain Ducasse is in charge of the Kitchen and each dish prepared in this classy joint illustrates his immense skill and training.

What:

Appetizer: Escargots

Entrée: Roasted Pork Loin with Creamy Polenta and Prune Sauce

Dessert: Soufflé glace a l’orange

Greek

Kefi

Kefi NYCWhere:

505 Columbus Ave. (Columbus/85)

Manhattan, NY 10024

212-873-0200

www.kefirestaurant.com

Why:

With two huge culinary names involved in this venture, Chef Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia, you know Kefi is going to deliver some serious eats. This is one of the few restaurants I will recommend without seeing the Restaurant Week Menu because that star power holds weight!

What:

Game time decision.

Indian

Junoon

junoon nycWhere:

27 W. 24th St. (24 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10010

212-490-2100

www.junoonnyc.com

Why:

Junoon means passion and after one visit to this sophisticated Indian restaurant you will understand why they named it that. Junoon is not only gorgeous but it very well may serve the best Indian Cuisine in NYC. Not to mention the fact that it is also a Michelin Star recipient.

What:

Appetizer: Murgh Bhut Jolokia – Chicken Tikka with Spaghetti Squash, Pistachio, and Ghost Chili

Entrée: Kashmiri Rogan Josh – Lamb Shank with Cashew Yogurt Gravy

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Ras Malai Terrine

Italian

Trattoria Il Mulino

Il Mulino Trattoria Where:

36 E. 20th St. (20 St/Park Av So)

Manhattan, NY 10003

212-777-8448

trattoriailmulino.com

Why:

Leaving New Jersey for an Italian joint is like exiting New York City to score a slice of Pizza. If you are however in the mood for Italian, I highly recommend this trendy Trattoria with an industrial twist. This may not look like Uncle Sal’s corner eatery; but this hip, edgy spot knocks out the classics, just like Nonna used to make.

What:

Hipsters don’t post Menus!

Japanese

Nobu Next Door

Nobu Next Door Where:

105 Hudson St. (Hudson/Franklin)

Manhattan, NY 10013

212-334-4445

www.noburestaurants.com

Why:

Much like its sister restaurant Nobu, the fare served at Next Door is world renowned and delightfully prepared. The design and environment of Next Door adds a dash of culture to the overall meal experience that is well worth the wait.  You can try to call ahead but they rarely take reservations.

What:

Appetizer: Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce

Entrée: Assorted Sushi

Dessert: Chef’s selection dessert

Korean

Bann Restaurant and Lounge

Bann NYCWhere:

350 W. 50th Street

New York, NY 10019   (between 8th & 9th Ave)

Phone: (212) 582-4446

http://www.bannrestaurant.com

Why:

You will notice that there are two Korean restaurants that landed on this list. I honestly could not decide which one of these jaw dropping spots to suggest so after a great deal of hemming and hawing, I decided to declare the battle a draw.

Bann, the first of the two, is a unique and interactive restaurant that calls upon your skills as a Chef by allowing you to cook your own meals on their smokeless tabletop grills. Of course, if you are reluctant to participate in this endeavor the actual Chef will prepare your meals for you, because you are lame. The cook your own option at Bann adds an element of fun to your evening and may even cause the members of your group to actually put their cell phones down at the table.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam Bun – Roast Pork Belly, Spicy Daikon, And Sweet Soy on Steamed Buns

Entrée: Korean Barbecue

Dessert: Carrot Cake – Asian Spiced Carrot & Yuja Pineapple Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream

Gaonnuri

GaonnuriWhere:

1250 Broadway, 39th fl. (Broadway/32 St)

Manhattan, NY 10001

212-971-9045

http://www.gaonnurinyc.com/authentic_korean_restaurant_nyc/

Why:

Gaonnuri is located in a 39th floor penthouse in Koreatown and offers awe-inspiring views of the greatest city in the world. To be honest, Gaonnuri could serve  McDonald’s in a dining room like this and still make a killing.  However, they choose to serve some of the best Korean Food in the city, only adding to the appeal of this spot.

What:

Appetizer: Bossam – Braised Pork Belly with Kimchi made with Octopus, and Perilla Leaves

Entrée: Duck Breast BBQ

Dessert: Chef’s Choice

Mediterranean

Taboon

taboon NYCWhere:

773 Tenth Ave. (10 Av/53 St)

Manhattan, NY 10019

212-713-0271

http://www.taboononline.com/

Why:

Taboon combines the vibrant spices of the Middle East with the alluring flavors of the Mediterranean to create innovative dishes that will awake your taste buds.   This may not be the most expensive restaurant on the list, but the food they are cooking in their wood fire oven is equal if not better to the big dogs.

What:

Appetizer: Black Tuscan Kale with Feta Cheese, Shaved Fennel, Cucumber, Apple, Sunflower Seeds, Lemon juice, Olive oil and Sumac dressing

Entrée:   Pressed Lamb Belly Moussaka with Tomato and Eggplant Puree, Fingerling Potatoes, and Kashkaval Cheese

Dessert: Silan – Vanilla Ice Cream layered with Puffed Rice and Date Syrup, sprinkled with Caramelized Pistachios & topped with shredded Halva

Mexican

Empellón Taqueria

Empellon TaqueriaWhere:

230 W. 4th St. (W 4 St/10 St)

Manhattan, NY 10014

212-367-0999

www.empellon.com

Why:

Empellón Taqueria opened their doors in 2011 with the intention of treating tacos with a high level of respect and serving them in a fun environment. They have accomplished that mission and then some. If you are a Taco lover, like my wife Kat, this is the spot for you. For all the haters that are reading this thinking, “Tacos can’t be classy,” stuff a burrito in your pie whole and check out the sick menu they are offering for Restaurant Week.

What:

Appetizer: Ceviche – Octopus, Parsnip Pumpkin Seeds, and Salsa Papanteca

Entrée: Shortrib Pastrami Tacos with Pickled Cabbage and Mustard Seed Salsa.

Dessert: Milk Chocolate Flan

Pan-Latin

Yerba Buena

yerba BuenaWhere:

23 Ave. A (Av A/2 St)

Manhattan, NY 10009

212-529-2919

http://www.ybnyc.com/media/yerbabuena.html

Why:

I had a rough time choosing a Pan-Latin representative for my list because I have not visited very many of them in the city. Then I read the menu that Yerba Buena is offering for Restaurant Week and my belly had a foodgasm. I dare you to read the menu and not hit this Latin inspired eatery up… Go ahead, I will wait… Told you so!

What:

Appetizer: Empanadas de Pato – Duck Confit Tinga, Salsa Mexicana, Crema, and Queso Fresco

Entrée: Lechon – Suckling Pig Carnitas, Habanero-Orange Salsa, Cactus Salad, and Chicharron

Dessert: Tres Leches – Crema de Cajeta, Tres Leches Sauce, and Vanilla Ice Cream

Seafood

The Sea Grill

The Sea Grill NYCWhere:

19 W. 49th St. (49 St/5 Av)

Manhattan, NY 10020

212-332-7610 | fax: 212-332-7677

www.theseagrillnyc.com

Why:

The Sea Grill is another prime example of how Restaurants are a lot like Real Estate. Location, location, location! If you are looking for some relationship points, bring your beau Ice Skating at the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink before walking hand in hand to this absolutely stunning seafood eatery. Watch as they Instagram the night away and each LIKE those filtered photos garner you will earn you one more cool point! You’re welcome!

What:  

Appetizer: Montauk Baby Calamari a la Plancha with Patatas Bravas and Chimichurri sauce

Entrée: Maine Monkfish ‘Osso Buco’ with Creamy Polenta and Wild Mushrooms

Dessert: Vanilla Caramel Panna Cotta with Valrhona Chocolate Sorbet

Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse

MarkJoseph Steakhouse Where:

261 Water St. (Water St/Peck Slip)

Manhattan, NY 10038

212-277-0020

www.markjosephsteakhouse.com

Why:

Restaurant Week is usually not the best time to visit a Steakhouse in NYC.   The truth is, if you want a slamming steak in the Big Apple you normally have to bite the bullet and pay out the nose. However, MarkJoseph Steakhouse is the exception that proves this rule. They are offering a 20 oz. sirloin or an 8 oz. Filet Mignon on their dinner menu.  Get your meat on!

What:

Appetizer: Sizzling Canadian Bacon

Entrée: Sirloin Steak 20 oz.

Dessert: Cake

Vietnamese

Le Colonial

Le ColonialWhere:

149 E. 57th St. (57 St/3 Av)

New York, NY 10022

212-752-0808

www.lecolonialnyc.com

Why:

Le Colonial was once a bustling haven for OG foodies in the NYC area and then for some reason lost its place in the culinary pantheon of Gotham. Instead of closing up shop and admitting defeat, however, this restaurant found a new Chef that seems to have set Le Colonial back on the path of Gastronomic greatness.

What:

Appetizer: Suon Nuong – Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Lemongrass and Sweet Soy

Entrée: Bun Trio – Grilled Prawns with Beef Brochettes & Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad

Dessert: Banana Tapioca Pudding

The Blue Collar Foodie Adds Brigantine Seafood To His Restaurant Rotation!

As a Blue Collar Foodie always looking for a bargain there are certain types of food that my normal restaurant rotation lacks. There are some varieties of food that you just don’t trust from a value menu or a street cart. For example, an Ozzie Dog, which is a hot dog in a potato roll, topped with cheez whiz, beef chili, hot sauce, and potato sticks, which you can score outside Yankee Stadium is acceptable coming from a cart from 1975 that has been sitting in the sun all day. However, I would not feel the same level of comfort about ordering and consuming a Fillet of Fugu with a side of Sushi from Mr. Ozzie and his sun soaked wagon.

There is a level where frugality becomes stupidity and by saving a few bucks you end up wasting a day or two in the restroom or even worse the hospital. So pay attention to the words that are coming out of my mouth young BCF Padawans. At 3:00 A.M. there is no gas station that serves, “Epic Salmon,” no matter what Doug says and that Sword Fish Steak at that deli in the village for a “buck 99”, is as safe as sharing a toothbrush with the Hobo that lives outside that very same bodega.   However, there are places in our area that will serve you fantastic seafood dishes, for a moderate price, at a decent hour. Brigantine Seafood Eatery & Market , located at 112 Lincoln Avenue in Hawthorne, NJ, is one of these establishments and I highly recommend paying them a visit.

Quality Seafood at a fair price is not something you should take for granted in this area. Sure if you live in Maryland it is easier to get crabs than it is when you lived in your college residence hall, and as for Maine, I have had a $5.00 lobster from Shoprite that would make most New York Lobsters hang their tails in shame. So how does Brigantine do it you ask? Every morning, the owner and Chef Alfred Ianniello travels to the famous Fulton Fish Market located in The Bronx and personally selects the finest seafood for his customers. These customers include some of the top restaurants in the Bergen/Passaic county region and odds are if you have enjoyed a seafood dish in one of these counties you have already seen what Chef Ianniello can deliver to your table.

Brigantine offers a standard menu that can be found online that is chock full of flavorful and inventive dishes, but if you ask me, and you did because you are literally reading the words that my brain is spewing forth, the specials are worth both the price tag and the time and energy it will take to listen and comprehend all their awesomeness. When you decide to visit this seafood Shangri-La you will thank me that you asked the wonderfully helpful wait staff what the specials of the evening are.

Before I begin describing the astonishing meal Kat and I shared with a fellow foodie couple a few weeks back, I feel like I should place a disclaimer here. If you are looking for a romantic modern seafood boutique this is not the place for you. Brigantine Seafood resembles a Diner like establishment from years past, which I find to be immensely charming and adds to the je ne sais quoi that is teeming off of Brigantine like steam from a large bowl of Clam Chowder. Furthermore, I will guarantee that the seafood being served by this local gem is twice as good as the hipster dipped mussel balls being served in your bougie fish lounge.

Since this was not our first rodeo at this eatery, we knew the drill. We stopped off at a liquor store on the way and grabbed some cold beers and a bottle of wine, since like all of the Blue Collar Foodie’s top joints, Brigantine is BYOB. When we arrived we parked in the parking lot in the rear of the restaurant and walked in the back door (TWSS). Chef Alfred was on hand to welcome us to his restaurant and as always the staff was all smiles and ready to assist us.   We had a reservation so we were seated within minutes and our menus were in our hands shortly thereafter.

As I stated above you can order off the menu but the real reason to visit Brigantine is to allow the Kitchen to punch you in the belly with flavor and innovation by haphazardly picking a special that sounds intriguing. This is exactly what I did and I was not disappointed.

Fish is a dish best served cold!

Fish is a dish best served cold!

As an appetizer we ordered the seafood tower because Brigantine boasts a plethora of Oysters from various coasts and countries, and the Tower is a great way to sample a few of these salty treats.   In addition to the oysters this fortress of shellfish included shrimp, clams, and a Lobster Tail. If you are looking for an economical appetizer this one may not be for you, as the price point is rather high at $30.00, but if you are treating yourself, as we were, this is the only way to go. Each item was fresh, delicious, and unique. In other words, these are not wedding buffet oysters and clams, these are the real deal and if you are a connoisseur they are a must!

You would have to be a Master Baiter to catch a Bass this big!

You would have to be a Master Baiter to catch a Bass this big!

Shortly after we destroyed the seafood tower, our meals arrived at the table. After a rather lengthy deliberation and compelling the uber patient waitress to read me the specials three times, Kevin and I decided on the Sea Bass paired with Mussels and Clams in a marinara sauce. The portion size was incredible and the piece of fish was larger than any Sea Bass I have had the pleasure to eat in recent memory. However, the most impressive element in this dish was the marriage of flavor between the shellfish, the Bass, and the sauce. Each bite delivered a depth of flavor that is unfortunately rare for fish dishes in this area, because, to be honest, fish in the hands of a poorly trained chef tends to be boring and lack any culinary panache. To the contrary, this dish had panache coming out of it gills, and I loved every last bite of it!

he Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and lake trout, and has many characteristics of both.

The Arctic char is closely related to both salmon and lake trout, and has many characteristics of both.

Our friend Kim decided to try the Breaded Arctic Char served with Capers and a Citrus Gastrique. I am not going to lie; when this dish hit the table I had a slight case of food envy. The presentation of this dish was absolutely beautiful due to the breading being cooked to perfection, which created a deep brown hue across the filet in perfect contrast with the white plate and green garnish. Furthermore, the aroma of this dish wafted across the table and assaulted my olfactory senses with all its awesome sauce, begging the ever important question, “Did I order the right dish?”

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

No, it is not Chicken of The Sea!

Before I write this next sentence I ask that you please do not flame, troll, or otherwise harass Kat for the following gastronomic flaw. With that said, I will forward all hate mail directly to her inbox until she realizes the folly of her ways. Here goes nothing; Kat does not like seafood. Relax…I know… But to be fair I knew of this defect when I married her and if I can get over it, you guys should be willing to except her as well.

The reason I bring this foodie fail up is not to convert my lovely wife into a born again Pescetarian, but to explain just how remarkably accommodating Brigantine Seafood actually is. Even though a chicken dish was not on the menu that evening, Chef Alfred hooked Kat up with his famous, yet clandestine, Chicken Scarpariello. Kat craves this dish and thoroughly enjoys each and every morsel that is chock full of pieces of chicken combined with mushrooms and herbs swimming in a luscious white wine sauce.

And the award for best supporting role in a serious dinner goes to...

And the award for best supporting role in a serious dinner goes to…

In addition to the generous portion size of our meals we were also provided with a side of rice and seasonal vegetables for the table. I appreciated that these sides were not overly seasoned and flamboyant as to take away from the main dish that is the star of the show. Like a good supporting actor in a movie, these side dishes lifted the star to another level while preforming admirably on their own.

After we plowed through our entrées one yummy forkful at a time we were asked about dessert. Now, by no means did we need dessert, as we were all pretty fat, but we decided that we should treat ourselves to the homemade desserts that Brigantine’s Culinary Team creates daily.

Now wonder all the damn Amish return to village after Rumspringa!

Now wonder all the damn Amish return to village after Rumspringa!

Kat ordered the apple pie which was baked Amish Style, which includes Sour Cream. We had never heard of this type of pie before but after tasting this slice of ecstasy, we will sure be on the lookout for this method again. The sour cream increases the creaminess of the filling and calms the cloying sweetness that plagues most commercial apple pies.

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

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

Weather you pronounce this fantastic pie like the true North Easterner you are and call it “Pee-can” or you embrace the southerner in you and rock the proper pronunciation “pee-KAHN,” there is one thing we can all agree on… HOLY HELL THIS PIE IS GOOD!!! I love Pecan Pie from a box that came from a factory so when I can get homemade Pecan Pie from a spot like this, you bet your sweet nuts I am going to order it! Furthermore, no you cannot have a piece. It is mine! You get your own damn pie!!! P.S., if you go to Brigantine and this is on the menu that night, and you fail to order it, you also fail at life.

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

Cheese + Cake = Happiness

Kevin landed on the Cheesecake as he spun the wheel of indecision in his brain. He was not upset either, as the Cheesecake was fluffy, smooth, and deliciously decadent. The addition of the strawberry drizzle added a delightful dash of attractiveness to the already handsome dish.

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

Cannoli is Italian for Yummy!

The final dessert that was ordered was the Cannoli. I know the secret to a slamming cannoli because I grew up in North Jersey, which contrary to popular belief is the real Little Italy. Apparently, Brigantine’s culinary team also knows this secret and so their cannoli was pretty freaking tasty. What is the secret you ask? It is simple; Fill Your Cannoli to Order so the shell stays crispy and the filling stays light.

If you did not read the post above and just drooled over the food porn, the gist of this article was; if you are looking for some serious seafood at a reasonable price look no further than Brigantine Seafood, in Hawthorne, NJ. The waitresses are helpful, patient, and pleasant and the Kitchen Staff prepares creative and gratifying dishes that both taste great and look lovely. The next time you are looking to try a new local eatery, please do yourself a favor and head over to Brigantine Seafood and see what Chef Al is concocting in his kitchen of wonders.

PSA

Stop Ruining Thanksgiving Hipsters: The Five Classic Dishes Every Turkey Day Spread Should Feature.

PSAStop Ruining Thanksgiving JERKS! Listen, I am all for experimental cuisine, I am a freaking Gastronaut for fuck’s sake. For real though people Thanksgiving is about tradition, so stop fucking it up with Kale and Corn Fritters, Tofurky, Kimchi Tacos, and especially anything that was FORAGED! No, Tallulah Mc. Hipsterpants, I don’t care if foraging is what the murdering Pilgrims would have done. I don’t wear a fucking hat with a buckle on it and I am not eating something you picked up off the ground at park that has 17 resident homeless people that use the slide as a toilet!

If you want whip up some Lentil Sloppy Joes with a side of Butternut Squash and Chickpea Cakes any other damn day of the year, beep me, only because it is ironic, and I will hop on my Vespa, throw on my fedora and be at your warehouse/art studio in no time. However, the last Thursday of every November is hallowed ground and should be treated with the foodie respect it deserves.

I am not saying you can’t jazz up the Campbell’s Green Bean Casserole recipe that appears on the side of their Mushroom Soup can, but I am saying that the following five items should at least make an appearance on your Thanksgiving Table.  If they do not then you are doing a disservice to every guest that you invite/guilt over to your homestead.

Turkey1.)  Turkey: We will start with an easy one folks. Thanksgiving without Turkey, is like playing poker without real money, it is a waste of everyone’s time. Sure it can be boring, bland, dry, and tasteless but instead of folding the fowl hand you have been dealt, take it as a challenge and attempt to create the best bird that any of your guests have ever eaten. This means no rabbits, ducks, squabs, quails, Cornish hens, or pheasants should be served! I am looking in your direction, scarf lady with horn-rimmed glasses.  With that said, you can choose to season, prepare, and present your bird in a multitude of elaborate, creative, and original ways to suppress your inner artist from serving people fucking Emu on Thanksgiving! Here is a link to help you plan how to prepare your bird!

Stuffing2.)  Stuffing: Here is where you can really let your Gastronomic imagination run wild! Stuffing can be full of artisan sausage, organic fruit, and spices that 98 percent of the population has never heard of.  Go nuts, let your freaky, foodie, flag fly, but use some sort of bread as the base, please. I don’t care if you call your Gluten Free Quinoa and Brussels Sprout Surprise a stuffing. The golden rule is if there ain’t Gluten laden bread cubes floating around in there somewhere it simply is not stuffing!  Here is a link for some pretty exciting stuffing and dressing recipes.       

         Mashed Potato 3.)  Mashed Potatoes:  Please try to reign in your adorable ADHD and muster up some concentration for at least the entirety of the two word heading for number three. That second word is very important! It says POTATOES! Not Cauliflower, Celery Root, Parsnips, or Turnips, just good old fashioned, hearty taters. Furthermore, try real hard not to go to crazy and put so much crap and seasoning in your mashed potatoes that you can no longer tell what they are. I am somewhat of a purist when it comes to my mashed potatoes but I am not saying that you have to be too. Here is a link for some Mashed Potato Recipes.

Mac and Cheese4.)  Macaroni and Cheese:  This is another dish that you can really have fun with but again remember that ultimately the final product’s main ingredients should be Pasta and Cheese. You can put bacon, truffles, rutabagas, beer, or virtually any other edible object that you can possibly think of.  Shit you can even serve it in a damn mason jar if you want, which is like the most hipster food vessel in the world. Mac & Cheese is a staple on my table and honestly the simpler the better, I even like the horrible yellow poop that comes out of the blue box and claims to be the cheesiest. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. Here is a link for a few decent Mac and Cheese recipes.

CANberry Sauce5.)  Cranberry Sauce: I know I am going to get shit for this and lose like 5 foodie points but I absolutely fucking love cranberry sauce from a can. I don’t even slice the son of a bitch before placing it on the table because I want to see the wonderfulness of the ridges while I slice off each and every luscious, disgusting, slab of processed yumminess. You can choose to make the “good” stuff by hand if you wish but I am telling you there is nothing better than a filthy .$89 can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce paired with a nice can of craft beer!  If you must make the homemade kind because you can’t stand the thought of having a can of anything join your spread here is the link for Cranberry Sauce Recipes.

If you follow these five simple rules your Grandmother’s heart will not break and your Mother’s head will not explode because you are trying to serve them a Goat Tongue and Ramp Salad on Thanksgiving!  Thank you for reading this Public Service Announcement. Please pass it on to anyone who you believe may RUIN A THANKSGIVING!

The More You Know

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Serves This Foodie Up A Slice Of Nostalgia Pie

If you are like most people, you probably enjoy nostalgia. It allows us to reminisce about times that we hold dear and memories that make us smile. Even though when you were living those moments you were inevitably thinking back to an even simpler time, ruminating about the past is always an amusing endeavor. This feeling of joy and serenity when recalling past occurrences is what makes Throw Back Thursday so much fun on Facebook. Well, that and the fact that your friend’s Mom constantly posts pictures of him at the age of 7, dressed up like Jem! #TrulyTrulyOutrageous!

A large majority of people tend to embellish and exaggerate stories from their past, even when discussing them with friends that were there as well. As the memory gets older the tale gets bigger and better, I call this phenomenon, Legend…wait for it…Darism. Think of a game of telephone, but everyone is in on it, slightly altering the story each time it is told, to make their past lives seem somewhat more epic.

Much like that abstract memory of the dude that ate his own dingleberry in college for a buck 25 and a loosie evokes the highest of high fives amongst friends, there are certain establishments from your past that will always arouse emotions of happiness. Unfortunately, these emotions are usually misguided by the aforementioned illness. That sandwich place with the best sandwich in the world when you were 18 was only good because it was two pounds of food for 3 bucks, and you were stoned; the band that you swore was going to be the next Beatles was called Sum 41, and that sentence sounds just as dumb now as it did back then; and the beer you drank in college was horse piss, and I don’t care if it won a blue ribbon in1893, it still tastes like the dingleberry our friend ate!

Rarely, however, you get the chance to return to an old haunt that exceeds your expectations of awesomeness, and this is what I experienced a few days ago. I was feeling nostalgic, so I suggested to Kat that we go visit our old watering hole that got us through college one beer at a time, The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse, located at 529 Belmont Avenue, Haledon, NJ 07508. Kat must have been feeling sentimental too because she instantly agreed, and we were on our way.

Welcome to the Shep!

Welcome to the Shep!

I am well aware that The Shepherd & The Knucklehead should have been posted on this blog a long time ago, since they have been making waves in the local craft beer market for a while now. With 90 microbrew taps, a menu that would make any foodie squee, and an atmosphere perfect for a laid back beer snob like myself, I have somewhat failed my audience and this establishment by taking this long to visit what was once my go to bar. My explanation for this monumental gaffe is quite simple; I was petrified I would not like it. I was nervous that the bar that existed in my head that was connected to so many wonderful memories was going to be tarnished by what the bar had become.

To make a long story short, I am an asshole. The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is not only as good as I remember, but it is even better. Their beer selection is second to none in this area, if not in this state. Did you read the sentence above? That was not a typo, 90 Mircrobrew taps that are constantly changing as they kick. The beer menu for The Shepherd & The Knucklehead is almost as thick as the menu for the Cheesecake Factory! Furthermore, the wait staff and the bar tenders actually know what they are talking about when it comes to craft beer, so if you can’t decide exactly what to drink, they will talk you down off the ledge and make sure you choose the right beer.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Beer Taps

…And this ain’t even all of them people!

It took us some time, and some serious deliberation, but eventually Kat and I were able to choose our first beer. While we awaited its thirst quenching arrival we perused the food menu. The Knucklehead’s kitchen offers a variety of food options for the different social situations that could occur at a bar and/or a restaurant.   There are quite a few appetizers that are perfect for sharing amongst the table if you and your friends get a little noshy during your stint at the bar, such as the Knuckle-head sized Wings, The Shep’s Pork Poutine, or the Beer Mussels. If you are a bit hungrier, are a germophobe, or just a selfish twit, they have a myriad of soups, salads, wraps, burgers, and sandwiches, such as a Half-Pound Angus Burger, BBQ Pork Sliders, a Philly Cheeseburger Wrap, and even a Vegetable Curry Wrap for you veg-heads.

However, if like me, you were on a date of sorts and wanted to dine on something a little more refined, have no fear the Shepherd has you covered. After some serious hemming and hawing, I decided to order the Shep’s Paella which was described as Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo served over saffron rice; whereas Kat did not think twice about ordering the 12 oz. NY Strip topped with Bourbon-glazed onions paired with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe.

With our orders placed and our beers at the table, we were free to reminisce about the small hallway of a bar that the Shepherd and The Knucklehead used to be. Back in the day when we would open and close this small local tavern they had 20 taps and no food. Yet we kept coming back. Why you ask? The atmosphere was amazing. There were board games you could play, books that adorned the walls begging you to read them, a dart board, craft beer, and some of the nicest drunk people you would ever meet. It was a Hippie bar through and through, all the way down to the cardboard sign that hung on the wall that read, “If you yell or anything no coming for 2 months.”

NO YELLING

By the way this sign can still be found on the Shep’s website, which leads me to believe that they agree with the wise words of H2O, Don’t Forget Your Roots!

Funny thing about The “New” Shepherd and The Knucklehead was it felt the same, just larger and more spacious. There were still board games, books, craft beer, and great people, but now there was food and room to roam like the free range hippies we always wanted to be.

While Kat and I continued to go story for story about The Shepherd and our college years like prized fighters, we could not help but bask in the wonderful feeling of being home. You know the feeling I am referring to. That sensation you get after traveling for an extended period of time, when you walk through your door and are greeted by your animals and splash into your own bed. The calming and friendly atmosphere that we fell in love with at The Shepherd & The Knucklehead all those years ago, surprisingly is still alive and well. I was ecstatic to see that even though the walls have been expanded, The Shepherd still feels cozy.

Meanwhile, as Kat and I were bar dreaming, the kitchen was apparently working fervently to prepare our meals because in no time our meals were being placed in front of us. As the food was being placed down, the delightful aroma of our entrees sent food chills down my spine, which elicit similar symptoms to the douche chills you get from seeing Bryce Harper, but are much more enjoyable.  I almost could not wait to dig into my meal, but alas, I have to make sure to get the perfect food porn shots, and of course another beer had to be ordered. While I was snapping photos our waitress was kind enough to help us pair our dinner beers perfectly with our meals.

Knucklehead's Steak

Look at that sear!

After the obligatory photographs were taken, we slowly but surely devoured our dinners. I, of course, got to taste a portion of Kat’s entree because she is the best foodie wife ever! Not only was her steak expertly seasoned but check out the preparation. This masterpiece had the perfect cross pattern sear which gave the outside of the steak an amazing char broiled taste, while the inside… well see for yourself. I assure you it tasted just as good as it looks in this photo; it was juicy and absolutely delicious.

The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse Steak

I don’t care if foodies don’t like this word to describe food, this steak was f-ing moist!

I also was afforded the opportunity to try the side dishes that Kat ordered. The Broccoli Rabe was not immensely bitter but still had the tried and true minor bitter bite that a fan of the side dish looks for. Furthermore, the texture and seasoning of these veggies was spot on, and I am convinced the Chef must have had a Nonna that taught them to respect the Rabe. I will confess that I am a sucker for sweet potatoes. So, I may be a little biased when I say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Shep’s mashed sweets but Kat seemed to like them too considering her plate was clean by the end of the night.

Shepard And The Knucklehead Paella

Paella may be hard to spell, but this dish was easy to eat.

After taste testing Kat’s wonderful meal, I was nervous that I was going to have food envy. That is until I took the first bite of my Paella. Holy freaking flavor country Batman! The saffron rice was tender and extremely tasty thanks to the world’s most expensive spice, proper cooking, and the deliciously spicy chunks of magnificent chorizo that were floating around in this dish like savory depth charges. Furthermore, the mussels were some of the best mussels I have eaten in quite some time, and I have had some pretty serious muscles, my friends. Not only were they flavorsome, but the consistency was perfect, not a hint of rubber to be found. The entire dish was a fantastic marriage of flavor, texture, and aroma, so much so I forgot Kat’s dish even existed. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, her steak was freaking awesome!

I am pleased to say that my preliminary trepidation was completely unsubstantiated, and The Shepherd & The Knucklehead Pub & Steakhouse remains a force to be reckoned with in the Craft Beer Nerd Realm. Furthermore, they have now broken into the foodie world as well. If you are looking for a serious Craft Beer spot with a menu to match, I highly recommend you come visit The Shep. The nicest thing about going there for dinner is when you are done eating; you can retire to the bar and have a nice nightcap without even stepping outside. Considering we live in the good ol’ Garden State, I feel obligated to quote Bon Jovi here, Who Says You Can’t Go Home!

 

 

Shepherd & the Knucklehead on Urbanspoon

The Gastronauts + The Blue Collar Foodie = Food Porn²

Gastronauts_LOGOIf you missed my first post about the epic adventure eating club known as the Gastronauts, you may not be aware that I am a super fan of this organization. However, if you have ever visited my page, you are well aware that I love food porn almost as much as Luis Suarez likes to do his best Mike Tyson impersonation while on the pitch.

Since each and every Gastronaut event contains more food porn than a sixteen year old’s Reddit feed has actual porn, I decided that it was my duty to not only take pictures of these epicurean gatherings but share them with all of you. This post will contain the last two gastronomic happenings that I attended with this epicurean society but from this point on I will make sure to post each on separately as to not overload you with foodtography.

Back in May the Gastronauts invited its members to join them at Phayul located at 37-65 74th Street in Jackson Heights for a Tibetan feast. The menu for this event was intriguing because the descriptions were very vague, unlike the other meals that I have attended. Unsure and slightly nervous, my friend and I ascended the stairs that lead to Phayul and placed ourselves at the mercy of the Chef.

A Dinner at Phayul

Churu
Tibetan cheese soup

 Chele Khatsa

Fried beef spicy tongue

 Gyuma Ngoe Ma

Fried blood sausage with onions & green chilli

 Dropa Khatsa

Tibetan style beef tripe

Fried Momos

Tibetan Dumplings

Tibetan Spices

The first thing to hit our table was a caddy that held two vessels which contained two different, slightly scary, spice concoctions that caused some minor whispering throughout our table. All of us were curious, but we were also a little apprehensive since the predominant color of these potions were bright red, and we were under the assumptions that they were going to either kill us or destroy our taste buds for the upcoming meal. Eventually, one of us dipped our fork into the evil looking spices and tasted what turned out to be an extremely pleasant sauce with a subtle yet lingering heat that was not offensive at all.

Cheesesoup

Next up in this food orgy was the Churu, or Tibetan Cheese Soup. Steph, my fellow gourmand for the evening, and I discussed this dish in particular length during the arduous ride from New Jersey during rush hour. Both of us were somewhat uneasy about eating this dish because the internets was pretty damn useless when we tried to find out what this cheese soup was all about.   It turns out that we were concerned over nothing and not only was this soup straight up amazeballs, we now crave it like Piper Chapman yearns for affection.

Beef Tongue

After conquering our first, seconds, and thirds of the Cheese Soup, Steph and I were ready for the Chele Khatsa or the fried spicy beef tongue. This dish not only looked breathtakingly beautiful, but it tasted absolutely amazing.

Beef Tongue Close

The combination of the fresh vegetables and the fried beef tongue created a sublime texture contrast and the flavor of the dish was superb. I added a small amount of the aforementioned hot sauce and savored each and every bite.

Beef Action Shot

Relax food police, before I ate the last bite, I asked my fellow table mates. I know that when eating family style there are certain rules one must follow. Unless of course you are eating with your actual family, then to hell with the rules and grab as many pieces of yummy you can before your gigantic Uncle Morty eats all the Christmas Lo Mein.

Blood Sausage

The next dish to arrive was the Gyuma Ngoe Ma or the fried blood sausage with onions & green chilies. I am pretty sure the actual translation for this Tibetan dish is THE BEST BLOOD SAUSAGE YOU WILL EVER FUCKING EAT, EVER, but since that is not politically correct, they go with the one above.

Blood Sausage Close

I am a huge fan of blood sausage, and I must say that everything that I ever knew about blood sausage was absolutely wrong and I am an idiot for every thinking it. I was under the impression that there was always a slight metallic, iron-esque flavor to blood sausage, and this was just a minor imperfection that one who eats this delectable treat had to accept and get used to.

Blood Sausage With Pepper

This blood sausage did not taste metallic at all; it had every single wonderful quality that I crave in blood sausage and none of the flaws. It seemed like witchcraft to me at the time, and now that I think of it, it still does. Furthermore, now that I wrote this paragraph, I want some right the hell now!

Spicy Tripe

Following the blood sausage was not going to be easy for any dish, but none the less the Dropa Khatsa or Tibetan style beef tripe entered the eating arena. Since the supposed death sauce was less killy than I thought it would be, I disregarded the bright red flakes and rosy glistening hue that appeared on the plate in front of us. That my friends, I can tell you, was not the best idea. Don’t get it twisted, this dish tasted amazing, but I should have taken a much smaller first bite. The heat slowly built in my mouth and set up camp on my tongue. Being a seasoned, see what I did there, professional with spicy foods; I did not go for my water or my beer and just waited the heat out as it slowly dissipated. I then of course ate more of the tripe because I can’t resist a nice kick in the taste buds.

Veggie Momo

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat one more bite of this delightful Tibetan fare, out came the PARADE OF MOMOS! And what a parade it was!

Veggie Momo Close Up

Momos are basically Tibetan dumplings, and they come with a variety of fillings. The first one we got to eat was the vegetable Momo. These were filled with a combination of potato and diced veggies. The crispy and crunchy exterior was the perfect companion to the soft center that was bursting with flavor.

Beef Momo

Beef Momos graced our table next and, in my opinion, were the best of the Grand Momo Show! If there was a momo Oscar, these tasty bastards would win hands down, and they would not even play that music in the background during his acceptance speech to kick him off the stage.   Beef momo gets all the time he wants!

Beef Momo

Hiding in the center of these pan fried pouches of dough was a succulent and flavorful morsel of meaty goodness that I could not get enough of.

I remember a time that I was not a Gastronaut, I remember a time that I was not fortunate enough to share in the experience of eating these astonishing meals, I remember those times, and I do not like them. The Gastronauts should be commended for allowing foodies like us to eat, drink, and take a thousand pictures of food without all the normies in the world staring at us with discontent and dejection. So, join the Gastronauts and in the immortal words of the sideshow performers in the movie Freaks, become, One of us! Gooble Gobble, one of us!    

A Lebanese Dinner by Naji

Kibbeh Nayeh

Raw Goat Pate

Lamb brains and Lamb testicles

Brain Salad and Testicles Served With Hummus

Beef Tongue Fatteh

Toasted Lebanese flat breads mixed with a garlic yogurt sauce and Beef Tongue

Moughrabiyeh

Large-grain couscous, served with liver

Ashta dessert

Prepared similarly to sweetened cottage cheese, and topped with fruit and crushed pistachio.

After partaking in the awesome sauce that was the Tibetan dinner you drooled over above, I was yearning for the next Gastronaut event. I was just hoping that it would work with my hectic schedule of work, writing, and studying.   Lucky for me, and I guess in turn lucky for you, I was available on the night in question and without hesitation reserved two seats for the Lebanese Dinner at Naji located at 160 Havemeyer Street in Brooklyn, NY 11211.

I may have agreed to attend without hesitation but upon further research, like reading the entire email, I was able to find my uncertainty quite easily. I neglected to read the menu for the evening and missed the eating testicles portion of the event. I had never eaten testicles before and I was concerned about the texture, the flavor, the potentiality of liquid bursting from the center as I bit into them, and a myriad of other orb related issues.

With that said, my adventure eating partner, Steph and I embarked on our journey to Brooklyn to eat the testicles and brains of a lamb that I assure you is much less happy to be attending this dinner party than we were.

Lebanese Side Dishes

Our wonderful and exceptionally helpful waitress delivered a plate of side dishes that were to be consumed with the meal as per the instructions of the chef. Steph and I both agreed that we are always a fan of instructions when eating a cultures food that we are not familiar with, so we were happy to hear that we would be guided on when and how to eat the chef’s preparations.

The Kibbeh Nayeh

The Kibbeh Nayeh, or Lebanese Goat Tartar, is considered the national dish on Lebanon and is served at feasts and festivals throughout the year. When this dish hit the table, everyone was a little nervous about eating raw meat because we are Americans, and we all know that eating raw meat could potentially cause the outbreak of zombies thus destroying the world as we know it. Although, we decided that when in a Lebanese Restaurant in Hipster Ground zero, we should all act like a Lebanese Hipster… That does not work at all. I got it when in a… Never mind, you get the point.

Plated Goat

We ate the raw meat according to the instructions that were explained to us by the staff and guess what? No Zombies! I know, I was slightly disappointed too. To be honest though, I was way too far from my house and wife for a zombie invasion to work out well for me anyway, so I was okay with the lack of brain eating, for now anyway, according to the menu.

Goat With Beer

The instructions of how to eat The Kibbeh Nayeh were fairly simple and created a lovely hand held flatbread of tastiness. We were to spread the raw goat on a plate and top it with the most amazing garlic spread I have ever eaten and fresh mint leaves. Then you take the concoction, place it on a pita, and take a bite which is followed by a piece of either an onion or a scallion. Needless to say, this did not help our breaths at all, unless eating raw goat causes vampires instead of zombies, then the whole garlic breath thing might work out for us.

Brain Salad

Perhaps raw goat does turn us into zombies because all of us were pretty freaking excited to eat us some brains. Damn Center for Disease Control, being right all the damn time, what the hell? Although, it might have been the fact that the brains smelled absolutely incredible and did not look too shabby either that caused the mental salivation.  The aroma of this lamb lobe was hard to place at first until we tasted it. There was a distinct cinnamon or garam masala flavor that was tremendously enjoyable. The texture could have been a problem, considering brains tend to be as appetizing as lumpy cottage cheese in the mouth feel category, but the chef expertly prepared this dish as a salad with a slightly peppery salad greens that created a flawless union of taste, texture, and spice.

Lamb Testicles

The moment of truth was upon us. Apparently, what separates the men from the boys in the world of food happens to be balls, which is pretty accurate in the real world too. In this case though, these balls were going to be in my mouth instead of between my legs. Go ahead… Get it out… I realize that I just typed “balls” and “in my mouth” in the same sentence. I tried to get around it, but there was no way to avoid it. When you are done laughing out loud, I will see you in the next paragraph.Lamb Balls

I summoned all of my culinary testicular fortitude and stabbed a lamb testicle with my fork and placed it on my plate with a small amount of hummus, a pomegranate seed or five, and some greens and took the requisite photos. This time I did not mind the delay, I sort of needed it to psyche myself up for what was about to happen.

Balls on a Plate

With one swift motion, I brought a small piece of these rather large lamb testicles to my mouth and ate it. I should know by now that if the Gastronauts feed me something, it is going to taste stupid good, and these spheres were not the exception to this rule. Not only were these testicles not bad, they were freaking good! The texture was nothing like I thought it would be and resembled a somewhat undercooked meatball and much to my delight; no liquid of any kind was released from the center of these balls of yummy. I ate several more after cleaning this plate, and I would definitely order them again.

Beef Tounge

With a belly full of testicles…Dammit… Go ahead… The next course arrived at our table. I was impressed with the presentation of the beef tongue fatteh because the colors were spectacular. I mean seriously, this vibrant brew looked like it should be in an art museum, not in a bowl about to be consumed. I fought off my tablemates as long as I could to make sure I got the perfect photos before it was devoured.

Tongue Close Up

This dish’s praise was magnified because it contained one of my favorite “bizarre” meats, beef tongue. Not to mention the fact that the garlic yogurt broth it was swimming in tasted outstanding and was full of tasty goodness.

Couscous

If the fatteh was not enough to get your taste buds dancing like Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Chef also sent out a serving of Moughrabiyeh, which is large grain couscous. He decided to add a little liver to the dish to add a little Gastronaut style to the mix which only added to the already flavorful combination of the spices that were having a party in the bowl.

Ashta

For dessert, we were given Ashta, which was described as a dessert that has a sweet and aromatic flavor which is often compared to the atemoya fruit. This would have been a great description, if I knew what the hell an atemoya fruit was. The good news was that we were about to find out. I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert; I appreciated the subtle melon like taste combined with the small amount of crushed pistachios that were placed on top of this pudding like dessert.

I really cannot express to you how much fun it is to hop on board one of these culinary expeditions and eat your way into the stratosphere with the Gastronauts. There really are no words to describe the feeling of apprehension, realization, and relaxation that occur at these tables, it truly is something special.

Casa de la Trova Rocks Authentic Cuban Food In Fair Lawn, NJ

If you read my blog often, you should already know how I feel about restaurants serving their final dish. Opening an eatery requires a tremendous amount of hard work and Rocky Mountain Oysters the size of Dolly Parton’s best attributes. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that within three years of realizing their vision almost sixty percent of owners are forced to close their doors for good. If you are a foodie, this statistic should be seared into your brain like the flesh of a perfectly prepared filet mignon. This figure quite simply haunts my dreams because I realize that at any given time one or more of my favorite epicurean harbors could disappear overnight, much like Paula Deen’s career.

This depressing statistic is one of the main reasons I got into blogging in the first place. I have made it my mission to not only climb on a soapbox and promote the local restaurants that make my taste buds dance like Shakira, but to additionally place this soapbox on a rooftop called the internets and shriek louder than these goats in order to keep remarkable eateries from failing.

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

Welcome to Casa de la Trova

One such restaurant that recently moved into my neck of the woods, taking over the location of a quaint crêperie that could not gain traction in the fickle world of food that is Bergen County, is Casa de la Trova Restaurant. This charming authentic Cuban Restaurant located at 12-56 River Road, in Fair Lawn, NJ not only serves some of the tastiest Cuban Cuisine in the area, but the wait staff is warm, welcoming, and super friendly to boot. Casa de la Trova is indubitably an eatery that every gourmand in Bergen County should visit and endorse because restaurants like these are about as rare as a Soccer player without a douchetastic haircut.

Casa de la Trova, being the new girl in town, has been getting slightly busy recently, so Kat and I made a reservation, which I recommend in order to avoid a wait. Another piece of information that you should know prior to making your way to Casa de la Trova is that they are B.Y.O.B., which is always appreciated by this Blue Collar Foodie. If you are reading this on your way there, relax, I got your back. Less than a block away at 13-05 River Road in Fair Lawn is a well-stocked liquor store named B & B Liquors that offers a great selection of wines and some pretty serious craft beers. As for the wait, I would not let it scare you too much, worst case scenario you can sit outside at one of their few outdoor tables and people watch until your table is ready.

BYOB!!!

BYOB!!!

Since we were good little foodies and had a reservation, we were seated and handed our menus as soon as we entered the restaurant. Kat and I take food pretty seriously, if you hadn’t noticed, and ordering can be a painstaking and perilous process when we go out together. Choosing what to eat is not a sprint with us, it is a marathon, and in order to shave some time off this lengthy procedure we have taken to doing some light research prior to visiting a new restaurant. Thanks to the interwebs, 9 out of 10 restaurants have their menu located on their website which allows us to narrow our dinner choices down before we even enter the restaurant and barring any specials that blow us way we are usually able to make a decision in the time that it takes a normal human being to choose their food.

Even though we did our homework, we always take one more glance at the menu just to be sure we did not miss anything. I know we are crazier than the Gary Busey tripping face on peyote while huffing paint, but if we can accept it, so should you, you judgmental prick! Satisfied with our choices, we ordered the Plato al trovador as an appetizer which was described as Croquetas, Papa rellena, pollito frito, tamal cubano, chorizo gallego & Carne frita tostones y maduros. Now if you are anything like me, and by that I mean a unilingual Caucasian that has failed every language course he has ever taken, the description above meant about as much as the following sentence would mean to Paris Hilton; Capitulation propagated by undeniably bureaucratic socioeconomic processes undoubtedly precedes collegiate admittance. Lucky for us, our trusty waiter was there to not only translate for us but to also ensure us that ordering this item was a wise decision.

As for entrees, I decided to go with The Pargo al Caribe which was described as a whole Red snapper cooked in a pot with jumbo shrimp & mussels topped with homemade wine & vodka sauce, and Kat chose the Pollo al Ajo, which was described as chicken on the bone sautéed with Spanish seasoning and lime juice topped with a homemade garlic sauce. With our order on its way to the kitchen, I poured a drink for my date, and we proceeded to have polite, mature dinner conversation about anything other than food while we awaited the arrival of our appetizer… who am I kidding, we talked about all the delicious food that was about to hit our table followed by a few minutes of off-colored jokes.

Plato al Trovador

Plato al Trovador

Within minutes, our appetizer arrived, and we were not only impressed by the extremely generous portion size but also the astonishing aroma that was arising from what appeared to be a gigantic plate of fried awesomeness. With the methodical, somewhat obsessive-compulsive, precision of Dr. Sheldon Cooper , Kat and I split each portion of every item and tried them at the same time in order to compare notes. Some of the highlights for this dish were the Tamale that was expertly prepared in a corn husk and delivered the perfect combination of texture and taste. Then there was the Chorizo which was bursting with flavor and amazingly crispy. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Papa Rellena, which is a potato ball stuffed with beef, and the small fried pork nuggets that tasted even better when dipped into the garlicky sauce that was served with this wonderful dish.

Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Plato al Trovador

Are you ready for your close-up Mr. Plato al Trovador

This appetizer was absolutely brilliant. I could write a paragraph on every single succulent morsel that appeared on that plate, but then this post would be 3,000 words long and no one wants that. What I will say is that this dish could easily feed a table of four, and if you find yourself looking for an appetizer when you visit Casa de la Trova, this is the beast for you!

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

Pargo al Caribe Close-Up

After we devoured our appetizer, our entrees were served shortly after. As my plate was delivered, I was taken aback by the beautiful presentation of the whole fish, mixed seafood, and salad greens. Upon seeing this plate, I could tell that Chef Juan Ayala takes pride in each dish he prepares, which in a world full of cookie cutter chain restaurants, is a welcomed change.

Say Hello To The Pargo al Caribe

Look at that fish!

Not only was this dish beautifully prepared and plated, it was cooked to perfection. The flavor was spot on, and the small slots that were cut into the snapper made it tremendously easy to eat. Plus, the addition of the shrimp and mussels just added to the personality of this dish, not to mention the value.

Casa de la Trova Pollo al Ajo

Pollo al Ajo

 

I was too busy paying attention to my plate to realize that Kat’s dish nearly looked and smelled as good as mine. If you ever meet my wonderful wife, you should thank her, not only does she edit my pieces before I throw them into cyberspace, but she also lets me try every dish she gets in order to properly review the eateries we frequent. I am pretty freaking happy that this rule exists because not only was the chicken damn near fall off the bone tender, the sauce was good enough to make a politician tell the truth.

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

Casa de la Trova Salad And Rice

Each of our entrees came with a rice of our choice and a small side of salad greens. The rice by itself was good, but considering we were in a Cuban Restaurant I expected as much. However, Kat had the excellent idea to pour her chicken sauce on the rice, and it stepped the side dish to a whole new level.

If it was not obvious, or you just skipped reading the words of this article and looked at the food porn, Kat and I enjoyed our visit to Casa de la Trova Restaurant. The employees were simply wonderful from the smile we received when we entered the door to the helpful assistance we received when we needed it throughout our meal. In addition to the staff, every bit of food that we tried at this establishment tasted as good as it looked, and it looked as good as it tasted.

So grab a few comrades, sorry I could not go an entire article about a Cuban restaurant without any communist jokes, and a couple of cold ones and find your way to Casa de la Trova. The more we as a foodie community support the local eclectic restaurants that move into our neighborhood, the more unbelievable restaurants will call the 201 their home!

Click to add a blog post for Casa de la Trova on Zomato

The Blue Collar Foodie Dines at Seasons 52 in Edison, NJ

I am not usually one to venture to chain restaurants. I am more of a mom and pop shop kind of foodie that enjoys the individuality and personality that usually goes hand-in-hand with these types of small town eateries. With that said, I am not one to discriminate. I feel that every establishment no matter how vast their empire has stretched has a story to tell, and I don’t think that their success on a national level should automatically condemn them to an existence chock full of foodie condemnation.   I am the type of person that is willing to go into any and all new situations with an open mind and open stomach, and this is exactly what I did when I was invited to the soft opening of Seasons 52 located near the Menlo Park Mall, at 217 Lafayette Avenue, Edison, NJ.

Seasons 52 Glass

Some people eat to survive; I eat for entertainment and therefore I have no issues traveling to stimulate my taste buds with something new and exciting that I cannot get in my neck of the woods. In college, I routinely would jump in my car and travel two hours to eat at Denny’s or Wawa, sure it helped that my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, lived down there in might as well be Alabama, New Jersey, but the food was always the mission and seeing her was a fantastic bonus. For some, driving to Edison from Bergen County after an arduous day of work seems daunting, but for me, it is what gets me through the day. I am always planning my next meal, and the thought of this next culinary adventure keeps me going.

This particular culinary adventure consisted of joining other food writers for a wine pairing extravaganza at the Seasons 52 Chef’s Table. Being that I am the Blue Collar Foodie and not the Burgundy Bourgeoisie Bon Vivant , I don’t have too much experience with being wined and dined at the Chef’s table, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a night to remember.

Before I discuss the food portion of the night and make all of you drool uncontrollably like a bunch of Pavlovian dogs at a performance of Carol of The Bells, I would like to discuss the atmosphere at Seasons 52. When we arrived at Seasons 52, it was a cold, icy, and blustery evening, so the complimentary valet parking was greatly appreciated. Furthermore, the heated walkway to the restaurant leading to that waiting area that was adorned with a regal gas fed fireplace created the perfect warming sensation that allowed us to forget about the unforgiving weather and begin to ruminate about our upcoming meal.

Being that this was a soft opening meal that was designed to show off not only the talents of the Chef, but the restaurant as a whole, we were met by a Seasons 52 representative and given a tour of the establishment. I have to say that I was quite impressed by what Seasons 52 had going on. We were shown several private dining areas that could be used for catered events such as baby showers or birthday parties, but also lend themselves to professional lunch or dinner spaces complete with presentation paraphernalia.

Furthermore, as we walked around the restaurant and entered the bar, I noticed an actual sentient keyboardist located behind the bar that was eloquently playing the music that was being piped into the entire restaurant. Before even entering the area that would serve us our Seasons 52 approved home base for the evening, I began to realize that Seasons 52 is not your average chain restaurant, and I had a sneaking suspicion I would not be eating Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers, Extreme Fajitas.

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

After are brief jaunt around the restaurant, we were escorted into the room that houses the Chef’s Table, which overlooks the kitchen area. The décor matched the entire restaurant and which was to be soothing, yet still modern and sophisticated. The piece de resistance of the room was the mural created entirely of spices that are used by the chefs at Seasons 52. Not only did this food art look amazing but the aromatics that wafted from it added to the lovely ambience of this secluded foodie play ground that was the setting for our evening.

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

After a brief introduction and some small talk, our first course arrived at the table.  Seasons 52’s first offering was a terrific twosome of flatbreads that were expertly cooked. The flatbreads that we were served were described as Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken featuring fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, and arugula and a Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese featuring cremini mushrooms, spinach, and caramelized onions.

Both flatbreads had just the right amount of crunch to give them the proper structural integrity but not that prison shanking crunch that we have all experienced after eating a spoonful of the Captain that was not sufficiently drowned in milk. The flavor was surprisingly delicate, with precisely the amount of spice as to not overpower the dish but to add a harmonious balance in each bite. To add to this course, the wine that accompanied it was spot on. The sweetness of the grapes paired well with the hint of heat, while the wine itself was not overbearing as to wash away the welcomed tingle.

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

With our palates alive and bustling with the flavor of the Flatbreads that served as the first course of this lovely foodie event, we all moved onto our second course. This second offering was an Amuse Bouche that paired fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish. This portion of the meal was a wonderful palate cleanser, while still having enough flavor to be memorable in its own right.

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

Next up was a Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino that shared a cedar plank and to be honest the spot light, with a Lemongrass Grilled Sea Scallop. Both of these wonderfully prepared sea dwelling morsels of tastiness were served to us with a side of yellow beets, asparagus, and carrots. In my opinion, and since I am writing this thing it is the only one that matters, #onlyslightlyjerky, this dish took best in show honors. The combination of the beautiful presentation, intoxicating aroma, and simply divine taste made this contribution to our meal the clear cut winner of this Seasons 52 food orgy.

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola

As our stomachs began to fill, we were delighted to see the next dish was a salad course. We are not talking your average pizza place salad, full of left over toppings they could not sell yesterday. I am talking about a gourmet salad that combined Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola sprinkled with a sherry walnut vinaigrette. I will give you a second to go re read that sentence so you can take in all the awesomeness that is contained within this salad. The fresh and earthy spinach paired flawlessly with the pungent gorgonzola cheese, while the walnuts and the pears added texture while dancing with the vinaigrette as if it was choreographed by the likes of Jerome Robbins.   (Just so you all know, until today I had no idea who Jerome Robbins was. That is why you got to love the internets, making uninformed people look smart since 1969!)

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

After we all devoured the salad course, we then were brought a strikingly prepared Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli topped with harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, and a roasted onion jus. The brightness of this dish could not be fully captured by my point and shoot camera, but I assure you it was damn near radiating off the plate, just beckoning to be eaten. I, of course, obliged and found myself in wandering the plains of flavor country with each bite.

Being that everyone at this table was some type of foodie in one way, shape, or form, none of us wanted to throw in the towel before completing this lavish meal. We have trained for this you see, we are not sprinters, we are marathon runners that have hit countless walls in the past, so we bore down and welcomed the next course with open mouths.

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

This dish united a grilled Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail to form a foodie take on the age- old classic surf and turf. To enhance this already spectacular plate, the chef decided to team this juggernaut of a dish up with Brussels Sprouts and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes.   I am the type of person that saves the best bite for last, this was the type of meal that I had a hard time trying to figure out which bite to save. As I was eating, I felt the pressure of the decision weighing on me, much like when you say you are ready to order at a restaurant but you are not, and everyone is ordering, and your turn is coming but you can’t concentrate because everything that everyone else is ordering sounds so good. The waitress is coming ever so close to asking you that faithful question, “and you sir?,” yet you still have no idea. Want to know what I did, I cheated! I took a little piece of each scrumptious segment of this meal and made it all my last bite. To quote a very wise man I once knew, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying!”

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, our server Jason, who I will get back to, brought us a collection of Seasons 52’s award winning Mini Indulgences. You may not know this but dessert is my crack rock. I have a sweet tooth that would make most children cringe, so when this flight of awesome sauce hit the table I could barely contain myself. Each description of these sugary shot glasses of amazeballs made me yearn to eat every last one of them and leave none for the rest of my group. I was able to contain myself and calm the beast within just enough to only gobble down two of them and retain some of my dignity.   They were worth every single stinking calorie they contained times two! Yea, that is how good they were, trust me, I am an addict!

This Chef’s Table tasting is not only for food writers and bloggers; you too can experience this foodtastic event by contacting the Seasons 52 group dining liaison and booking this table. Now, sadly you will not have the pleasure of being captivated by the outstanding narration and delightful yarn spinning of the talented Jason from Georgia. Jason was our server during this gourmand gallivants, and he not only explained each dish but also described the wine for the pairings while adding amusing anecdotes along the way. You may be able to embark on one of these journeys with Jason, but you can take this trip with a server that was trained by him.

Cheers

Cheers

If you can’t get to Seasons 52 for the Chef’s tasting most of the items that I mentioned in this post can also be found on their regular dinner or lunch menu. I highly recommend taking a drive down to Edison, NJ and check out what all chain restaurants should be doing!

Click to add a blog post for Seasons 52 on Zomato

Eating Healthy this Super Bowl Without Losing Man Points. Here is an App for that!

Super Bowl XLVIII

That mean Super Bowl 48 for those of us that did not go to a wealthy school which taught fancy roman numerals.

Did you know that the number one New Year’s resolution in America for 2014 was to lose weight?  Furthermore, studies say that only 39% of people in their twenties and a mere 14% of people over 50 with accomplish their resolution.  If you decided to jump into the deep end of Resolution River without a life jacket, you are not the first and you will certainly not be the last.

In December 2012, my wife and I were sifting through pictures from the past year and saw a picture from a recent wedding where we resembled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Miss Piggy attending a cocktail party.  To paraphrase Queen Victoria, we were not amused.  So our 2013 resolution was to lose weight, and although it was an uphill both ways in the snow without shoes or a jacket kind of arduous task, we succeeded.

In 2013, Kat and I lost a combined 75 pounds before the Holidays gave us about a 10 pound present.  I am not telling you this to boast, although I am proud of our accomplishment, I am telling you this to inform you that even if you are a foodie, you can lose weight and keep it off.  The secret to our success was not some scientific weight loss drug, newfangled exercise machine, or fad diet, it was good old fashioned vomiting, that is right bulimia is not just for teenage girls anymore!  Relax people; the real top-secret weight loss program we established was portion control, exercise, and calorie counting.

Now I could ramble on about how we accomplished this three pronged attack on our floppy bodies but this is a food blog not fatties anonymous, so I will simply say the hardest thing to do while on a diet is to make the correct choices while eating out or at a party.  This problem is only compounded for men that are trying to lose weight because there is nothing less masculine than the phrase, “I can’t eat that!  Do you know how many calories are in (fill in the delicious food here)?”

With this in mind, I have compiled a list of the top 10 healthy yet still somewhat manly appetizers you can bring, serve, and eat at a Super Bowl party without losing dozens of man points per carrot dipped in broccamole that you force yourself to eat.  Note:  I don’t care that the word “Bro” is in the word Broccamole, it is the least manly thing you could ever eat, and that includes Activia yogurt that is specifically designed to make women regular.  (Click the titles of the food to follow the link to these fantastic recipes.)

Buffalo Balls

Buffalo Balls

You might wanna change the name but you will not want to change the taste!
Photo Credit: I Breathe…I’m Hungry…

Buffalo Wings and Football games go together like Kayne West and Douchebaggery, so a Super Bowl spread without some form of chicken wings would be like A-Rod without steroids.  Unfortunately, Chicken wings are about as healthy as a deep fried Twinkie wrapped in bacon, unless you follow this easy low carb, gluten free recipe.

Individual Seven Layer Dip:

Mini Seven Layer Dip

Size doesn’t always matter! Right… Right?

These delicious little cups of yummy pack the same great flavor that your mother’s seven layer dip offered with two outstanding improvements.  First off, they have built in portion control so you can keep track of how much of this wonderful stuff you are eating. Secondly, if you have germophobic tendencies, like I do, and the mere thought of a double dipper causes you to cringe worse than Freddie Krueger scratching a chalk board, the individual servings keep your dip safe and sanitary.

Lightened Up Mac & Cheese Bites:

Lightened Up Mac & Cheese

Mac and Cheese that will not make your personal trainer weep!
Photo Credit: 3 Pastries A Day

I think we can all agree, if you do not like Mac & Cheese you are un-American.  I don’t know why Reagan did not just use this as a test to find all the communist spies that infiltrated our country in the seventies.  Instead of all the surveillance, interrogating, and torturing, all he needed to do was put a plate of herring and a plate of Mac & Cheese in their hotel rooms and wait to see which one they picked.  Since we no longer need Mac & Cheese to protect our country, I suggest you use this recipe to pair America’s favorite food with America’s favorite sport.

De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket:

De-Pudged Pigs in a Blanket

Not all pigs are fat! That is fatism!
Photo Credit: Lisa Lillian, Hungry Girl

As far as appetizers go, pigs in a blanket have weathered the test of time better than Vanna White, which by the way is not easy considering she is 56 and still is in the GSHILF category.  I will wait for you to get that one and if you don’t e-mail me and I will explain.  These little buggers are perfect for any party and by using reduced fat all beef franks and low reduced calorie crescent rolls they can be quite healthy.  Another bonus to these tried and true apps, they are so damn easy to make even Lunch Lady Doris couldn’t screw them up.  For a slight change of pace try this recipe, Mini Corndog Muffins.

Chuck’s Crab Cakes:

Crab Cakes

Crab People, Crab People, look like cakes tastes like crab!
Photo Credit: Chuck Hughes

If you have been dieting longer than a day and are at least slightly smarter than anyone of these celebritarts, you already know that, for the most part, seafood is pretty healthy.  As long as it is not bathed in butter or deep fried, when you are out and about, seafood is a pretty safe bet to keep your calorie count lower than the NY Mets payroll.  These simple yet tasty crab cakes are not only low in calories but also allow you to keep your mantastic foodie street cred.

Paleo Pizza Bites:

Paleo Pizza Bites

Paleo Pizza Bites GOOOOODDDDDD, Inner Aisles BAAAAAAAADDDD!
Photo Credit: Health Bent

This dish is for all the cavemen who read this blog.  For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, I am referring to my followers that prescribe to the Paleolithic diet.  The basic rule of this diet is if a caveman could not eat it, neither can you.  If this is the diet that you chose to hitch your fat ass to, more power to you, here is an app just for you.  These pizza bites remove the dough, lessen the cheese, but still allow you to visit the most wonderful place on earth, no not Disney Land you jerk, Pizza Town!

Deviled Eggs:

Deviled Eggs

These Healthier Deviled Eggs Should Be Called Angel Eggs.
Photo Credit: Molly Burke

Relax, remove your hand from the mouse, keep reading, I will explain everything.  Some of you who have not eaten in a while just got really Hangry, part hungry, part angry, all vicious, with me for even suggesting that you can eat deviled eggs on a diet.  I am here to inform you, that you can.  Maybe not your grandmother’s 300 calorie lard filled egg o’tasty goodness, but you can have these healthy dressed up deviled eggs without feeling guilty.  These recipes all use reduced fat mayonnaise to create a deviled egg that is ready for the big game.

Healthified Spinach Dip in a Bread Bowl:

Healthified Spinach Dip In a Bread Bowl

So good you will wanna dip your bread in it! You thought I was going to say something else that starts will a B and is round didn’t you?
Photo Credit: Living Better America

I can hear some of you now.  What do you mean healthified spinach dip?  Spinach is one of those green things; therefore any dip that has spinach in it must be good for you.  If you believe this, I have a sweet bridge in Brooklyn I would love to sell you.  Think of all those hipsters you can charge a toll to just to cross your bridge to get to their warehouse parties and scarf shops.  This Spinach Dip adds more spinach and uses low-fat sour cream to start down the healthy path and then replaces the calorie rich cream cheese that is normally found in this dish with Greek Yogurt!  Mental Note People, Greek Yogurt was sent to earth from the heavens to replace fatty calorie laden ingredients in recipes without sacrificing the creaminess.

Oven “Fried” Pickles with Skinny Ranch Dip:

Oven Fried Pickeles.

Oy! These Pickles Are Good!
Photo Credit: Skinny Taste

If you have not accepted the amazing pickle as your diet savior you are a blasphemer.  Excuse me a minute while I testify about the sanctity of the almighty pickle.  These salty and garlicky explosions of flavor weigh in at a measly 5 calories a serving and are a great way to curb your appetite in between meals.  These oven fried pickles are of course a little heavier on the calories but still pack immense flavor in each tasty morsel and it does not get much manlier than breaded pickles.

Healthy Cookie Dough Dip

Cookie Dough Dip

Want to win some bets this year at your Super Bowl Party? Have everyone taste this dip and bet them they can’t guess the secret ingredient.
Photo Credit: Chocolate Covered Katie

A Super Bowl party is just not over until you have stuffed your face with sweet, sweet, fat filled dessert right?  What if I told you that you could have your sweets and not completely ruin your diet at the same time?  Put me down, crazy person, I am not a witch.  I am referring to this Healthy Cookie Dough Dip that uses a surprising ingredient to keep it low in fat and carbs, Chick Peas.  I know what you are thinking, “I don’t care if you are not a witch, I want to burn you at the stake anyway for this heresy.  Chick Peas are not a dessert you douche!”  I dare you to make this and have only one bite!  Go ahead, that is a challenge!

There you have it!  The top 10 Blue Collar Foodie approved healthy yet manly apps for the Super Bowl. Remember, one bad day will not ruin your health, just like one good day cannot make you healthy, so if you decide to cheat on Super Sunday, make sure you get back on track during Move Your Ass Monday.  Save this page to your favorites and when you need to make a dish for a party that won’t make you feel less masculine than buying Maxi-Pads for your wife during the Super Bowl, remember, there is an App (itizer) for that!