Adara Serves Edible Artwork

I am not ordinarily a man with hedonistic tendencies. If you follow my blog, you should already know that my epicurean manifesto would read like a diner menu, not a bourgeois carte du jour, but every once in a while one must overlook budgetary concerns in order to experience a gastronomic adventure that is simply like no other.   Adara, located at 77 Walnut Street, in Montclair, NJ, is one of these rare fiscally irresponsible exceptions, that takes you on a culinary journey that you won’t soon forget.

My wife, Kat, and I decided to visit Adara on a Thursday night, to celebrate my Birthday. Since Adara is not on the ordinary Montclair strip, I had to employ the assistance of Google Maps to locate this seemingly forgotten section of town. Once we arrived in the neighborhood, parking was stress-free and even better; it was free. (Make sure to read all the signs when parking in this area, some areas are free and some have restricted meters.)   As we entered the eatery, I immediately noticed the comforting contemporary design scheme complete with modern art, and inviting lighting. As we walked further into the restaurant’s quaint foyer my olfactory senses were bombarded by the various stimulating aromas that wafted through the restaurants, intimate yet not cramped dining room.

As we were seated, our extremely welcoming waitress/hostess/General Manager (according to the website), Naomi, doled out our menus, and retrieved a bucket of ice for our bottle of white wine, that we brought from our own private stock. That is right, thanks to New Jersey’s archaic and stringent liquor laws, even a high end establishment like Adara can’t finagle a liquor license from the cold hearted bureaucrats, and therefore instead of paying $60.00 for a $15.00 Californian White, feel free to bring whatever you feel will pair well with awesome.

Something that you should know about Adara before planning your evening is that they serve a version of what is known in the foodie community as Molecular Gastronomy. (For people that are not in the know, click on the link above to read all about this innovative and fun modern cooking style.) The reason why this is important to know before making your reservation is because one cannot simply enter Adara without first reviewing their menu choices. The options are as follows:

1: A three course prefix menu that is available for $65.00 per person, “which is intended as a brief insight into the culinary world of Adara” and allows the diner to choose from a variety of tantalizing dishes.   *This was the option we chose to partake in considering it was our first edible expedition with Chef Tre Ghoshal . (Who by the way was recently featured on Food Network’s Chopped!)

2: The chef’s tasting menu is a more comprehensive expedition into Adara’s rabbit hole and is artfully arranged by the chef to pander to all the senses. This gastronomic indulgence will set you back $115 per person and your entire party much agree on the menu one day prior to your reservation.

3: The grand tour menu is for major league food connoisseurs and offers a chef’s choice 15 course tasting, described as a true culinary adventure. This option costs $200 a person, which even for the wealthy can add up quickly.

4: A tasting of vegetables is offered for Vegetarians that still want to join the Chef’s Gastronomic Movement but don’t want to bend their meatless morals. This option costs 115.00 a person and sounds amazing; I might not even miss the meat, if I were to partake in this vegetable foodgasm.

5: An option entitled Omakase, a Japanese phrase that means “I’ll leave it to you,” is described as five small plates of the chef’s creation. This is the most inexpensive option at $40.00, but the word small leads me to believe that I would leave hungry.

6: Finally, a separate dessert and drink menu is available. If Adara’s prices seem too high, I highly recommend stopping by for an after dinner treat or a mocktail to enter Chef Tre’s world. I guarantee after your visit, you will head over to the nearest Coinstar machine and slaughter your piggy bank in order to afford a full course meal at Adara.

Now down to the most important part of any restaurant review and what separates Adara from any restaurant that I have visited during my career as a food enthusiast, the food. First and foremost, Naomi, was not only extremely professional but she was our own personal living Google, when it came down to the food that we were being served. She answered every question we threw at her during the course of our evening at Adara and did it with style and gracious poise. After speaking to Naomi we ordered our meals which commenced the single greatest foodie experience of my life.

a mixture of various Herbs, nuts, and spices that are used as a dipping concoction called Duqqa.

a mixture of various Herbs, nuts, and spices that are used as a dipping concoction called Duqqa.

Our first course was a complimentary bread course, which included an Egyptian side dish named duqqa.   Duqqa consists of a mixture of various herbs, nuts, and spices and is used as a dipping concoction for the bread that was provided. Another small bowl full of a magical garlic oil potion was also included on the serving dish. Naomi explained that Egyptians eat this appetizer in preparation for a large meal, and instructed us to dip the bread in the almost foam like liquid and then in the duqqa before eating. Kat and I followed Naomi’s instructions and both sighed in unison. The warm doughy bread was the perfect canvas for the duqqa, liquid combination to creatively decorate. If this course was any indication of where this meal was headed, we were both in for a treat.

Compressed watermelon, accompanied by Humboldt Fog goat cheese and red onion, topped with a sliver of pickled red onion glass

Compressed watermelon, accompanied by Humboldt Fog goat cheese and red onion, topped with a sliver of pickled red onion glass

Our second course was our first amuse-bouche of the evening.   “Amuse-bouches are different from appetizers in that they are not ordered from a menu by patrons, but, when served, are done so for free and according to the chef’s selection alone. “ (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) This complimentary and tremendously appreciated amuse-bouche consisted of compressed watermelon, accompanied by Humboldt Fog goat cheese and red onion, topped with sliver of pickled red onion glass. Go ahead, you can reread that, I won’t judge, I asked Naomi to repeat it several times as well; I will wait for you here. Much like the first course, the second course was equal parts delicious and beautiful. The myriad of flavors that fused together to create this dish was astonishing.  My first thought when hearing the description of this dish was that the ingredients involved make about as much sense as Chris Brown being the spokesman for domestic violence awareness month but after tasting this artistically prepared delight, I was mistaken.

Asparagus served with  porcini mushrooms and a quail egg, topped with a hollandaise sauce, and a Balsamic reduction sheet.

Asparagus served with porcini mushrooms and a quail egg, topped with a hollandaise sauce, and a Balsamic reduction sheet.

Our third course was our second amuse-bouche of the evening and was comprised of asparagus accompanied by porcini mushrooms and a quail egg, topped with a hollandaise sauce, and some sort of Balsamic reduction sheet. This dish was another example of the painstaking attention to detail that Chef Tre Ghoshal puts into every one of his dishes. Not only did this dish taste fan (Insert a four letter word that begins with an F and rhymes with luck in its present participle form) tastic, the presentation was done with both precision and a level of artistic talent that that Donatello and Michelangelo would be jealous of, and no I am not talking about the Ninja Turtles.

Foie Gras with a Buffalo Chicken Composition

Foie Gras with a Buffalo Chicken Composition

Our fourth course was the appetizer course that Kat and I ordered. After some substantial deliberation I decided on the Foie Gras with a Buffalo Chicken Composition, while Kat ordered the Beef Short Rib combined with tamarind, tellicherry peppers, butternut squash, and coriander. Once again Chef Ghoshal did not disappoint.   The Foie Gras was served cold, which was unexpected, but actually very pleasing to the palate. The unorthodox addition of a buffalo chicken sauce to my dish was superb and executed flawlessly.

Beef Short Rib combined with tamarind, tellicherry peppers, butternut squash, and coriander

Beef Short Rib combined with tamarind, tellicherry peppers, butternut squash, and coriander

As for Kat’s dish, one can never go wrong with a short rib, especially when it is prepared by a Chef of this caliber. The beef was expertly cooked and seasoned just right as to not overpower the brilliant flavor of the meat.

Colorado Lamb  with Spring Peas, Sheep Milk’s Yogurt, Porcini Mushrooms, and a Pumpernickel Chip.

Colorado Lamb with Spring Peas, Sheep Milk’s Yogurt, Porcini Mushrooms, and a Pumpernickel Chip.

Our fifth course was our entrée, the Colorado Lamb for me and the Berkshire Pork Rib Chop for Kat. The chop was escorted to our table by Apple Wood-Smoked bacon, Kim Chee, Oats, and Liquid Cornbread, while my Lamb attended to party with Spring Peas, Sheep Milk’s Yogurt, Porcini Mushrooms, and a Pumpernickel Chip.

Berkshire Pork Rib Chop  served with Apple Wood-Smoked bacon, Kim Chee, Oats, and Liquid Cornbread

Berkshire Pork Rib Chop served with Apple Wood-Smoked bacon, Kim Chee, Oats, and Liquid Cornbread

When these dishes arrived I was taken aback by their exquisiteness. I hear you sighing, and I understand your apprehension. I am spouting off adjectives that are usually reserved for revered pieces of art, not food, but I assure you each and every descriptive phrase that I am attaching to these dishes are both warranted and justified.

Mango Papaya Sorbet with a sliver of Mango Glass garnished with strawberries and chocolate ganache

Mango Papaya Sorbet with a sliver of Mango Glass garnished with strawberries and chocolate ganache

Our sixth course was another amuse-bouche, but this time the dish was sweet, a pre-dessert if you will. This plate was involved a Mango Papaya Sorbet with a sliver of Mango Glass garnished with strawberries and chocolate ganache. This dish created a seamless transition from savory to sweet. After finishing this chilled concoction my palate was cleansed and I was prepared for our last course.

Fig Newton paired with maple, cardamom, and warm hemp milk

Fig Newton paired with maple, cardamom, and warm hemp milk

Our seventh and final course was the desserts that we ordered off the menu. Knowing we were going to share this dishes Kat and I decided on two different creations.   I ordered the Fig Newton paired with maple, cardamom, and warm hemp milk, whereas Kat decided upon the Havana Banana complemented with dark chocolate ganache, coconut, coffee, and salted caramel. Although the Ginger Cake portion of the Fig Newton was delicious, especially pair with the Hemp Milk, the Havana Banana stole the show. This dish was so extraordinary that if word got out about its shear decadence Julius Caesar himself would rise from his grave in order to try just a bite.   Yea, it was Zombie, Julius Caesar good.

Banana complemented with dark chocolate ganache, coconut, coffee, and salted caramel

Banana complemented with dark chocolate ganache, coconut, coffee, and salted caramel

Although Adara is quite expensive, I implore you to attempt to get past that point of contention. When the bill hit the table, I was not flabbergasted or cross, I was still smiling as I gave my credit card to Naomi and she walked away from the table. The service that was provided by Naomi and Edgar, her accomplice throughout the evening, was better than any New York City hoity-toity establishment that I have ever had the pleasure of eating at. Furthermore, the food that was prepared by Chef Tre Ghoshal was honestly and without a doubt equal to if not better than anything that I have eaten in my entire life. When all was said and done what we paid for was not only a dinner but a guided tour through the culinary Wild West known as Molecular Gastronomy. To paraphrase Mr. William Shatner, Adara facilitated us to boldly go where few foodies have gone before!

 

Old San Juan Makes The Blue Collar Foodie Say ¡Wepa!

One of the phenomenal luxuries of living in Bergen County New Jersey is the never ending list of culinary quests that one can embark on, within mere minutes of their residence.  There are very few cuisines that a simple Google search cannot turn up five or more restaurants within a reasonable proximity.  So, when I do have the opportunity to visit a restaurant that is sharing a scarce delicacy that I normally have to venture into New York City for, I get rather excited, especially when I score a Groupon for said indulgence.   The style of gastronomy that I am referring to is none other than Puerto Rican food, and the establishment that is delivering this tantalizing fare to the Bergen County area is Old San Juan, located at 165 Route 46 West in Saddle Brook, NJ.

From the outside, this restaurant seems quite unassuming, mainly due to ear defiling noise and the unpleasant eye contamination that occurs when your next door neighbor is a bustling freeway.   Thankfully, once you enter Old San Juan you are whisked away from this suburban netherworld and brought to a veritable wonderland of peace and tranquility, complete with the heavenly aroma that only accompanies the wonderful cuisine of the islands.  When Kat and I entered the restaurant we were instantly greeted by a smiling face and escorted to our table promptly, which is always appreciated.  Furthermore, the modern, fresh, and clean interior design seemed to comfort Kat and I, almost immediately.

Old San Juan

Old San Juan Exterior

Once we were seated we were given menus from our waitress and she took our drink order as well.   Old San Juan, like most non-chain restaurants in New Jersey does not have a liquor license but they do allow you to bring your own bottles of wine or beer.  In addition Old San Juan offers an added bonus of B.Y.O.B Sangria, which allows you to supply the wine which they will serve with their own blends of fruits, creating an island inspired cocktail that pairs perfectly with Puerto Rican Food.   Kat and I perused the menu and after some serious deliberation we made our selections and signaled the waitress to join us once again.

If you have ever used a Groupon before you are well aware that there are specific guidelines to follow for each and every Groupon that you purchase and in order to take advantage of the substantial discounts, these rules must be followed.   I always present my Groupon to the server before I begin the ordering process.  The reason I do this, is because some of the regulations can be somewhat convoluted and the wait staff will be able to guide you down the path that allows you to use your Groupon at the end of the night.  There is nothing worse than attempting to pay for a bill with a Groupon and finding out there is an issue with using the deal, because of something you ordered.  Our Groupon stipulated that we could order 1 appetizer and 2 entrees, so we chose the Tostones Rellenos de Pernil , Stuffed Plantain with Pork, for $10.95.  Kat then ordered Churrasco, Skirt Steak, for the reasonable price of $21.95, while I decided upon the Pargo Rojo Entero, Whole Red Snapper, in a garlic sauce, for a sensible $23.95.  Each of our meals came with a choice of rice and beans, plantains, or a salad as a side dish, but considering that going to a Puerto Rican restaurant and opting to not try the rice and beans is tantamount to giving a purple nurple to a UFC fighter, we wisely chose the rice and beans to accompany our meal.

Roast Pork stuffed Plantain

Roast Pork Stuffed Plantain

When our appetizer arrived, I knew we were in for a treat.  Not only was the presentation of this traditional Puerto Rican dish exquisite, it smelled so damn good I almost divorced Kat on the spot so I could marry the chef, regardless of his or her sexual orientation.  Kat and I each took a forkful of the mountain of roast pork that was erupting out of the crispy fried plantain, which soon joined the pork on our fork, and took our first bite in unison.  The noises that we made after that first bite are usually heard in sleazy hotel rooms located on highways, not restaurants, but we did not care, because it was that good.  The textures married perfectly with each bite while the flavors hopped, skipped, and jumped across our taste buds.   When our waitress delivered our appetizer she pointed out that our table was equipped with homemade hot sauce that she warned was very hot.  Kat and I might as well be the co-presidents of the Hot Sauce Fan Club, so we did not heed the waitresses warning at first and added a little bit too much hot sauce to one forkful of yummy which started a five alarm fire on our tongues that was not easily quenched.  After our battle, we experimented with different amounts of this forceful yet flavorful sauce and found just the right quantity to use, which added tremendous taste without scorching the earth.

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce

Shortly after we finished our appetizer our main courses arrived.  As our dishes were delivered, we noticed that once again the presentation was lovely and the portions were generous to say the least. Kat’s skirt steak was at least 12 ounces and my Red Snapper probably weighed in at 2 pounds.  Kat and I began to eat our entrees and all semblance of conversation ceased for at least 5 minutes.  We were mesmerized by the food that was brought to our table.   My fork tender, juicy, Snapper was swimming in a butter garlic sauce that heightened the snapper’s natural flavor tenfold.   Kat’s expertly prepared, tender steak was served with a Chimichurri sauce that was delicate yet delicious, not overpowering like so many others I have tasted.  As for the rice and beans, it would not be a complete Puerto Rican meal without them; they were the perfect side dish to an amazing meal.

Red Snapper With Garlic Sauce

Red Snapper With Garlic Sauce

If you are like me and you are looking to explore the world one plateful at a time, I highly recommend Old San Juan.  Everything we tried was terrific and prepared exactly how we asked for it.  In addition, even without the Groupon, the prices are reasonable and the service was fantastic.   In the lovely words of the land that inspired this beautiful meal, ¡Wepa!

 

Puerto Rico

Even the Fish Loves Puerto Rico

Old San Juan on Urbanspoon

 

The Blue Collar Foodie Helps You Decide! Restaurant Week 2013 Edition

Restaurant Week 2013

Restaurant Week 2013

It is that time of year again folks! New York City Restaurant Week is about to commence and this year 317 restaurants will be serving up some of the finest food New York City has to offer, from January 14th until February 8th.  Each and every year more restaurants jump on the proverbial chuck wagon and attempt to compete for your business during the most hectic two weeks in the New York City restaurant business and the hardest part is choosing which restaurant to visit.  If you are as bad at making a decision as Notre Dame was at playing football this week, The Blue Collar Foodie has got you covered!  I have reviewed, inspected, and studied the New York City eateries participating in restaurant week this year and handpicked a few of my favorites to make your decision making process go a wee bit easier.

Before I get to the restaurants that made this exclusive list I first want to explain how these establishments were selected.  I evaluated each restaurant using the following criteria; the restaurant’s history, the building the restaurant is housed in, the menu offered, and of course the food they serve.  I then used a complex algorithm, not really but this sounded way too awesome not to write, and selected restaurants that not only serve remarkable food but also provide an amazing eating experience for the customer.

Considering I only get to visit these prestigious restaurants twice a year during restaurant week, due to budget restraints, my restaurant selection has to be more than just about food.  I want to visit famous buildings, have the chance to rub elbows with celebrities, dine where history actually happened, and do it all for 38 bucks plus tax and gratuity.  If you are looking for the best food this immense list has to offer this is not the review for you, but if you are looking for a once in a lifetime New York City experience keep reading!

It should be noted that I have not visited all of the restaurants that are on my list, so most of my research was done using the interwebs.  So if the restaurant that you choose is not as amazing as I say it is, please forward all your hate mail to dealwithit@Doyourowndamnresearch.com

To make your life even easier, I have broken down my selections to match the “by cuisine,” categories that are used on the NYC GO website, which lists all the restaurants that are participating.  I have also decided to follow Twitter’s lead and only use 140 characters to capture the essence of each eatery, I call them TweeViews.  If you like what you see in the Tweeview please visit the restaurant’s website to see more about the venue, by clicking the establishment’s name.  Furthermore, these selections are in Alphabetic order by cuisine type then restaurant name.  If you use this list to pick a restaurant out, I would love to hear about your experience in the comment section below, so please post.  Remember an outing into the City is really what you make of it, so as Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say, “Suit Up, and have a Legend, wait for it, Dary evening!”

 

Food Map

Gastronomic Map

American New

Butter:  A unique interior design inspired by nature paired with an eclectic menu featuring uncommon dishes make Butter a force to be reckoned with.

Hospoda:  Czech inspired fare paired with fresh pilsner instead of the normal wine creates a fresh take on fine dining at this upscale eatery.

The Lambs Club:  A famous chef and a building on the National Register of Historic Places that was home to one of America’s oldest theatrical organizations.

Leyla:  Boasting one of the finest menus on the restaurant week circuit, what it lacks in history it more than makes up for in culinary creativity.

Kutshers:  A modern Jewish American bistro, with roots in the Catskills, which offers Grandma’s favorites with a contemporary twist.

Park Avenue Winter:  A rustic American restaurant offering seasonal fare and a corresponding design that is only open until the end of winter begets spring.

Perilla:  With only 18, it is hard to score a table at this neighborhood restaurant, turned foodie mecca that focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Sprig:  Located in the Lipstick Building this posh eatery offers artistically prepared seasonal fare inspired by Northern California cuisine.

 

American Traditional

‘21’ Club:  A former New York City speak easy, still frequented by many celebrities, expertly serving awarding winning food with high class flare.

The Darby:  This former legendary Jazz and Blues Club turned chic eatery serves up creative cuisine with a side of swag in the form of live music.            

 

Asian Fusion        

Ajna Bar:  Beautiful interior design, renowned DJ’s, and a collision between French and Asian cuisine make Ajna Bar an appealing spot for 2013.

 

Barbecue

Hill Country BBQ:  New York’s own piece of Texas, serving up huge portions of fresh Barbecue for all of us with a city addresses but country souls.     

 

Chinese

Hakkasan:  This ain’t your local Chinese takeout joint; this is refined Chinese fare which is combined with a sophisticated and stylish dining area.

 

Continental

The Russian Tea Room:   A New York City Icon that was founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet and is frequented by the worlds’ most fastidious foodies.

 

French

L’ecole:  The ground floor of Fine Dining, located in the Int. Culinary Center; students from everywhere collaborate to create awe inspiring dishes.

 

Greek

Kellari:  A warm and inviting atmosphere that sets the tone for a Grecian inspired meal that the Chef lovingly prepares to celebrate his homeland.       

 

Indian

Junoon:  An extensive selection of interesting and delicious Indian dishes that offers the restaurant week veteran a wonderful escape from monotony.

Tamarind:  This trendy eatery is one of the most popular Indian restaurants in NYC, and one look at the décor coupled with the menu should explain why.

 

Italian

Asellina:  Sleek, posh, and chic describe this hip establishment where authentic Italian food collides with the modern day reality starlet scene.   

Barbetta:  Known as one of the most romantic restaurants in New York City, this is a great place for a couple to fall in love all over again.

Cipriani Dolci:  Located inside the majestic landmark that is Grand Central Terminal, Cipriani offers something to the architecture lover that others cannot.  

Pó:  An intimate space and fresh ingredients delivered daily by foot or bike by the surrounding markets, serving Italian food as it should be.     

The Leopard at des Artistes:  First time diners come for the buildings historical significance and the impressive art collection, but they come back for the food.

 

Japanese

Megu:  This establishment transports you to the Far East like no other restaurant I have ever been to, from design to dish, Megu is a phenomenal.

 

Korean

Bann:  A fantastic place to experience a variety of tantalizing Korean food while being surrounded by stunning authentic Korean décor.

 

Mediterranean

Ilili:  Ilili combines Lebanese cuisine with a Mediterranean flare, an epicurean delight perfect for the foodie looking to expand their palate.

 

Mexican

Maya:  Traditional Mexican cuisine meets modern culinary expertise at this contemporary eatery that promises warm Latin hospitality.

 

Pan/Latin

Raymi:  Billed as the best Peruvian restaurant in New York City with a menu and dining area that appears to back up that claim.

Rayuela:  A truly innovative and beautiful restaurant that created its own culinary genre known as estilo libre Latino or freestyle Latino.

 

Seafood

FishTag:  Mediterranean inspired seafood dishes expertly paired with wine from the imaginative culinary mind of world renowned chef Michael Psilakis.   

 

Southwestern

Mesa Grill:  Bobby Flay combines his passion for Southwestern cuisine and his love for grilling which leads to a marriage made in foodie heaven.

 

Spanish

Andanada 141:  A restaurant week menu truly built for adventurous foodies combined with a bull fighting theme makes this a great spot for thrill seekers.

 

Steakhouse

The Capital Grille Chrysler Center:  Located inside the Chrysler Center’s Trylon Towers, this highly rated chain steakhouse is an architecture aficionado’s dream.

 

Thai

Kittichai:  An exquisite design that lends itself to a romantic dinner for two with a menu that offers an inventive take on traditional Thai dishes.

 

Vietnamese

Le Colonial:  This one of a kind eatery transports you to a forgotten world known as French Indochina and serves French inspired Vietnamese cuisine.