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.

The Blue Collar Foodie says Opa! at Ridgewood’s Mediterraneo

As every self proclaimed foodie in Bergen County knows, Ridgewood offers an assortment of fine dining options that tantalize even the most refined flavor palates. With that said, the menus, although ever-evolving and very tempting tend to be a tad expensive for the average Blue Collar Foodie. In order to entice my fellow frugal foodies, I have decided to open my wallet a little bit more than I would usually like to, and try some of the best that Ridgewood has to offer.

There are three things to keep in mind when you are heading out to a local “5 star” eatery that assists in the dampening of the blow that the large bill may cause.  The first is that you do not need to pay $12 to cross a body of water that is no wider than Route 80, secondly there is no fighting with the camera toting tourist for the last parking spot in the village, and finally you don’t have to pay the exorbitant prices the City restaurants charge you for a $10 dollar bottle of wine so they can pay rent that month.  These thoughts help me get over going slightly over my normal per plate budget, and allow me to enjoy the meal without thinking of the beating my bank account is taking.

My sister frequents the establishments that line East Ridgewood Avenue and the surrounding area quite often so I asked her for her recommendations on a restaurant to review in this area.  She did not have to consider her options for exceedingly long, before she told me about Mediterraneo, located on North Broad Street, which is around the corner from the main strip.  She spoke very highly of the quality of the food and the excellent Mediterranean inspired fare.  Upon searching the reviews online, and perusing the menu, it sounded like the perfect place to enjoy a sit-down meal with another couple, Kevin and Kim, that we were meeting up with for dinner, later in the evening.

I failed to realize that reservations were suggested but since I got stuck at work and we were not going to arrive at Mediterraneo until 9:00 P.M., I assumed that we would not have a problem finding a table.  I was incorrect, and when we arrived at the restaurant it was packed.  Which is not really, saying that there were a lot of people inside, but due to the intimate setting Mediterraneo has to offer it was enough that we had to wait for an available space.  Unfortunately for us, there is no room for a waiting area inside Mediterraneo, so we were forced to wander the streets of Ridgewood for a while until a table was vacant.  The hostess offered to take our phone number, which was greatly appreciated, and call us when our table was ready.  With our name on the list and our number on speed dial Kevin and Kim, Kat (my wife), and I walked a few stores down and entered a Dunkin’ Donuts’ and had some coffee while we waited for the phone call.

In the end, we waited approximately 30 minutes for our table to be ready, which on a Friday night is not all that bad.  Once we entered the restaurant and made our way to the table, I instantly noticed the brilliant décor.  The vibrant colored walls mixed with dim lighting, set the perfect mood for a night out with friends.  The, what seemed like, hand blown pendant lamps were a beautiful addition over each and every table.  Kat also fell in love with the mural that adorned the wall, which also looked like it was hand painted.  Since I just lost at least one man point for this paragraph, and this is a food blog and not an interior decorator’s blog I will stop my rant about the appearance and move on to the more important issue; THE CUISINE.

Shortly after we sat down, the waitress delivered us our menus and offered to open one of the bottles of wine that Kevin and Kim brought.  With our butts in seats, wine in our glass, and menus in our hands the food journey was about to start.  Mediterraneo, offers three separate menus, one of them is for their daily tapas specials, one is for the fresh fish, and the other is for their featured entrees.  The chef changes the menus due to the availability of fresh ingredients, which creates the potential of a new experience every time one goes to Mediterraneo.  I truly enjoy restaurants that use this theory to create their offerings because the dishes tend to match the current climate and seasons.  Not many people want to order chili in August or gazpacho in December.

We decided to order an item off the tapas menu for the table to start, which was a Pork Loin dish covered in a whiskey sauce, surrounded by fingerling potatoes and dressed greens for $9.00.  Kim and Kat both ordered the skirt steak entree with Arugula, fennel, roasted bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, and toasted pine nuts for $23.00.  Kevin decided on the Paella Valenciana, which was described as shellfish, grilled chicken, chorizo, over Spanish style saffron rice for $25.00.  Lastly, after much deliberation — I am the slowest person ever when it comes to ordering food — I ordered the whole Branzino which was listed as a grilled whole fish, stuffed with Mediterranean vegetables, with a touch of Pernod for $26.00.  As stated, these prices seem too high and even knowing all the money I was saving by being in Ridgewood instead of New York City, I still felt slightly guilty about being so uncharacteristically bourgeoisie.

The feeling of guilt soon melted away faster than a slab of butter on a piping hot baked potato when the first course came out.  The Pork Loin was expertly cooked and flavored.  The whiskey sauce was prepared in such a way that the smokiness added just the right flavor without oppressing the delicate nature of the pork.   The fingerling potatoes were slightly seasoned with a Mediterranean spice that I could not place, but fell in love with and the greens added just the right amount of color to the dish.   At first when the server placed the small square plate in the center of the table, I was nervous that there was not going to be enough to go around, but this pile of meat just kept going.

After the tapas course, we indulged in another glass of wine and some more pleasant dinner conversation. When the food hit our table, the smell was phenomenal, unfortunately it lingered for a bit longer than I would like before we had our first bite. The food came out slightly staggered which caused that extremely awkward moment where some people have their food and some people don’t.  After several rounds of me telling people not to wait and them insisting on waiting, my whole fish came out of the kitchen and all was right in this foodie’s world.  My branzino, which I had to Google when I got home to find out is European Sea Bass, was elegantly presented with asparagus and fingerling potatoes.  The fish was grilled over charcoal briquettes which added a marvelous essence to this already scrumptious piece of fish.  The flesh of this sea faring creature was moist and succulent while the skin was crispy and delicious.  I am also not quite sure if the Mediterranean vegetables could be called a side dish per se, as they were more of a co-star to this dish. I know that I have said the statement, “this is the best (fill in the food here) that I have ever had,” about as many times as I have uttered the phrase, “I am never drinking again”, but seriously folks, this was the best whole fish I have ever eaten.

Kevin’s Paella was overflowing with scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams, and calamari.  It was a plethora of tasty sea creatures that could only be described as an extremely generous portion.  Kevin seemed to enjoy this dish as well considering he cleaned his plate and described it as a tender and tasty Mediterranean twist on a dish that can come up flat if not prepared well.

Kim and Kat were raving about the Skirt Steak meal that I had to steal a small morsel from my wife’s plate, and they were most definitely not wrong to sing the praise of this delightful piece of meat. Kim was especially happy with the grouping of the sauce and the veggies combined with the steak that created the perfect ratio of star to supporting characters. Kat described her dish as a splendid juicy steak with a complex flavor that caused her to want more and more after each and every bite.

After dinner we decided to order some dessert before we left.  Kat and Kim opted to share the berry tart, Kevin decided on the custard, and I went with the Baklava.  I am always the type of person that tries to immerse myself into the food culture of the region that the restaurant is claiming to be inspired by.  That premise has led me astray at some points in my foodie career but not this time, the Baklava was spectacular.  I am sure the other desserts were also good, but I am a sucker for the classics.

Subsequent to the final punch being dealt by the dessert, it was time for the judgment.  The final bill was $139.00 plus tip, which brought the final bill to about $170.00.  Apart from the price of the final bill, I would not change anything about this dining experience.  Good friends, inviting atmosphere, and extraordinary food made dining at Mediterraneo a truly enjoyable experience.

Judgement:

Overall:                  4 ½  out of 5

Taste:                    5 out of 5

Presentation:          5 out of 5

Value:                    3 out of 5

Location:

Mediterraneo

23 N Broad St Ridgewood, NJ 07450

201-447-0022

Mediterraneo on Urbanspoon