The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Chatni

I occasionally get asked why I am so passionate about the food that I eat. This question usually follows a zealous discussion or argument if you ask my wife, about all things foodie. I explain to my inquisitors that my passion may originate from the food that I ingest, but it is actually the unique cultural experience of the meal that fuels my creativity and produces my hunger to explore cuisine on a global scale. This explanation usually provokes some chuckling and some skeptical glaring from my comrades and cohorts. You see, to some of them, eating is a necessity of life as opposed to a necessity of living.

Not every meal I eat is a lavish celebration of artistic culinary ethos; I don’t have that kind of scratch. However, because I am lacking the resources to be a true elite gastronomic adventurer, I attempt to locate restaurants that are situated in close proximity to where I rest my rump that can take me on an epicurean exploration, one forkful of awesomeness at a time. These extraordinary eateries can be somewhat hard to find, but are well worth the quest if you can’t afford to visit Bangkok for Pad Thai, Hanoi for Pho, Moscow for Borscht, or Mumbai for Curry.

So, instead of boarding my private jet, I hopped into my 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and drove down Rt. 46 West taking in all the breathtaking scenery that Clifton, New Jersey has to offer. Clifton, however was not my destination, my goal was a town that is rapidly becoming a foodie haven in Northern New Jersey, Montclair. Brimming with restaurants, cafés, gastropubs, and hookah bars. If I was going to find an eatery that was going to teleport me to distant land using the power of gastronomy, this was definitely the town.

Kat and I turned down Bloomfield Ave. and began our search for the rare parking spot on the main drag. Have no fear, there are plenty of spots off the strip at the ample municipal parking lots that litter Montclair, but when you get that perfect spot downtown, in any city, you feel like you won something. As we were approaching our journey’s end, we almost gave up on locating the golden space, but like kismet, a vehicle pulled out right in front of the restaurant we were headed to and not to toot my own horn, but I parallel parked serendipity, yea we name our cars, like a boss!

 Chatni Patio

The restaurant that brought us to this Foodie Mecca is none other than Chatni, located at 381 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ. Chatni is an Indian restaurant that is not only in the heart of downtown Montclair, but also offers a large outdoor patio perfect for dining alfresco. Furthermore, to make this eatery even more alluring, Chatni is also B.Y.O.B which always makes this Blue Collar Foodie smile larger than the Cheshire Cat in the midst of mischief.

With a bomber of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe, Double IPA in hand, we entered Chatni and were welcomed by the smiling hostess that offered us the option of sitting inside the beautiful dining room or venturing outside to the spacious courtyard. Kat and I debated this decision for a little bit because the dining room area was very inviting and looked extremely comfortable.   Ultimately, we decided to eat outside because not only was it the perfect night for an outdoor meal, but also because my food photographs come out so much better when being kissed by the setting sun.

Once we were seated, our waiter brought us two pint glasses for our delicious liquid appetizer, two glasses of refreshing water, and our menus. While I twisted the cage from the cork in the bottle, Kat opened the menu and let out an exclamation that I cannot repeat on this site, we are a family site after all, aren’t we? Wait a minute; that does not sound right at all. Never mind that. She said, “Holy Shit, there are a lot of choices.” After a quick glance around our table to ensure the lack of impressionable minds, I filled our glasses and took my own gander at the menu.

I soon realized that Kat was right and her choice of language was not unprovoked. We hemmed and hawed, sipped and swallowed, and discussed and deliberated for quite some time until we had hammered out the best possible foodprint we could use to fully experience our Indian food expedition.

If you have ever eaten Indian food before, you should know that it lends itself to plate sharing or family style eating, so this is exactly what Kat and I decided to do. To inspire our appetites, we decided to order the Fresh from the Garden Salad. Once the spark of hunger was glowing within our bellies, we thought two entrees would quell our craving. I ordered the Boti Saagwala with Lamb and Kat decided upon the Chicken Curry. As with any Indian food that I partake in, I had to order some garlic Naan as well.

To add to the variety that Chatni offers, each entrée can be served at a mild, medium, or hot spice level. We chose medium because we are always somewhat intimated of hot when that adjective is used to describe non-American cuisine.

Chatni Papadum bread

Chatni Papadum bread

Shortly after we ordered, our waiter arrived at our table with a basket of Papadum bread and a lovely triplet of sauces. If you follow this blog at all you know I am a sucker for sauces, and these fine specimens were each better than the last. Kat and I sat back in our chairs, embraced the long awaited spring air, soaked in the superb atmosphere exuding from Chatni’s patio, and devoured this crispy-crunchy bread-like cracker dipped in a trio of awesome… Wait for it…Sauce!

Chatni Salad

Garden Fresh Salad

Within minutes, our salad arrived, and it was dressed to impress. More often than not, when I order a salad these days, they are over dressed and end up being a soggy mass of green gelatinous goo. Not this salad though, it was perfectly dressed and with the addition of the lemon wedge, that it was served with, it tasted phenomenal. Not only was the array of vegetables crunchy and fresh, the portion size was just right for the two of us to start our eating engines.

With our appetizers merely a recent memory, the main event was on the horizon. I wish I could transfer the feeling that I get before a feast to the aforementioned inquisitors, because then they would never ask that silly question again. The combination of anticipation, expectation, and realization that accompanies eating innovative and stimulating food for me is only second to actually traveling to the distant lands that this food originates from.

Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry

The first entrée we dove into was the Chicken Curry, described as a traditional Indian dish cooked in savory tomato and onion sauce with the blend of Indian spices. With a layer of rice on our plates, we divvied up this thick and rich concoction that smelled as if it came from the land of Brahma, Ganesh, and Vishnu. This savory and somewhat spicy dish had immense flavor without kicking you in your, you- know-whats with heat. The chicken that was swimming in this delicious vat of yummy was fork tender and full of amazing.

Chatni Garlic Naan

Chatni Garlic Naan

As I was relishing in the rays of awesomeness that were emanating from the Chicken Curry and bouncing off my taste buds, I noticed the Garlic Naan was sitting on the table looking lonely, delicious and lonely, but lonely none the less. I reached for this appetizing slightly crispy disc of doughy garlic-ness and tore a small piece off, and dipped it right into the Curry. To bastardize the late great Jerry Lee Lewis, “Goodness, gracious, great balls of hot damn!” If the Curry was not tasty enough, the addition of the Garlic Naan as a garlicky canvas put this dish over the top.

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Lamb Boti Saagwala

Next up was the Lamb Boti Saagwala, which was described as tandoori baked lamb cooked with lightly spiced spinach in a cream sauce. I did not think the Chicken Curry could be out matched, I thought perhaps we had chosen the wrong one to eat first and everything else would pale in comparison. I was wrong! This dish was equally as spectacular! The sauce was well spiced but not over powering and the lamb was so succulent and juicy that at a point I questioned if Chatni had a chef in the kitchen or a sorcerer. Once again the Garlic Naan dipped into the sauce only added to the wonderfulness of this dish.

Chatni Meal

Chatni Meal

I know in some cultures cleaning ones plate can be construed as rude, but I could not think of wasting even a morsel of this fantastic fare, so Kat and I threw caution to wind and did not even google the etiquette before virtually licking our plates clean. I don’t want you to think that the portions were small or that we were still hunger which caused us to eat every speck of food that was presented to us either, we were full and content, yet we could not bear witness to this food failing to reach its ultimate potential of being eaten.

Gulab Jamun

Gulab Jamun

Even though we were satisfied, we simply could not say no to dessert. We opted to try something new and ordered the Gulab Jamun, which was described as a light pastry made of dry milk served in sweet syrup.   We were unsure what to expect but if the previous courses were any indication, we knew it was going to good. We were right! Imagine a lighter, not as sweet, zeppole swimming in a delectable simple syrup.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm

To those of you who have ever been questioned about your foodie infatuation, I suggest that you forego attempting to argue with your interrogator, and merely invite them out to a restaurant such as Chatni. In a world saturated with places to eat, Chatni and its small group of equally astounding restaurants truly transport you to a far off land where burgers and pizza are not the only things you can order. Hope to see you there soon!

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The Blue Collar Foodie Visits Bhoj, a True Sub-Continental Delight

Throughout my many years as a foodie I have visited countless restaurants searching for phenomenal interesting cuisine.  Since I have been on this endeavor for such a lengthy amount of time, it gets harder and harder to find new restaurants to take a bite out of.  I sometimes feel like a nomad wandering out of town, to another county, or even across state lines in pursuit of a foodie find worth talking about.   Imagine my surprise, when I was informed that I had been missing out on some of the best Indian food in the state, right in my own backyard.  After receiving messages from several of my Facebook friends urging me to give Bhoj, located at 430 Market Street, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407, a try, I had no other option but to heed their advice.
Bhoj

Kat and I are no strangers to ethnic food, which you know if you read this blog, so when I mentioned the possibility of Indian food for dinner Kat did not even let me finish the question, before responding, “YES!”  After a long day of work and a short stint at the gym, Kat and I hopped into the car with our appetites and headed to good ‘Ole Elmwood Park to experience all that Bhoj had to offer.

At first glance, Bhoj, does not seem like much, due to the fact that it is located in a shopping plaza with a Dunkin Donuts, a liquor store (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, Bhoj is a BYOB), and a Laundromat, but as I have learned quite a few times on my epicurean adventures, looks can be deceiving.  As we entered Bhoj, the intoxicating aroma caused us to forget what the building looked like outside and focus on the interior of this enchanting restaurant, which was decorated with an authentic Indian theme.  I felt like Tucan Sam as I followed my nose through the restaurant as we were seated by our waiter.

Once we were seated we were welcomed to the Bhoj by our server and handed two menus and a list of specials.  While perusing the menu our waiter brought over two glasses and filled them with water while we attempted to make our decision.  When the waiter came back, as per usual, Kat and I could not make up our minds so I asked him to suggest an appetizer.  More often than not a waiter or waitress will choose an item on a whim when requested to advise a diner on what they should eat, but not at Bhoj.  I was happily surprised when our waiter engaged us in a short conversation in an attempt to judge our likes and dislikes before just offering a random dish for us to order.  Armed with the knowledge that he collected from our conversation our waiter competently recommended the Vegetable Samosas with Channa which was described as crispy golden brown triangle pastry stuffed with potatoes and green peas.  We of course took our waiters advice and ordered this alluring appetizer while we scrutinized the menu some more looking for the perfect entrée.  Our waiter also asked us what degree of spiciness we would like our appetizer to have, E.G. Mild, Medium, or Hot.  We requested medium, but our waiter seemed slightly suspicious about our heat tolerance and suggested Mild Plus for the appetizer and if we wanted more heat, he would adjust our entrées accordingly.

Indian Dipping Sauces

Dipping Sauces

Once our appetizer order was in, a waiter came to our table and placed a basket of crispy flat-bread that I believe was Khakra and a dish divided in thirds which housed three distinctly different sauces for said Khakra.  I have to admit that Bhoj scored some points with this foodie by adding the dipping sauces, which were wonderful by the way, because I am huge sauce fanatic, so much so that I have an entire shelf dedicated to sauces is my refrigerator much to Kat’s chagrin.  As we chowed down on the complimentary Khakra we made our final decision for our main course and relayed them to our waiter. I decided upon the Bhuna Gosht for $17.95 which was described as Lamb cooked in special thick gravy with exotic spices and tomatoes, whereas Kat went with the Chicken Tikka Masala for $16.95, which was described as boneless pieces of Tandoori chicken cooked in a creamy tomato sauce.  We also ordered Garlic Naan for $3.95 and Basmati Rice for $1.50 to complete our meal.

Khakra

Khakra all dressed up

Shortly after we ordered our entrées, our appetizer arrived on the table and it was presented beautifully on the serving plate. The two overstuffed triangle pastries were fried to perfection and placed on the dish surrounded by the Channa creating an edible piece of art that any refined foodie, including Kat and I, would feel bad destroying.  That is, until we tasted the first bite, and then we devoured every last morsel of this fantastic dish as if we were a bunch feral carnies that have never used a fork before.  Yea, that is right! It was acting like a feral carnie good!

Vegetable Samosas with Channa

Vegetable Samosas with Channa

While we were demolishing this delectable treat, our waiter approached the table to inquire about the spice level, so the Chef could prepare our meals properly.  Although, this seems like a minor detail, it is interactions like this that separate run-of-the-mill eateries and exceptional establishments.  Kat and I felt that the waiter and therefore Bhoj, honestly cared if we were enjoying their cuisine and wanted to do adjust the spice level to the appropriate tolerance so we would have the best possible experience they could provide.

After we were done with the appetizer, our table was cleared and the table was prepared for our main course.  When our dishes arrived the smell alone caused me to salivate like a rabid Chupacabra in heat.  As is the custom, Kat and I spooned a portion of rice on our plates, which we then topped off with a serving of the entrées that we ordered.  Each bite revealed more and more of the depth of flavor these dishes possessed.  The addition of the Garlic Naan only added to this magnificent feast.

Bhuna Gosht and Chicken Tikka Masala

Bhuna Gosht and Chicken Tikka Masala

The portions were extremely generous and we only ate half of our meals before we felt as if we could not eat another bite. That is, until our waiter approached the table and asked about our thoughts on dessert.  He highly recommended the rice pudding, and since he had not steered us wrong all night, we followed his guidance like he was our gastronomic Sherpa.  Once again his expertise navigated us down a path of culinary enlightenment.  The rice pudding not only tasted great but snuffed out any lingering effects of the tingling sensation that accompanies proper Indian cuisine.

I have to say that I was exceedingly impressed by Bhoj.  The ambiance enhancing modern Indian music combines with the traditional design theme to create an environment that is perfect for dining, while the tremendously helpful and attentive staff serves some of the best tasting Indian food that I have found in this area.  The lesson to be learned from Bhoj, is that sometimes what you are looking for can be found closer than you think, as long as you have an open mind and an open stomach.

Bhoj Indian 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.