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

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

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

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

Gastronauts_LOGO

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

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

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

MeetUp

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

Team Ela!!!

Team Ela!!!

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

Game On!!!

Game On!!!

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

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

Team Ela Unite!

Team Ela Unite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

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

Of Course there was beer too!!!

Even theme specific beer made an appearance!

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

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T-Pain Directs The Blue Collar Foodie To Kimchi Mama

If you are a true foodie, seeing a new and interesting restaurant open its doors in your neighborhood probably makes you about as happy as a trippin’ hippie at a Dead concert.  The other day I was driving home from work and took an unexpected detour to avoid a huge accident, thanks to my navigator T-Pain on Waze, and I passed a sign I did not recognize.  My foodie radar began to ping and the bleeps, sweeps, and the creeps directed me to further investigate this new eatery.  As I drove past I was able to catch the name of Fair Lawn’s newest establishment, Kimchi Mama, and I knew I would be eating there in the near future.

A few days later Kat and I were tired and hungry after a long hike in the Ramapo Mountains and we decided that we needed to eat something before we continued the rest of our day.  After a brief discussion it became apparent that Kimchi Mama would be the perfect restaurant to fill the void in our bellies and we were excited to give it whirl.

Welcome to Kimchi Mama

Welcome to Kimchi Mama

Parking is slightly rough because Kimchi Mama is located at 7-09 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn, NJ and there are several other businesses that are located on that stretch of the road.  However, since we had our pups in tow and it was stupid hot that day, Kat stayed in the car with them, so I could park in the Chase parking lot, across the street.

As I entered Kimchi Mama I noticed that there was no seating in this restaurant, so plan to take your meal home with you or drive a few blocks to the park and chow down alfresco style.  I was greeted immediately when I entered by, who I can only assume, is The Kimchi Mama, and she was very personable and welcoming.

Furthermore, she was extremely knowledgeable, considering there were a few things on the menu that I not only could not pronounce but I would have had to google the shit out of to find out if they were vegetable, animal, or mineral.  She was very good at recognizing that although I was adventurous, I needed some assistance throughout the ordering process, and she was patient to boot.

After speaking to her for a brief period of time, I contacted Kat and like a coach devising a plan during a timeout, we quickly mapped out our meal.  By the way, I want a white board with the outline of a belly on it so at a restaurant I can huddle up my friends and devise a true food play.   Patent Pending, don’t steal my ideas you jerks!

We decided to rock Dukbokki, Pork KimBap, and a Vegetable Pajeon Pancake for our appetizers and a large order of Dwaeji Galbi (Korean Spare Ribs) for our main meal.  Since it was our first time there we were unaware of the portion size and we had the hike hunger, so we decided to go big.  Don’t judge us!  Think of our gluttony as your research!

We knew we were ordering big, but we did not realize just how big.  The amount of food that was handed to me from THE Kimchi Mama was unexpected and extremely appreciated.  When we arrived home we began to unpack the two bags of food that were wafting a wonderful smell throughout my house.  I had to fight the urge to attack the first thing out of the bag with a fork with a determination that few have ever summoned.

Doo-Dads, Whazits, and Awesome Sauce!

Doo-Dads, Whazits, and Awesome Sauce!

Not only did we receive all the things we ordered but there were several small containers of pickled doo dads and spicy awesome sauce, scattered throughout the bag.  Not to mention the rice, Miso soup, and of course the Kimchi that also made an appearance.  Altogether, Kimchi Mama hooked us up with quite a spread for under 40 bucks, and that is how we like to Roll!

Pancakes... Pancakes...Pancakes! The Rockland Boulders fans know what I am talking about.

Pancakes… Pancakes…Pancakes! The Rockland Boulders fans know what I am talking about.

We decided to take the pancake for a test drive first.  If you like the Scallion Pancakes that are on the menu at your local Chinese Take-Out spot, you need to order this immediately.  The texture was a perfect combination of crunchy and chewy, and the heaps of vegetables contained in the pancake added a wonderful roasty and earthy flavor.  When paired with the sauce that we believed it should be dipped in, a dark soy-like liquid, all the flavors melded together to create an umami grenade of sheer delight.

Porky...Pork...Pork... I love Pork!!!

Porky…Pork…Pork… I love Pork!!!

Next up, in our marathon of eating was the Pork Kimbap.  Basically, this tasty treat is a pork sushi roll, but have no fear the pork was cooked.  As you can see from the picture above this dish was beautiful, what you can’t tell, is just how tasty this treat was.  Stupid future, get on that stuff, Edible 3-D Printing, make it happen.

Miso Hungry!

Miso Hungry!

As our bellies began to fill, we decided to clean our palates and take a breather from solid food before continuing this ambitious feast.  We slowly sipped our Miso Soup and discussed our battle plan to destroy the rest of the food that littered our table.  The soup was a wonderful intermezzo and was on par with most Miso that one could procure from a high-end Chinese Food Restaurant.

When in doubt...Try it out!!!

When in doubt…Try it out!!!

We moved on to the Dukbokki, and with limited knowledge on what we were about to eat, we deiced to forego the Googling and dive right in.  I fell in love at first bite!  On the menu this dish was described as Rice Cakes, Fish Cakes, and Onion stir fried in a sweet and spicy Korean pepper sauce.  This cup of amazing, was slightly fishy, slightly spicy, and when poured on top of the rice was all sorts of awesome.  Each forkful brought new flavors and interesting textures that made this dish my favorite thing we tried, thus far.

Adam would have never given up one of these ribs! #SorryEve #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam

Adam would have never given up one of these ribs! #SorryEve #NoMoreHumans #MoreRibs4Adam

I had to put the stipulation of thus far in the paragraph above because we tried our main course directly after the Dukbokki, and holy hell I was impressed by these meaty bone-in tidbits of yummy.  By themselves they were tasty, but when wrapped in the provided lettuce and slathered in the sauce we were instructed to pair them with, they entered a whole new level of flavor country. A region of savory that I do not believe I had ever visited before.  It was as if Kat and I were Lewis and Clarke, and this dish was 100 miles west of the Mississippi River.  If you venture to Kimchi Mama, and you should, make this dish your first choice and I guarantee you will return.

The moral of this story is, when T-Pain tells you to make a left, you make a damn left, because you never know where the road may take you.  My detour directed me to Kimchi Mama and for the foreseeable future, I will be taking this detour quite frequently.  The service was wonderful, the food was amazing, and you can’t beat the price point.  “In a quarter of a mile, Amaze-balls!”

Kimchi Mama’s menu can be found on their Facebook page and on GrubHub.

Momofuku Noodle Bar: This Ain’t Your College Ramen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the MEAT!

Meet the MEAT!

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

Behold!  The Holy Grail Of Ramen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar Is Turning Heads, in Bloomfield and Beyond

“Find something you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”    There is a solid chance that we have all heard this idiom at one point in our lives.  As impressionable adolescents, wayward teenagers, or “struggling” college students, some “wise” old kook uttered this to us, in hopes of mending a wound that would eventually heal itself.   This phrase rattles inside all of our heads, like the lub-dubbing of the old man’s heart that tells a tale, every time we compromise on a life goal.  Gradually making us all believe that by not achieving this unrealistic and naïve goal, we somehow failed the main objective of this choose-your-own-adventure book we call life.

I happen to believe that this supposed failure is simply not the case, and this common expression is dead wrong.  I feel that once you make something you love your job, you will begin the slow painful descent towards loathing something you once got great joy from.  If you happen to have an influential role in a young person’s life, I implore you to throw out clichéd and quixotic advice such as this and stick to achievable goals based on real life experiences.

In place of this wide-eyed expectation, I tend to follow the rule of; working to live, as opposed to living to work.  I love to eat and I love to write, however I also love my freedom and integrity.  This is why I thoroughly enjoy being a freelance food blogger as opposed to being a professional food writer.  I have no deadlines, I have no allegiances, and most importantly, like Bernie Sanders, I can’t be bought!  My 9-5 affords me the opportunity to do what I love, and that is the reason I will never cease to adore it.  Furthermore, I have created a virtual foodie militia via various social networks that recommend eateries all over the East Coast that they believe will make my epicurean soul smile.

The anticipation was killing me!

The anticipation was killing me!

Recently, I was bombarded with messages from copious amounts of gastronomes singing the praises of the recently christened Essex Junction Craft Kitchen and Bar located at 90 Washington St. in Bloomfield, NJ.  I can’t visit all the establishments that are recommended by my culinary constituents, however, when a whisper turns into a clamor, which builds into a roar, effectively shouting a restaurants name from the top of the internets, I take notice.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Welcome to Essex Junction.

Since the webernets was all abuzz about Essex Junction, I decided to make a reservation for Kat and I, as to not risk a longer wait to see what all the hubbub was about.  Good thing we did too because when we arrived at 7:30 P.M. on a Thursday, it was jumping.  We walked in and skipped ahead of the line, due to our forethought, and were seated in the dining room.

Before we even had menus in our hands, Essex Junction was racking up brownie points left and right.  First off the décor is… Listen, I could google some asinine decorating style like, modern industrial shabby chic, that in turn you will have to google to decipher its meaning, or I could tell how awesome it was in seven simple words.  It was like dining in Gotham City! That is right, I felt like I was Bruce Wayne eating dinner with some reporter/Model that I will eventually hook up with just before she gets kidnapped and her life is threatened for the rest of the movie.  Come to think of it, dating Bruce Wayne is about as safe as Tindering in Detroit, I wouldn’t recommend either of those adventures ladies… Just saying.

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Nice F-ing Dining Room! Honk! Honk!

Adding to the ambience of the urban design scheme, we noticed a large movie screen on a wall in the dining room that was playing Bettlejuice!  That is right, YOU HEARD ME… BEETLEJUICE!  We were so intrigued by this concept that Kat and I actually sat on the same side of the table, so we could watch a bit of the movie while we perused the menu.  Don’t judge us!  You would do the same thing!  It was freaking Beetle…, better not say it three times, just in case.

Our first mission was to choose a drink to quench our thirst while we decided what to dine upon.  This was not an easy task, considering Essex Junction offers 15 draft lines full of rotating Craft Beers, a variety of beer and wine bottles, and their selection of Local Legend Cocktails.  We were in a beer mood, as it was Thirsty Thursday, so I chose a Boulevard Tank 7, and Kat went with a Dogfish 90 Minute.  However, next time we visit, we will have to dive into the Local Legends, because not only are these inventive cocktails created with New Jersey Celebrities such as,  Kevin Smith, Queen Latifah, and Steven Colbert, in mind, but 50% of the proceeds go towards the Bloomfield School System.  (As long as you hashtag the restaurant and @ The Celebrity via twitter after taking a selfie with it.)

As stated above, this hobby, turned part-time job has transformed into an obsession, so when Kat and I take a new restaurant for a test drive, we do more than just kick the tires.  In other words, we order a crap ton of food in order to get an accurate representation of the Chef’s repertoire and then we try to eat it all before the gluttonous guilt sets in.  This occasion was no exception to our rule.

We ordered four small plates to start; Sweet and Spicy Wings, Smoked Pork Belly, Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese, and Fried Brussels Sprouts.  Being the hedonistic mongrels that we are, we then ordered two large plates; the Bone-in Rib Eye and the Pork Chop.  Excited about the feast that was about to rain down on our table like dollar bills falling from MC Chris’s fat stacks, we sat back and sipped our hoppy goodness while we awaited the boom.

BACON ON BACON!!!!

BACON ON BACON!!!!

The first plate to make an appearance was the Smoked Pork Belly served with Pickled Vegetables and Candied Bacon.  I am not going to lie, this dish was getting a gold star no matter what in my book because the crazy bastards at Essex Junction essentially decided to put bacon on bacon, and that my friends is the type of decadence that I love to reward.  Furthermore, the dish was perfectly balanced and full of depth thanks to the sweet candied bacon, salty pork belly, and vinegary vegetables all playing off each other.  Not to mention the juxtaposition of the soft belly and the crunchy bacon created a stupendously unique mouthfeel.

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

I would sing Silly Little Love Songs to these magnificent treats. Get it?

As we were just getting over the recent demise of our Pork Belly dish, Mr. and Ms. Sweet and Spicy wings arrived to offer their condolences.  These saucy behemoths were cooked to flawlessly and had the perfect meat to fat ratio.  Not to mention, that when paired with the blue cheese sauce these pub food Privates were promoted to Sergeants at Arms…errrr…Wings.  You get my point!

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Duck, Duck, Duck, Duck, MAC! AAAAAHhhhhhhhhhhhh

Next on the food train was the Duck Meatball Mac & Cheese served with a Béchamel sauce.  I will reiterate, I am all about decadent food pornography and this dish gets is the equivalent of Hugh Hefner in the food world.  No!  Not because it has balls, you sick SOB, get your mind out of the gutter.  The luscious Béchamel sauce combined with the rich savory awesomeness of the duck meatball makes this dish a scrumptious win.  On a side note, they use my favorite noodle in this dish, Bucatini, which marries Ziti and Spaghetti to form the most flawless sauce carrying implement known to man.

To paraphrase Rick James, "Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! "

To paraphrase Rick James, “Fried Brussels Spouts are a hell of drug! “

Last but most certainly not least, the Fried Brussels Sprouts in Sweet Soy, Sriracha, served with Shallots, and Garlic arrived.  Kat and I were nervous about ordering these, not because we buy into the horrific PR nightmare that Brussels have suffered through over the years, but because we envisioned an over-battered ball of Brussely sadness.  WE WERE WRONG!  This was by far our favorite small plate of the night.  These delectable, lightly fried, crack-like morsels of amazeballs were chock full of Umami goodness.  The ingenious process of first pan frying and then baking them in a small crock with the Sweet Soy and Sriracha concoction created an exceptional texture and flavor tag-team duo that could whoop The Legion Of Doom’s ass.  Do yourself a favor and dig all the way to the bottom of the crock when you order this.  There is where you will find the brown bits, that are covered in this damn-near mythical sauce that conveys such supernatural flavor that one can only assume that Chef Justin Caldwell must have created it with the happy tears of Unicorns.

While we were waiting for our main course, our server Mike stopped by to inquire about a second round of drinks in preparation of our impeding meal.  Mike not only remembered what we had ordered (+1 point), but offered a few suggestions that would pair nicely with our entrees (+1,000,000 points).  This is commendable in a restaurant that is well established, but in a new spot like Essex Junction, this is extraordinarily impressive.  His suggestions were spot on too, so we ordered a second round.

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

Steakey, Steak, Steak, I love Steak!

As my Bone-in Rib Eye was approaching, I noticed just how lovely it looked sporting a duck egg like a yarmulke whilst sitting next to a basket of Parmesan Frites.  My first impression was that this steak was large enough to justify the price point.  I then cut into the flesh and realized that it was not just properly cooked, but it was cooked with the precision of a master.  A flawless sear on the outside and a deep pink core on this inside.  Finally, I dipped a slice of this mega steak into the bordelaise sauce, and transported to my mouth, and it was love at first chew.  My apparent fullness from the previous courses melted away as this delightful meat treat melted in my mouth.  (TWSS)

This little piggy went to my belly!

This little piggy went to my belly!

After seeing my dish, I thought the bar for beauty was set fairly high, but Kat’s Pork Chop served with Spicy Jicama Slaw, Brussels Sprouts, and topped with a Vermont Lardon drizzle sank my meat ship.  Her dish looked as if they stuck a Chef’s hat on Zombie Claude Monet and forced him to create food art.  Not only did her dish look amazing, it tasted just as good.  The slaw added a crunch and a kick that danced well with the sweet Vermont sauce that was drizzled over the scrumptious pork, while the lardons kicked this dish into 5th gear.

If my ferocious verbosity paired with the filthy food porn you just were witness to does not make you visit Essex Junction post haste, I don’t really know what I can say in these final words that will convince you.  Every detail of this establishment was not only taken into consideration but tediously worked on so it looks and runs like a shiny new machine.  The hostess greeted us with a smile, the wait staff took excellent care of us, and Chef Justin Caldwell delivered dish after dish of phenomenal food that not only looked fantastic but tasted even better.  In the restaurant world this trifecta is like meeting a down to earth Supermodel that cooks gourmet meals and does keg stands.  If you don’t want to feel like Batman, while imbibing a craft beer and watching a freaking classic movie, then maybe you should stay home.  Then again maybe you should get your head examined, because Essex Junction was all kinds of epic!

 

Kimchi Smoke: It’s Not Fusion, It’s Innovation!

There is one type of food in this world that makes this Blue Collar Foodie squee like a fangirl meeting Justin Bieber. This particular cuisine epitomizes the Blue Collar Foodie movement and if I could, I would nominate this delicious gastronomical cooking method as the one, true, American Fare. I am of course talking about the meaty, saucy, smoky, and absolutely intoxicating art of Barbecue.

Kimchi Smoke

[Disclaimer]

–The following article is written by a food lover that does not discriminate! I am an equal opportunity foodie and I will not tolerate hate mail from the fascist barbecue Nazis that troll the internets. I love all types of Barbecue, even the ones spelled BBQ. Smoked, Grilled, Charred, Texas, Carolina, Kansas City, or Memphis. I don’t care about the method or the region, they are all invited to my belly and I love them all the same. –

[Disclaimer]

The North East may not be known for its amazing Barbecue, but that does not stop our region from attempting to copy, mimic, and impersonate the wonderfulness that is the BBQ subculture. Now, I agree that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I also yearn for originality and creativity. So, even though I thoroughly enjoy visiting my favorite barbecue spots, i.e. Dinosaur BBQ, Bourbon BBQ, and Hot Rods, I feel obligated to inform you about a joint that is attempting to innovate rather than imitate.

This relatively new restaurant should already be on every foodie’s radar, considering the owner Rob Cho, has been tirelessly showing off his culinary prowess from the back of food truck for quite some time. However, following food trucks can be an exhausting endeavor and we don’t live in a land of perpetual 75 degrees and sunny weather, #FULosAngeles, so the fact that KIMCHI SMOKE now has a brick and mortar is amazeballs.

Kimchi Smoke Logo

That is right, Kimchi Smoke, the award winning barbecue masterminds behind the Chonut, a smoked brisket sandwich with bacon, cheese, and smoked kimchi on a freaking glazed donut, has finally found a home in Bergen County. Their new address is 49 W.Church St. Bergenfield, NJ and you should enter that into your GPS right now and drive your ass there immediately.

Oh… You’re still here? I hope you are not reading this in the car.  Looking at food porn and driving is the leading cause of car accidents in foodies ages 18-35. If you are in the car heading to Kimchi Smoke, put the phone down, you will see the awesomeness in person soon enough and you can Instagram the hell out of it. However, if you still need some convincing, keep reading.

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

I recently visited Kimchi Smoke during their soft opening period and considering I have chased their food truck around more than once, I knew I was in for a treat. Kat and I placed an order for pick-up, there is very limited seating, which consisted of the Korean Redneck Tacos, the Austin Cho, two ¼ racks of the Championship Ribs, and of course a freaking-fracking CHONUT!!!

Our food was prepared and packaged quickly and by the time we arrived it was ready to go. The drive home was excruciating. The wondrous smells that wafted from the bag and filled the cockpit of my ride were taunting me. As the drive progressed I found myself driving faster and faster, trying to get home so I could sink my teeth into all the awesome sauce that is Kimchi Smoke.  I would have gave my left pinky toe to be in Mario Cart, armed with unlimited red turtle shells, so I could remove the army of people on Rt. 4 obeying the traffic laws, with no remorse.

Finally we pulled into our driveway and rushed inside with the goods. For just a second I hated all of you! I realized in that moment, I had to take photos of everything we ordered before we stuffed it in our waiting food holes. However, my hatred diminished rather quickly, and I took the requisite shots.  You’re welcome America! We then began our epic feast, starting with the Red Neck Tacos.

Tacos 2.0

Taco flavored kisses never tasted so good!

The Redneck Tacos consist of 2 tacos chock full of Smoked Pork Shoulder topped with Fatboy Sauce, Korean Slaw or Kimchi all wrapped in a 6″ Flour Tortilla. The regular price for this item is $10, but I recommend upgrading to the Smoked Brisket for a $2 supplement so you can experience euphoria, one beefy bite after another. The brisket is just the right amount of tender and delivers an immense smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with the crunchy and umami laden kimchi. The Fatboy sauce packs a punch without destroying your palate, thus allowing you to thoroughly enjoy each lovely morsel of taco goodness.

♫♪♫Austin Cho you taste so good!♫♪♫

♫♪♫Austin Cho you taste so good!♫♪♫

Next up was The Austin Cho, a Smoked Brisket sandwich topped with Fatboy Sauce and Smoked Kimchi. According to Kimchi Smoke’s website this is their most popular sandwich and it is easy to see why. Kimchi Smoke’s Brisket is the LeBron James of smoked meats, it is not only the best there is, it makes every other thing around it better. The smoked kimchi and Fatboy Sauce may not be the star of this show, but their presence is felt, and even better, tasted throughout the experience. Even the lowly scallion, which on most sandwiches is merely a garnish, is lifted to another level by this magical meat.

I love Ribs. Riby, Ribs, Ribs. Here it goes down, down into my belly...

I love Ribs. Riby, Ribs, Ribs. Here it goes down, down into my belly…

Brisket may be the most difficult meat to smoke (TWSS), but the holy grail of the BBQ world, is the one and only pork rib. Before you send me hate mail, read the disclaimer above once more and in the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers  R-E-L-A-X. Ribs exemplify barbecue in a way that no other meat can. There is something primal and oddly satisfying about eating a hunk of smoky goodness off a charred bone. The flavor, the feeling, the lack of utensils embody what BBQ is all about, and each and every time I sink my teeth into any kind of rib, I fall in love with Barbecue all over again. What I am trying to say is, if brisket is Lebron, then ribs are John Cusack holding a boom box over his head.

Kimchi Smoke’s Championship Ribs are covered with Karis Dust, hickory smoked to perfection for 4-6 hours, and then slathered with Fatboy glaze. They have just the right texture, meaning they are bite off the bone, not fall off the bone, and the flavor…Ohhhh the flavor. I could write poetry about these ribs. Come to think of it, I will. Roses are red, Violets are blue, Flowers aren’t ribs, MMM Ribs Woo Hoo!

Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my.

Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my. Brisket and Bacon and Donuts oh my.

Once we licked all the rib sauce off our digits, we set our sights on our dessert, the Chonut. The aforementioned, pièce de résistance, is a must try for Kimchi Smoke virgins. To reiterate, this magnificent beast, is a Smoked Brisket sandwich topped with Smoked Kimchi, Cheese and Bacon all resting on a glorious glazed Donut! Before I had this sandwich, I was skeptical, but now that I have tasted it, if it ceases to exist a small piece of my soul with die with it.

You hear that Rob, don’t kill a piece of my soul, keep rocking the Chonut. Furthermore, you as readers of this blog should go forth to Kimchi Smoke to not only experience some of the best barbecue in the Tri-state area, but to save what little soul I have left.  I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

The Garden State Ale House Opens Its Doors and Throws Down The Gauntlet

As a foodie and a Certified Cicerone the opening of a new Gastropub gets me about as giddy as a sci-fi geek hearing that Joss Whedon is working on a new show. However, since these craft beer slinging, epic eateries are popping up faster than a Lindsay Lohan relapse, I tend to be slightly apprehensive about getting too excited before visiting these potential honey holes.

In the last year or so, within my immediate review radius, there have been several new taverns, pubs, lounges, saloons, and bars that opened their doors promising true craft beer with epicurean eats, only to leave this Blue Collar Foodie, wanting and melancholy. Some of them fell short on delivering genuine craft beer, offering a plethora of Anheuser-Busch InBev owned brands masquerading as bona fide craft, while others advertised high-end pub fare, but instead offered dishes that were basically frozen chicken fingers with a side of Sriracha mayonnaise. Then there were one or two that hit the food and drink notes like a trained vocalist yet failed to stick the dismount, due to their décor, customer service, and douchey clientele.  If I believed in bad reviews, I would insert the names of theses asshat asylums, but I don’t, so I won’t, but you will know them as soon as you walk through the door.

I know what some of you are thinking. WTF, man, you are being uncharacteristically critical, and leaving douche droppings all over the internets. You must understand, that my high expectations for a gastropub stems from the fact that I live within 3 miles of one of the best craft beer and food emporiums in the North Jersey region, and therefore, I hold all establishments to the standard that is The Twisted Elm, in Elmwood Park.

Garden State Ale House LOGO

Enter, the new kid on the block, and I am not talking about Donny and Joey, I am talking about the Garden State Ale House, located at 340 Paterson Ave., in East Rutherford, NJ. When I say new, I don’t mean opened two months ago either, I mean like opened on December 28th, new.

As a rule, I normally don’t visit an establishment during their first month of operation, because I have worked in the restaurant industry before, and I completely understand it takes a while to work out the kinks. With that said, this joint is within walking distance of my friend’s apartment and we decided to break my tenet and check it out on opening day.

I was not going to write this review to be honest, because I expected a general shit-show, which is to be expected from a restaurant that is literally minutes old.  However, The Garden State Ale House, spoiler alert, fucking nailed it so hard, I felt I was doing my readers a disservice by not spewing these glowing words all over the interwebs.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

Look, it is all shiny and new.

As we entered, a smiling hostess greeted us, and seated us almost immediately, even though the dining room was quite crowded. The excellent customer service continued, when Christian arrived at our table with the food, beer, wine, and cocktail menus. Since, they just opened their doors and it was obvious that we had not been to Garden State Ale House in the past, Christian took the time to explain each menu, and informed us that if we had any questions to flag him down.

The beer menu was solid, offering a wide selection of not only exceptional brands, but varied styles as well. Of course, the menu was IPA heavy, but that is to be expected, because ‘merica. However, Stouts, Porters, and Saisons could be found as well, which is always a bonus. For those of you that have friends or fathers that feel that hops, barley, water, and yeast should taste like, well, water, they got you covered too, with a few not so craft beers that will wet their whistle.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

Welcome to the Garden State Ale House.

We ordered our beers and began to peruse the food menu. Although, I like my gastropubs to push the epicurean envelope and deliver a diverse menu, full of  an assortment of cuisines, I actually judge them first on their burger. I feel that this item embodies what a gastropub should be, and is the perfect vessel to express the chef’s creativity and flavor. Therefore, I immediately flipped to the burger section, and began the decision making process.

Normally, it takes quite a bit of time for me to choose the perfect burger to test the wherewithal of the cooking staff, but not on this occasion. The Garden State Ale House literally must have been thinking of me, and my kin, when they created the prodigious Das Burger. Described as an 8oz, 100% certified Angus Beef burger, topped with fried Gouda, fried egg, bacon, Taylor ham, a jumbo onion ring, and chipotle mayonnaise. Holy hell, I could feel my arteries constricting, and I fucking loved it.

My comrades also made their choices rather quickly and we flagged down Christian to place our order. Kat went with the Pickle & Horseradish Steak wrap, Buro decided to join me on my burger adventure with the Blazin’ Cajun Burger, Steph rocked the Adult Grilled Cheese, and Alex chose the Guinness Stew. Since we were all damn near starving we also ordered the Taste of Thanksgiving and the Smokin’ Calamari for the table.

Smokin' Calamari

Smokin’ Calamari

The appetizers arrived shortly after we ordered them, and they not only smelled fantastic but they also looked appealing, which is a testament to the kitchen staff’s attention to detail. The Smokin’ Calamari was described as lightly battered fried calamari, sauteed with hot peppers, served with a citrus aioli and marinara sauce. The calamari itself was prepared extraordinarily well, and the spicy flavor of the hot peppers was present, but not overbearing. My only critique of this dish was it was missing the citrus aioli, but the marinara was flavorful enough to make up for this minor infraction.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

The Definition of Amazeballs.

Since Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and the food that is served on this highest of holy days, is in my opinion, foodgasmic, I am cautious when ordering menu items that attempt to summon their essence. But, when dining with a crowd, democracy rules, so I went with it. All hail democracy friends! These fried spheres of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes were nothing short of amazeballs. I mean it; they were literally balls of amaze! When you bring your ass to this spot, and after reading this article, why wouldn’t you, do yourself a favor and put these in your food hole.

You can't go wrong with Beer Stew.

You can’t go wrong with Beer Stew.

Before, I wax poetic about my legendary burger, I will touch on the entrees that my cohorts chose. Firstly, Alex’s Guinness Stew, which was described as a hearty stew with generous chunks of tenderloin steak, slowly cooked in Guinness, finished with Jameson Irish Whiskey, served over mashed potatoes. This dish was rich and hearty as advertised, complete with an excellent robust flavor. The gravy, was the star of this meal, and I could not help but dip a nice chunk of bread in the ooey, gooey deliciousness when Alex tapped out, and I was not disappointed at all.  The portion size of the entree was concerning at first, but each item that comprised this meal was so sturdy that it was more than enough to feed an average eater.

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

Fire Goooood!!! Napster Baaaaad!!!

As a spice fiend, when restaurants describe things as “Spicy,” “Ultra Hot,” or in this case “Blazin’,” I expect a weak, half-assed, attempt at tantalizing my taste buds. I almost always have to add hot sauce just to get the dish to an acceptable level of heat. This was not the case at The Garden State Ale House. After the first bite, Buro began to sweat, and with a smile on his face he housed the whole burger. This burger was not all about heat though, it was the perfect melody of burgery deliciousness, bready awesomeness, and  jalapeño fierceness.  If you are a fan of flavor, this could very well be your go to order when you visit.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

The Blue Collar Baby Maker approves this sandwich.

We all grew up eating Grilled Cheese, at least we should have. If you didn’t, I call your parent’s parenting into question, but that is a topic for some other blog, maybe called TheBlueCollarBabyMaker.Com.  This grilled cheese, however, was not your grandma’s Wonder Bread and processed cheese sandwich. This son of a bitch is two slices of Texas toast crammed with cheddar, pepper-jack, and smoked gouda, served with house chips and tomato fondue. I am all for nostalgia, but you can’t tell me that this sandwich doesn’t crap all over your G-ma’s bullshit ass Grilled Oil on GMOS! I was impressed with the melding of the three cheeses and this dish was exactly what I would want an adult grilled cheese to taste like. Unfortunately, it was delivered to the table without the tomato fondue, which would have brought this meal to whole other level. We chocked this faux pas up to an opening day oops and I will order this again to see how the tomato soup adds to this already impressive sandwich.

Steakey...Steakey...Steak...I love Steak!

Steakey…Steakey…Steak…I love Steak!

Since it was a Monday, Kat was trying to be somewhat healthy, so she went with the Pickle Horseradish Steak Wrap with a side of Cole slaw. This wrap was full of chopped steak, smoked Gouda, hot cherry peppers, hot pepper brined pickles, baby arugula, sliced tomatoes, red onion, and horseradish honey mustard. Although there appears to be a surplus of ingredients joining the party within this wrap, they all play very nicely with each other. No one piece of the puzzle overshadowed the other and thus complemented one another quite well. For a healthier option, I feel like this dish was a resounding success, and Kat seemed to be happy with her selection.

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Untimely death be damned, I fucking love this burger!

Now for the pièce de résistance, the magnum opus, the crowning achievement of the evening. THE DAS BURGER! First off, I ordered this beast at Medium Rare, and it arrived expertly cooked. I  was slightly nervous that I would not be able to fit this monstrous slab of yummy in my mouth, but with a little squishing, and cutting it in half, I was able to take the perfect first bite. As, angelic music was playing in my head, I chewed that first bite, savoring each and every second this amalgamation of salty, spicy, and meaty was frolicking with my taste buds. Lucky for me, after swallowing that first lovely mouthful, TWSS, there was so much more burger to be had, not to mention the pile of BACON, RANCH, CHEESE FRIES!

BaconRanchFriesGSAH

Look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death!

You know there is no way I couldn’t mention the Bacon, Fucking, Ranch, Fucking, Cheese Fries. I mean come on dude, look at that beautiful pile of cholesterol and death! As good as the fries were, the superstar of this plate was definitely the burger. It was juicy to the last bite, the bun held up, and I have to confess it was the first burger, in a long time, that almost defeated me. I had to force the last flavorful tidbit of super tasty burger in my mouth, but it was a labor of love people.

Every element of the Garden State Ale House seemed like it was painstakingly taken into consideration. The décor, the placement of the televisions, and even the tables themselves seemed like an interior designer was hired to construct the prefect atmosphere to enjoy the food and drink they serve. Furthermore, the beer selection was on point, delivering the perfect blend of high-end Cicerone approved rarity and approachable brews for general consumption. All in all, The Garden State Ale House, was extremely well received by the motley crew that I rolled in with and that is high praise, especially on their first night open. In the immortal words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back!”

HOT DAMN! Lan Sheng Is Good

In the restaurant world there are a plethora of accolades that establishments can earn. Most of these awards originate from local newspapers, magazines, websites, bloggers, and good old-fashion cook-offs. These trophies, plaques, and certificates adorn the walls of many an eatery. The most coveted of these honors is known as the Michelin Star and in order to obtain this prestigious praise a restaurant must be something quite special.

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

I am the Michelin Man and I approve of this restaurant!

You may be asking yourself, what the hell does a fat man made of tires know about food and why does his recommendation catapult a restaurant into the highest level of gastronomic notoriety.   The short answer is the Michelin Guide has been around since 1900 and each and every year this prominent guidebook reads like the who’s who of the culinary world. Most of the epic eateries that are found in this cookery compendium are located in large cities like San Francisco, Paris, London, and of course the greatest city in the world, New York, which to some is expensive and inconvenient.

However, what if I told you, you can experience all the straight-up awesome sauce of a Michelin Star restaurant, without exiting the fine state of New Jersey. Where in New Jersey you ask? You might think the answer to that question would be Hoboken, Morristown, or maybe even somewhere down in the might as well be Alabama part of New Jersey, like Cape May, or Wildwood. You sir, would be wrong. The town that this restaurant resides in, is none other than Wallington, NJ.

There it is!

There it is!

That is right, Wallington, New Jersey. Don’t lie, some of you just had to google where that is! Others just uttered the phrase, “what the fuck is a Wallington,” out loud, making your co-workers tilt their head like a confused puppy. Let me save you some time people, Wallington is a one square mile town in Bergen County, which is best known for its Bowling Alley. That is until now. Wallington is now home to a restaurant with a Michelin Star and after you read this post you need to get into your car and enter 209 Paterson Avenue, Wallington, NJ into your GPS and drive your ass to Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant.

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

Welcome to Lan Sheng!

To be honest, I have been eating at Lan Sheng for quite some time now and I loved it since the moment I walked in. The reason I have yet to post about the amazing food that can be found at this modest eatery off the beaten path, is because I had a brief but justified internal conflict. One side of me wanted to climb on top of the Internets and shout the praises of this establishment as loud as my blogospheric voice would allow me, while the other side wanted to Gollum the hell out this precious establishment and keep it all to myself. Finally, I decided that I needed to share Lan Sheng with the world, and this post is the byproduct of the winning punch that knocked Sméagol out cold.

Have a seat...

Have a seat…

Lan Sheng isn’t overly extravagant like some opulent eateries that I have frequented, but it is classy in a subdued way. Not sophisticated enough to force you to rock a suit and tie, but cultured enough that one should not recite dirty limericks while waiting for their waiter. When you enter Lan Sheng, you will be greeted by a host or hostess and promptly seated at a table. The menus will land, water will be poured, drink orders taken, and then you are left to peruse the insanely diverse and eclectic pages of their food bible.

This ain’t your Grandmother’s Chinese takeout either! Choosing what to grace your taste buds with is a struggle and the struggle is real. There are way too many options to list them all, but some of the highlights are the Camphor Tea Smoked Duck, Spicy Rabbit, Hot and Spicy Frog, Hot Spicy Mix Pot, and the recently rare and highly sought-after Sliced Conch. By the way, if you do end up visiting this joint ask for the Conch each and every time you visit. The two reasons for this request are; A: If you score it your mouth with have a flavorgasm, and B: If everyone asks for it, they might offer it all the time, and thus you pass along that flavorgasm, like a STD in an old folk’s home.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

I could not identify half the things that were included in this Hot and Spicy Mixed Pot but holy hell it was tasty.

The way we like to experience Lan Sheng is family style and I recommend this to you as well. This way you can try a variety of dishes as opposed to trying to narrow your selection to just one tasty treat. Furthermore, I love dining this way because I can sneak in an out of the ordinary dish like Spicy Duck Tongue, Beef Tar Tar, Sichuan Spicy Dry Pig Feet, or Chongqing Style Pork Blood Curd.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

The Beef Tar Tar with special sauce.

However, if you happen to be less adventurous than me and mine, Lan Sheng has you covered as well, you can pass on the Julienne Jelly Fish Appetizer, which is real and particularly tasty, and order something like Chengdu Wontons in Broth paired with an order of Volcano Beef , Tangerine Chicken, or Spicy Chicken and you’ve got yourself an epic meal that won’t make you squirm.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

Did someone order the Spice without the weird.

As I am writing this post I am starting to salivate and I hope you are too, but I know a lot of you are thinking, “WTF BCF, these dishes sound not only incredible but incredibly expensive. Therein lies the rub faithful readers, Lan Sheng is pumping out quality grub at reasonable prices on a consistent basis, and in the restaurant world that is the Unicorn. Hence why I contemplated not writing this post, if word gets out about this impressive establishment it could be flooded with people, and then I would have to wait longer to shovel their miraculous fare into to my talking hole. However, if word does not get out, and they fold, I would never forgive myself!

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

Simply the best wonton soup you have ever eaten.

The dishes that I have mentioned above are a mere fragment of the selection that Lan Sheng offers its customers. Furthermore, the Chefs at Lan Sheng have never, not once, disappointed me, and we have ordered quite a bit off the extensive menu. Each and every dish is seasoned to perfection, cooked expertly, and served beautifully.

A big ol' pile of the other white meat!

A big ol’ pile of the other white meat!

All the ingredients that are precisely positioned on the dishes that Lan Sheng serves are not only prepared properly but they are exceedingly fresh. The color, texture, and flavor almost make you believe that some of these fixings are being grown in the backyard in some type of clandestine enchanted farm. I know we are known as the Garden State, but something tells me that when the Public Relations department of New Jersey came up with that slogan, Wallington was far from their minds.

Damn that is pretty!

Damn that is pretty!

I am not talking about lettuce and tomato here either people, which Boston freaking Market can get fresh. I am referring to the likes of Bamboo Shoots, Shanghai Choi, Chinese cabbage, Lotus Roots, and something called a Garlic Bolt. Not to mention the countless elements that find their way into the obscure dishes that I order, that I can only identify as Yummy 1 or Yummy 2.

Green can be good too!

Green can be good too!

More so, if it is labeled as spicy, it is! Not burn your face off, can’t taste anything through the fire spicy either. The kind of piquant that sits on your tongue for a minute or two and challenges your taste buds to a duel, yet ultimately dissipates leaving a palatable aftertaste, which in turn leaves you longing for another bite.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.  This duck tongue will win every time.

Lan Sheng challenges you to a Tongue Duel.

You know I love BYOBs, and unfortunately Lan Sheng is not one of these money saving honey holes. However, if you are feeling adventurous, they have some tantalizing specialty cocktails like a Lychee Martini. You can conversely go the traditional route and treat yourself to a Tsingtao or a Sapporo, which may not be the best beer in the world, but when in Rome, right.

Lan Sheng is the perfect combination of affordable, approachable, and appetizing blending dishes with tremendous depth, attentive service, and adventurous eating. These components have made this restaurant my new go to joint when Kat and I are having a hard time deciding on where we should dine. It has come down to, if one of us invokes the name of this spot, it is an automatic, the foodie trump card, if you will. If you were ever thinking about trying Szechuan or if you love it already, I highly recommend this extraordinary restaurant!

Lan Sheng Szechuan Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato