The Essential Epicurean Guide To NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2015

restaurant week NYC 2015For numerous years I have been an avid fan and participant of the NYC Restaurant Week movement. I know there are hundreds of haters that disagree with the savings, despise the menus, and talk shit about the service, but I am not one of them. If you are, kindly piss off and save your hate mail for some other blogger. However, if you are trying to choose an interesting restaurant to venture to this year please continue reading.

If you are like me and this is not your first time rocking Restaurant Week you are tired of the regular RW haunts.  If you are a virgin to the Restaurant Week game this post is really not for you.  Please go to the NYC GO website and do some research, I assure you it is totally worth it!  However, if you are tired of eating where Frank Sinatra punched Elvis in the junk, where Edgar Allen Poe wrote some words on a napkin that he blew his nose in, or at a spot that used to be hostel for starving artists that you have never heard of, this is the post for you!

This year my top 15 really has nothing to do with history, decor, or prominence.  My methodology was simple. I scoured the menus that were available for every restaurant on the RW list and picked out the ones that gave me a food boner.  Feast your eyes and get ready to hide your erection because without further ado, here are my selections for the summer session of the 2015 Restaurant Week!

Burke&WillsBurke & Wills:  This Australian eatery ain’t the fucking Outback!  It is the real deal and they serve actual Australian Cuisine. Their menu for this RW session offers the likes of Kangaroo, Octopus, Lamb, Veal Sweetbreads, and Prawns.  In other words, if you are looking for a little down under strange,  this is the place to visit!

The Cecil HarlemThe Cecil:  In the immortal words of Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.”  The Cecil is described as New York’s first Afro-Asian-American brasserie and it serves some exceptional dishes.  The highlights from their Restaurant Week Menu include Crispy Squash Blossoms served with Shrimp and for a ten dollar supplement you can sink your teeth into a Grilled Lamb Saddle topped with a Spicy Tomato Peanut Sauce.  Make sure you also sample a beer direct from Africa if you stop by the Cecil!

DBGB Kitchen And Bar DBGB Kitchen and Bar:  This downtown hot spot is what you get when a French brasserie meets an American tavern, has one too many and slips one past the goalie.  Normally, I would not recommend a burger during Restaurant Week but one look at their menu and I was dreaming of The Frenchie Burger, which is described as a 7 oz beef patty topped with confit pork belly, arugula, tomato-onion compote, and morbier cheese all served on a peppered brioche bun.  Not to mention DBGB offers 25 taps and 75 bottles of beer to wash down that behemoth burger.

InakayaInakaya:   It is true that not all sushi is created equal but for the most part great sushi is all pretty comparable.  Inakaya not only boasts remarkable sushi, which you can find on their RW Menu, but they also provide a show while you eat.  Inakaya uses the traditional method of Robata-Yaki, or Grilling Around a Sunken Hearth.  In other words the Chefs play to the crowd while they grill each dish in their open kitchen, using only the freshest ingredients they can find.

JunoonJunoon:  I am a sucker for Indian food, so I knew at least one of them would end up on this list.  The aroma, the depth of flavor, and the occasional heat not only intrigues me, but entices me like a bag o’ blow speaks to Charlie Sheen.  Junoon won me over the second I viewed their menu and saw the Bhut Jolokia which is described as a Ghost Chili Yogurt served with honey and 65% Chocolate.  Sure they have several great appetizers and entrees as well, but who cares… GHOST CHILI YOGURT!!!

Kin ShopKin Shop:  Kin is the Thai word for eat, and at this casual yet hip establishment that is exactly what you will want to do. In a sea of Thai restaurants that are popping up faster than pimples on a teenager, Kin Shop really is one of the Stand Outs.  What caught my eye of this menu was the Steamed Bouchot Mussels that are served in a Siamese Curry Sauce and the Braised Hampshire Pork served in a Panang Curry.  Deal with it, I am a curry whore!

L'Ecole, The Restaurant Of The International Culinary Center:L’Ecole, The Restaurant Of The International Culinary Center:  Ever wonder where tomorrows top chefs hone their skills?  Question no more, L’Ecole is the culinary world’s Minor Leagues and some of these powerhouses are ready to be called up to the Bigs.  I am a storyteller, as you can tell, so the chance to eat a dish prepared by a Chef that potentially could be the next James Beard is just too good to pass up.  Not to mention, their menu is quite extensive! If my ass lands in one of their seats I will be dining on the Country Pate with Truffles, Pistachios, and Cornichons and The Roasted Duck Leg served with House Made Pappardelle.  I don’t care what Daffy says, for me it is always Duck Season.

Le ColonialLe Colonial:  Both the decor and the menu serve as a “tip of the hat,” to a forgotten time when Southeast Asia was colonized by France.  The fare is generally traditional Vietnamese but possesses a French flair that adds a subtle, yet wonderful uniqueness to each and every one of their dishes.  If you choose this spot I recommend the Suon Nuong: Grilled Baby Back Ribs served with Lemongrass and a Sweet Soy Sauce paired with The Trio: Grilled Prawns, Beef Brochettes, and Cha Gio Herbed Vermicelli Salad.

Miss Lily'sMiss Lily’s:  My Boxador, half Boxer and half Labrador, is named Lilly, so I immediately checked this restaurant’s menu out  when I saw it was participating in Restaurant Week.  Furthermore, ever since I got back from the Caribbean I have been craving Jerk, just about anything.  Enter Miss Lily’s, bringing Jerk BBQ Ribs, Jerk Grilled Corn, and Jerk Chicken to the RW world.  To top it all off their is a Curried Goat dish that needs to be in my belly immediately!

Mr. Chow'sMr. Chow’s: This ain’t your corner Chinese Restaurant!  The menu is not delivered to your door, nor is it depicted by 1970’s photos on a giant back lit rectangle that hangs above the counter.  The menu at Mr. Chow’s is comprised of a combination of old Beijing cuisine and original recipes that have been delighting New York’s fashion and music elite for damn near 30 years.  The name of the game here is Family Style Dining, so bring people that like to share, and don’t miss the Famous Mr. Chow Noodles.

Park Avenue SummerPark Avenue Summer:  Talk about trendy!  This epic eatery not only seasonally changes their menu but they change the entire decor as well.  P.A.S. makes my top 15 due to the amount of choices they offer on their Restaurant Week Menu.  Most places offer a very limited selection but Park Avenue Summer is offering 6 different options for both the appetizer and the entree portion of the meal.  If you are looking to hit up RW with a semi-large group, I assure you that everyone will be able to find something that tickles their fancy. However, if someone doesn’t order the Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs you have failed Restaurant Week and you should be ashamed of yourself.

RaymiRaymi:  Raymi is an upscale Peruvian Restaurant that blends the flavors and culinary traditions of Spain, Japan, Chinese and Peru itself. The star of Raymi’s Menu is the Ceviche that captures the savory yet elegant taste that only this delicacy can deliver.  Not only can you score some of this amazing seafood but you can pair it with some Carapulcra, or Roasted Pork Belly.  If you are not into Ceviche, I suggest you rock the Pulpo Meloso, or Charred Octopus, which I might suggest Kat gets when we go, so I can try both.

Roots and BonesRoot and Bone:  No food sticks to your bones like Soul Food, and even though it is summer time I simply can’t say no to this Uber comfort food.  If you enter this restaurant and don’t order the Award Winning, Fried Chicken and Waffles you are no longer allowed to read my blog, so lucky for both of us it is on the RW menu!  I am sure the other items are solid but FRIED CHICKEN AND WAFFLES!!!  As a bonus, if you are ginger and eat here enough, you might acquire a soul…  I kid, I kid, there is no way for gingers to get a soul.

smogas chef Smorgas Chef:  Raise your hand if you knew a Scandinavian Restaurant resided in the Big Apple.  Keep it up if you can tell me what the hell Scandinavians eat. Unless your name is Thor or Dag I doubt you are well versed in the viking way of life.   Well one night out of this establishment and you can school all your friends about this obscure cuisine. I highly recommend The Classic Smorgasbord from the menu simply because I can’t pronounce half the items that are on it and that is how I roll! Furthermore, I am like 80% sure it will taste as good as most Scandinavian ladies look.

Yerba BuenaYerba Buena:  Yerba may be somewhat small compared to other restaurants in NYC, but their flavors are gigantic.  Not to mention their menu had me drooling all over my keyboard.  They are dishing out Duck Confit Empanadas and Suckling Pig Carnitas during this session of Restaurant Week and if that doesn’t make you wanna jump on the Subway right the fuck now, I feel like I don’t know you anymore.

That is my list ladies and gentleman!  Remember, Restaurant Week is all about exploring the greatest city in the world and sampling the amazing culinary treats it has to offer.  The summer session is running from July 21, 2015 until August 15, 2015 and I highly recommend not only stepping out of your comfort zone while dining at these establishments but leaving it so far behind you that you never think about stepping into it again.

 

Qdoba Craft Two

Qdoba Mexican Grill Marches Into The Fair Lawn Promenade

Qdoba LogoI know I might catch some flak for writing this review because it is on a chain restaurant, but as the Yolo generation says, Haters Gonna Hate! The truth of the matter is that I believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants, and as long as they are serving food that doesn’t look and taste like it fell out of an animal’s hind quarters, I am willing to pay them a visit, especially when one moves in down the street from my current homestead.

When the luxurious Fair Lawn Promenade was erected, not only did this new construction provide high end apartments located in the wonderful town of Fair Lawn, it also brought with it several dining establishments. If you follow my blog you probably noticed that I have already visited and reviewed the Habit Burger Grill which is located in the Promenade, and now I have decided to review Qdoba, in the same plaza. For all of you that are not familiar with Fair Lawn the actual address that can be placed into the googles is 23-31 Route 208, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410.

To clarify my aforementioned comment, I do sincerely believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants as they provide casual dining at an inexpensive price point in a quick and efficient manner. I am not talking about the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the food world, I only eat there when I have had a little bit too much to drink, and I assure you, I regret it more than most people regret their one night stands. I am speaking of franchises that still care about the quality of food they are providing to their customers, and I feel that Qdoba is truly one of those establishments.

First and foremost, what drew me into the Promenade to experience all that Qdoba had to offer actually had nothing to do with their food. If you are a Bergen County resident like me, you know that avoiding Route 4 and Route 17 is more important than eating, sleeping, and on Saturday you can add breathing to that list too. So the addition of a causal dining Mexican Grill like Qdoba moving into what is basically my backyard, thus allowing me circumventing the need to travel on those above-mentioned horrendous parking lots that Bergen County calls highways, was a gift from the Traffic Overlord ConeZilla!

Welcome To Qdoba!

Welcome To Qdoba!

Since my commute was five minutes, and I was only cut off once on my way to Qdoba, when I entered the restaurant with Kat, my foodie partner for the evening, I was much calmer than I have ever been at those Burrito shops located in the 7th ring of traffic hell known as Paramus. To add to my elation, as soon as I walked into the building, I noticed a sign that simply read, “Extras Aren’t Extra!”   Could this be true? Is this a Dream, I thought to myself. They can’t just give stuff away for free, right? Or could they?

Qdoba, Extras Aren't Extra!

If it is free, it is for me, I’ll take three!

Since Kat and I are experienced restaurant reviewers at this point, we knew to peruse the online menu prior to our arrival so we were prepared to order the perfect meal. Qdoba is set up like most of the Casual Dining Mexican Grills that are sprinkled throughout our fair land, so the actual procedure of ordering was simple. When you enter, you walk into the queue and wait for an employee to assist you in constructing your epic meal.

This is my favorite part of the experience people; you literally get to build a custom Burrito, Taco, Quesadilla, Burrito Bowl, or Taco Salad that is chock full of everything that makes you happy. I know this method of serving customers has been around for quite some time now, but every damn time I venture to an establishment that uses this system, I can’t help but smile like an infant that has just farted!

As you can see from the menu, Qdoba offers quite a few entree options that can be fully customized, but I decided to go big and order the Craft 2 which is two perfectly sized portions of Qdoba’s most popular dishes. My two choices were the Mexican Gumbo with chicken and a steak taco and a pulled pork taco, one hard and one soft. (TWSS) Kat on the other hand was trying to maintain her girlish figure and opted for the health conscious burrito bowl with shredded beef. Since we both love guacamole and Queso, we made the decision to both order chips with a side of each. We rounded out our order with two medium sodas and called it day.

Our creations were assembled by a very helpful and cheerful employee that explained each step in the process making sure we did not miss any of the delicious ingredients we could add to our dishes. I could list all of the yumminess that can be added to your meal, but it would be about as boring as watching Seabiscuit, a movie about a freaking horse that does not even talk!

Once our concoctions were finalized, we paid, filled our soda cups from the awesome Coca-Cola Freestyle machines which dispenses 146 different flavors of soda, and sat our keisters down in a nice comfy booth ready to begin our feast.

Qdoba Chips

I love Queso more than most people love their significant others!

In hindsight, we may have ordered with our eyes and not our stomachs. The amount of chips provided with a single order would have been more than enough for Kat and I to share, and we will remember that for next time. Although some establishments provide free chips with your entree, Qdoba’s chips do seem to be better than the free ones, and the Guacamole and the Queso were much better that the competition’s offerings. The Guacamole is bursting with flavor, and the hint of garlic makes it very pleasant on the palate. The Cheese Sauce is also flavorful, but unlike most Queso, there is not an abundance of salt, so when the chips come into play, it is the perfect marriage.   We had to muster up some serious willpower to stop dipping these crunchy bits of corn into these enjoyable sauces.

Qdoba Craft Two

A Mexican Food Marriage Made in heaven!

When I was finally able to force myself to stop demolishing the giant pile of chips that was in front of me, I turned my attention to my main course. The Mexican Gumbo, which is described as a unique dish that combines tortilla soup, cilantro-lime rice, beans, salsa, and cheese, intrigued me, so I tried this first. I fell in love with this cardboard cauldron of savory goodness at the moment that spoonful hit my mouth. I made Kat try this dish immediately, and she confirmed that it was rather amazing. The slight smokiness of the tortilla soup and chicken mixed with the heat from the salsa and the calming effect of the cheese and rice combined forces to create a depth of flavor that is hard to achieve.

Qdoba Gumbo

Gumbo is not just for swamp people anymore!

The tacos were on par with the rest of the Mexican Grills that I have visited with the added bonus of the Queso Diablo sauce, which I found extremely tasty. I do recommend eating the Hard Taco relatively quickly because the juicy awesomeness that the no cost extras provide is no match for the structural integrity of the shell. In other words, eat the hard taco first or it will crumble faster than a game of Jenga being played by a T-Rex, The Incredible Hulk, and Mike Tyson.

Qdoba Burrito Bowl

YAY!!!! It is Nakey Burrito time!

Weighing in at just under 700 Calories, Kat’s Burrito bowl was not only tasty but somewhat health conscious. Is it a side salad and a fruit cup? No, but this bowl O’ burrito was also much more filling than your common diet fare and tasted delicious to boot. The fajita vegetables were the star of this dish as they appeared to be fresh cut and sauteed in house and treated with a very pleasant spice profile.

I am not going to tell you that Qdoba is the next Orale in Jersey City, but as far as Casual Dining Mexican Grills are concerned, I feel they are a strong contender for the leader of the pack. I thoroughly enjoyed the plethora of choices Qdoba offered when I was creating my perfect meal. I also have to say I was very surprised that the Extras were actually not extra. I was almost sure that when I reached the cash register the receipt tape was going to start to fly as the cashier nickled and dimed my meal way up past the regular price, but they didn’t. Furthermore, the ingredients that were served to us seemed fresh and were seasoned quite well.

Qdoba Smothered Burritos

Smothered Burritos + The Blue Collar Foodie = One Happy Tummy!

If you need another reason to visit Qdoba, they just introduced their newest permanent menu item, The Smothered Burrito! These are dubbed, “Smothers,” and include one of three sauces that each offer their own unique flavor. The Tangy Verde is the Mild version, The Bold Red Chili is a robust toasted chile sauce with a dash of sweetness, and the Smoky Chipotle Cream is the hottest variety which is said to pack quite a wallop. I just missed the release of these alluring sauce covered bombshells and can’t wait to head back over to Qdoba to taste test these bad ass burritos.

Overall, I would recommend checking Qdoba out if you have not done so yet.   If you do plan to visit this location, I suggest signing up for their rewards program to earn free swag and coupons!

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

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

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

Seasons 52 Glass

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

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

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

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

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

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

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

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

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

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

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

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

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

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

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

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

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

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

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

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

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

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

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

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

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

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

Cheers

Cheers

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

Click to add a blog post for Seasons 52 on Zomato

2013 The Blue Collar Foodie In Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Noodle Chu + Dim Sum = One Happy Blue Collar Foodie

Webster’s dictionary describes Dim Sum as, “traditional Chinese food consisting of a variety of items (as steamed or fried dumplings, pieces of cooked chicken, and rice balls) served in small portions. Whereas, The Blue Collar Foodie describes Dim Sum as, “a magical buffet of enigmatic food offerings that makes my foodie soul happier than Grumpy Cat on Prozac.” (Sorry about starting this blog post off the same way horrible wedding speeches usually commence on bootleg sitcoms, but I thought it worked.)

If you have never experienced Dim Sum before, the epicurean in me cries for you and if you have and claim to not enjoy it, then you are crazier than Paul “Bear” Vasquez appears to be in his famous viral video Double Rainbow!   Dim Sum is not only about the food that is offered, it is also about the unique way this fare is served. Traditionally, these mini meals are carted around the dining area while the customers choose as many different varieties as they wish to become part of their smorgasbord for all to enjoy. This distinctive style of service is what makes Dim Sum not only a meal but a fun interactive way to dine with friends. Furthermore, when visiting a Dim Sum eatery, you should channel your inner Peter Griffin and be happy that at Dim Sum, the Buffet comes to you!

Noodle Chu Sign

Recently one of my foodie friends recommended a restaurant named Noodle Chu which is located at 770 US Hwy 46 in Parsippany New Jersey that transforms into a Dim Sum establishment every Sunday. Normally, Sundays are reserved for cooking, drinking, and watching football for this Blue Collar Foodie, but I just could not resist a brunch time Dim Sum extravaganza.

When you approach Noodle Chu, the slightly dilapidated sign that hangs outside does not scream, “this is the restaurant you want to visit!” But I have fallen into the judging a book by its cover trap more times than I would like to admit, so I listened to Admiral Ackbar’s voice as it bounced around my brain and entered Noodle Chu with an open mind and an empty belly.

Once inside, Noodle Chu, I could tell I had come to the right place for Dim Sum in New Jersey. From the outside it looks like a small establishment that could hold at best 50 people, but much like the Tardis, Noodle Chu is bigger on the inside and is comprised of two dining areas instead of just the one that we could see from the parking lot. Furthermore, at 10:45 in the morning, which I might add is not a traditionally normal time for Dim Sum, there was already a substantial amount of people seated and eating their way through brunch. Even more impressive, was the amount of Asian families that were partaking in Noodle Chu’s festivities which is always a good sign for how authentic the food truly is.

As we were seated, the cart operators moved towards our location like a hoard of Zombies that just caught a whiff of fresh meat. They circled our table and began to offer us dozens of different dishes from their appetizing carts o’plenty. The golden rule of Dim Sum, that is more important than any of the eight rules of Fight Club, is be selective when ordering.   Many Dim Sum virgins allow the servers to continue to pile dishes upon dishes of food within the first 10 minutes of their arrival and become over stuffed before they even see what it on all the carts. The main thing to remember is to pace yourself, Dim Sum is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and in order to finish it, you must follow the sage tortoise’s advice, “slow and steady wins the race.”

Another important thing to remember is that it is okay to say no to the servers. You must understand that it is their job to sell you as many items as they can in a short period of time, thus raising your bill and clearing the table quicker. Furthermore, some of them are pushier than Ben Roethlisberger on a Viagra and Cialis cocktail during a homecoming celebration, so you will have to be firm when declining a dish. Honestly though this ordering dance is all part of the fun of the Dim Sum experience.

Dim Sum

Full Lazy Susan

With the Dim Sum directive in mind, we began to choose the most appealing dishes from the carts that were passing by. Slowly but surely the giant lazy Susan in the middle of our table was filling with steamer bowls, dishes, and bowls all chock full of awesomeness until we decided that our first round was complete. Once this decision was made it was time for my favorite part of any meal with friends, our first collective bite. In my opinion, this naturally occurring, simultaneous taste of the ensuing banquet is better than any shot that I could ever participate in at a bar. With the first bite down, the First Annual Blue Collar Foodie Dim Sum Invitational began, and it was epic!

Dim Sum Close Up

Dim Sum Close Up

Normally, this is the part of my article where I explain the food that I ate in detail and try to give you a case of food envy, so you will feel obligated to venture to the spot I am reviewing. I would love to say that I could do that, but as I stated earlier in my definition, part of the fun of Dim Sum is that for the most part you have no idea what you are eating. Even if you swallow your pride and ask what the dish you are selecting off the cart is comprised of, most of the time a combination of a language barrier, the ambient noise of the restaurant, and the soft speaking voice of the server leaves you with little to no information about what you are about to eat. The good news is every dish we ate at Noodle Chu was mouthwateringly foodie approved and after the first bite even an untrained palate can usually ascertain the basic ingredients what was ordered.

Fried Pork

Fried Pork!

A word of caution though, if you have friends that have food allergies, are Gluten Free, vegan, vegetarian, or keep Kosher, I suggest you leave them home while you enjoy your epicurean adventure at Noodle Chu. Not that they would not be able to find something to eat, but each time they take a bite of something new, they would be rolling the dice with their dietary concerns. Dim Sum does not lend itself to picky, finicky, or squeamish eaters either, considering that you may never find out what you just ingested, and one must be okay with that concept when partaking in this exploratory cuisine.

Mystery Dumplings

Mystery Dumplings

Don’t be afraid, most of the dishes that you will be served will consist of the basic building blocks of normal Chinese Food. You will find pork, beef, seafood, and tofu as the main components of most of the dishes that you will be offered. If you are however feeling frisky, and want to try some of the more adventurous options, you should be able to sample tripe, chicken feet, squid, and other assorted strangeness, so keep your eyes peeled as the carts go whizzing by.

Holy Shrimp

Holy Shrimp!!!

As with every restaurant I review, I am always concerned about price and trying to figure out the pricing of Dim Sum is about as easy as learning how to play craps, while reading The Silmarillion, and listening to Death Metal. In other words, good luck with that. Just to explain how ridiculously difficult it is to keep track of the bill, of the eight people that were eating at our table, two of them were accountants and three of them teach at the University Level, and we were still as lost as Hurley, Kate, Mr. Eko, Sawyer, and Jack.

05FullLazy

No worries, my fellow frugal foodies, after 29 spectacular dishes, the total per person tally including tip and tax was a paltry $16.00.   That is right, you read that correctly! I could not believe it either, I thought there must be a mistake, but even after a recount the bill remained the same. I was in awe, I was dumbfounded, I was in love with Noodle Chu!!!

The general theme of this blog post, in case you missed it, is that Dim Sum and The Blue Collar Foodie are BFFs, and Noodle Chu is our new rendezvous point. I used to have to travel all the way to New York City for high quality, inexpensive, Dim Sum, but that is not the case anymore, thanks to Noodle Chu!

Click to add a blog post for Noodle Chu Dim Sum Seafood on Zomato

The Blue Collar Foodie Praises His Hometown’s Dish Eatery

Dish's Broiled Trout

Dish’s Broiled Trout

As Elton John once sang, “It’s the Circle of Life and it moves us all, through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place on the path unwinding, in the circle, the circle of life.”  This strangely deep and poignant verse from a song that was created for a Disney movie not only describes the circle of life for living creatures but explains the development, growth, and eventual demise of eateries as well.  As Simba learns through the Lion King, mourning cannot be perpetual and a time comes when one must end the lamentation phase and move on to the acceptance stage.

When a restaurant closes its doors for the last time, it is always a time full of melancholy and sorrow, but as many a Disney movie has taught us, that gloomy period will eventually give birth to a ray of hope, because as one chapter ends another one is sure to follow.  The Brunch Club Café in Fair Lawn was a staple on Fair Lawn Avenue for as long as I can remember, so when the doors were closed for the last time, I, like most Fair Lawnites, were sad to see them go.  Soon after though, as I drove, walked, or ran past, I noticed the resurrection had begun and after several weeks from the ashes of the Brunch Club rose the Dish Eatery located at 19-01 Fair Lawn Ave., Fair Lawn, N.J. 07410.

Click here to read the rest of the article…

Dish Eatery on Urbanspoon

Muscle Maker Grill Is A Welcomed Change To The Often Mundane and Unhealthy Fast Food Culture

 Your Health In Mind

     For some foodies the rudimentary idea of calorie counting, dieting, and eating healthy is an unfathomable notion.  These words and phrases in the foodie community can be met with the ire of a grandmother that just heard their innocent little angel drop the C-word, and you all know what C-word, I am talking about, THE ONE AND ONLY C-WORD!  The thought that any meal that is good for you, simply could not taste even half-way decent, is extremely widespread throughout the foodie community.  So, as I got older, and my pants got tighter, I thought my days of being a foodie were over.  I grieved longer that Artie Lange did, when he found out that Hostess Cakes went out of business, thinking I would have to eat turnip salads with okra nuggets for the rest of my life.  Fortunately, I learned through necessity that this notion is and always was completely untrue.  Not only can healthy food be just as delicious as unwholesome food, but one can splurge every now and again on bacon wrapped bacon bites, as long as it is not every day.

RIP TWINKIE

Rest In Peace, Indeed

For those of you who still are under the impression that nutritious food can’t tantalize your palate I suggest that you make a voyage to Muscle Maker Grill and check out their healthy yet scrumptious offerings.   I will pause for a moment to allow the grumpy cat fan club grumble and murmur about chain restaurants, and how they destroy the very fabric of foodie culture, and blah, blah, pretentious know-it-all gibberish, blah.  Are you good now haters?  You got that out of your system?  Can we move on?  Sure, Muscle Maker is a chain restaurant, but my problem with franchises has nothing to do with the idea of them ruining some silly pompous notion of the epicurean elite, I have always found that they tend to scrimp on ingredients, forget about freshness, and serve calorie laden unimaginative meals, once they turn to the dark side of the gastro-force.  Thankfully, this is not the case with Muscle Maker Grill.  The Muscle Maker Grill that I chose to visit for the purpose of this review is located at 14-29 River Road, in Fair Lawn, NJ, but that is the beauty of franchises, you can search to find one closer to you.

The Muscle Maker Grill Logo

The Muscle Maker Grill Logo

Before ordering from Muscle Maker, Kat and I went for a rather vigorous two hour hike and neither of us was in any mood to cook, so we decided to get take-out, before we started Googleing recipes that involved cooking and eating our dogs and cats.  (Relax PETA people, I am joking, I love my pets like family.  Furthermore, why are you reading a foodie blog? Go eat some kale that is dressed with your salty tears because you are crying about how the pesticides that treated your organic shrubbery that you are eating most likely killed a dozen bugs.)  Kat and I inspected the menu and found that the selection at Muscle Maker was much larger than we expected, and to add to the robust selection, when ordering most of the menu items, you can choose the type of protein you would like to have in your meal.  In addition, every menu item lists the caloric intake for the entire world to see, unlike many other “fast food,” restaurants that conceal the nutritional information of their food, as if they were protecting Carmen San Diego.

Where in the World is Carmen San Diego

Carmen San Diego

Kat and I both chose the El Mexicana, which is described as fajita grilled chicken breast or steak, sizzling onions and peppers, reduced fat cheddar cheese, and salsa over brown rice and beans, garnished with tomatoes and scallions for $9.99.  Kat decided on the chicken breast, while I chose to upgrade my order, and went with the shrimp.  As I was on my way to pick up the order, I began to have orders’ remorse,  I was very nervous that healthy merely meant small portions that are designed to fill up a dainty bird like lady, not a large land mammal such as myself.  I fretted and worried the entire drive over to the establishment, and then even more while I fidgeted with my phone at the counter while my food was placed into bags.  With our Muscle Maker Grill in hand, I raced back to the house, filled with apprehension and foodie anxiety.

As I removed our meals from their plastic confines, I was relieved to see that my trepidation was all for not.   The food not only smelled and looked fantastic, which is a feat in amongst itself while be housed in take-out containers, but the portion size was extremely generous.  I began to eat my entrée and observed that the ingredients all fused together flawlessly to create a tremendous amalgamation of zesty flavor.  There was no one ingredient that overpowered the dish, and half way through eating it I completely forgot that this flavorsome meal was low in calories and chock full of nutritious morsels.  I don’t know if I necessarily agree with the menu, that each of these entrees is large enough for two servings, but I was definitely full when I was done with my meal.

El Mexicana from Muscle Maker Grill

Our Meal

All in all, Muscle Maker Grill provides healthy food at the speed of most fast food joints, and the prices are sensible to boot.  As the heartless cold nights of winter give way to the warm embracing days of spring, even foodies have to begin to think about shedding some of the winter weight their hibernation has welcomed.  So, next time you are too tired to cook, don’t grab a Big Mac or some Lo Mein; give Muscle Maker Grill a whirl, your belt and pants will thank you.

Muscle Maker Grill Fair Lawn on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

Old San Juan

Old San Juan Exterior

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

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

Roast Pork stuffed Plantain

Roast Pork Stuffed Plantain

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

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce

Skirt Steak With Chimichurri Sauce

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

Red Snapper With Garlic Sauce

Red Snapper With Garlic Sauce

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

 

Puerto Rico

Even the Fish Loves Puerto Rico

Old San Juan on Urbanspoon