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

 

Green Dragon Brings World Class Sushi Back To Fair Lawn

As a local restaurant slowly becomes your go to spot, it is comparable to a blossoming friendship. At first you stick to the basics, small talk is tantamount to the rudimentary menu items, but as the relationship continues, a sense of trust develops and gradually, this new friend, errrrrr… eatery can do no wrong. In other words you have rocked every item on the menu and have never been disappointed.

Sadly, much like some of your most memorable BFF’s, these local haunts relocate without notice. No matter the reason, taxes, rent, or the necessity for more space, at first you feel optimistic. What is a thirty minute drive among friends after all? Unfortunately, as many a bumper sticker from the 1980’s communicated, “Shit Happens,” and as we all know Life Happens as well. Your visits become less frequent and excuses are flung around like excrement at a monkey preserve.

Most of the time, this is where the story ends, however recently, I was able to rekindle a foodie friendship with an amazing Chef that happened to move right back into my hometown. The restaurant I am referring to is Green Dragon and the amazing culinary mind behind there cuisine is Chef Huarong Chen A.K.A. Ken. This kids is the story of How I Met Your Sushi Chef. Ba Bum Bum Bum Bum Ba Ba Ba Baaaaaaa…

One of the first places I reviewed as The Blue Collar Foodie was the amazing Six Happiness that was located on Morlot Avenue, in Fair Lawn New Jersey. One of the reasons I fell in love with this seemingly ordinary, yet extraordinary, Chinese Take-Out joint, was the addition of Chef Ken, who was churning out some of the most intriguing and remarkable Sushi I have ever eaten. We are talking NYC good people!

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Ye Olde Six Happiness

Sadly, Six Happiness went through some changes and the original staff moved to Lodi under the name of Taste of Asian, located at 122 Essex Street in Lodi, and the food at the Fair Lawn location was never the same. To add insult to injury, Chef Ken disappeared from my life for quite some time and I was forced to eat sub-par sushi like a common street vagrant. I know… I know… First world problems, but still a problem none the less.

Thinking I had tasted Chef Ken’s epic oceanic goodness for the last time, I tried to put it out of my mind. That is until I walked into Green Dragon for the first time! In my head, Chef Ken jumped over the counter in slow motion and ran towards me, Bay Watch style, as I threw chairs and tables out of my way as I ran to him even slower. As we met in the middle of the restaurant we embraced in the greatest man hug of all time, the man hug between the foodie and the long lost Chef. In all reality, we saw each other from across the restaurant, and gave each other the obligatory standard manly greeting, the nod of acknowledgement,  but that doesn’t seem like a good ending to this anecdote at all, so we will just say the first version happened and forget about the boring truth.

Green Dragon recently opened its doors at 19-01 Fair Lawn Avenue in Fair Lawn New Jersey in place of Dish Eatery. Even though it is always unfortunate to see a new-ish restaurant like Dish close its doors, I was extremely happy to see that a Sushi and Chinese Restaurant was moving back to Fair Lawn. This happiness turned to unbridled jubilation when I saw that it was Chef Ken at the helm.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

I Heart Dragons of any color.

This establishment ain’t your normal Chinese Food take-out spot though, this is a sit-down restaurant with a fair amount of tables and a pretty extensive menu. They of course have the elementary Chinese food fare that we all crave from time to time, but they also offer specialties like Duck Fried Rice, a Bento Box, and the aforementioned Sushi.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

Welcome to Green Dragon, your table to waiting.

The first time I visited Green Dragon I phoned in an order for normal, everyday Chinese Food and picked it up because that is what Kat and I were craving.  However, after seeing Chef Ken behind the Sushi counter I knew we were coming back. A few short days later, Kat and I returned to Green Dragon to experience a sit down meal at this somewhat new eatery and… Spoiler alert, we were not disappointed.

When we were seated our delightful waitress brought us a couple of glasses of water as well as a portion of Crispy Chinese Noodles complete with a side of duck sauce. *Note, I scoured the internets to find what these scrumptious little fried crunchy strips of amazeballs are actually called and came up with the utterly unimaginative designation you see above.* However, whatever you call them, they are always welcome on my table and never unappreciated.

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Crispy Fried Strips Of Amazeballs

Kat and I then began the constantly slothful and arduous task of ordering something from a menu that is new to us. With only a small amount of hemming and hawing Kat and I were able to come up with what we thought was a solid selection. I ordered the Shrimp Teriyaki Bento Box which comes with a garden salad, shrimp shumai, haru maki, rice, and normally a California Roll, which I paid extra to bench, and replaced it with a spicy tuna. Kat decided on the Fried Tofu and invited a Peanut Avocado Roll to the party as its plus one.

The only reason I order a salad at a Chinese Restaurant is the heavenly ginger dressing that tops the roughage. With an almost paste like consistency, this dressing is what really separates this salad from that of an ordinary pizzeria salad. Simple and fresh components make up the body of this garden salad and the ginger dressing adds a much needed flair to make it worth the nod, instead of any soup on the menu.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

If they bottled this stuff I would eat it for days.

After our salads were devoured our entrees hit the table and Kat’s looked magical. The crispy outside of the fried tofu was the perfect complement of the warm silky inside, and when paired with the tangy sauce, this dish was spot on. Not to mention the vegetables that were served with it were fresh and had a distinct bite to them, which is always a bonus when dealing with steamed vegetables.

#AnyFriedTastesBetter #Don'tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

#AnythingFriedTastesBetter #Don’tJudgeMe #TofuIsHealthyRight

As for my Bento Box, it what everything I wanted and more. For one thing the reason why I love Bento Boxes is not only the glutenous amount of food that is provided, but the variety as well. This box was no magnificent! (TWSS) Each element that graced this dish was undeniably tastier than the last… Until of course I took a bite of something else. The only problem I had with this wonderful meal was which bite would be my last… It was the Sushi… I freaking love that stuff. In fact, as I write this I am now realizing that I have to have more tonight.  *Edit:  I did in fact go to green dragon after writing this, and it was glorious.*

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Anything with the word box in it still makes me chuckle.

Speaking of Sushi, Kat’s was not half bad either, I mean for being fake Sushi and not containing any seafood at all. The presentation though was beautiful and the sushi rice was cooked expertly. Take that California, we know how to eat Avocado too and we have four seasons! HA! NEW JERSEY 1 – CALIFORNIA 0

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

Even Fake Sushi is better than no Sushi.

In case you just looked at the Food Porn and failed to read any of the words that seeped out of my brain and landed firmly on the interwebs, I highly recommend hitting up Green Dragon. Not only is it my new Sushi spot, but it is also my new Chinese Restaurant too.

Green Dragon Asian Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

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!

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