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Everything posted by whitetrufflechick

  1. Maybe repetitive would be a better word? I stand by the fact that serving FLAVORED COTTON CANDY in more than one dish is repetitive. Serving more than one course in the same novelty votive candle holder is repetitive. Using rice crispies in both my chocolate soup and his paella is repetitive. And yes, of course its ridiculous to expect a different plate for every item. But something like the votive candle holder completely loses its uniqueness when used more than once at a meal. My meal didn't take longer than I'd like. Maybe 2.5 hours would have been longer than I'd like. Even three might be pushing it. But nearly 4 hours sitting at a table waiting for the next course to find its way out is excessive and unexcusable. All the great reviews in the world shouldnt justify a 15-20 table restaurant's inability to get their patrons out in a semi-respectable amount of time. For goodness sake's, wouldn't it be more economical if nothing else, to have the table turnover at least once over the course of the evening? A customised tasting menu. Well, is it or isn't it? I go back to my point to Tommy that Chef's motivation to create this "leave it in our hands" tasting menu really isn't anything special...it could be convenience (I'm cooking one, why not do another), economics (we have a ton of mahi sitting here and we need to move it) or "hey, I'm in a paella mood tonite, lets send out some paella." In a situation where the Chef would be choosing off the menu just as the customer might, in my opinion there's nothing that would really make for a meal that was more special than ordering off the menu yourself. Not to mention Morimoto again, but that night we basically gave them the dollar amount we wanted to spend and what came out of the kitchen were some dishes from the menu and others that were out of the blue. It was a "high-caliber place" with a full dining room, but what made it special was the fact that we were exposed to dishes that weren't on the menu and a few really stretched the limits of the chef's imagination (and may have been the reason they weren't on the menu) - but those are the chances taken when truly putting yourself in the chef's hands.
  2. Actually, the five course menu was NOT $55, but $75. per person. Check the website to verify (http://www.venue-restaurant.com) Looking for things to complain about? No, I was actually really looking forward to the meal for days beforehand, thinking that this place was be on par with a WD-50 experience. I wanted to like this place, but its unfair to post a review and not mention things, such as a meal that took nearly 4 hours, fumbling wait staff or redundancy mistaken for originality. When a five-course meal for two with dinner, water and wine totals over $218., I think I have the right to examine the experience with a critical eye (whether I enjoyed it or not) before deciding to go back.
  3. do you think that's the case at Venue? i'm sure that's the case some places, but at those places i don't let the chef orchestrate my meal. in fact, i don't eat at those places at all. ← Do I think that's the case at Venue? I don't know what a chef's motivation is when the choice is put into his/her hands, but I know that as far as running a business goes, the logic that, all dishes being equal, chef could send out the ones where the ingredients are abundant, more economical or the logic of "hey, I'm preparing one dish X for table 10, its convenient to put together a second identical dish at the same time for the guy who left it up to me to decide what he's eating." I think it would be idealistic at best to think that given the choice to "choose" off the menu for an anonymous patron, the chef would give more than a passing thought to individualizing for each person who orders this way. Maybe I just like the idea that by leaving it in the chef's hands, I should get something beyond what the people ordering more conventionally are eating. As for what you mention about service, I don't think justifying poor service after dropping as much money as was dropped can pass here. I've been in lesser establishments where the service was sketchy or the kitchen slow, but how the staff handles such occurences is the mark of a well-managed dining room/kitchen. Being in the weeds is one thing, but what I saw last night was more a lack of dining room management as opposed to being short-handed. An explanation, an apology or at least a little TLC could have had us leaving feeling better than we did. We felt it was more of a royal brushoff than an acknowledgment and concern for the fact that we were there for nearly 4 hours.
  4. Read so many of these wonderful reviews and headed to Venue last night. The dining room reminds me of Morimoto in Philadephia, albeit without the size, subleties and attention to detail of Morimoto's. We were seated in the back area, which contains 8 or so tables. Nice room, but the "color changes" happen just a little too fast and abrubtly (as in, rather than color, color, color I think that a nice, slow fade between colors would be more conducive to a slow, sensuous dinner.) Initially, the dining room was chilly and there were only 2-3 other tables filled at 7:30 on a Saturday night. As the evening progressed, the dining room filled to capacity. Forgetting our wine as this is supposedly a BYO, we asked the waiter to point us in the direction of the nearest liquor store. We were told that they do, indeed, have a wine list containing only NJ wines. We thought, "Sure, why not" and took a look at the list. Every wine on the list had the Hope Valley label and not one of them was NJ (CA, PA & NY were listed). We decided to pass and mentioned to the waiter that that there were none that jumped out at us. He recommended a Cabernet that was NOT on the wine list. Given the popularity of Cabernets, I was suprised that it wasn't on the list and only mentioned when I asked for a recommendation. Odd. We looked over the menu and decided on the 5-course tasting. Reading here about 'putting ones self into the chef's hands', our initial idea was to do just that. Before relinquishing control, I asked our waiter if the chef a. would come up with his own ideas, possibly off the menu or b. if he just chose from the established menu, rather than us. I was told the latter -- that the chef merely chooses off the menu for the diner. To me, that seemed rather boring -- I mean, if one was to truly be at the mercy of the chef, I would think that it would allow the chef to push the envelope a bit and the diner to experience a sense of anticipation/anxiety in regards to what was going to come out of the kitchen next. Damn, if Chef was only going to play eenie-meeny-miney-mo on the menu sitting in front of me or even worse, choose items off the menu based on what was moving out of the kitchen that evening vs. what was sitting around, at least I could choose from the same list according to what I thought would appeal or challenge me, based on my own likes and dislikes. Our amuse bouche was a small piece of lamb covered in something crunchy with some sort of sauce. I write this tongue-in-cheek, because the two young women who were in charge of serving the food were asked twice to repeat what the dish description was and both times it was mumbled to the point that the only word coherent was lamb. Let me take a moment and say that these two women worked very hard serving dishes to what seemed like every table. They would walk into the dining room over to a table, dishes in hand, look at each other and coordinate so that both plates would hit the table at the same time. They put a lot of effort into this process. Unfortunately, the mumbling and the feeling that they were quickly repeating what they had been told about the dish without understanding what the ingredients were or anything else had me thinking these two were "reverse busboys" of sorts. Rather than taking away dirty dishes, they brought dishes to the table. I've had the same experience at a diner when I ask a busboy for something other than water and it completely throws them for a loop. At one point, we had a question about a side on one of the plates and a staff member was directed to the table. When I pointed to the mashed something on my plate, I was told "oh, its some sort of mashed vegetable", which was obvious. She couldn't think of the name and said she thought it was "R-something." "Rutabaga?" I asked. "Ummmm, yeah, I think that's it," she replied. Not exactly the type of response I had expected at Venue. One word about the bread. POPOVERS. That's the word. These were gigantic, warm, custardy popovers (served with a pomegranite butter) that should come with a warning label. Yes, its my own fault. I take the blame. I ate TOO MANY popovers. They were just so tasty and so readily available. Don't say I didn't warn you. After the amuse, our first course came out and I went with the nasturtium and rose petal tempura with almond milk foam and he had the squash soup with madras curry cotton candy. Tempura'd rose petals are ok. They're tempura'd (sp?). The taste of the nasturtium and rose was virtually non-existent because they're tempura'd. His soup was great, but I've had a number of squash soups over the past few weeks at various establishments and it was just what a squash soup was supposed to taste like at this time of year. Fall. The little wand of curry cotton candy was brought to the table and stirred into the soup by the server until it dissolved. My tablemate would have liked if HE had been able to stir, taste, play with the little wand on his own rather than seeing it for a moment and watching it dissolve away before being able to really experience this little novelty. Speaking of novelty, my rose petals were served in the "votive holder/tube" that was mentioned in other reviews here. My second course, crispy rock shrimp. sweet and spicy sambal aioli, toasted sesame and frizzled leaves of wasabi root was served in it as well. Novelty is one thing, but can't this place come up with a VARIETY of novel ways to serve its food? The four main pieces of plateware were this votive holder, a BIG square bowl, a small round bowl with a cutaway front that made it difficult to rest your spoon on it without the spoon sliding forward a square plate and a squat oval bown with a lip that curved inward, making it difficult to get anything that ends up under that curve. At one point, my dinner companion resorted to taking a piece of popover to scoop out 1/2 the dish that ended up under the curve. If a restaurant is going for UNIQUE dishes/experiences, than they should be just that. To have the votive thing used for more than one dish, to have cotton candy appearing more than once on the table (the second mention will follow) just seems to take away from the uniqueness of it all. Better yet, forget the kitchy novelty entirely and just focus on the food. I think that this is where WD-50 beats Venue hands-down. Dufraine has a seriousness that coexists with his preparations and presentations that never lets you forget that when all is said and done, its about the food, the ingredients and what's going on inside your mouth. BTW, the "crispy rock shrimp" I mentioned was put on the table and I was told by the server girl "Shrimp Tempura." Ok, another tempura course. Actually, it was tasty but once again, why tempura? Seems like when something works at this place, they run with it. His dish of australian prawns and manilla clams with flavors of paella was flavorful and the pipettes of broth were a nice touch. Our fish course was our favorite course. I had the seared sable fish. cinnamon- walnut bed, rutabaga puree, milk skin and madagascan vanilla scented veal jus and here the flavors really did come together and make for a great dish. I was also relieved that tempura was nowhere in sight. <grin> His arctic char with red chard braise, pears, jus, and green tea foam was also excellent. The intermezzo of rose-scented 'air' was novel and we enjoyed the fluffiness of it. We were a little mystified by the hard lump of rose ice in the bottom of the flute. Did we eat it? Scrape it? Was it supposed to be there? Was it there to keep the 'air' cold? We scraped at it a bit ourselves and made more 'air' and then chopped it up and ate it like a sorbet. Rose at this point in the meal was refreshing. Next course was meat. I had the new zealand lamb shank raviolo. tomato coulis, akudjura, spicy paprika, garlic infused dehydrated yogurt and micro mint which was quite heavy for this point in the meal and he had the short ribs, which he found ok, but nothing too special as far as short ribs go. The meal at this point started to drag, as service slowed down and the hours marched on. We were then brought salmon-flavored cotton candy. This reminded us of the fish-flavored Japanese candy that one sees in Japanese supermarkets. The flavor was intense and very good. This second appearance of cotton candy on our table made us wonder if there was a carnival cotton candy machine somewhere in a corner of the kitchen. By this time, we were getting very restless. We were full (thanks popovers) and we had been there for 3 hours. The dining room was full and the looks on some faces, including the couple next to us, showed annoyance at the long waits between courses. Personally, at one point I had to get up and walk outside to get some fresh air, as sitting in that small dining room for so long had me a little punchy. Our final course was chevre stuffed quail, quince clafouti, pumpkin "tea" and fall spice emulsion (me) and hudson valley foie gras beignets, bitter sweet chocolate ganache, cranberries cooked in shochu, candy apple sorbet and jus (him) My dish was far too heavy for a final course and the sauce had a sweetness to it that reminded me of something from a can. The beignets, while intriguing in description, were alright and not worth the supplement. We were then brought a tube of coconut juice, which was... well... coconut juice. I commented that it tasted like it had been prepared early in the evening and sat out. It was room temp and would have been more to my liking had it been chilled a bit. Btw, our wine, which had been poured for us over the course of the meal, just disappeared. I don't remember (nor does my meal partner) seeing a final glass poured with the bottle running out. Odd. It was difficult to even pin down which person was our waiter, as so many different staff members were waiting on us with no particular one role for any one person (except the serving girls, who were steadfast and serious about their duties. In the nearly 3.5 hours we were there, never saw either one of them so much as smile.) We were very antsy about leaving at the point and considered passing on dessert. He wanted to try the sweet potato pana cotta. oatmeal crisp and cranberry compote and did so, coming to the conclusion after two bites, that the sweet potato panna cotta taste just didn't work. (Then again, on their website, its listed as SWEAT potato.. maybe that's the funny taste? sorry, amusing myself) I had the vanilla puffed rice with roasted marshmallow, micro mint, pistachio and chocolate soup. The chocolate was a little too strong for me (I'm a milk chocolate girl) but he tried it and like it very much. Looking and watching other tables, we realized we were never served the Pop Rocks... one thing I had wanted to try. At this point, we were so overwhelmed by the hours spent at this little table, the many tastes and trying to figure out who on staff was responsible for what, that we just wanted to get the heck out of there. Upon leaving, the older gentleman who orignally seated us and took our coats, asked how our meal was as he was retrieving our outerwear. My friend told him that we had arrived at 7:30 and it was now after 11 and that the meal was far too long and the service slow. Rather than apologize, he said that the kitchen was overwhelmed because they were very busy that night. Now, to me, it seems that they work primarily off of reservations and its NOT that large a restaurant (12-15 tables, maybe?) Its a Saturday night in Hoboken and you've been open since last January. I just have a hard time accepting that as a reason why dinner took almost 4 hours. Oh, one last note. Having James Beard nomination ballots folded and stamped with a US Postal service stamp on the front podium is rather tacky. I've never seen this done so blatantly, or, to tell you the truth, at all. Venue is going to really have to work on their menu, their staff and their scheduling in order to be considered for such an honor. Overall, the food was decent, the experience was ok, but I wouldn't consider going back unless there were some serious changes made to menu and management. I'm not easily impressed and I do enjoy chef's who push the envelope, but without the substance and attention to detail, something gets lost in the distance from the between the chef's ears and the diner's plate.
  5. Inspired by the postings here, my partner in crime booked a 7:30 res for this Saturday night at Venue. Looking forward to experiencing what looks like a memorable evening. I'll let you know how it turns out!
  6. Were those the Perlows eating at Indian Chef last night?
  7. What I find a bit odd is referring to a tasting menu as "over-the-top and a great value" without actually mentioning any of the food that you were served. If you didn't actually HAVE the tasting menu, then how do you know its over-the-top or a great value? Just curious
  8. Well, I guess when it comes down to it, I'd take the flight and book the hotel in order to experience Jazzfest again but I know I wouldn't drive the 20 minutes to go to Crawfish Fest again. Not commenting on the music, as that's not the reason I went -- went for the grub-- and after all, this is a food board. My partner that day and I discussed how glad we were that we had been down to Jazzfest first and sampled the fare there... because if it had been the other way around, we would have had little motivation to get our butts down to NO after the not so great taste that was left in our mouths on Saturday. Different strokes...
  9. "The crawfish etouffee was a definite highlight for me. It was the first thing I tried, and it was the item I enjoyed the most. It was all down hill after that, with the exception of the pecan pie." What else did you try that didn't live up to your expectations? ("it was all down hill after that") ? "$25 is not at all unreasonable for a full day of music with 2 stages." New Orleans Jazzfest Ticket Prices 2005 $25.00 advance price $35.00 on event day Considering Jazzfest has 11 (!) stages as well as crafts, exhibitors, lectures, interviews, parades. etc., $25 bucks is a high ticket price for 1 day/2 Stages (checked out that dance hall stage and didn't seem to be very much going on in there at all. Ten individuals standing around watching and two couples shuffling on the dance floor -- this was Saturday afternoon at 2pm) ←
  10. First timer here too... ended up there on Saturday. We were at Jazzfest this year, and this much-anticipated Crawfish fest ended up being a bit of a disappointment. It may have been that it was such a startling contrast, but hearing that they actually shipped up the supplies from NOLA really got my tastebuds in gear. #1 Disappointment: No condensed milk for the Snowballs! A Snowball without condensed milk is... well... just shaved ice with syrup. #2 Disappointment: Beignets. Now, I'm not looking for Cafe du Monde North here, but the appearance of these beignets looked sort of pasty at best. I have to admit I didn't try them for that reason.. maybe they tasted better then they looked? Wasn't willing to risk the calories to find out. Speaking of Beignets, Jazzfest had some kicka** "Crawfish Beignets".. sort of Crawfish hushpuppies with remoulade. Hoping beyond hope they may have made an appearance here... no such luck. #3 Disappointment: The Jambalaya used mild sausage... Geez, what's Jambalaya without Andouille? In fact, Andouille sausage was nowhere to be found. #4 Disappointment: The crawfish bread, a favorite at Jazzfest, was just plain old yuck. Good Points? The music sounded GREAT. The crowd was bopping along and having what appeared to be a great time. The freshly squeezed lemonade was terrific. The $25. admission fee ($20. advance purchase) was rather steep, considering I really just went for the eats... the music, to me, was just a bonus. There was an unusual way that the money was handled. One would buy "food coupons" in advance and then use these when purchasing food. Before leaving, extra coupons could be redeemed for cash. Seemed simple enough, but the long lines that one had to stand on to get the money refunded had the whole day sort of ending on a hot & sour note.
  11. With much anticipation, we arrived at the Waldorf=Astoria last night, heading straight to the giant lobby clock just as it chimed for our 6:45 reservation time. We waited along with what seemed to be our fellow dining companions. John Doherty appeared out of no where in his chef's whites and greeted each of us, checking our names off his list while congenially chatting us up. It appeared he was as eager to get the evening under way as we were. He brought the group up through the kitchens, stopping in the pastry room for a whiff and an explanation of what the staff was doing: in this case, preparing chocolate squares for a banquet dessert. He pointed out the smell of baking and yeast, and made mention that what we smelled cooking was our breakfast for tomorrow. More on that later. We continued past the soup kitchen, with Doherty providing narration. From there we proceeded to an area of the kitchen that had been dressed and draped to provide a comfortable dining area. The multitude of sparkling stemware and flatware served to heighten the anticipation. Mr. Dorherty explained to us that we were to help ourselves to the champagne (Pierre Jouet), served by white gloved staff. He explained that we would be spending the next half hour or so sampling a variety of appetizers: a wonderful cheese fondue, served with chorizo & bread; vegetable spring rolls; eel sushi; calamari; a wonderful gazpacho and a few others. Overall this interlude was food-wise, was just what it should have been. Fresh, somewhat innovative and plentiful. At the conclusion of this course, we were asked to take our seats at one of the three aforementioned tables. It was announced that a representative from the wine distributor would be talking us through the wine selections. Our first selection was poured (Sauvignon Blanc 2003, Brancott Reserve) as the 'Alternating Amuse Bouche" was served. There were two choices.. well, not exactly choices. The different plates were alternated around the table, so if you were a party of two, you received one of each. These consisted of Ahi Tuna Tartare with Coconut and Currants or Crispy Soft Shell Crab with Coconut Sticky Rice and Spicy Passion Fruit Coulis. My dining partner was kind enough to trade my Tuna for his Crab, which I enjoyed immensely. The wine was an excellent choice with tropical fruit undertones (I picked up pineapple mostly). The fish course, Steamed Pompano with Spring Vegetable Melange and Champagne Beurre Blanc, was served with a 2002 Perrari-Carano Chardonnay. Being a fish person, I liked this firm white fish and the sauce complemented it nicely. On to a Pan Roasted Fig Glazed Squab with Goat Cheese Brulee and Whole Roasted Fig served with Chambolle Musigny. To me, squab is one of those foods that takes a lot of effort to eat with little payoff. In this case, the glaze it was coated with was tasty but trying to get the meat off the bone was an exercise in patience. Luckily, the ease in which the goat cheese brulee slid onto my spoon and down my throat more than made up for it. The creaminess set off by the tang of the goat cheese had me wishing for seconds. I must mention that throughout the dinner, my seat was positioned such that I could see our chef and sous chefs, etc. toiling to prepare the next course. Watching them saute, slice and plate was fascinating and truly the reason for our attendance at this event. The interaction between team members and watching chef and staff taste from a sauce pan, add some seasoning and taste again only served to heighten the expectations as the courses progressed. The service was attentive, with wait staff being carefully watched and monitored by a head waiter/manager. I must say that our waiters operated under somewhat unconventional conditions and at times, uncomfortable (bordering on impractical). Due to the nature of having a formal dining experience set up in a kitchen, the tables were very close together on some sides. This lack of maneuvering space often left our waiters stretching over us, reaching in front of us to clean the dishes of the next person and filling glasses with a lean and a stretch. I'm sure cost factors into the number of people (max 30) they fit into this small space, but it can't go without mention that three hours of shlumping one's chair forward so someone else can squeeze (and I mean squeeeeze) past or having a waiter's uniformed arm inches before your nose as he pours for your neighbor detracts somewhat from the overall experience. Our final course before dessert was a Roast Loin and Curried Shank of Lamb with Papadum, Cucumber Yogurt Relish and Tamarind Lamb Jus (served with a Pezzi King Zinfindal Old Vines, 2000). This Indian accented dish was a spicy, meaty way to finish the main meal. A bit on the heavy side after all that came before it, the curried shank's spicy flavor had my mouth sitting up and taking notice. (SIDE NOTE: Its worth a trip to the restroom. The facilities for the evening are actually the small bath in the chef's office. Going up there, one can see great photos of Doherty with presidents, etc. alongside a child's crayon sketch. The bathroom itself has an (obviously authentic) vintage feel. On the desk (yes, I looked down and peeked as I walked by it), a truffle market price sheet -- mmmm... truffles). The dessert was served with an El Dorado Muscat Noir, a nice note to end the evening on. The dessert was Sauteed Mangoes, Fruit Sorbet and Caramelized Macadamias. Not a mango fan, I passed on the fruit and the sorbet. The Caramelized Macadamias were served in a white chocolate tube filled with a macadamia flavored cream. Layered beneath this cream were the nuts themselves and below that, a small almond/marzipan flavored disk. The top of this dessert tube had a small piece of edible gold leaf. Very pretty. After our dessert and tea (not coffee drinkers, so I can't comment on the previously mentioned terrible coffee), we gathered our coats and were handed a lovely "goodie" bag, containing a catalog for the Waldorf, a Waldorf kitchen fact sheet and a wonderful cinnamon nut brioche placed in a small basket and wrapped in clear cellophane. This is the "tomorrow's breakfast" that had been baking when we toured the pastry kitchen. Delicious and a very nice way to end a special evening. Another nice touch was having John Doherty walk us back out through the kitchen hallways and direct us to the elevators. The ride home was spent discussing our expectations of such an evening and how close the experience came to meeting them. Overall, the dinner and experience were good. Very good. Did it blow me away? No. The experience of eating in the Waldorf kitchen, in my opinion, overshadowed the food. The food itself was good, solid, "old school" type of fare. I suppose its exactly what one would expect to find at a place like the Waldorf. I've had meals where the next day, week, month, I can recite back what I was served and discuss the merits of a dish as the greatness of the preparation and ingredients have imbedded themselves in my mind (Craft, The Village Green in NJ, Lupa). This is not one of those kind of meals. Additionally, I was a bit disappointed, having read that guests are encouraged to participate in some of the kitchen activities. Here, this was not the case and for the duration of the 2 and a half hour meal, we remained in our seats, hesitant to rise for fear of having to a. climb over and around fellow guests to get away from the tightly packed dining area and b. running into busy waitstaff who were also trying to maneuver in the tight space. One suggestion: It was nice having the wine rep there explaining why he chose each wine and what to look for when drinking it. It would have been EVEN NICER if Doherty or a sous chef or assistant could have perhaps explained a bit about the hows and whys of the menu choices. The urge to get up and walk around more of the kitchen area was strong but the opportunity to do so never really presented itself. This was a good dining experience. I'm glad I did it and the thing I'll remember a year from now is the fact that it took place in the Waldorf kitchens and I sadly had to go to work the next day.
  12. Looking forward with anticipation to Doherty's Chef's Table tonight! Thanks for a great write-up ... hope this year's is a good as last year's sounded!
  13. Just arrived home from an exceptionally great meal at Varka. My companion and I were at a loss as to where to dine and we headed up Franklin Turnpike, checking out places in Ho Ho Kus through Allendale, but no luck. It being a Monday, most were closed. On the verge of hitting 17 for Ginger & Spice, we went left instead of right and ended up in downtown Ramsey. Stumbled on Varka, and remembering an egullet mention -- though couldn't remember exactly what was said, other than Varka = a small fishing boat -- in we went. The atmosphere is basically a very contemporary Greek dining room... upscale, but comfortable with wood and candles, an interesting staircase, a textured plaster entranceway to what seemed to be a private dining room and a large but seemingly quiet bar on one side of the room. The menu is basically divided up into a very large selection of Greek appetizers, a few side salads (no meat) and a couple of seafood entrees on one side of the menu and a vast variety of fish listed under the 'served whole' section, taking up most of the second page. There are also a few meat dishes... filet mignon, lamb & a roasted chicken to name a few. We were a little puzzled over what and how to order. First impulse was to split an appetizer, order a couple of fish (cost by the pound) and a side or two. We both agreed that the array of appetizers was so appealing that ordering a few appetizers and splitting an entree seemed like the best and most fun way to go. We ordered the Greek Spread appetizer, the stuffed calamari and a fried cheese dish (the name escapes me at the moment) We split the special entree, Loupe (sp?) de Mer over vegetables. First, the appetizers. ABSOLUTELY incredible. As my Greek spelling is all but non-existent, please forgive my decidedly non-Greek descriptions about to follow: The yogurt/garlic/onion dip was cool and tangy, the almond/oil/potato dip soothing and creamy. My table mate thoroughly enjoyed the eggplant dip and the pink caviar dip with capers. The dips were accompanied by warm, soft, grilled pita that seemed to be homemade. Delightful. And when we ran out of pita, they graciously brought more and we had the plate left on the table for dipping and mixing throughout the meal. Not to be overlooked, the stuffed calamari had an almost remoulade-ish taste. WONDERFUL. Grilled, whole calamari stuffed with the sauce, tomatoes and other little goodies. The fried cheese was exactly that.. a large, thin slice of cheese that had been pan-fried enough to brown the outside and melt the interior. Served with lemon slices, we finished off the cheese along with our other appetizers. A particularly nice touch was that they split our shared entree in the kitchen and what was served looked like two complete meals. The fish was tender and fresh and the broth was boulliabase-like. After such a powerhouse appetizer course, I was only disappointed in the entree as far as the down-home, cooked in mom's kitchen feel to the dish made it more comfort food than zesty, contemporary Greek. My partner enjoyed the entree very much. I must add that I am not a mushroom person either, and this dish was filled with them. Again, I have to stress that the fish itself was very good. Of course, entree or no entree, I continued to feast on the grilled pita and dips left over from the appetizer course! We decided to take a look at the dessert menu and were confronted with so many wonderful choices. We went with the Greek Yogurt with honey, walnuts and sour cherries. This creamy mound of tart yogurt was set off perfectly by the honey and walnuts. The cherries added a splash of flavor, making this dish a great ending to a memorable meal. I can definitely see how ordering the typical dinner for two (app, entree + side) could lead to dissapointment here. I really think the fun of Varka is their variety of appetizers and as I write this, I am already thinking of the things we can order the next time back (mmmm... beets... scallops... and I think I saw a shrimp appy). Staring at a whole, deboned, grilled fish might be considered a bit -dare I say - boring ...but if said fish followed a variety of Greek goodies, the simplicity of the fish could almost serve as a -gasp- intermezzo between the appetizer fun and the dessert fun to follow. I haven't mentioned service, but I think it deserves mention. Attentive, helpful and knowledgeable, our waiter made us feel comfortable and attended to. Can't wait to return!!
  14. An unexpected trip to Craft on Saturday night left me satiated and smiling . After catching a not-so-great Broadway show and it being only 5pm, on a whim my companion suggested we try to get into Craft, sans reservations. Pulling up to the restaurant, we were lucky enough to find street parking directly in front of the building; I sensed the fates might have been on our side that evening. The first ones in the place, we were told that if we could assure them that we would be out by 7:30, they'd have a table for us in ten minutes. We took a seat at the bar and I ordered a ginger martini. Delicious. We were seated quickly in the leather and wood trimmed dining room. The look is contemporary clubby and the acoutics are terrific, with all that wood and leather. Though we were one of only a few tables seated along with a myriad of wait staff bustling about, the room had a quiet 'feel' to it that I attribute to the acoustics. Service was prompt and attentive. The bread basket contained a very good bread and the last time I tasted such sweet butter, I was eating it in Paris. We ordered a selection of items to share, beginning with a beet salad. Three (there may have been more) types of beets ... if you're a beet fan, as I am, absolute perfection. The entrees ordered included a lamb bacon special, the Kobe beef, sugar snap peas (another of my favorites), fiddlehead ferns, and crawfish risotto. The Kobe beef, served in a copper skillet, was tender and perfectly sauced. The lamb bacon was good, but a bit salty, as it was a bacon. The biggest problem with this dish was the quantity. For such a rich dish, there was just too much. For the two of us, 2-3 slices would have been perfect. Overall, there were probably 20 slices on the plate. Ended up taking much of it home. I had never tried (or had even seen) fiddlehead ferns before. Odd looking little veggies. Tried one and it was yummy, prepared with a little oil and garlic. The sugar snap peas were perfect in their simplicity. Our starch, the crawfish risotto, was spot on. Creamy and delicious with a spicy bite. Having each dish presented on its own serving plate allows one to assemble, sample and share, this interaction becoming almost as important as the food itself. Throughout, service was there when you needed them, invisible when you didn't. Dessert was a lemon tart and my dining partner ordered the cheese plate. The presentation of the cheese was expertly done. The end of the table pulled out to reveal a drawer. The waiter balanced the large cheese board on this newly exposed edge and began to extoll the virtues of each cheese, where it came from, what animal it came from and what to expect from the taste. Two of the required three cheeses were selected and when the choice between two goats became difficult, our server kindly allowed us to have them both. Along with the cheese, there was bread and apples. Overall, Craft fulfilled everything that I expected of it and more. The ingredients and prep were first-rate, the casual elegance of the room was comfortable and easy to relax/converse/share in and the service top-notch.
  15. After reading the number of The Fat Kat posts here and seeing how mixed they were, we decided to give it a try on Saturday night. Upon entering this small, cozy restaurant through a small doorway, we were confronted by very large party of 10-12 people leaving. After some initial confusion (gave our name to a waiter who checked with a person behind the bar who had the reservations book), we were seated at a table for two. Overall, the dining room looks to seat about 20 or so. Its decorated with a few cat pillow, plates, etc. but nothing too overwhelming or kitchy (kitty?). The dining room is semi-divided two rooms with dark wood floors, a fireplace and the mentioned bar on a back wall. We had brought a bottle with us (a nice touch was being told it was BYO when we made the res) and it was promptly opened, though not poured... just left on the table. We were offered an amuse that consisted of a small disc of chewy pizza dough with sauce and a sprinking of pizza cheese. Nothing outstanding and we hoped that it wasn't an indicator of things to come. Alas, it was. Bread and small bowls of oil and what looked like balsamic were placed on the table. The bread was fine yet it was puzzling that the oil wasn't really of dipping quality and tasted like a standard olive oil that I would purchase for the purpose of cooking as opposed to a finer oil I would use for a dressing or dipping. Same with the balsamic. Vinegar-y and lacking in that sweet, woody balsamic taste that great balsamics have. I ended up pouring a little of the balsamic into the oil and dipping into the combination of the two which made for a better taste. Spiced up the oil and cut the aciditiy of the vinegar. The menu looked interesting enough along with the list of daily specials. I started out with the salad and goat cheese fritter and he, the duck streudel mentioned here on Egullet. I thought my salad was great. Let me rephrase that: the salad was a standard mixed green salad, but the goat cheese fritter was terrific... crisp on the outside and the goat cheese interior just warm enough for the cheese to start getting a little melty. And as mentioned by a prior post, the apple garnish was pretty and yummy when eaten with the goat cheese. My partner was underwhelmed by the duck streudel. Nothing special and covered with a juilienned vegetable mix. Later in the meal, the same julienned vegetable mix showed up on his entree. His entree, zucchini wrapped red snapper with shrimp (exactly 2 very small ones) did little to impress and was accompanied by an mystery potato tart? streudel? we couldn't quite figure out what it was and other than having a confirming 'yes this is a starch' taste, it had little taste at all. My entree was a smoked salmon ravioli with sugar snap peas. I should have suspected something when the waitress brought a spoon "in case I wanted the broth". My observations: 1.) I was hoping it was a home-made ravioli -- it didn't seem to be 2.) The smoked salmon taste was minimal with ricotta being the primary ingredient 3) The bland broth that these ravioli were served with was inappropriate for the dish. A simple butter/oil over fine salmon ravioli would have brought out the flavor. Did I use the spoon to enjoy the broth? No need. We passed on dessert, as we really didn't want to invest any more time into this dining experience. On a scale of 1-10, The Fat Kat is maybe a 5/6. I would like to note that on the way out, we saw their lunch menu posted on the exterior of the building. It too looked interesting. Perhaps they do a better job with less complicated fare. I would give The Fat Kat another try for lunch, but for dinner, I'm doubtful.
  16. Ahhh...but how would they feel about the difficult-to-access ladies room? It sounded like a deal-breaker for even the slightest of mobility-challenged individuals! ← Most excellent point. With my mom's previously broken hip, there is NO way she would be able to maneuver into the bathroom. I wonder if there is some hidden bathroom on the first level ... otherwise how would they get past the American's with Disabilities Act requirements? Interesting...
  17. Funny, I was going to mention something about music making it a bit more "alive", but then I remembered that there actually WAS music playing... but it was played sooo low in the nearly empty dining room that it was almost as if it wasn't playing at all.
  18. Strolling through Ridgewood on a mild early-April evening, my steadfast, ever-present dining companion and I headed over to Joel's Malibu for dinner, only to find they were closed as it was Monday night. We decided to keep walking and before we got too far (maybe 5 doors down or so), we found ourselves standing in front of Bazzini at 28 Oak Street reading the menu that was posted for passers-by. Considering our casual dress (me in jeans and sneaks), I questioned the suitability of our attire but seeing that the restaurant looked quite empty and figuring that they would appreciate the business, albeit sneaker-clad, in we went. The dining room is split into two rooms -- the hallway-like smaller room (as a previous poster had called it) and a larger room that you step down into. In this room there were two other tables occupied. It took a number of minutes standing in the front reception area before a busy, but composed gentleman escorted us to our table. A previous poster also made reference to a funeral-like setting/feel to the dining room. It did seem to be a bit boring... nothing exceptional, nothing special. And yes, the bathrooms are a VERY unexpected twist, as at the back of the dining room you go up two steps, walk through what seems like a door made for hobbits and ascend half-way up a steep, narrow staircase to the ladies room, whose door is actually part of the wall of the staircase. In order to actually step INTO the ladies room, you have to sort of step up over the stair riser into this tiny little bathroom. Stepping down out of the bathroom is an exercise in balance and I couldn't imagine doing it and remaining upright after a few glasses of wine! The men's facilities are located at the top of the same staircase. We were initially tempted to give the tasting menu a try, but there were a number of things that looked good on the regular menu. I started with the Shrimp & Lobster Bisque with Chive Beignet and he ordered the House-cured Salmon with Creme Fraiche, Caviar and Sweet Sauteed Onions. My bisque was very good.... smooth with no actual shrimp or lobster pieces in it (sometimes its nice to stumble on a few small pieces, even in a bisque). The beignet was yummy, though quite mushy inside. Couldn't tell if it was undercooked or meant to be that way. There was a sprinkling of olive oil over the soup, enhancing the tangy flavor. Overall, a pleasant soup. My companion enjoyed his salmon (which I didn't taste) though he mentioned that the sweet onions (which to me looked almost like a slaw) were cold and the sweetness did little to add to the dish. While waiting for our meal, we noshed on the bread, which came with a white bean and garlic spread. A nice change from butter, but I wished butter had been offered alongside the spread -- though there was an olive oil available on the table which I ended up sopping up with my bread. A word about the bread... the waiter provided a warm sourdough roll to each of us. My first reaction to it was, "This tastes like its been micro-waved" -- well, maybe not taste, but felt like it -- may have just been sourdough rolls that have sat in a warmer too long --- then again, sourdough does has a tendency to be a bit chewier than other rolls. Crustiness was minimal -- they need to rethink their bread. His main course consisted of Cioppino with Saffron Risotto. The seafood was fresh-looking and plentiful (calamari, scallops, shrimp, clams and mussels) and the risotto exactly what risotto should be. I ordered the Pork Loin with Rosemary, Spinach with Croutons and Mashed Potato's (substituted the garlic mashed offered with the dish with Marscapone & truffled mashed potatoes) I might just be from my own lack of "pork-loin experience" but when I buy a pork loin from the grocery store, its usually boneless. I was surprised to find two substantial bones in this mighty 4-5+ inch thick pork loin. It reminded me more of two uncut pork chops than pork loin. Like I said, my butchering expertise is somewhat limited. :-) It was accompanied by a mild brown reduction sauce. The quality of the pork loin in question was excellent and I ended up taking much of it home as the quantity was more than anyone could eat. The amount that was left could probably make a nice stir-fry or a quesadilla for a couple of people! The truffled mashed were good, though I like my truffle-flavor a bit stronger and nothing gives me more pleasure (well, almost nothing) than finding specks of truffle throughout mashed potatoes while I am enjoying them. Here, there were none to be found (must have used truffle oil). The presentation of the dish was very pretty with a sprig of rosemary standing upright alongside a very large, very vertical freshly made waffle-cut potato chip. Overall, a good dish, but nothing terribly outstanding. We ordered dessert -- at this point, the dining room consisted of only one of the original two tables -- very slow even for a Monday. I haven't mentioned service thus far in the review but must mention that our Waiter/Busboy/Host/ETC. was the only visible staff in the restaurant. He greeted us, took our orders, refilled our water glasses, brought out our meals, etc. He was nothing but very professional, efficient and attentive. At one point, we laughingly wondered if he was cooking the food as well. I ordered a "French" soda -- the day's flavor: cherry. It was basically an Italian soda (seltzer & Toroni syrup) with a shot of milk (mixed, of course, by our jack-of-all-waiters). Yummy , refreshing and a nice alternative to an actual calorie-laden dessert. My male counterpart ordered fresh, sliced strawberries with zabliogne (sp?). Overall, my impression of 28 Oak was "eh". It was a good solid meal but nothing special and nothing exceptional. Again, hats off to the overworked solo-staffer. What would make this dining experience better? Perhaps an amuse bouche to begin with? a fresh and crunchy bread? a little more effort put into the decor? Sneakers or heels, I don't think my feet will be walking into 28 Oak again in the near future. Perhaps if my Mom and 70-year old Aunt needed a non-threatening, decent and a somewhat bland dining experience where they could order interesting sounding meals while being served dishes that would not stimulate their old-lady palates too much, I would mention 28 Oak to them. Don't go to Bazzini's 28 Oak Street if you are expecting more than that. And more importantly, please don't tell my mom I referred to her as an old lady.
  19. Friday afternoon my steadfast dining companion and I made the trek into Jersey City in search of Melt, of which I've read so much about here on Egullet. It was situated in a rather nondescript building that is badly in need of some signage. Had we not had a specific street number in hand, it would have been very easy to overlook. I'm sure a big Melt sign must be in the works. The cafe itself is quite cozy. Interesting artwork, wooden floors, a great welcoming overall feel. It became extraordinarily "cozy" after a large group of 4-5 year olds with parents in tow descended on the place. More about them later. Walking into the shop you immediately notice the funky-cool overhead, bread-shaped menu board. Yes, as mentioned previously, it is a bit overwhelming (not to mention hard to read without squinting a bit -- my bad eyes) and menus were immediately offered upon sitting at a small table for two. The idea of a mix-and-match grilled cheese on hearty bread is just too perfect. The cheese that were offered were diverse but at the same time comforting and familiar. I went for a Buffalo Cheddar and Mozzarella combo on the Levain bread....he ordered The Adriatic and a side of fries. We both had a cup of the Tomato Cheddar soup. The soup: Thick, smooth, wonderful. The cheddar gave this comfort soup a tang and a thickness that made is very special. I wish I could have taken a quart of it home for later. The sandwiches: Crunchy, crusty and grilled to perfection. Not at all greasy. The Buffalo Cheddar made me want to run right out and find out where I could buy some of my very own. I probably should have experimented with a topping or two but this first time I just wanted to focus on the cheese, the cheese, the cheese. Its been mentioned before that Melt doesn't melt their cheese all the way through the sandwich and understandablly so... they are so thick that they would probably either burn or take a much longer time to grill on a lower heat. That being said, I DO like my cheese meltier and wish that the mozzarella had melted enough to mix with the cheddar rather than stand on its own. It seemed to be that block kind of mozz that really benefits from melting. Hmmm.... you Melt guys ever give a thought to putting Fresh Mozz on the menu? Fresh mozz slightly warmed or served cool is incredible... Panini's anyone? The fries: The fries were ok. Seasoned with perhaps paprika, salt & pepper. At the conclusion of our meal, we thought that next time we might skip the fries and dessert and just order another awesome sandwich. Drinks & Dessert: I had a Jones Diet Cream soda... yummy and he went for the sugar-ific 'real' Coca-Cola. Dessert was an ok cinnamon ice cream, his - cookies & cream. Overall impression: Melt was a great eating experience. As far as DINING experiences go, its hard to judge as the aforementioned rugrats dancing around the place and whining because their bread wasn't Wonder and the crusts weren't cut off (or did I just imagine that <grin>) made it difficult to judge the service (which was a bit overwhelmed) and the atmosphere (having a flock of 4 year olds choosing drinks from a fridge en masse or yelling across the room to each other does not make for a good dining experience anywhere... ever...then again, I certainly don't blame the little ones -- oh, parennnnts?) If I had a craving for a crunchy grilled cheese, Melt! would definitely spring to mind. If I had to be in Jersey City for some reason, I would make a point to stop and have a bite.
  20. Hi all.... I've been a silent member of Egullet for many months and finally took the plunge and signed up for a membership, allowing me to actually interact rather than sit back and passively reap the benefits of these boards. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to dine at Flirt in Allendale. I wrote down my thoughts the next day though, unable to post, I could only file them away. Now, I gladly post them here. The initial idea of a sexy sushi lounge sounded like it could be quite sensual, lush... perhaps decadent? After reading the posts here and checking out the Flirt site online, I had some apprehensions. The names of some of the offerings were cute and bordering on silly. Viagra? Mi-so-horny soup? Horny Green Tea? Sexpresso? Somehow, the names just struck me as trying a bit too hard. Upon arriving at Flirt (on what was an arctic NJ evening), I was warmed by the warm tones on the walls and the muted lighting. My dining companion and I were seated at a little table for two and we both agreed that although the room was conducive to the idea of a romantic dinner for two, the t-shirts and sweatpants for sale hanging on the wall behind our table definitely detracted from the atmosphere. Maybe Flirt clothing sales could be restricted to a smaller, more unobtrusive area rather than hanging on the walls of the dining room (in two separate places!) Latin music was playing which added a funky feel to the room. Detracting from the room? The wall mounted TV over the sushi bar broadcasting The Food Network. Quite a distraction. The menu: We had some questions about some of the Nibbles. Namely, what was in the Flirt salad, what did the Tuna or Salmon Tower consist of and what was the Bed for Two ($16.) The menu gave no clue and the waiter had a difficult time explaining... or rather, we had a difficult time understanding what it was he was saying... something about nachos and cashews and what sounded like bananas. We ordered the Flirt salad and the shrimp shumai. The Nibbles: Upon their arrival, we realized that although the dimmed lighting set the mood, it did little to allow us to discern what exactly it was that we were eating. The shumai was standard, and I had a suspicion that they were of the same brand that I buy at my local A&P, complete with little fold marks from where they sit in their plastic packaging tray. The Flirt salad consisted of greens, crushed banana chips and cashews with a VERY vinegary ginger dressing. Overall, it was a decent little salad, but occasionally I'd hit a dressing spot where that vinegar flavor was overwhelming. The Sushi: Overall the sushi was very good. We ordered the Spicy Red, Viagra, Latin Lover, Crunchy Spicy Salmon Roll, Sweet Potato Roll(my Favorite). The spicy rolls were very spicy and each came with a flourish of sauce which was great for dipping. The sushi was so flavorful that no soy sauce was neccessary. Everything seemed fresh with the exception of the seaweed on the handroll which was soft, rather than crispy. A word about the plates: Each diner begins dinner with a large black square plate. As the sushi was brought to the table, one roll per large plate, the waiter was not able to fit more than a few of the plates on the table... we had to tell him to take our large black plates and bring back smaller plates. Would seem like this would be a common problem, as there is only so much room on those small tables for two. Dessert: We split the Green Tea, Chocolate & Ginger Ice Cream. Very refreshing. Overall Impression: I would return to Flirt for the sushi. NOT for a romantic dinner, NOT for the service, NOT for a comfortable or exceptional dining experience. The sushi was good... I'll give Flirt that, but I couldn't put my finger on how they were trying to execute the whole Flirt concept. The name says Flirt Sushi Lounge, yet nothing in the room really felt lounge-ish... what would? perhaps banquette's with pillows? some sort of draperies hanging about the walls and ceilings... at one point, I even suggested that perhaps black dividers between the tables would give the space and its occupants more opportunities for some intimate flirting. I know Mr. Flirt had mentioned that Flirt is a two hour dining experience, but to us it seemed as if it was really just another sushi place, albeit in a dark room with latin music and the food network playing.
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