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NYC Foodies, Get Thee to New Jersey


Fat Guy
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Don't worry. The Long Island, Westchester and Connecticut topics are coming.

It's amazing how many people are saying "the one place that's worth the trip is X. It's the exception to the rule." When you add those up . . .

Here's the problem, FG. Adding those up isn't really yielding an impressive collocation of specimens. So far, we have:

Moksha

Santouka (arguably soon to be superseded by Hakata Ippudo)

Cucharamama

Hot dog places

Tomato pie places

There appear to be three major requirements for a food destination outside NY to be "worth it" as articulated in this thread:

1) Opportunity cost is sufficiently low. This is the subjective one, since people can experience any and all of the range of opportunity cost depending on preference. Some people can side with Sam Kinsey in supporting the proposition that NYC already has enough great places that need hitting before venturing beyond the city limits, others may see trips to NJ as more worthwhile, perhaps due to combining a food trip with something else.

2) Place must be one of the following:

a) Best in class. Simply the best of its kind in the NY metro area, and thus worth going to if only to worship at the culinary shrine. An Alinea, Arzak, or Michel Bras of its (sub)genre.

b) Something simply not found in NYC. A super-high-end Alan Yau Cantonese place would fill this bill, as would a truly stellar Vietnamese restaurant.

So far, the contenders have been hot dogs and pizza (neither of which would be worth it *to me*, anyway, since they're convenience food, and for which you have to go with the best-in-class argument in any case, since NYC has plenty of examples of both), or TWO (count 'em) restaurants, both of which are aiming for best-in-class rather than unique. Given the situation, it's hardly surprising that you're getting pushback on this issue.

(All due respect to the Mehtanis, but as to SM23, it's a joke compared to hitting Pegu for drinks and Tabla for nibbles, or even Tabla for both; and Ming may be more opulent than Tangra Palace, but the latter has IMHO better food for cheaper.)

[EDIT: Stupid formatting brackets!]

Edited by Mayur (log)
Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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So far, we have:

Moksha

Santouka (arguably soon to be superseded by Hakata Ippudo)

Cucharamama

Hot dog places

Tomato pie places

As of several days ago, the list was:

Cucharamama (I take no position here)

Moksha

Mithaas

Mitsuwa

White Manna

Insert name of hot-dog place

Super H-Mart

Foodmart International

That's not including the whole Ironbound field trip.

That has all along been a conservative list -- the one that only touches on best-in-category places where there's a pretty high level of confidence that NYC has nothing competitive. Of course, my opinion is that it's absurd to make that the cutoff. The only reason I'm engaging in that particular list-generation exercise is to establish beyond reasonable doubt that there are NJ food destinations that meet the criterion of being outright superior to their NYC equivalents. Only one such place would have to exist in order to prove that hypothesis. Five days ago, we listed eight and people are still saying we listed none, or two, or otherwise exhibiting list-blindness. Moreover, in the days since then, there have been several proposed additions to the list (Sabor Peru, Santouka, tomato pies, etc.) as I said there would be. Needless to say, these require further investigation, and some may be false positives -- as may some on the original list. But the list is growing, and will continue to grow over the next several months as we start getting more data points.

There appear to be three major requirements for a food destination outside NY to be "worth it" as articulated in this thread:

I think what can be said of your list is that it describes some people's alleged criteria for determining "worth it." It doesn't describe mine. And I'm not sure it accurately describes the real-world criteria of how people choose dining destinations. Since it's impossible to set forth a set of criteria that are accurate with respect to everybody, I think a category-based approach to the taxonomy of NJ restaurants makes more sense. To summarize those categories, which I proposed last week:

1. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are better than any comparable restaurant in New York City.

2. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are comparable quality-wise to New York City restaurants but offer a variant that is not available in New York City or that is superior to the New York city equivalent.

3. Places in Northern New Jersey that are as good as places in New York City, and do not necessarily offer unique experiences, but are among the small handful of best places in their categories.

4. Neighborhood-based Northern New Jersey experiences that can't be matched in New York City.

5. BYO.

6. Shopping.

Different people are going to value the different categories differently. I happen to think every one of those categories makes for a worthwhile destination. I can see ruling out 3 and 5, but as for the rest, I think the list based on them would easily number in excess of 100.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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How can you say that, when Sam hasn't called anyone "lazy" for failing to share his priorities?

Nor have I. What I believe I've noted is that, for a population that claims to be dedicated to food, New York foodies as a group are surprisingly reluctant to invest a couple of travel hours to broaden their culinary horizons. I compared that to the attitude of the LA foodies I know, who think nothing of that sort of travel. I regret it if the term "lazy," by which I meant disinclined to bother with the inconvenient (we're not talking about the biblical sin of sloth here), is being interpreted by anyone as an assault on his or her character.

C'mon, LA foodies have to travel (by car) to mail a letter - this is not a good argument. It's a car culture - I doubt very many of them are hopping on public transportation to go to Mozza, for example.

And thanks for retracting your lazy statement.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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As of several days ago, the list was:

Cucharamama (I take no position here)

Moksha

Mithaas

Mitsuwa

White Manna

Insert name of hot-dog place

Super H-Mart

Foodmart International

That's not including the whole Ironbound field trip.

And I'm taking issue with that list of places to begin with, given that neither Mithaas nor anywhere in the Ironbound definitively trumps equivalents in NYC, period. Hence why I made the list I did. But YMMV.
I think what can be said of your list is that it describes some people's alleged criteria for determining "worth it." It doesn't describe mine. And I'm not sure it accurately describes the real-world criteria of how people choose dining destinations. Since it's impossible to set forth a set of criteria that are accurate with respect to everybody, I think a category-based approach to the taxonomy of NJ restaurants makes more sense. To summarize those categories, which I proposed last week:

1. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are better than any comparable restaurant in New York City.

2. Restaurants in Northern New Jersey that are comparable quality-wise to New York City restaurants but offer a variant that is not available in New York City or that is superior to the New York city equivalent.

3. Places in Northern New Jersey that are as good as places in New York City, and do not necessarily offer unique experiences, but are among the small handful of best places in their categories.

4. Neighborhood-based Northern New Jersey experiences that can't be matched in New York City.

5. BYO.

6. Shopping.

4, 5, and 6 don't actually follow logically, and clearly don't rebut a simple thesis put forth by the New-Yorkies: Namely, that there isn't *sufficient* reason to travel beyond the city's bounds unless a compellingly unique experience presents itself. BYO, slightly lower price point, supermarket availability, whatever... that stuff don't cut it. Either it needs to offer something that's flat-out better than its equivalents in NY, or it needs to offer something that isn't available in NY. That's pretty much so far as it goes. Edited by Mayur (log)
Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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I'm taking issue with that list of places to begin with, given that neither Mithaas nor anywhere in the Ironbound definitively trumps equivalents in NYC, period.

Mithaas presents a good opportunity for a real test, because pastry items can travel. We should be able to engineer a situation where we pick the best Indian pastries in New York City and compare them side by side against Mithaas pastries. Let's try to do that. Not that I think the pastries one can carry home in a box are the sum total of what Mithaas brings to the table. The experience of going to Mithaas, taking in the Indian music videos playing on the big plasma screens, settling into the stylish, modern lounge furniture, checking out the young Indian couples on dates -- that's what I love the most about the place. But let's say you're right, that Mithaas is not categorically better than the best New York City Indian pastry place. Does that mean a trip to Edison is not worthwhile? Let me phrase the question this way: would you be willing to say there is no reason for a New Yorker to visit Oak Tree Road ever, not one single time? That if your relatives didn't bring you there, you'd think going there -- even one time -- was a complete waste of time? To me, taking such a position would be inconceivable even if I didn't think Oak Tree Road had any specific restaurants that were better than their New York City equivalents. That would be like saying "Restaurant X on the Upper East Side has better Chinese food than any restaurant in Chinatown, therefore there is no reason ever to go to Chinatown." Or, "The Chinatown in Manhattan has lots of good restaurants, therefore it's a waste of time to go to Chinatown in Flushing, ever. Nope, no reason to go there even once." Mind you, I think Oak Tree Road does have superior restaurants and shopping to anything in New York City, but even if it didn't I'd say it's an essential foodie day trip. Not every day. But once, absolutely.

I feel the same way about the Ironbound. I haven't done enough eating in the Ironbound, enough comparison of Portuguese versus Portuguese (though I will say that the Portuguese I've had in New York City, even at Alfama, has been unimpressive, and I've had better every time I've been to the Ironbound, which admittedly is only four times that I can remember -- plus I've made a couple of trips to the Amboys and such where I've also had rewarding Portuguese meals). But the Ironbound is still an amazingly rewarding trip, and it's easy as heck to get there on the PATH and to do everything you need to do on foot. This description of the Ironbound from an old New York Times story makes the point better than I can (definitely worth reading the whole story, even though it's a bit out of date):

With nearly 30,000 Portuguese, Newark may be better known in Portugal than it is in the United States. Clustered in a neighborhood called the Ironbound, the immigrants have laid down a latticework of ties between the old country and new, from the many seafood restaurants and Portuguese bakeries to cultural clubs that each represent an area of Portugal. The Portuguese Government even maintains a consulate here.

You can often tell whether an ethnic enclave is thriving by counting the number of blank stares you receive when you speak English. In the Ironbound, where the Lisbon newspapers are delivered to the Tucha gift shop even before they reach some parts of Portugal, where the bars are packed on Sunday afternoons with people watching the satellite feed of their beloved Benfica soccer team, it is easy to get by with only Portuguese. Some residents have lived here for 20 years understanding just enough English to navigate the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Now come on. If that's not a compelling case for visiting the Ironbound, if that's not enough to make a foodie (or anybody) think, hey, I should really check this place out -- well, then I don't know what to say. Again, you get there by PATH, which is pretty much just like the New York City subway system except it goes to New Jersey. It takes just a few minutes to get to Newark (Lower Manhattan to Newark via PATH is 22 minutes and costs $1.50 -- you can even pay with the pay-per-ride Metrocard). When you get out of the PATH station in Newark, you are within very easy walking distance of all the key Ironbound places. You don't need a car, you don't need to spend hours in transit, you can go as easily as you can go to all sorts of places right in the city. And everybody should go once, because it would be a shame to miss out on such an incredible cultural resource so close by and so accessible. And it's not like Oak Tree Road, where at least you can say, well, New York City has Jackson Heights so that's enough (even though I think Oak Tree Road is a whole different ballgame). Because New York City doesn't have a neighborhood that's remotely equivalent to the Ironbound.

there isn't *sufficient* reason to travel beyond the city's bounds unless a compellingly unique experience presents itself.

I submit that both Oak Tree Road and the Ironbound constitute exactly such compellingly unique experiences.

I also don't get why you're writing off food-shopping completely. I think the testimony here about Mitsuwa in particular has been pretty damn compelling. Even if you don't cook Japanese food, even if you don't buy a single thing, it's still a great food-culture experience (a veritable compellingly unique experience) to get on that $2 bus from Port Authority with all the Japanese-American shoppers, visit Mitsuwa Marketplace, gaze upon the awesome inventory of Japanese stuff, have a bowl of ramen, take the bus back and call it a day. I can't imagine anybody doing that and saying, "Nope, complete waste of my time. I'm never leaving New York City again."

Now White Manna, that one I don't think is so easy to get to without a car. It's very close by car -- we can sometimes achieve times in the neighborhood of 30 minutes door-to-door from the Upper East Side to White Manna -- but I think you need a car, or someone with a car to take you, or an employer with a lax attitude about car-service vouchers. I mean, I do see NJ Transit bus stops out in Hackensack, but I imagine there's enough switching and scheduling to make it not worth doing on public transportation. But I do believe that White Manna is yet another compellingly unique experience that New Jersey has to offer New York. White Manna is like the genetically superior version of White Castle -- it's what White Castle would be like if White Castle did everything right. Hand-formed sliders cooked on an ancient griddle with sliced onions pressed right in, served on miniature Martin's potato rolls (placed atop the patties on the griddle so as to be heated and seasoned by the vapors rising up) in a Deco jewel box. It was built for the 1939 World's Fair. It's a glorious piece of American culinary history just a few miles away from New York City.

gallery_1_295_38825.jpg

Do I think it's worth making a road trip to New Jersey solely to visit White Manna? I don't know. I'm pretty sure I've done it, but I know I'm a freak. The thing is, you don't have to do it that way, because White Manna is spitting distance from the H-Mart in Little Ferry, and from a bunch of excellent non-food shopping that New York City doesn't have (Ikea, Target), and you can hit Mitsuwa with a minor detour, and you're within easy reach of a couple of John's hot-dog picks, and there's Brooklyn's Coal Oven Pizza operated by the nephews of Pasty Grimaldi which has the best stromboli I've had in the tristate area, etc. Or, if you're going to the Poconos or anyplace like that on I-80 you just take the Hackensack exit and make a White Manna stop, then continue on your way. So yeah, I think it's worth figuring out a way to do that trip once.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't post often these days BUT

BLU in Montclair is worth the journey from anywhere. When owner/chef Zod Arifai cooks a special menu for you it's seriously good, as in 3-star Michelin good: as good as Keller, JG, Bouley, Passard etc. - fabulously good, plus original and clean. Can't get his vision of great food in NYC. Try the cured foie or perhaps his salmon tartare with smoked ice cream and soy caramel. As with other great chefs, Zod has achieved a super high level of craft and puts his own signature on his dishes. For my money I am just as happy eating his food as I am eating at Jean George (which is currently putting out fabulous quality/genuine 3 star Michelin-level food - and is lunch a bargain at $28!) or Le Bernardin. I recently was lucky enough to enjoy an Eric Rippert meal that was made for his peers - the group he cooked for included the likes of David Bouley, Michael Romano and a number of Tokyo's most stellar chefs. The food was awesome and I especially remember an amazing and rarefied squid broth. but it was no better than a number of meals I've had at Blu (preordered, not off the menu).

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Now White Manna, that one I don't think is so easy to get to without a car. It's very close by car -- we can sometimes achieve times in the neighborhood of 30 minutes door-to-door from the Upper East Side to White Manna -- but I think you need a car, or someone with a car to take you, or an employer with a lax attitude about car-service vouchers. I mean, I do see NJ Transit bus stops out in Hackensack, but I imagine there's enough switching and scheduling to make it not worth doing on public transportation.

As, apparently, the resident rail freak, I'll add that White Manna actually is very easy to get to on NJ Transit trains. It's a short 5-block walk from the Hackensack Anderson Street station - 32 minutes both from Penn Station (transfer in Secaucus), $9.25 round trip, & from Hoboken (direct trip), $7.75 round trip.

Again, whether the time & expense are worthwhile is up to the individual, & I can't promise that there'll be much else in Hackensack to reward your trip other than a real taste of New Jersey. But the hassles & headaches of drivng there are certainly unnecessary. And you're likely to see a surprising # of waterbirds along the way if you keep your eyes open.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I'm really supposed to care about pastries and sliders? really?

I understand that some people do but I don't.

so far, we've really established that Cucharamama and maybe the Ironbound are unique....though, like most Manhattan residents, I'm probably more likely to actually go to Portugal than the Ironbound.

the thing is, mass transit isn't really that easy. it just isn't. ok, getting to Hoboken is....I've done it twice in the last six years, and you're right, it's quick. fair enough.

but as soon as you start talking about dealing with NJtransit (to anywhere other than the Newark airport or Newark Penn Station), it's like dealing with the LIRR...you have to carry a schedule, make sure you hit the transfers, make sure your meal doesn't run late, etc. etc....those are all costs. and I'm not lazy for inserting those into my calculus.

heck, it's an incredible pain in the arse for me to get to the UES from either of where I live or work....let alone taking a subway to a train to a bus and back...and making all the connections work.

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I think it's clear that there is a pain-in-the ass calculus that everyone has to do with respect to how far they are willing to travel for certain experiences, and how big the payoff has to be to make it "worth it."

This true with respect to food as it is anything else. I have friends who travel to Cooperstown to see opera in Glimmerglass's intimate small theater. Some of them will fly to Chicago or even to Europe specifically to see a certain opera or a certain cast. For them, it's clearly worth the trip. For me, despite the fact that this is my field, I have a hard time imagining an opera that would be worth a weekend'w worth of travel and expense to me (maybe the reincarnation of Jussi Björling?). But that's fine for both of us. It doesn't mean that they're more devoted to opera than I am. It simply means that the calculus is different.

For Nathan, it may be the case that the payoff already has to be very high to travel to the Upper East Side. This is not unfamiliar to me. It took me almost a year to convince my wife that it really was worth going a little bit out of her way (i.e., going downtown after work instead of finding someplate on the work-to-home trajectory) to visit what are reckoned among the very best bars in the world -- and she has a strong interest in cocktails, so the payoff was already high.

For other people -- for Steven, Eric and others -- the calculus is different. First off, the "cost" of making the trip is probably quite a bit lower. My friend Eric, for example, simply doesn't mind spending hours on the bus or train to go somewhere that interests him. Steven has a job and lifestyle that allows him to take advantage of travel times that are not available to most other people, and he drives his car a lot whereas many other people who own cars reserve them for only occasional lengthier trips (e.g., a house upstate). These are the kinds of things that make the cost lower for some people than for others. And, of course, in traveling for culinary experiences it makes a difference how much the particular culinary experience interests you. Hot dogs and Indian pastries aren't going to do it for me, but truly oustanding pizza might. For other people, it may very well be the opposite.

For some people -- and I include myself mostly, but not entirely in this group -- the calculus will rarely be enough to motivate them to explore New Jersey culinary options over the myriad culinary options available in New York City. That's reasonable, although it is just as reasonable for others to make their own calculus and choose differently. Clearly for most people, the cost is higher and the payoff must be significantly higher before they will make the choice to travel to New Jersey for food.

For myself, I simply don't have a strong enough interest in Japanese culinary culture to make a trip to Mitsuwa by bus remotely worth the experience in and of itself. Similarly, while I have a passing interest in Portugese and Brazilian culinary culture, I have not found trips to the Ironbound worth the trip in and of itself. So far, no one has mentioned anything that interests me enough that I'd devote the time, expense and trouble of bringing myself to Jersey to experience. On the other hand, I am a huge Italophile. If there were an amazing categorically superior Italian culinary community/market in Jersey, I might try to get out there to stock up once a year (or more, if I had a car). There is such a place, although not in New Jersey: Arthur Avenue. But even Arthur Avenue I only visit when friends feel like taking me along in their cars. For me, the payoff isn't enough to justify the hassle of travel by public transportation or the cost of renting a Zipcar.

Note that I said "worth the experience in and of itself." There are plenty of other things that might alter my own personal calculus. If I were traveling to Jersey anyway on other business, or if I were already paying for a rental car and had several hours of rental time "left over" that I wanted to put to good use. That could easily put me in front of a plate of South Indian food or, if time were shorter, a half dozen sliders. And, of course, if a friend like Steven calls and wonders if I might like to drive out to Mitsuwa with him one Sunday afternoon when I had the free time, I'd almost certainly say yes because the benefit of spending a fun afternoon with Steven and being driven in the car of someone who knows how to get there would eliminate almost all of the "cost" from my calculus.

So... as I have tried to say all along, for sure there are some nice culinary experiences to be had in New Jersey. When travel to these experiences falls within anyone's personal calculus, they should definitely try to check some of them out. I am also mindful of the fact that New York City is crammed full of high quality culinary experiences -- so many that it is literally impossible to experience them all. This can be a strong factor in someone's personal calculus against travel to Jersey. But ultimately the rest of the debate comes down to whether traveling to New Jersey for certain culinary experiences are, or should be within each person's personal calculus. For me, I don't see that there's anything over there that is so interesting to me that I'd plan a special trip out there myself -- but there are plenty of things I'd take advantage of if I found myself over there or received an invitation to tag along.

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If there were an amazing categorically superior Italian culinary community/market in Jersey, I might try to get out there to stock up once a year (or more, if I had a car).  There is such a place, although not in New Jersey: Arthur Avenue.

i would recommend that you consider integrating a trip to Ridgewood's A Amano into your calculus. not for shopping, but for Neapolitan-style pizza.

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If there were an amazing categorically superior Italian culinary community/market in Jersey, I might try to get out there to stock up once a year (or more, if I had a car).  There is such a place, although not in New Jersey: Arthur Avenue.

i would recommend that you consider integrating a trip to Ridgewood's A Amano into your calculus. not for shopping, but for Neapolitan-style pizza.

Definitely the sort of place I'd want to know about if I were going to be in Jersey. Not sure it seems that much better than or uniquely different from Una Pizza Napoletana/Franny's/Fornino/etc. to be worth a special trip (although I remain open to such an argument) -- but for sure the kind of place I'd incorporate into a trip in the area.

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When owner/chef Zod Arifai cooks a special menu for you it's seriously good, as in 3-star Michelin good: as good as Keller, JG, Bouley, Passard etc. - fabulously good, plus original and clean. Can't get his vision of great food in NYC.

The Zod experience has long been on my must-do list, and I've had two close encounters that got canceled. I've got to prioritize it higher. Zod is the one chef in New Jersey I've repeatedly and recently heard this sort of commentary on by people whose opinions, like Eddie's, I hold in the highest regard.

And it brings up an interesting historical point about haute cuisine in New Jersey. It seems that since the 1970s there has been a succession of New Jersey chefs cooking at the apex of the craft. In that sense, Zod is arguably the Otto of the 21st Century. By Otto, I'm referring to pseudonym of the chef famously profiled by John McPhee in the New Yorker in the late 1970s. With his loving 25,000 word portrait of Otto, McPhee set off a near riot in the food community. The search for Otto was relentless, and he was finally outed by Mimi Sheraton and Frank Prial. Incidentally, they thought the food sucked, but then again the stories told were that the reclusive Otto sabotaged their meals to avoid good publicity. Otto was assumed to be in New Jersey because McPhee lived in Princeton, but turned out to be a couple of thousand feet over the border in Milford, Pennsylvania. His name was Alan Lieb. The New Yorker piece by McPhee is not, as far as I know, available online. It is, however, in McPhee's anthology, "Giving Good Weight." It is well worth reading -- I'd say it's one of the best pieces of English-language food writing ever. Here's a story from Time magazine, written at the time, about the whole brouhaha.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Hans Egg -- who is still at the Saddle River Inn but seems to have been left behind by culinary progress -- enjoyed a measure of prominence among gourmets. The meal I had at Saddle River Inn at the height of the restaurant's arc was one of my peak culinary experiences. Then there's Craig Shelton at the Ryland Inn. It seems his arc reached its apex around the turn of the century. Ryland Inn is one of the few restaurants to receive the "Extraordinary" designation from David Corcoran, one of the Times regional restaurant critics, who I believe is the best of all the restaurant critics in all the regions covered by the New York Times (including New York City). The other chef arguably in that category (also with an "Extraordinary" rating) is Nicholas Harary of Nicholas.

Which is to say, at the haute-cuisine end of things, there has long been interesting, unique stuff going on in New Jersey. And I imagine this will continue. One remarkable thing about these chefs is that they've pulled off their accomplishments with very little support from New York City. Again, to compare the calculus of New Yorkers to that of residents of another city, look at the restaurant landscape of Paris and France. Paris has a whole lot of great restaurants, Paris has many residents who don't own cars, yet Parisians routinely travel outside of Paris to eat. Restaurants operating at high levels all over the French countryside depend on Parisians (and international visitors) making pilgrimages in order to stay in business. They couldn't function with only local audiences.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG, you're on! Start with Mithaas vs. Rajbhog, perhaps?

Does that mean a trip to Edison is not worthwhile? Let me phrase the question this way: would you be willing to say there is no reason for a New Yorker to visit Oak Tree Road ever, not one single time? That if your relatives didn't bring you there, you'd think going there -- even one time -- was a complete waste of time?
FWIW, that wasn't the point I was trying to make (perhaps rather incoherently!). My point was that "worth visiting" (in the colloquial sense) is much different than "able to overcome the opportunity cost." I think that you're actually implying two theses in this thread: (1) That NJ has plenty of establishments that are amazing and worth the visit for a serious foodie (which point I think is nigh-unassailably valid) and (2) that New Yorkers who don't make the trip are missing out on a fundamental and must-go food experience. Those are two different points, and I think the second one isn't as obvious as you're implying.

I spend a good deal of time eating out in New Jersey, and I think that it would have surprised me if there weren't at least *one* best-in-class or must-go establishment that was agreed on here (Cucharamama and Moksha make two, at least). However, I also think it's fair to say that many of the other "compelling" reasons to get out to NJ for food are eroded by the opportunity cost of having everything that NY has to offer within easy distance and public transport.

To me, taking such a position would be inconceivable even if I didn't think Oak Tree Road had any specific restaurants that were better than their New York City equivalents. That would be like saying "Restaurant X on the Upper East Side has better Chinese food than any restaurant in Chinatown, therefore there is no reason ever to go to Chinatown." Or, "The Chinatown in Manhattan has lots of good restaurants, therefore it's a waste of time to go to Chinatown in Flushing, ever. Nope, no reason to go there even once." Mind you, I think Oak Tree Road does have superior restaurants and shopping to anything in New York City, but even if it didn't I'd say it's an essential foodie day trip. Not every day. But once, absolutely.
As I said. If it were the case that I had a better array of Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood than in Chinatown (which is kind of impossible given regional variation and the fact that Chinatown is at my veritable doorstep), I could see the logic for never leaving.

As for shopping, etc.: I was merely pointing out that shopping isn't *additive* with the other elements you listed. Mitsuwa is worth the trip (A Amano pales in comparison with UPN and the Arthur Avenue places, IMO), but it's worth the trip for being best-in-class and/or unique.

The Ironbound is actually an interesting one. I'd love to hear about a really good Portuguese place or two that beats the best in NY (not hard, as you point out, given the lack of Portuguese restaurants...) I know that when I go for Spanish or Brazilian rodizio, I'm going for family atmosphere and cheap prices (and not having a car would kill the latter) rather than for quality.

And eddie: How does one get the fabulous meals you speak of at BLU? Call in advance and request, or do you need to be a friend of the house?

Edited by Mayur (log)
Mayur Subbarao, aka "Mayur"
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My point was that "worth visiting" (in the colloquial sense) is much different than "able to overcome the opportunity cost." I think that you're actually implying two theses in this thread: (1) That NJ has plenty of establishments that are amazing and worth the visit for a serious foodie (which point I think is nigh-unassailably valid) and (2) that New Yorkers who don't make the trip are missing out on a fundamental and must-go food experience. Those are two different points, and I think the second one isn't as obvious as you're implying.

Here's an interesting take that recently occurred to me, and it reflects some of my thinking with respect to this subject:

It's increasingly clear that the cocktail revival is one of the major culinary trends of the last five years, and it is only increasing in importance, influence and reach. New York City is the epicenter of that revival. If one is interested in covering the interesting culinary ground in metro-NYC, I would argue that visits to Flatiron, Pegu, Milk & Honey, PDT, Death & Company and Tailor are more fundamentally must-go culinary experiences than getting really good sliders or visiting a Japanese market in New Jersey -- not only in terms of the metro-NYC culinary scene, but also with respect to nationwide culinary trends. . . . If you don't care about that sort of thing, of course you shouldn't go. But in my opinion there is a much larger gap in someone's metro-NYC culinary experience for not visiting these 6 places than there is for not visiting Mitsuwa, Ironbound, White Manna, Cucharamama, Moksha and Rutt's. One can say, "but it's only cocktails -- it should be enough to go to just one." But we wouldn't say that if it were "haute cuisine" instead of "cocktails," and I'll argue that those six places are just as important in the general scheme of things as the last six 3 star-level places to open in the City.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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If there were an amazing categorically superior Italian culinary community/market in Jersey, I might try to get out there to stock up once a year (or more, if I had a car).  There is such a place, although not in New Jersey: Arthur Avenue.

i would recommend that you consider integrating a trip to Ridgewood's A Amano into your calculus. not for shopping, but for Neapolitan-style pizza.

Need I add that Ridgewood is easily accessible by NJ Transit train, & A Mano is 2 blocks from the station? Again, all it takes is the desire, the time & the equivalent expense of NYC cab fare.

I travel to NYC & back by train all the time. To me it's child's play, but then I seem to have an innate grasp of such things & I understand that some folks don't. For those who do, however, there's territory waiting to be discovered. And learning how to use a schedule I find an easy tradeoff against never having to deal with sitting in bridge/tunnel traffic.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I don't post often these days BUT

BLU in Montclair is worth the journey from anywhere. When owner/chef Zod Arifai cooks a special menu for you it's seriously good, as in 3-star Michelin good: as good as Keller, JG, Bouley, Passard etc. - fabulously good, plus original and clean. Can't get his vision of great food in NYC. Try the cured foie or perhaps his salmon tartare with smoked ice cream and soy caramel. As with other great chefs, Zod has achieved a super high level of craft and puts his own signature on his dishes. For my money I am just as happy eating his food as I am eating at Jean George (which is currently putting out fabulous quality/genuine 3 star Michelin-level food - and is lunch a bargain at $28!) or Le Bernardin. I recently was lucky enough to enjoy an Eric Rippert meal that was made for his peers - the group he cooked for included the likes of David Bouley, Michael Romano and a number of Tokyo's most stellar chefs. The food was awesome and I especially remember an amazing and rarefied squid broth. but it was no better than a number of meals I've had at Blu (preordered, not off the menu).

This post reminded me of a place I had heard about in Hoboken a few years back that has since closed. I remember rumors of a place that did the whole modern/molecular thing very well, but found that it had closed. Anyone know what happened to the chef of that place? Is this the same guy you speak of or are there two that fit this description?

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This post reminded me of a place I had heard about in Hoboken a few years back that has since closed.  I remember rumors of a place that did the whole modern/molecular thing very well, but found that it had closed.  Anyone know what happened to the chef of that place?  Is this the same guy you speak of or are there two that fit this description?

Nope...you're thinking of Venue, which closed over a year ago. Different chef.

"I'm not eating it...my tongue is just looking at it!" --My then-3.5 year-old niece, who was NOT eating a piece of gum

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"He's jumped the flounder, as you might say."

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This post reminded me of a place I had heard about in Hoboken a few years back that has since closed.  I remember rumors of a place that did the whole modern/molecular thing very well, but found that it had closed.  Anyone know what happened to the chef of that place?  Is this the same guy you speak of or are there two that fit this description?

Nope...you're thinking of Venue, which closed over a year ago. Different chef.

Yes, thanks! Does anyone know what's become of him? Or whether he has opened or will open a new place? Since NY is famously lacking in places in this category (slim pickin's after WD-50 and Tailor until Paul Liebrandt gets back in the act), I'd think it would at least need to be discussed in an NJ must visit topic.

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I've been a little disappointed at the lack of response with respect to Japanese cuisine.  I was assuming (or maybe wishing) that the presence of Mitsuwa suggested a large Japanese population in the area, and that it would also mean that there were lots of hidden gems representing any of the hundreds of types of Japanese cuisine (other than standard sushi places).  Has anyone with serious knowledge of Japanese cuisine heard anything about this?  Are any of the NYC eGulleters familiar with any rumors of any kind of Japanese places in NJ that are really worth checking out?  Any leads are appreciated.

Dammit, dude, you had to drag me into this quandry, didn't you...

Like Sam, I've resisted in on this one as well, but I meant to write about Mitsuwa because it is the singular example of a NJ foodie destination that I will self-transport to or find someone who is driving to.

I think I'm qualified to weigh in on your question, not just because I'm a prodigious consumer of the full variety of Japanese cuisine, but because I grew up among the largest native Japanese population outside of Japan - this is in the 80s, during Japan's bubble economy, in Westchester, as in north of the Bronx, not NJ. This is when Japanese banks, when not bidding on Rockefeller Center, sent their employees and their families to NY on what is called "kaigai chuzai", 4-8 year rotations, and the Metro-North GCT to Scarsdale was split Jewish and Japanese.

As a matter of fact, you can definitely attribute my focus on Japanese cuisine to this occurrence; as I was growing up, the heads of my schools would ask me to essentially take care of all the new incoming Japanese students, so I grew up with this 4-year rotation of Japanese friends and their families, which meant I grew up with their video games, their culture, and got fed a lot of authentic stuff at an early age.

The ingredients for that food came from the Meiji-ya and Daido supermarkets in Westchester - none of which were as big as Mitsuwa but collectively a lot more volume. There are remnants of this past but it wasn't quite as huge as it was in the 80s.

Those who chose to, could afford to, or were otherwise able to stay, seemed to spread out evenly around Westchester and Northern New Jersey, and to a lesser extent, Long Island. I'm not sure when the Mitsuwa opened (it will always be the "Yaohan" to me), but what you find there was the opportunity for a single Japanese complex (it's not just the Mitsuwa, it's also a book store, Japanese gift store, riverside restaurant, food court, etc.) to be built from scratch to service all the Japanese families spread out around Northern NJ, who are most likely passing through on their way into the city on a regular basis anyway... It's no coincidence where it's located. I was first taken there by Westchester-based Japanese friends in the 90s, as the complex as a whole can keep you busy all day vs. the supermarkets of Westchester.

"Yaohan" was a Japanese supermarket conglomerate that went belly-up in 1998, had nothing to do with the NY outpost. They were all over Japan and SE Asia. Korean interests bought them out and changed the name to Mitsuwa, but thankfully, nothing really changed. It's not like you could suddenly only get Korean white rice there.

It's also important to note how much crossover between Japanese, Korean and Chinese cooking there is in terms of ingredients. You can find many Japanese products at Chinese and Korean marts all over the NYC area, and conversely, many many Korean-American and Chinese-American families shop at the Mitsuwa. So, unlike all the Japanese supermarkets in Westchester which DO serve a relatively large population in a relatively small 20-mile square radius, the Mitsuwa makes it seem like there's a much larger population than there really is.

In terms of restaurants, sorry FG, but good Japanese restaurants in New Jersey (and Westchester and LI for that matter) are really the exception to the rule. There is definitely good Japanese cooking, and suprisingly good sushi, in New Jersey, and a simple browse of the NJ forum should yield those results, but Manhattan is really where it's at and you're not going to get that level anywhere else. Let me put it to you this way; when Ushiwakamaru's owner realize he had erred and opened in NJ rather than NY BY MISTAKE, he got out and crossed the Hudson right-quick.

Part of this is because Manhattan is the business-center and a lot of Japanese fine-dining is business-related, or for going out, or to go with friends from out of town, while the wife and kids are back at home where it's simply better to cook it yourself then go out for mediocre suburban Japanese food. Besides sushi, there isn't much Japanese food that can't be reproduced at home with a small array of Japanese home-cooking gadgets. Takoyaki-makers, anyone? Also, keep in mind how dependent on stellar ingredients Japanese cuisine is, and as a result, it is much better to be in NYC.

Anyway, Mitsuwa is the only place I'll make it a point to get to in Jersey. They still have the best ramen in the tri-state area, until Hakata Ippudo opens up :-) You can get great laquerware, cheap. Ito En has an outpost and you can probably buy 100 tea varieties between there and the super. They have a Parasienne bakery where you can get that stupidly delicious Japanese whitebread, among other things. You can get a Japanese rice-cooker (perfection), okonomiyaki/takoyaki set, sushi-kit, any kitchen gadget you ould need. Their Japanese groceries are on average a full dollar lower than Manhattan; that adds up. Part of appreciating Japanese cuisine is trying to cook it at home, and that means building a pantry; Mitsuwa has everything you could possibly ever need, fresh and cheap. And could you really ever have enough Japanese sake, shochu and beer?

For Japanese these are all things they cannot live without - so it's a no-brainer for them. But given the acute interest in Japanese cuisine and culture lately, only lately being eclipsed by the same amount generated by China, it's a NJ Foodie destination because what's more it's a cultural experience that makes it actually worth it to ship yourself over to (although it's by FAR the most painless of any of the NJ destinations to get to), one that you could only reproduce through a walking tour of Midtown East including the Japan Society, the kind you'd get in Jackson Heights, Flushing, or any other ethnic neighborhood... The unfortunate thing is, besides Oak Tree Road and Korean parts of north Jersey, it seems like everything we're talking about is located in a strip mall somewhere.

I'll write later about South Indian food, being my soul food, because the whole Oak Tree Road thing is enticing, but Edison is frickin' HAUL. I might consider it the next time I'm headed down south.

There's also a reason I wrote so much about Westchester; I think it's equivalent in terms of accessibility to NJ, but probably has more to offer cuisine-wise. Westchester, NY might as well be New Jersey to most in the city. Not to complicate the conversation; just sayin'....

Sorry for dragging you into the fray, Raji. But great post! Lots of good info in there for everyone. By the way, how would you compare the ramen at Mitsuwa to that at Minca, Setagaya, Rai Rai Ken, Sapporo, etc.? Also, if there are places in Westchester worth traveling to for Japanese, I definitely think we should start a chain (or at least a list) about that. Anything that's best in class and improves upon NY options would be of interest.

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Ghostrider: thanks for all the excellent train intel, and shame on me for being a doubter.

Nathan: I don't think you're lazy. I just think if you spent half as much energy on taking a trip to New Jersey as you've spent on making excuses not to then you'd get a good meal out of the deal.

LPShanet: thanks for bringing up the ill-fated Venue. Awhile back I noticed the young James George Sarkar (Chef James) popping up at the molecular gastronomy events and in the literature, and I made a mental note to visit Venue. I was stupid to wait. I need to spend more time in New Jersey.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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This post reminded me of a place I had heard about in Hoboken a few years back that has since closed.  I remember rumors of a place that did the whole modern/molecular thing very well, but found that it had closed.  Anyone know what happened to the chef of that place?  Is this the same guy you speak of or are there two that fit this description?

Nope...you're thinking of Venue, which closed over a year ago. Different chef.

Yes, thanks! Does anyone know what's become of him? Or whether he has opened or will open a new place? Since NY is famously lacking in places in this category (slim pickin's after WD-50 and Tailor until Paul Liebrandt gets back in the act), I'd think it would at least need to be discussed in an NJ must visit topic.

Last I know of (based on this thread), he was consulting for City Place Steakhouse, which has long since opened. I'd love to know what he's up to. I have very fond memories of my one meal at Venue, particularly the "test tube" shooter of foie gras milkshake. Mmmmmm. Seriously mmmmmm.

Christopher

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When owner/chef Zod Arifai cooks a special menu for you it's seriously good, as in 3-star Michelin good: as good as Keller, JG, Bouley, Passard etc. - fabulously good, plus original and clean. Can't get his vision of great food in NYC.

By Otto, I'm referring to pseudonym of the chef famously profiled by John McPhee in the New Yorker in the late 1970s. With his loving 25,000 word portrait of Otto, McPhee set off a near riot in the food community. The search for Otto was relentless, and he was finally outed by Mimi Sheraton and Frank Prial. Incidentally, they thought the food sucked, but then again the stories told were that the reclusive Otto sabotaged their meals to avoid good publicity. Otto was assumed to be in New Jersey because McPhee lived in Princeton, but turned out to be a couple of thousand feet over the border in Milford, Pennsylvania. His name was Alan Lieb. The New Yorker piece by McPhee is not, as far as I know, available online. It is, however, in McPhee's anthology, "Giving Good Weight." It is well worth reading -- I'd say it's one of the best pieces of English-language food writing ever. Here's a story from Time magazine, written at the time, about the whole brouhaha.

The Story of Otto!

While I have always believed John McPhee's essay to be the finest piece of restaurant writing I ever read, I didn't find it until the mid-eighties and had no idea that it caused this sort of stir.

In my search for more information, I discovered that Mimi Sheraton told the tale from her point of veiw in a book she wrote not long ago called "Eating My Words."

For me, Otto was truly a hero, doing what he loved because he loved it with a happy family at his side. Reading about how the press demolished him was sad indeed.

These days, the "Otto" types I search for make dosas, pierogies, or bowls of Pho, not haute cuisine, but after reading this story, I fear what will happen when you Manhattanites visit my favorite haunts.

Brian Yarvin

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Need I add that Ridgewood is easily accessible by NJ Transit train, & A Mano is 2 blocks from the station?  Again, all it takes is the desire, the time & the equivalent expense of NYC cab fare.

I've actually had a few things that took me to Ridgewood on the train. To be more clear, it's around 14 bucks round trip per person, the trip averages between 50 minutes to almost an hour (that's in addition to getting to Penn Station by subway or cab and arriving early enough to buy your ticket and get on the train), and there are only two return trains per hour (roughly on the hour and 20 minutes after the hour) on weekday evenings and around one per hour on the weekends.

That's a pretty serious time and expense investment. Figure a party of four is going to expend a minimum of 3.5 hours to the trip and 56 bucks on the train. I'd rate it quicker to get to Franny's in Park Slope, and quite a bit easier to get to Una Pizza Napoletana in Manhattan or Fornino in Williamsburg -- not to mention that there is no transportation cost to a NYer with an unlimited MetroCard. Would you say that the payoff for A Mano is big enough to warrant that kind of time and travel for a special trip?

Edited by slkinsey (log)

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