Thursday, January 31, 2013

Churning with Delight

415 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10003

*We apologize ahead of time for the dark pictures, we didn't want to be rude and use flash.*

It had been four hours and six courses ago since we ate at Po, so we decided to go see Lincoln to pass the time. Once we left the theater, we were ready for the real show, Butter.  As avid Food Network enthusiasts, we are huge fans of Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, the newly crowned Iron Chef. We have wanted to go to her restaurant Butter for a while, and what better vehicle to try it out than NYC Restaurant Week? Butter is located on a very large but quiet side street in NoHo. As we walked down the hallway, we were immediately surprised by how high the ceilings were and how open the restaurant felt when you entered the main dining room. We were seated downstairs in the darker, more tranquil room. The room had the feel of a chic aspen lodge. A glass paneled wine cellar was a sophisticated back drop to the relatively modern restaurant. 

Out of the four appetizer choices we ordered the House Made Charcuterie Platter and the Cavatappi Pasta. The charcuterie platter had house-cured bacon, duck breast mortadella, chicken liver on toast and spicy napa cabbage. It was a perfect dish. The bacon was thick cut with a crispy exterior, but immensely moist inside. The duck breast mortadella was lean and an engaging twist on a classic. The chicken liver spread over toast was the highlight of the dish; the creamy spread was both fatty and beautifully balanced atop the crispy bread. The cavatappi pasta with spicy lamb sausage and a yellow tomato sauce was delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, and the sauce was slightly sweet to counter the spicy lamb sausage. 

For our main courses we picked Roasted All-Natural Chicken Breast over white beans with sweet garlic and dandelion and Braised Pork Shoulder with pretzel crumb crust and buttered rutabaga. The chicken seems like a meek choice, but we had read reviews that highly recommended it, so we decided to try it. The chicken was extremely moist and flavorful. The white beans were garlicky and the dandelion added an intense heartiness overlying a bitter tang. Overall, a very well-balanced plate. 

The pork shoulder simply fell apart when it made contact with our fork. The pretzel crumb crust added a necessary crunch to the moist meat. The buttered rutabaga was simple and sweet, and balanced the meat out nicely. 

There were three options for dessert: Dark Chocolate Walnut Cake with caramel and sea salt; Ginger Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich with vanilla ice cream and spiced pecans; and Lemon Sorbet with kumquat marmalade and toasted sesame seeds. Although all of these sounded amazing, we asked our waiter if we could pay extra and order the famous Raspberry Beignets with vanilla dipping sauce. He said this would be fine and offered to give us two pieces of chocolate cake to take home, since they were included in our meals. We had seen these beignets on "Best Thing I've Ever Made" and the way Chef Guarnaschelli described them, we had always been curious. They were most definitely one of the best things we have ever eaten. They were warm, fluffy, and coated lightly with sugar. The raspberry was the perfect amount to have the sweet tangy punch in each bite. The vanilla dipping sauce was a great contrast and added a nice creaminess. For a dessert that should have been heavy, it was remarkably light! We were extremely pleased with this substitution. 
Butter was everything we hoped for and more. Although the winter restaurant week menu is  more concise than the regular menu, it is clear that Chef Guarnaschelli put a lot of thought into all of the dishes and they were executed to a high caliber. We are extremely happy we made this restaurant choice, and will be coming back soon to experience the whole menu. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The West Village Delivers

Po Restaurant
31 Cornelia Street 
New York, NY 10014

The day had finally come after two weeks of waiting with baited breath, the Sunday of our restaurant week reservations was finally upon us, and we were sure that it would deliver us into food salvation. We began our day of culinary bliss with lunch at Po. The restaurant was small, but filled with charm, and the somewhat tight quarters were forgiven both by the ambiance and food to follow. The three course tasting meal had three options for appetizers as well as entrees, and two options for dessert. Before we even could look at the menu we ordered two glasses of house Cabernet Sauvignon and were given a complimentary dish of white bean bruschetta. The white beans were coated in olive oil and fresh basil and mounded atop a small slice of toasted baguette bread. It was refreshing, delicate and set the tone for the entire meal.
For our appetizers we ordered the Sea Bass Ravioli with tomato scallion butter, and the Romaine salad with lemon anchovy vinaigrette, shaved grana and crostini. The Sea Bass Ravioli was such a refined dish, showing both creativity and restraint in it's creation. The pasta was light and thin which helped to highlight the delicate sea bass filling. The sauce was not over bearing, but simply used to compliment both the pasta and sea bass. We tend to veer away from ordering salad when we can, but the Romaine salad seemed like the second best choice from the appetizer selections. The salad, like the ravioli, was not complicated by too much, but rather highlighted by the use of a few quality ingredients. The romaine was crispy and fresh, the shaved grana a nice salty addition, the crostini a necessary crunch, and overall the salad was perfectly dressed with tasty vinaigrette. 
Our main course choices were the Grilled Pork Loin and Skate Wing Piccata. The grilled pork loin was very thin, yet the juices from the meat were still retained. The mashed sweet potatoes were not overly sweet, but rather almost savory in a way that complimented the meat perfectly. The salsa rossa that topped the meat was a little scarce, but the dish did not need much more then the meat and starch that was provided. It was again a very refined dish, that used few ingredients, but the right ones. The skate wing piccata was over escarole, and covered in a caper and citrus butter. The skate was perfectly cooked and the sauce was light and tangy. The bitter escarole gave the dish some needed contrast. 
For dessert we ordered one of each of the two options; a Dark Chocolate Terrine, Amaretti Sorrano, Vin Santo & espresso caramel and an Apple Torta with vanilla gelato.The dark chocolate terrine was a bit too rich for our personal taste. The apple torta was delicious. The pastry was light, the apple cooked perfectly tender, and the vanilla gelato was a needed element to tie together the entire dessert. 
Overall Po is a restaurant we would love to go back to. Restaurant week was a great vessel to try a restaurant that people may be otherwise unwilling to try. The west village offers a plethora of dining options, but one should make a conscious effort to find this NYC food gem! It was the first of our two reservations, and after we were anxiously awaiting our next stop at Butter. 

Dive Bar Doesn't Disappoint

Riverside Inn Bar

56 North Avenue E
Cranford, NJ 07016

After talking our taste buds off of the ledge from last week, and still in need of satisfying our growing desire for quality bar food, we ventured out, post "snowstorm", to grab dinner and drinks. Cranford is a welcoming little town full of restaurants and shops. Just outside of the main area resides the Riverside Inn Bar. Viewing it from the outside feels as if you are about to  walk into a small bistro. The dive bar vibe only becomes apparent when you enter, which in no way is a negative, rather we view them as a precious part of America's food DNA.  The beer selection isn't vast, but there is enough to please most everyone. We ordered 3 Ommegang Abbey Ales, which is a pleasant offering at any bar. 

For appetizers, we ordered buffalo wings and onion rings to share, both items a great measuring stick for any American restaurant. The wings were juicy, with crispy skin, and not overbearingly spicy. The wings could have been coated in slightly more sauce, but they were very good as is. The onion rings were thick cut, and did not disappoint with their crispy exterior and juicy inside. The beer batter gave them a balanced taste, and they were a nice addition to the sandwiches we ordered for our main courses.
For our main courses, we ordered a classic cheeseburger with American cheese, a buffalo bleu cheese burger, and a Philly cheese steak. The sandwiches each came with homemade thick and crunchy half-sour pickles, as well as macaroni salad; both of which were fantastic! The two burgers were juicy and cooked perfectly; pink in the middle. The freshly ground beef made for an outstanding patty. The bleu cheese crumbles and addition of buffalo sauce enhanced the burger that would have stood flawlessly on its own. 

The classic cheeseburger was as close to perfect as we've had, the bun was fresh and the perfect size for the burger, but would have been even better had it been toasted. The adage that less is more is sometimes so true, and sometimes something like a great cheeseburger just does not need to be complicated. 
The steak in the Philly cheesesteak was sliced very thin, but still remained tender. It had the perfect ratio of peppers to onions and neither overpowered the sandwich. The cheese was not oozing out like your typical Philly cheesesteak that you would buy on the street (with wiz). Again simple, and amazing. 
A quality American dive bar should be in every foodies arsenal, and now we are proud to say that Riverside Inn Bar is in ours. To add to our experience, all of the food came out at once, which honestly didn't bother us, but the manager came over and offered to buy us a round of beers for this mistake. These kind of small details and care for customers is always something that separates just a good restaurant, from one we will make an effort to go back too. We highly recommend checking this place out; on the quest for best burger in NJ, this is in the running and the rest of the food was great as well!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inventive Menu, Fails to Produce

Morris Tap & Grill
500 Route 10 West
Randolph, NJ 07869

There is nothing we crave more on a Sunday afternoon during football season than wings and beer. Morris Tap & Grill had been kind enough to be our first "like" on Facebook and is always catching our eye with their tweets about beers on tap, craft beer takeover nights, and pictures of delicious food, so we had to check it out! With both our teams out of the playoffs (still not over it...), we were able to let go of all of our superstitions and watch the games somewhere new and different; Morris Tap & Grill here we come! 

As we sat down in our booth, we began to peruse the vast beer menu. With so many options, picking one to satisfy our palettes would not be easy. To our pleasant surprise, our waiter knew a lot about the beers available, told us about the ones he liked, and was able to help each of us pick one that we would enjoy. It was very refreshing to have a waiter who was versed in something other than reciting what six mainstream beers are on tap. I ordered the Port Brewing Wipe Out IPA and my other half ordered the Captain Lawrence IPA. We had never tried either before and luckily they were both fantastic! Many thanks to our server.

Dying for some wings and knowing how helpful our waiter was with picking our beverages, we decided to ask his opinion about which sauce to order on our wings. We told him we love heat and he suggested the bacon buffalo sauce. He said it had great flavor and heat, as well as a hint of bacon, and honestly, what isn't enticing about bacon? They were moist and the sauce was executed well. Our one criticism is that we prefer non-breaded wings, but that is just a personal preference, and, on returning, we would order these again regardless of our naked wing bias. 
House-made tater tots with BBQ pulled everything about it, how could we resist? They were not exactly what we were expecting. These tater giants were made of sweet potatoes and pieces of pulled pork, then were breaded and fried to give them a nice crunch. This culinary idea lost its way with the filling; the amount of pulled pork was sparse and the sweet potato filling was slightly bland. The BBQ dipping sauce did help the overall flavor of the dish, but unfortunately was not quite enough to save this inventive dish for us. 
The menu was very adventurous and we did not want to order just a simple hamburger because we felt as though it would be disregarding all of the effort that was put into this menu. We happen to love duck, and whenever we see it on a menu, it calls to us. The duck reuben was made with pulled oven-roasted duck, apple-kraut, fontina cheese, and apple chipotle "Russian" dressing. The apple-kraut was a great idea; the sourness of sour kraut with sweet apples mixed in was a nice acidic balance to the duck. The duck was tender, but under seasoned, and the cheese seemed to overpower the entire sandwich. Although the concept for this sandwich made it irresistible for us to order, it fell flat in terms of execution. 
After seeing all of the tantalizing sandwich options, we decided we wanted to split two. The short rib sandwich on brioche with fried onions was the second one that caught our attention. The onions were not a traditional haystack fried onion that comes on most sandwiches, but rather a larger cut onion ring. The short ribs were tender and shredded apart from each other, but again lacked seasoning and overall flavor. The sandwich did not have a sauce or any residual juice from the meat, so it made it a little dry as well. 
Our waiter was exceptional, and the craft beer options were extensive! Looking back on the experience maybe we should have ordered the MTG Baconeater or another traditional American classic, but when offered such intriguing menu options, one is expecting the restaurant to deliver. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sook Pastry, Perfection

Sook Pastry!
24 South Broad Street
Ridgewood, NJ 07450

Coming home from dinner on Sunday night, we frantically searched for a place to fulfill our late night craving for something sweet. Being that it was close to 8pm and also a Sunday, we felt that our search was destined for failure, until we remembered a cozy pastry shop nudged in between our favorite Chinese take out joint and craft beer store. With the lights on inside, signaling us like a beacon to come in and enjoy. The store front was quaint and very chic, with two large glass cases filled with a plethora of visually stimulating pastries and desserts. 
We had our sights locked in on the pear tart and the chocolate eclair, but wanted to try one of the four small cakes that they offered. The employee behind the counter described in great detail all four cakes, and we settled on a dark chocolate cake with a mixed berry cream filling called "The Franklin". Wanting to catch the second half of the weekend football games, we decided to enjoy the desserts at home. 

The first we tried was the pear tart. The pears were cut thick, and had a light sweet glaze covering them like a blanket of candied perfection. The light puff pastry crust held together well, and gave a nice crunch to balance the juicy pear. It was the best of the trio, and was worth a repeat visit on its own. 
The chocolate eclair threw us for a loop initially because it was filled with a chocolate cream rather than the usual vanilla pastry cream. The crust surrounding the filling had a light crunch to it, and the cream inside was luscious and mousse like. The chocolate filling was surprisingly not over powering, it was light, airy, and had the perfect amount of chocolate.

Finally "The Franklin". Initially one would first take note of how visually stimulating the dessert was. An extremely refined cake, that seemed criminal to cut into. The cake was both smooth and rich, and the layers of flavor and texture worked in perfect culinary harmony. We wished we could get a little more of the Berry Cremuex when we tasted it, but being that we did get such a small cake the berry flavor would be more prevalent in a larger cake.

From the store front, to the interior feel, to of course delicious desserts, Sook Pastry was an immensely satisfying choice. We cannot wait to go back and indulge in the decadent offerings that this quaint bakery has made available to everyone who is lucky enough to discover this culinary gem! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Grubber Spotlight #1

Grubber Spotlight #1:
Crave Artisan Jams & Sauces

With a small constituent of loyal followers on Twitter, no favorite tweet or retweet goes unnoticed, and the sisters at Crave Jams were no exception. They had caught our attention, and we needed to try their product. We found the closest place possible to purchase Crave Jam. Unfortunately, it was thirty minutes away in the town of Montclair, but luckily, with no plans in sight for the day, we were able to make it down to Montclair Bread Co. with relative ease. The store was small, but delightful with a variety of gluten free and vegan options. Placed quaintly atop the back shelf were a few jars of Crave Jam, we read the different flavor combinations and settled on Blackberry Bliss.
Upon getting home we quickly turned on the oven to warm up some freshly baked bread. We slathered a heaping amount of Blackberry Bliss on the lightly toasted bread and we were amazed by the flavors that followed that initial bite. The flavor profile of the jam was robust and hit you directly as you tasted it. There is no subtlety in this jam; no tip toeing around the ingredients inside, it is a very bold product. Without even reading the ingredient’s one would quickly rattle off the flavors blackberry, orange, and chocolate. It tasted as if someone had melted a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and then mixed in fresh blackberries throughout. Our only critique would be that it was a little too chocolaty. We are definitely looking forward to trying many more flavors in the future!

We wish Robin and Lisa the best of luck with Crave, and hopefully it will become part of everyone’s condiment shelf in the near future. 

** Crave reached out to us and said this was more of a dessert sauce. We are going to try it again with this in mind. **

Coming soon...

Grubber Spotlight

At Garden State Grubber we not only want to help unveil the unknown local food institutions, but we want to try to spotlight products and small businesses that are working hard to achieve their culinary dreams. In 2013, we will be introducing our Grubber Spotlight feature, where we scour the area for products, people, and companies in your backyard that you need to know about.

Tani: Sushi Satisfaction

206 Rock Road  
Glen Rock, NJ 07452

Having the day off of work I set out to find a lunch special in the area that would satisfy my Sushi craving. I had remembered a few friends talking about Tani in Glen Rock and having positive things to say about the experience, so I set out on my lunch special excursion.

Upon arriving at Tani, the first thing one will notice is the modern décor of the restaurant. It is a very large space, and the ambiance is clean and inviting. I decided to sit at the sushi bar, and was promptly greeted by my waitress. With a variety of different lunch specials, I settled on the three-roll sushi lunch.

I was a little disappointed that I had to choose between soup or salad, but I chose the salad, because ginger dressing wins any tiebreaker that one may encounter. The salad was simple and refreshing, the ginger dressing was slightly creamier than most, but delightful nonetheless. 
My sushi rolls came shortly after. I had ordered the tempura shrimp roll, spicy tuna roll, and white tuna avocado roll. I feel the best compliment that you can pay a sushi restaurant is that it is fresh, and Tani was most definitely both fresh and delicious. The twelve-dollar price tag that accompanied my lunch made it a bargain as well.

Sushi should never be overcomplicated or made to mask the true flavor of the fish. Tani respects the quality of the ingredients rather than complicating them, and for that they will have our return business in the future. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Simply Vietnamese, Simply Uninspiring

Simply Vietnamese

Tenafly, NJ 07670     

On a cold, cloudy Sunday afternoon in January, post Zero Dark Thirty (which we highly recommend seeing, by the way), a sudden craving for Asian food came over us. In a town with quite a few restaurants covering all types of cuisines, we followed a friends advice and ventured to Simply Vietnamese. We have had Vietnamese food before and really enjoyed it, so we honestly had some high expectations going in. 

As we entered the restaurant, we noticed it was relatively empty with only a few other tables (sometimes not a good sign...). We picked a seat by the window and our waitress came over promptly with menus, water, and puffed rice cakes with a yummy dipping sauce. Looking over the menu, we decided to pick an appetizer, pho soup, and noodle dish.

Our meal started with an appetizer of vegetable summer rolls with a peanut dipping sauce. We really enjoyed that the vegetables inside of the rolls had different textures and flavors. Overall the summer rolls themselves were light and refreshing, and the sauce added some needed richness.
The broth of the spicy jerk beef "pho" (quotations on the menu...probably for a reason) was flavorful, with a definitive sweetness to it, but unfortunately was not spicy enough. They did provide jalapeños for added heat, but that does sacrifice a lot of the Pho flavor already in the broth naturally. A good beginner Pho for people looking to slowly work their way to the deep end of Vietnamese cuisine.  
The house noodles with vegetables were in a brown sauce that was tasty, but there were a lot of onions and not enough variety of vegetables. Unfortunately, it could have been a dish ordered from any general Asian restaurant. There was nothing special or out of the ordinary about it. Maybe this is what we get for ordering house noodles. 
Overall, Simply Vietnamese is good, but not great. The atmosphere is nothing extraordinary and definitely does not scream "Vietnamese". The service was all right and the food was pretty much run-of-the-mill. If you want to try Vietnamese food and are not that adventurous, it is a good place to start, but we will not be running back for more in the near future.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The adventure begins...

Have the next batch of restaurants that we will visit picked! Cannot wait to try some new food "gems" in the area. However, we are always up for suggestions, especially when traveling. After our visit we will tweet a brief review (follow @GrubNJ), before blogging a more detailed review of the food and experience here. We hope you are as excited as we are!