Sunday, March 24, 2013

New York Style Cafe in Hoboken

Elysian Cafe
1001 Washington St. (10th St.)
Hoboken, NJ 07030

We have been told multiple times that we absolutely have to check out Amanda's in Hoboken, NJ. Although we have yet to find an excuse to check it out, last Sunday morning we were craving brunch. It was too late to make a reservation at Amanda's, so we decided to walk down the street to it's sister restaurant, Elysian Cafe. We were able to walk in and wait less than 10 minutes for a table. It is reminiscent of a trendy NYC cafe, the ceilings were beautiful, and the whole ambience was very welcoming and upscale.

One of us ordered the salmon eggs benedict, while the other ordered the croque madame, both with an order of pomme frites. We also ordered some afternoon cocktails to get into the full brunch mode; a mimosa and a Bloody Mary. When our entrees arrived the initial reaction were that they were extremely small; usually with breakfast/brunch you are given a reasonably sized portion. However, after tasting them, the problem was no longer that they were too small. 

The Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon was underwhelming. The english muffin tasted store bought, and was not thick enough to hold up to the flavors it was supporting. The smoked salmon was fine, and the egg was cooked perfectly, but the hollandaise sauce lacked seasoning and didn't harmoniously bond the dish together like most others. The pommes frites were the star of the dish, perfectly fried and seasoned well, but when the side is the star, the dish usually falls flat. 
The Croque Madame came out and looked pretty charred. Between the two pieces of bread were ham, gruyere, and a fried egg. We were excited for this upscale version of a ham, egg, and cheese, but this dish fell flat. The ham was sparse and the cheese, although delicious, was barely melted, which was surprising considering the bread was burnt. The flavor was, again, underwhelming. In the end with both dishes, our tastebuds were screaming for some seasoning, so we grabbed some pommes frites.
We had decided on Elysian Cafe through word of mouth and the fact that it's parent restaurant is Amanda's. Unfortunately, the food did not match the exquisite ambiance of this Hoboken brunch spot. We tend to judge breakfast and brunch a little harsher because there are truly so many great spots within a 15 mile radius to get both. In an ultra competitive area, where option are the least of your problems and you can throw a stone and hit a good restaurant, we simply cannot support Elysian Cafe being your first choice. 

Mexican Gem Hidden in Bogota

Riviera Maya

252 East Fort Lee Road
Bogota, NJ 07603

Craving Mexican food and unable to go to our new favorite spot in Hoboken, we searched desperately for another authentic Mexican food gem that's a bit more local for us. Riviera Maya is a quaint restaurant on a side street in Bogota. Their website describes take-out and delivery, so we were a little worried, but you don't find food gems by running scared!

We walked in and were seated right away. There's seating on one side of the restaurant and a chef in an open style kitchen on the other, so the space was filled with an aroma that makes your mouth water. We were immediately given chips and salsa, glasses of water, and offered table-side guacamole; we are not ones to say no to that! A few moments later, the waiter came over with a cart full of fresh ingredients and asked how spicy we wanted our guacamole. The chips, salsa, and guacamole were all delicious! There is a big difference when these simple items are made fresh, compared to when they come from a bag or a jar.
We started with two orders of tacos. Each order comes with three tacos; we picked one chicken, two barbacoa, and three of the special tacos that night, which were red snapper. Each order came with green sauce, lime, radishes, and grilled green onions. They were made with traditional corn tortillas and garnished with cilantro, onions, salsa. Simple, flavorful, and perfect. 

For our first main course we ordered chicken enchiladas. The two corn tortillas were filled with cheese, chicken, peppers, and onions and topped with melted cheese, pico de gallo, and sour cream. The dish was served with rice, black beans, lettuce, and guacamole. The enchiladas were not mushy and soaked in sauce and cheese as they sometimes are; the corn tortilla retained its texture and all of the components added to the overall flavor of the dish. Even the rice and beans were perfectly seasoned.
For our second main course we ordered chicken chimichangas. We don't usually order these because at most Mexican restaurant's they are extremely large, almost food challenge worthy dishes, with no flavor or substance. These two flour tortillas were filled with chicken, peppers and onions, and served with rice, and served with pinto beans, guacamole, and sour cream. The size of them were perfect and reminiscent of Chimichangas you would receive if ordering in Mexico. They were light and crispy on the outside, while the chicken was moist inside. 
Overall this place is the definition of a food gem. They serve authentic Mexican cuisine, the portions are perfectly sized, it is not overpriced, and it is not crowded with trendy people who are looking for mediocre Tex-Mex. The waiters are extremely attentive and knowledgable about the food. The restaurant is colorful, clean, and welcoming. We highly recommend taking a trip to Bogota to try this restaurant. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Persian Twists

Marjan Persian Grill

84 Speedwell Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960

After some necessary retail therapy at the Short Hills Mall, we headed to Marjan Persian Grill for a late lunch. The restaurant was about fifteen minutes away from the popular shopping mall. As a couple, we have developed a love and desire for Mediterranean food that fuels many of our foodie adventures. One of us may yearn for Thai, while the other of us is begging for Mexican, but we can always find common ground on one particular cuisine: Mediterranean. Whether you prefer a Greek restaurant or your favorite Turkish spot, one can always relish in the staples of Mediterranean cuisine, while respecting the subtle changes in each particular style. 

We started our lunch in typical fashion for us; a Shirazi salad and an order of Hummus. The salad was the usual chopped variety containing tomato, cucumber, and red onion. The feta cheese was creamy, and the acidity from the lemon in the dressing gave the salad the necessary tang to marry all of the ingredients. They were slightly heavy handed with the Sumac, if we were to have a critique that would probably be the only one, but we do understand that many people like that strong flavor. 

The hummus had a great nutty flavor, and the consistency was smooth and creamy throughout. We love turkish bread and hummus, but the Naan bread that accompanied the hummus was light, airy and a great companion. 
Since it was lunch, we decided to share an entree. We decided on the combination kebob platter, which included a Chicken Kebob, Kebob-e-Barg (Filet Mignon), Kabob-e-Kubideh (ground sirloin mixed beef and lamb). The Chicken Kebob was our favorite, it was tender and juicy, while the special seasoning had penetrated all the way through so the flavor was present throughout. The Kebob-e-Barg was extremely thin, it was slightly tough, but the taste of the marinade made up for it. The Kabob-e-Kubideh was moist, which is sometimes not the case with many ground kebobs. The ground lamb and sirloin had the perfect amount of fattiness to leave the meat succulent. We both got separate plates of basmati rice, which is always the perfect starchy element to tie together all the elements. 

Marjan was a perfect end to a relaxing sunday afternoon. We don't usually find ourselves in the area and are always excited to find food gems that are not directly in our backyard. Our waitress was attentive, and the restaurant was clean and very intimate. We can't wait to return and try more of what Marjan has to offer. It was an extremely satisfying culinary adventure to satisfy one of our most favorite and frequent food urges. 

Great Pizza, Just Across the Border

Mountain House

333 Rt 340
Sparkill, NY 10976

Although we are mainly a New Jersey food blogging couple, we sometimes like to venture across the border into our neighboring states to check out what they have to offer. Sparkill, New York is just 5 minutes out of Bergen County. We had heard from friends that if we like thin crust pizza, we absolutely had to check out Mountain House. They actually used to have a second location in Westwood, NJ, so we do not consider this straying too far from our home state. Driving up, the Mountain House is just that, a large, white house with an entrance from the parking lot into the dining room, and a front street entrance into the bar. We went on a weeknight so it was not too crowded and we were seated in a booth right away. The decor is very family friendly, and along with the amicable wait staff, made us feel very welcome.

The front of the menu is just pizza; from plain cheese to a garbage pie and everything in between, the options for pizza toppings are endless. Being just the two of us, we felt like we should not be too gluttonous and picked two medium pies. The inside of the menu contains salads, appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, and more. We were told the fried ravioli were fantastic, but we came here for the pizza, so we decided not to fill up on too many appetizers. To start, we ordered a house salad with house vinaigrette to share. The salad had an abundance of ingredients including tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, croutons, olives, and cheese. It was fresh and the perfect start to our meal.

The crust on both of the pizzas we ordered were perfectly crisp, the sauce deliciously sweet, and just the right amount of cheese to compliment the entire thing. The first of the two pizzas we ordered is the fresh tomato, garlic, and basil pie. This pie was amazing; the simplicity of the ingredients were justified by how perfectly they all worked together. The second pizza was a chicken fajita pie, the chicken was very well seasoned and had a tantalizing zing at then end. 

This year we are trying to find the "Best Pizza in New Jersey" and although the Mountain house is definitely worth the trip across state lines, for logistical reasons we will have to keep it out of contention. Mountain House was a great pizza experience, and for any thin crust aficionados a must stop for premium bar pies. 

Hoboken Leprecon

The Taco Truck & McSwiggans Pub
62 Newark Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030
110 1st Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030

Even though Hoboken no longer holds an annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, the festivities of drunk twenty somethings bar hopping on a Saturday in early March have not been stifled. This year the event occurred on an especially nice day. It was a pleasant, sunny walk from the Hoboken train station to the first bar we could find with the shortest line at 11:00 AM. Our group of friends ended up picking a bar just off Washington Avenue called McSwiggans Pub. It was not too crowded, but it had enough people around to have a great time! The bartenders were attentive and the drink specials were good.
Deciding to change scenery a few hours later, we strayed from our group of friends for some nourishment that did not include green beer and smoking shots. We had passed The Taco Truck store front on our walk over, and our walk back we found the actual truck. We ordered two kinds of tacos, Barbacoa de Costilla and Pollo Asado, both with guacamole, which yes, we know is extra. We found a nice bench to start eating our tacos. They were double wrapped in corn tortillas, just as they should be, and the salsa and guacamole on both were fresh and delicious. The shredded  beef and chicken were well-seasoned, and the lime-pickled onions on the chicken taco were a nice tangy addition. The cheese was a bit too salty and not as creamy as the queso fresco that we are accustomed to on tacos, but they were delicious none-the-less, and were a perfect food compliment to the drunken entertainment that surrounded us. Definitely check them out!