Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Restaurant, shopping and cooking notes

El Califa in Mexico City serves a wonderful taco al pastor. The ingredients include spit-roasted pork, fresh pineapple and a soft corn tortilla. They're served three to an order.

In Mexico, tacos are street food. Even in restaurants, such as El Califa in Mexico City, they are served simply -- your choice of meat or poultry in a soft corn tortilla with chopped onion and cilantro, and great hot sauces on the side.

At Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, fish, chicken or steak tacos are transformed into a meal. I joined two friends for lunch there Friday, and we ordered chicken and fish tacos, and enchiladas Suizas. (I didn't pay the bill, but recall each dish was around $11 or $12.)

My tender white fish had been marinated in achiote, orange and garlic and came with onions in a small skillet. I also got a wedge of lime, a small serving of creamed corn, another of smoky beans and a little red salsa. 

Larger bowls of herbed rice and refried beans, and a covered basket of warm tortillas were meant to be shared. We asked for a green salsa and some sour cream. 

I assembled my own tacos with the soft corn tortillas made in the dining room -- smearing some refried beans and sour cream on one, adding a little fish and onion, pouring on a salsa or two. One of my friends added rice to her chicken tacos. It was a satisfying lunch in a restaurant that makes just about everything from scratch.

Rosa Mexicano, 390 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack,
in The Shops at Riverside; 201-489-9100.

Gammiok in Fort Lee

On Saturday night, we stopped for dinner at Gammiok, the stylish Korean restaurant in Fort Lee.

Most Korean restaurants serve four or more complimentary side dishes with every meal, but Gammiok is different. 

It highlights its kimchi service -- cabbage and radish kimchi are brought to the table in a small vase and sauce comes in a separate container. The cabbage kimchi is cut with a scissors and placed on a plate with the radish kimchi, then the sauce is poured on top.

Gammiok also is alone in serving a basket of fresh, crunchy cabbage leaves and twisted, hot green peppers that aren't for the faint of heart.

Our appetizer was a thick, seafood and scallion pancake ($9.95) -- one of the non-spicy dishes on the menu -- that the waitress cut like a pizza.

Our entrees were comforting stone-bowl bibimbap ($13.95) -- steamed rice topped with vegetables, ground beef and a raw egg. I asked the waiter to hold the meat on mine, and fry all the eggs. 

You get a mildly spicy red sauce and a second sauce to pour on top before mixing all the ingredients together, making sure to scrape up bits from the bottom of the hot bowl. A wonderful meal.

For takeout, we ordered a container of Gammiok's cabbage kimchi ($7).

Gammiok Restaurant, 485 Main St., 
Fort Lee; 201-242-1333.

Littlenecks in Hackensack

Littlenecks, those well-known, wild-caught clams, were available on Sunday at the Costco in Hackensack, and they made a great appetizer for a dinner of crab cakes and baked potatoes.

The clams were $2.99 a pound, but came in a bag that weighed just over 5 pounds. That's a lot of shells, but a manageable amount of clams for two (my wife doesn't eat them).

Preparation couldn't be easier. Keeping them in the bag, I rinsed them briefly, then carefully emptied the live clams into a pot. I poured inexpensive Japanese sake over them, just to cover the bottom of the pot, turned up the heat and covered it. Wine white is just as good.

When the clams open, they release salty water to mix with the sake, and they're done. I eat mine with a spritz of fresh lemon juice, my son with hot sauce. Then, I drink a cup or two of the delicious sake broth. 

Also at Costco, I found salted Alaskan pollock, two pounds for $6.39, an inexpensive stand-in for salted cod. I hesitated to buy the pollock last week, because it is from China, which has a poor food-safety record, but I picked up some Sunday to try it.

King whiting

My wife found whole king whiting at the H Mart in Englewood last week for $3.99 a pound and asked the fish monger to clean and gut them and cut off the heads.

At home, she rolled the whole fish in flour and fried them. In a separate pot, she cooked sliced carrot, onion and hot peppers in vinegar and water, and poured the vegetables over the cooked fish.

That's called "escoveitch [of] fish" in the Caribbean.

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