Monday, January 31, 2011

Pulled this way and that for dinner

Green Papaya - Lien Hung Asian Grocery AUD3.99Image by avlxyz via Flickr
A great Thai salad is made with long, pasta-like strands of green papaya.

When Saturday rolls around, we start asking each other where we want to go for our one dinner out each week.

This past Saturday, I had just read a mouth-watering article online about restaurants that serve chewy, hand-pulled Chinese noodles in soups and stir-fries, but I really didn't feel like driving into Manhattan. Then, I remembered that Lotus Cafe in Hackensack served hand-made noodles.

I also recalled the Cuban seafood restaurant we saw on Bergenline Avenue in West New York, and how much we wanted to try it. Again, that would take some driving.

When the discussion came up, I suggested we go to Lotus Cafe for noodles, but my 13-year-old son said he didn't want Chinese food. He had been wanting to return to our favorite Thai restaurant, Wondee's in Hackensack. In the interest of not arguing, I gave in.

We had a wonderful meal, of course. We ordered our usual: steamed shrimp & pork dumplings for my son and wife; wonton soup with roasted pork for my son, and spicy shrimp with lemon juice and button mushrooms for me and my wife.

We also ordered som thum -- a crunchy, green-papaya salad with lemon juice, green beans, tomato and ground peanuts and shrimp. 

Our entree was pla ma now -- a whole sea bass covered with minced chili peppers and garlic, and swimming in a spicy broth I love to spoon over steamed rice ($15.95). Wondee's has some of the lowest prices on fresh whole fish.

It was a great meal, as usual, and we took home a big can of shrimp chips from Thailand and one of the homemade desserts -- a coconut-milk custard -- from the display in the simply decorated dining room. Our total bill before the tip was $61.85, including the take-out items.

I called Lotus Cafe this morning and was told it no longer has someone to make noodles in-house, though I've found the noodle dishes there still taste terrific. 

So, I'm planning to hit a couple of those hand-pulled noodle places in the city on Sunday, when you don't have to feed the meters and can park just about anywhere.

Here is the link to The New York Times article on hand-made noodles, missing the usual list of addresses and telephone numbers (use Google to get that information):

The Long Pull of Noodle Making

Wondee's Fine Thai Food & Noodles, 296 Main St.; 
Hackensack; 201-883-1700. BYO. Parking in rear.

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack, 
in the Home Depot Shopping Center; 201-488-7070. BYO.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Do smart shoppers have to use coupons?

Grocery Coupons - Tearpad shelf display of cou...Image by via Flickr

I keep on reading newspaper stories about all the money I could save if I just clipped coupons and took them to the supermarket with me. Morning TV shows report on Web sites where I can print out coupons for even greater savings.

Sure, I've looked over the coupons delivered with my newspaper, but I usually can't find any for the food my family eats. 

Hey, there's Chef Guy Fieri selling his soul for Ritz Crackers. To save $1, all I have to do is buy two boxes of a cracker that isn't part of my diet.

Here are coupons for Pillsbury Crescent Dinner Rolls (Pizza) or Savorings (whatever they are), Chex Mix, Snickers Ice Cream Cake, Pagoda Express Egg Rolls and Wontons, Tyson mystery Crispy Chicken Strips and Tostito Chips and Dip.

I have never tried any of this highly processed food, and I'm not about to start now, just to save money. 

I also found coupons for two fast-food places I don't patronize: Blimpie, which offers sandwiches stuffed with preservative-laden cold cuts, and Boston Market, which serves mystery chicken dinners and side dishes.

Vintage Grocery Coupon BookImage by HA! Designs - Artbyheather via Flickr

Now, here are two coupons I'll take to the store: $2 off Method, a 50-load, plant-based, ultra-concentrated detergent that promises to deliver the same beautifully clean clothes as the petroleum-based stuff in those big plastic jugs; and 40 cents off any size package of Wacky Mac pasta, which is made from beets, tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables.

But where are the coupons for such high quality food as smoked wild-caught salmon, 100% whole grain bread, organic or antibiotic-free chicken, organic ground beef, fresh fish, organic spring mix, herbicide-free tomatoes and on and on (all of which I buy at Costco).

Do I have to settle for processed or conventionally raised food to save money with coupons? 

Or do the low prices and high quality at Costco -- and the cash rebate that more than covers the membership fee -- make more sense? Costco doesn't accept store coupons, but issues its own coupons about five times a year.

ShopRite has its Can Can Sale for stocking up on canned and other goods, and offers drug-free chicken, beef and lamb, too. Often, you can buy free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia for $5.99 a pound or less, and all you need is a store card, not a coupon.

At Whole Foods, I try to buy items when they are on sale, including organic pasta from Italy and vegetarian meat loafs made from whole grain. I've also found bottles of red wine there for about $5. This week, extra-virgin olive oil sold under the Fairway Market label in Paramus is on sale for $4.99 a liter, an excellent price, and you don't need a coupon. 

And there are plenty of deals at H Mart, the chain of Korean supermarkets in Bergen County that doesn't accept store coupons. The fresh fish selection is tremendous.

We eat a lot of sardines -- in salads, mixed with other canned fish, and with rice and pasta -- and I have never found a lower price -- with or without a coupon -- than the 99-cent beauties from Morocco at Fattal's Bakery in Paterson, where I buy two dozen cans at a time (not skinless and boneless). Sahara Fine Foods, a Middle Eastern grocery in Hackensack, also stocks them.

I've also found coupons on the Web sites of the products I buy, including Organic Valley. Earthbound Farm and other companies will send you a cash card or coupons if you write them an e-mail about their product.

For example, when the organic spring mix I bought at Costco rotted before its use-by date, Earthbound Farm sent me a $10 Costco gift card. The product costs under $5.

But when I e-mailed Finlandia cheese about inconsistent slices in thin-sliced Swiss I bought at Costco, I received store coupons that essentially didn't make economic sense to use, because ShopRite and other supermarkets charge about twice as much per pound of sliced cheese than the warehouse store.

Since I stopped eating meat nearly a year ago, I have been spending more and more of my food dollars at Costco, where I can find such gourmet items as lobster ravioli and smoked wild salmon; lobster bisque and king crab soup; a wide array of fresh and frozen seafood; cheeses from around the world; and organic or herbicide-free produce. 

Plus, the two credit cards I use provide me with hundreds of dollars in rebates every year on food, gasoline and other purchases. 

Google Search Coupon: 1 FREE Google SearchImage by Bramus! via Flickr

I'm going to take a look at some of the coupon Web sites and see if they have anything to offer.

One thing I will not do is compromise my standards for the ingredients that go into our home-cooked meals or start eating a lot of processed foods just to save money.

We live to eat -- and we eat well. That won't change.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shopper stands up for her rights

ShopRite (United States)Image via Wikipedia

I met a River Edge woman who recounted how she made ShopRite executives honor a low price on Progresso soup during the 40th anniversary Can Can Sale that ended recently.

The supermarket chain was selling 10 19-ounce cans of Progresso soup for $10 -- or $1 each -- but shoppers were required to clip and bring in a coupon, as well as present a store card.

The woman purchased lass than 10 cans and they rang up at $1.19 each. She pointed out the coupon didn't say shoppers must buy 10 to get the deal. Store executives were unmoved.

She said it took a good deal of work, including calls to consumer agency officials, to get the Paramus store to honor the coupon, but eventually, she was able to buy five more cans of the soup for $1 each. Good for her.

Free-range beef on sale

The ShopRite sales flier that came with the paper today is offering free-range, grass-fed beef from Australia for $5.99 a pound with a Price Plus Card ($7.99 a pound without the card).

The whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon usually weighs four to seven pounds and requires trimming. But you can cut into small steaks or thin slices for marinating in Korean sauce, grilling on the stove top and eating wrapped in red-lettuce leaves with garlic, rice and other garnishes.

The Australian beef -- sold under the Nature's Reserve label -- is raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. There is a limit of one package during the sale, which runs from Sunday (Jan. 30) until next Saturday.

Also on sale is Barilla pasta at 77 cents each, with a limit of four. That's less than during the Can Can Sale, when $4 bought you three packages and $10 bought you nine packages.

I was looking for a Fairway Market (Paramus) flier in today's paper, but didn't find one.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

A visit to Costco makes me giddy

CostcoImage via Wikipedia

The many empty parking spaces close to the entrance welcomed me. I was the second customer at the photo counter. Aisles were empty. I didn't have to wait on a line to order an 18-inch pizza for dinner or pick up a berry smoothie for my wife.

Yes. This was Costco in Hackensack this morning, about 30 minutes after its 10 a.m. opening. A store that is often so crowded you think it is giving stuff away was civilized for a change. Even the sun was shining.

 Encountering a woman in one of the aisles, I asked her, "Have you every seen Costco so empty?" She replied, "No. But it's wonderful." And both of us laughed heartily.

What was I doing in Costco the morning after a major snowstorm? 

Well, my wife and I got out early to clear the driveway, sidewalk and walk, and I needed a few things, including an 18-inch vegetable pizza from Costco ($9.95). It's big enough for lunch and dinner. The berry smoothie is $1.45, plus tax.

And I wanted more Kirkland-brand organic chicken stock to make the recipe for tortellini soup on the back of each carton ($10.99 for six quarts).

I also wanted to develop photographs in my digital camera, including several I took this morning of the winter-wonderland scenes around my home. They were ready in 15 minutes, compared to the usual one-hour wait.

Besides the chicken stock, I found Lucini-brand marinara sauce with roasted garlic ($4.97 for three, 13.5-ounce pouches); Cabot sliced cheddar cheese ($6.99 for two pounds); fresh strawberries, ($5.99 for two pounds); and Vlasic Farms sour pickle spears made with sea salt ($3.35 for a 62-ounce jar).
Costco Wholesale, 80 S. River St., Hackensack; open seven days.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The best dumpling is a tasty dumpling

Plate of MandoosImage by su-lin via Flick
Fried Korean dumplings served with two sauces.

Who doesn't like Korean dumplings or mandoo?

They're filled with beef, shrimp or vegetables -- sometimes in combination -- and they're a tasty appetizer for a Korean restaurant meal. 

But if you live in North Jersey, you can buy these wonderful dumplings at Best Dumplings in downtown Englewood, the successor to Mandoo Inc., which opened about 16 years ago down a pothole-filled street in the city's industrial section. 

They are fully cooked, so we steam them from frozen for 10 to 15 minutes and serve them with soy sauce or a dumpling sauce you can get at any Korean or Japanese supermarket. Almost any sauce that contains soy sauce will do or you can choose a spicy Korean red-pepper sauce or paste. 

They also can be pan fried or deep fried or added to soup.

We use a large, metal steamer, but line it with a paper towel to prevent the dumplings from sticking. When they are done, you can lift the paper towel and dumplings out of the steamer and put them on a plate for serving.

I stopped at Best Dumplings on Tuesday, when I had to fill a prescription at the ShopRite in Englewood, and learned a few things. 

I wanted non-meat dumplings, but a young woman who works there said the freezer bags labeled "kimchi" and "leek" contain dumplings that are made with a little beef. 

She pointed to a piece of paper on the wall with the ingredients of each dumpling sold there. She said over the phone today none of the dumplings contain pork.

I bought three freezer bags of dumplings -- vegetable, shrimp with broccoli and shrimp with vegetable. Each bag contains at least four dozen 3-inch-long dumplings. My bill came to $41 or about 28 cents for each dumpling. 

Best Dumplings, 16 Humphrey St., Englewood; 201-568-9337.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Finding food in an unlikely place

Icelandic LighthouseImage by via Flickr
Thin fillets of fresh flounder from Iceland bake quickly in the oven.

Judging from the TV ads, you wouldn't expect to find food, cookware, drinking glasses and other items for your kitchen at Marshalls, but a visit to the store at the Bergen Town Center in Paramus on Monday turned up a few bargains.

I took home two, 13-ounce jars of blueberry preserves, made with sugar, packed in "European drinkware," in other words, a reusable tumbler, for $3.99 each. An 11.3-ounce jar of walnuts and honey from Italy was $5.

I looked at a lot of other stuff, including extra-virgin olive oil and vinegars; plates, drinking glasses and pots, but either the prices were too high or they were imperfect. I did buy two small bath mats (white) for $7.99 and $9.99.

The bounty at Costco

My next stop was Costco in Hackensack, where I bought:
  • Gala apples from Washington State, 5.5 pounds for $5.99, with $1-off coupon.
  • Three pounds of broccoli florets, $4.99.
  • Two pounds of small cucumbers, $5.49.
  • One pound of Earthbound Farm organic spring mix, $4.79.
  • Two pounds of Campari tomatoes, $5.49.
  • Fresh, wild-caught flounder fillets from Iceland, $7.29 a pound.
  • Coleman-brand organic, skinless and boneless chicken thighs, $3.99 a pound.
  • Ten cans of Healthy Choice soup, $5.89, with $3.50-off coupon.

For dinner, my wife breaded the thin flounder fillets in a chili-spice mixture we keep in the fridge and baked them at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, without turning them.

Our side dish was spinach penne with anchovies, garlic, grated cheese and wilted organic spinach.

You can find a recipe for the penne (Caesar's salad pasta) at the following link:

A good week for food shopping
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

We brake for soft-tofu restaurants

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
A video shows how one Korean home cook makes soft-tofu stew (see link below).

Was it my idea to look around for a soft-tofu restaurant that offers better food and service than the second-floor tofu house in Palisades Park that has served us so many satisfying meals in recent years?

We tried Gamasot Restaurant in Fort Lee last April and Book Chang Dong in Palisades Park this month. On Saturday, we waded into the crowded dining room at So Kong Dong in Fort Lee -- and found it differs from our favorite, So Gong Dong, in more than how the second word is spelled.

The Fort Lee restaurant is where I first tried this Korean comfort food six or seven years ago, but I stopped going there after receiving terrible service on a night when the place was packed. I just happened to be comparing So Gong Dong and So Kong Dong for an article on inexpensive restaurants in The Record.

There is conflicting information on whether So Kong Dong and So Gong Dong are affiliated, but the well-dressed woman at the register Saturday evening said they don't have the same owner. I've heard from Korean friends that So Gong Dong is a section of Seoul where soft-tofu houses predominate. 
Both interiors resemble traditional inns, but the Fort Lee restaurant has a showcase of beautiful Korean dolls. It is popular with families, and on Saturday, it filled up quickly between 5 and 6 p.m., and people were waiting for tables.

So Kong Dong offers a variety of soft-tofu stews, steamed rice, five side dishes, a fresh egg and tea for $9, including tax, $1 less than its Palisades Park rival. But if the small parking lot is filled, as it was on Saturday evening, you have to pay 50 cents for one hour of parking in the municipal lot across the street.

I liked the taste of my soft-tofu stew with oysters, which I ordered "very hot (spicy)," but it wasn't bubbling as furiously as I prefer for cooking the fresh egg. My wife and son said their pork version didn't taste as good as at our favorite place. 

They also ordered "Korean BBQ ribs" ($14.99), the same price for what the Palisades Park restaurant lists as "prime beef."

Fort Lee doesn't offer Korean dumplings (mandoo) or a rice-flour seafood pancake (pajun) that you'll find in Pal Park for about $10 each. The dining room of the former and the wait staff both seem smaller. Portions at both places are the same, and both are BYO.

Fort Lee serves one more side dish or panchan and that's a delightful, mildly spicy water kimchi. The others are the same at both places -- cabbage and cucumber kimchis, bean sprouts and spicy raw squid. 

Both places uses a beef or beef-bone broth, although I came across a You Tube video showing a woman making a seafood-vegetable broth at home (see link below).

So, our favorite soft-tofu restaurant remains on top. We plan to revisit Gamasot in Fort Lee soon, and that should do it.

So Kong Dong Restaurant, 130 Main St., Fort Lee; 201-585-1122.
Restaurant So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, 
Palisades Park; 201-313-8900.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

One street's rich ethnic stew

Bergenline Avenue, West New York (2008)Image by via Flickr
Bergenline Avenue is lined with a rich variety of ethnic restaurants and markets.

I drove to West New York today to drop off photos I took of Belarmino Rico and his sons at La Pola, where I picked up a traditional Cuban Christmas dinner the day before the holiday.

Rico, a native of Spain who describes himself as "King of the Cuban Sandwich," served soup to me and my wife to ward off the day's chill. My wife had chicken soup and I enjoyed caldo Gallego, the Galician white-bean soup made with potato, collard green, chorizo and ham (I ate around the meat).

First, we visited the West New York Post Office on Bergenline Avenue to see a circa 1930s mural showing eight or nine people enjoying a beautiful day from atop the Palisades, with the Empire State Building and the rest of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

Then, we walked and drove along Bergenline, which has an incredible variety of ethnic restaurants and markets. At a Latino supermarket, we picked up the root vegetable called yuca, which we'll boil and eat with La Pola's garlic sauce, the one that moistens every Cuban sandwich sold there.

In the space of about 15 blocks in West New York and Guttenberg, we saw Peruvian restaurants and a Cuban seafood place, an Italian trattoria, a Japanese restaurant; Las Palmas, another Cuban restaurant with addictive chicharrones or pork rinds; Pollo Campero, a popular fast-food, fried-chicken restaurant that originated in Guatemala; and Jerusalem Bakery.

We're planning a return visit soon to sample the restaurants we haven't tried yet.  

La Pola, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 201-867-6028.
Las Palmas, 6153 Bergenline Ave., West New York; 201-861-1400.
Pollo Campero, 6425 Bergenline Ave., West New York, 201-662-6190.
Jerusalem Bakery, 6901 Bergenline Ave., Guttenberg; 201-868-2253.

Costco v. ShopRite

My wife picked up four 2-pound packages of salted pollack, the fish we have been using instead of pricier cod for her Jamaican breakfast of ackee and salt fish, in which the bland fruit serves as the  perfect foil for a strong, flaky fish and hot peppers.

Costo's price is $6.39 a package, or about $3.20 a pound, compared to $4.99 a pound for salted pollack at ShopRite. Salted cod at ShopRite is $9.99 a pound. 

More Can Can Sale

I continue to shop the 40th anniversary Can Can Sale at ShopRite, but it is losing its allure now that I've stocked up on Adirondack seltzer, Progresso soup, Air Wick air freshener and White Rain shampoo.

Many things I usually buy are not on sale, including canned Alaskan red salmon and imported olive oil, sparking 100% juice and other items from Italy and Spain sold under the ShopRite name.

At the Palisades Park ShopRite on Wednesday, I bought a package of ShopRite lemon-flavored lady fingers from Italy that go great with espresso for $2.99 (six dozen).

Loose garlic was $3.99 a pound and a net bag of garlic from China was $2.99, but weighed only about 6 ounces. I bought elephant garlic for $3.49. Marked 3 ounces, it weighed twice that.

The best buy I found on extra-virgin olive oil was a three-liter tin from Greece for $15.99 (Kalamata brand). 

Three-culture breakfast

I've been trying to eat filling breakfasts since I cut down drastically on bread, which I once enjoyed three or four times a day.

On Tuesday, I plated leftover ackee and salt fish, stewed tofu in red pepper sauce from H Mart, and homemade fava-bean salad and warmed them in the microwave. Then, I fried an organic brown egg in extra-virgin olive oil, sunny side up, and slid it on top of that trio. It was  just wonderful -- even without bread.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pots, frankincense and myrrh

Frankincense olibanum resinImage via Wikipedia
Frankincense pellets. Can myrrh be far behind?

My wife returned from Jamaica on Friday night, her suitcase filled with food, frankincense and myrrh. She said she told the customs officer what she had in her suitcase -- cooked king fish fillets, the fruit called ackee, sugar cane and other goodies -- and he didn't even bother opening it.

The frankincense and myrrh? According to the Web site, "How Stuff Works," they are dried tree resins. My wife bought three small envelopes in a Montego Bay store, under an ounce each, for a total of about  three dollars, and she dissolves the mixed resin pellets in hot water to make a biblical tea. 

What are frankincense & myrrh 

Ackee fruitImage via Wikipedia
The ripe ackee fruit. Add salted cod for the Jamaican national dish.

Pot-cleaning woes

I've been replacing most of my non-stick cookware with Calphalon triple-ply, stainless-steel pots after I became concerned about the non-stick coatings getting into my cooked food. 

For the same reason, I never microwave leftovers in plastic containers; I always plate the food first and cover it with a paper towel, not plastic wrap, lest chemicals that make the wrap pliable, called plasticizers, get into my food.

Now, I've found the stainless-steel pots are difficult to clean. The interior of one of them, in particular, remains splotchy and appears unclean after I use a non-scratch scrub sponge and dish-washing liquid.

My wife used this pot to boil out the salt of dried pollack (also spelled pollock) for the breakfast dish called ackee and salt fish, and it left a ring at water level that required hours of soaking before we could get it off. Still, the interior bottom remained splotchy and required a second cleaning the next day.

I e-mailed Calphalon customer service today, hoping for a resolution and maybe replacement of the pot. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

When shopping competing sales, don't forget to take a calculator

Poland Spring Water on sale at ShopRite in October 2015.


Just when I thought ShopRite's 40th anniversary sale ended on Saturday, a newspaper flier heralded a second week of bargains -- through Jan. 22. But I also discovered that some of the items offered during the Can Can Sale aren't good buys at all.

We stopped buying bottled water more than a year ago and started using reusable bottles for home-filtered water.

But we decided three 24-packs of Poland Spring water at the ShopRite in Englewood for the Can Can price of $10 was a good deal (my wife likes to keep bottles of water in her car trunk).

When she came home, I used a calculator to figure out each 16.9-ounce bottle cost us nearly 14 cents -- far more than the same bottle at Costco, where we shop every week.

On the same trip, my wife bought three,18-ounce plastic bottles of White Rain shampoo for 59 cents each, reduced from 99 cents.

One-stop shopping

At one store Friday morning, I picked up two polo shirts ($12.99 each), a mixed bouquet of flowers to welcome my wife home from a trip ($14.99) and lots of terrific food at great prices: 

Dungeness crab, Black Tiger prawns, canned anchovies, organic spring mix, herbicide-free tomatoes, organic spinach and Tropicana orange juice. 

Will Costco Wholesale in Hackensack ever become the only store I have to visit?

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

A second bite of Sik Gaek Seafood Grill

At the Korean Grill RestaurantImage by vasta via Flickr

If you're a jazz fan, you might think of "Jumpin' at The Woodside" during your visit to Sik Gaek BBQ & Seafood Grill in the Woodside section of Queens, but that tune by the Count Basie Orchestra would be drowned out by the loud, pulsing Korean and American rock that gives this restaurant such energy.

Let me be quick to say we didn't see customers eating live, wriggling octopus tentacles -- a signature dish at this Sik Gaek and the original in Flushing, as you can see in a You Tube video by clicking on the Web site link below.

I've even read customer reviews on the Internet that describe a live octopus thrown on a seasoned hot plate to make it "dance" or "jump."

My son and I stuck to conventional seafood and had a delicious meal, but we ordered way too much and took home plenty of leftovers. The turn-off here might be the obscene lyrics of some of the American hip-hop songs, not the all-out, red-pepper assault on your senses. 

We love spicy food, so we ordered everything hot and weren't disappointed. My sniffles were drowned out by the loud music as my paper napkins piled up at the side of the table.

Right after we were seated, a server turned on the gas burner in the middle of the table and fried us two eggs, over easy. After we placed our order, we got a plate of spicy rice cakes and an egg souffle commonly served in Korean barbecue restaurants. 

Still, I had to ask for kimchi, and it wasn't as good as the fermented cabbage we loved at the Flushing restaurant. 

Our first entree was barbecued mackerel -- a whole, butterflied fish about a food long and slathered with a thick, spicy sauce ($14.99). The fish was moist, with crunchy bits at each end. My son ordered stir-fried crabs and a pot of them in the same sauce was placed over the burner ($29.99).

I sucked on a few shells and legs, but my son was delighted and able to find some crab meat. 

It was clear we couldn't finish the fish or crabs, so we asked a waitress for some rice, and she came over, spooned out the crabs and stir-fried cooked rice, vegetables and what I think were small cubes of cooked octopus into the spicy sauce  ($4.99).

The few spoonfuls I could manage to eat were fantastic. Our meal ended with refreshing cups of cucumber juice.

The Woodside Sik Gaek is a smaller than the Flushing location, but the shouted greetings and farewells from the staff are no less enthusiastic, the menu is the same and it's easier to get into. Sik Gaek offers $99 pots of mixed seafood if you come with a group.

When we arrived, we pushed and pulled on the door between the vestibule and dining room, but it didn't budge until a waiter came over and slid it open. The restaurant is next to a taxi garage, in the shadow of the elevated subway tracks, in a neighborhood of Irish pubs and taco joints.

The walls in Woodside are covered with newspaper pages, photos of customers and staff, and dollar bills covered with Korean and English writing. I saw, "So hot" and below that, "Go for it."  

Sik Gaek BBQ & Seafood Grill, 49-11 Roosevelt Ave. 
(near 49th Street), Woodside, Queens; 718-205-4555. Also,
161-29 Crocheron Ave., Flushing, Queens; 718-321-7770.
Web site: 

Anthony Bourdain and David Chang eat wriggling octopus

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Returning to Galapagos

GalapagosImage via Wikipedia
The Galapago Islands are the inspiration for an Ecuadorian restaurant in Hackensack.

I had breakfast again at Galapagos Restaurant in Hackensack, this time ordering the bolon I saw another customer eating on Tuesday.

What I thought was a mound is actually a ball of green plantains and a crumbly white cheese that are deep fried and served with a piquant, chopped salad of tomato, red onion and cilantro.

It's a little smaller than a softball, and makes a tasty and filling breakfast. I asked for mine without the usual pork. You also can get it with eggs or rice and beans on the side.

I was liberal with the homemade and bottled Mexican hot sauces on the counter. 

The bill was $4, but I forgot cash and the restaurant only accepts credit cards for meals of $10 or more, so the owner asked me to return with the money later today.

I'm planning to go for dinner with my wife and son and try a seafood rice dish that looks like an Ecuadorian paella.

Galapagos Restaurant, 222 Main St., Hackensack; 201-342-2222.
Accepts credit cards, $10 minimum.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Korean restaurants battle for our loyalty

Bibimbap, a Korean dishImage via Wikipedia
Stone-bowl bibimbap can be ordered with a cooked egg on top and without meat.

At the end of next month, it will be a full year since my family gave up eating meat and poultry, and ramped up our consumption of fish and seafood. In that time, we've only eaten at Korean restaurants that offer such non-meat dishes as soft-tofu stew and a rice-and-vegetable combination called bibimbap.

Korean restaurants in North Jersey come and go, but new ones seem to appear all the time, especially on Broad Avenue and other streets in Palisades Park, which has a high concentration of Korean-Americans. 

I visited the ShopRite there the other day and saw two restaurants and a 24-hour spa west of Grand Avenue that I never knew existed.

I'll have to try them, I said to myself. 

If you avoid the mystery meat served in Korean barbecue restaurants, you're in for a healthy and inexpensive meal -- tofu, seafood, rice and uncooked vegetable side dishes, including kimchi and bean sprouts. And there are some dishes that aren't spicy or which can be adjusted to be as hot or as mild as you want. 

Book Chang Dong

This full-service Korean restaurant replaced a Korean-owned Vietnamese restaurant. Before that, it was a soft-tofu restaurant I visited a number of times for lunch. The interior, including the worn wooden floor, has seen better days.

But Book Chang Dong is the only place I know in Palisades Park that says it uses organic tofu and rice from seed that hasn't been genetically modified.

As at So Gong Dong -- the second-floor soft-tofu restaurant on Broad Avenue we favor most -- a meal of soft-tofu stew, fresh egg to cook in the boiling broth, rice and side dishes is $9.99, but here tax is not included. The stew is offered in more variations, though. My son is eating meat again and chose ox tail, I went for seafood.

We loved the stew, but thought the portion was slightly smaller than at So Gong Dong. We also liked the cabbage kimchi, but not the bland cucumber kimchi. And we got one more side dish here (five instead of four.)

The standout was the rice-flour pancake of seafood and scallions served on a round stone plate. It was bigger, thicker and crispier than the one at the rival restaurant, but it cost more ($16.99 v. $9.99) and came to the table unsliced. 

Book Chang Dong, 520 Bergen Boulevard, Palisades Park; 201-585-9515.

Rib-sticking breakfast

After I dropped off my car for service at Toyota of Hackensack this morning, I walked up to Main Street for breakfast at Galapagos Restaurant, which offers typical Ecuadorian food and a beautiful wall painting of the Galapagos Islands.

I chose scrambled eggs with corn (mote pillo solo), actually oversized kernels of hominy also used in a Mexican soup called pozole. I asked the cook to make the eggs with oil, not butter, and to hold the fried meat. Instead of french fries, I got rice and beans on the side.

The scramble was bland, but improved greatly when I added homemade hot sauce with chopped onion and cilantro that was on the table. The bill was $6, including two cups of black coffee.

When I asked what another customer was eating, an employee said it was a large mound of green plantains with cheese and pork called bolon, but that it could be made without pork.

Galapagos Restaurant, 222 Main St., Hackensack; 201-342-2222.
Accepts credit cards, $10 minimum.

Ethnic food at Costco

I picked to three jumbo Korean pears -- a crisp fruit that is a cross between a pear and an apple -- for about $2.15 each at Costco in Hackensack. 

Four vegetarian meals from Kitchens of India were about $1.65 each for 10-ounce pouches: curries of red kidney beans, black gram lentils and chick peas, and spinach with cottage cheese and sauce.

Are signs too small?

Are the price signs at ShopRite too small? At the Hackensack and Palisades Park supermarkets, I thought DeCecco pasta was on sale during the 40th anniversary Can Can Sale for 99 cents, down from $1.50, and in Pal Park, I thought a dozen cans of Adirondack seltzer were $1.60, compared to the normal sale price of $1.99.

But DeCecco pasta was $1.50 -- a savings of 99 cents -- my receipt said. The seltzer was $1.99 -- a savings of $1.60 -- but the store was out of it.  I got a rain check for four packs at $1.60, though. I also returned the pasta for a refund.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hitting the jackpot at the Can Can Sale

Can Can DancersImage by lu_lu via Flickr
You'll search in vain for can can dancers at ShopRite supermarkets.

After dropping my son off at a friend's house in Englewood on Sunday morning, I stopped at the ShopRite in pursuit of more bargains during the supermarket chain's 40th anniversary Can Can Sale.

Ten portions of Swiss Miss hot chocolate were only 88 cents. Even Readington Farms chicken -- raised on vegetarian feed and without antibiotics -- was on sale. I bought wings, leg quarters and drumsticks, saving $1.33, 99 cents and 76 cents, respectively.

I saw Laporta-brand artisanal pasta from Italy for $1.79, a discount of $1.29, and bought two different kinds, each in a 1.1-pound package. But looking at my receipt after I checked out, I saw each package rang up at the regular price of $2.99.

I went to the customer service counter and an employee took one package of the pasta and went to check the sign on the shelf. He returned and refunded me $5.98 on my credit card. So, I got the pasta for free. 

The Can Can Sale ends Jan. 15. 

ShopRite, 40 Nathaniel Place, Englewood; 201-816-8322.
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Sunday, January 9, 2011

There is no filleting these fish

ShopRite (United States)Image via Wikipedia

On the way home from dinner in Palisades Park on Saturday night, I stopped to check out the Can Can Sale at the ShopRite, which is a couple of blocks off Grand Avenue. 

Inside the store, I was astounded by a huge, standalone fish tank filled with several large, exotic specimens. Obviously, these beautiful fish aren't for sale.

A boy and a girl were as fascinated as I was, and told me the tank once held a blower fish. Sure enough, on one side of what I think is a six-sided tank, there is a color photo of a large, spiny fish, maybe not a blower, but impressive, nonetheless.

Two of the fish were about four feet long. Others were smaller. Quite a conversation speech, and no ShopRite or any other supermarket I can think of in North Jersey has anything like it.

More Can Canning

I picked up three, 25-ounce jars of Silver Palate pasta sauce (tomato-basil, vodka and marinara) for $2.99 each, compared with the regular price of $4.99.

I also bought two cans of Progresso soup for $1.19 each and two Air Wick air fresheners for 65 cents each. Kozy Shack's terrific rice pudding six-pack was $2.99 or 25 cents off.

I got a rain check for four dozen cans of Adirondack seltzer at $1.60 each -- 30 cents less than the Can Can price at the ShopRite in Hackensack.

ShopRite, 201 Roosevelt Place, Palisades Park; 201-461-0219.
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Korean supermarket comes to town

Fort Lee, New JerseyImage via Wikipedia
Fort Lee, which is filled with Asian restaurants, now boasts two Korean supermarkets.

Han Nam Mart employees in red jackets were still putting price tags on grocery items and shelves Thursday, but this new Korean supermarket in Fort Lee is open for business.

This first Han Nam Mart in North Jersey is not to be confused with H Mart -- formerly Han Ah Reum -- the dominant Korean chain with four stores in Bergen County. 

The new supermarket, which has scheduled a grand opening for Jan. 27, is in the Plaza West Shopping Center just off Route 46.

This is a big space, formerly a Pathmark, but there are smaller selections of fish, produce and prepared Korean food than at H Mart, and far more American grocery items. I looked at some, such as canned red salmon and mixed berry jam made with sugar, and prices are higher than at ShopRite.

For example, Barilla pasta was two for $3, compared with three for $4 or nine for $10 during the Can Can Sale at ShopRite. Stem tomatoes from Texas were $1.49 a pound at Han Nam Mart. The new store carries a good selection of Arirang-brand kimchi from Englewood.

I bought a three-pound jar of peeled ginger in water for $1.99, the first time I've seen this convenience item. Organic jumbo brown, cage-free eggs were $2.29 a dozen. Lactaid organic 2% milk was $3.99 for a half-gallon -- cheaper than the same milk from Organic Valley.

Enoki mushrooms were 40 cents for an estimated four-ounce package. I bought five, and for a dinner side dish, I sauteed the spaghetti-like mushrooms in olive oil with a little salt until they were hot.

Whole fresh whiting was $3.99 a pound, and I bought two one-pounders for dinner Friday night.

I saw several shelves without price tags, and I couldn't find much prepared food, including the stewed tofu with red-pepper paste and stewed Alaskan pollock with hot peppers I usually get at H Mart.

At checkout, I used two reusable grocery bags, but received no credit for them, as I do at H Mart.

When I am in Fort Lee, I find the newest H Mart near Route 4 more convenient than this new supermarket if I want greens, fresh fish and prepared Korean food. 

I live in Hackensack, and a bigger H Mart in Little Ferry, one of my favorite stores, isn't far from the Hackensack ShopRite and Costco.

Han Nam Mart, 1475 Bergen Boulevard, Fort Lee; 201-224-0036.
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