Friday, April 8, 2011

Dining out on four courses for only $10

Habanero chile - flower with fruit (aka)Image via Wikipedia
The Habanero pepper is one of the hottest in the world.

You won't find this fine-dining restaurant in one of North Jersey's recession-ravaged downtowns or in a mall sandwiched between P.F. Chang's and Maggiano's Little Italy.

The service could be snappier, but all of the food we had at dinner on Thursday night was well-prepared and delicious -- from a sweet roasted-corn soup to a Boston lettuce salad to a terrific fish fillet in a coconut-Habanero sauce.

When we asked for the check, I saw $19 written on it for two meals, with no tax added, and left a $20 bill.

Welcome to The Bergen Room Restaurant on the campus of Bergen Community College in Paramus, where students in the restaurant, hotel and culinary program welcome the public, cook, wait on tables, and wash pots and pans -- all under the supervision of a restaurant veteran.

Thursday's meal was a "Taste of Latin Cuisine," and the food was a sophisticated version of the many Hispanic dishes I've enjoyed here and in the Caribbean.

My wife started with the thick corn soup and I chose an appetizer described on the menu as an "open empanada" -- a large green-plantain disc topped with pureed spinach and manchego cheese. Both were wonderful.
Donald Del Nero, an associate professor who stopped by our table a few time, said the broth for the soup came from cooking the cobs.

Refreshing salads of Boston leaf lettuce and frisee in a mango dressing followed. Rolls were studded with pumpkin seeds.

We both chose the same entree -- a farmed basa fillet in a mild coconut-Habanero sauce, served over yuca fries. A spicy, fresh mango salsa was served on the side. The tasty fillet is in the plant-eating catfish family.

(Recipe 1/2) Making Fish (Basa) dinner - pix 6/7Image by k-ideas via Flickr
Basa is a type of catfish native to Vietnam.
Also offered was a roasted chicken breast with "charred pineapple and red-chile sauce over cilantro-lime rice and black beans."

We're not dessert eaters, but my wife sampled two -- an ice cream parfait and a "flourless chocolate with saffron custard." I was stuffed without dessert, having left some of my fries on the plate.

At these prices, why complain? But we had some minor problems -- weak lemonade and coffee,  tasteless tomatoes with the salad, and yuca fries that could have been hotter. 

The surroundings couldn't be any drabber or more institutional, and a short in the speakers deprived us of music in the dining room, which is next to a large, professional kitchen.

Getting a reservation wasn't easy and seating is limited. I had to leave a few messages with my phone number before anyone called me back. There were about 30 to 35 diners on Thursday night, but I was told up to 60 people can be accommodated.

A friend who told me about The Bergen Room had dinner there on March 17, when a four-course Japanese meal was served. He was told to pay $10 a person, with no tip required.

I made a reservation the next day, but that call and others were never returned, and when we showed up on March 24, the restaurant was closed for spring break.

The Bergen Room Restaurant, in the Pitkin Education Center at Bergen Community College, 400 Paramus Road, Paramus; for reservations, call 201-447-7222.

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