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Cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park.
If there is any place where sharing food makes perfect sense, it's Newark's Ironbound, a neighborhood of Spanish, Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants that serve large portions at reasonable prices.
But without the cooperation of family members or friends, any plan to eat well without spending a lot of money can quickly fall apart, as it did on Saturday during our first visit to Casa Nova Grill, a Brazilian restaurant on Ferry Street.
We left in mid-afternoon to view the cherry blossom trees in Branch Brook Park, but could find only a half-dozen or so that were showing petals. We didn't even get out of the car.
The plan was to eat an early dinner at one of the places offering a "Go Newark" Restaurant Week discount. From the park, I called a Spanish restaurant on Market Street, Catas, that had a three-course, $30 dinner, but no one answered the phone and there was no recorded message.
At Adega Grill, a Portuguese restaurant we like, the fixed-price dinner menu is $40 for only two courses, according to its Web site. That's no bargain.
Newark has a long way to go on making its Restaurant Week appealing, with varying 10% and 15% discounts or fixed-price meals, compared to uniform prices for three-course lunches and dinners during New York City's Restaurant Weeks.
So we headed over to Casa Nova (New House) to try our luck with the a la carte menu of the Brazilian restaurant, which has a brick-and-wood interior and all-you-can-eat barbecue.
I am not eating meat or poultry and my wife is eating them only once a week or so, but our 13-year-old son is a dedicated carnivore. I had hoped to order an appetizer and two entrees to share.
But my son would not be dissuaded from ordering penne with small shrimp in vodka sauce -- a dish I wouldn't try in a Brazilian place -- and he wanted an appetizer of clams with white wine and garlic. My wife wasn't sure what she wanted.
So I ordered the clams ($11.95), a grilled whole red snapper ($17.95), enormous Tiger Shrimp ($20.95) and the penne ($15.95). I was in trouble already on assembling a meal that wouldn't bust the bank.
This was way too much, even before the waiter told us the food is made to order and asked us to serve ourselves from the salad bar, which is free with an entree.
There were more than a dozen cooked or raw vegetables, plus cheese and an odd cabbage salad with raw octopus. We went back two or three times for crunchy string beans, beets, shredded collard greens, raw broccoli and cauliflower, and other items.
The dozen briny clams were plump and the salty broth was so good, I scooped it up with one of the shells.
The Tiger Shrimp are from Mozambique, a onetime Portuguese colony, and you get only two to an order. They are grilled and served in the shell, with the head on, and uncurled, they are about 10 inches long. Extraordinary.
We eat a lot of whole fish, but the red snapper was unusually good. It came with sides of rice and black beans, plus vegetables and potatoes on the plate. The shrimp came on a large metal platter accompanied by addictive, freshly made potato chips.
We couldn't finish our food and took home leftovers.
Image by carlaarena via Flickr
With three glasses of juice or lemonade ($4 each), a big glass of Portuguese red wine ($5), a bottle of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., water ($6) and an espresso ($1.50), the bill came to $91.30. A 15% tip of $13.69 and tax were added, sending the total soaring to $111.
We liked Casa Nova, but next time, I'll cut that by at least $30 to $40.
My son wants to return for the all-you-can-eat barbecue. He counted more than 20 skewered items in the open kitchen.
Casa Nova Grill, 262 Ferry St., Newark, 1-973-817-7272.