Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can the price of wild salmon go any lower?

Copper RiverImage by Travis S. via Flickr
Salmon from the Copper River in Alaska gets more press than others.

Fresh, wild sockeye salmon fillets have dropped another dollar -- to $7.99 a pound -- at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

These fillets, which glisten with natural oils, made their first appearance at Costco on May 21, earlier than usual, and came from the famed Copper River in Alaska. 

They were priced at $13.99 a pound -- one dollar less than in 2010.

Usually, the Copper River fish disappears after about two weeks, replaced by fresh sockeye salmon from somewhere in the northwestern United States, and the price drops to $8.99 a pound.

This year, the Copper River catch must have been much bigger than normal, because on June 5, the price dropped to $8.99 a pound at Costco.

Then, about 10 days ago, wild sockeye salmon fillets with no specific U.S. origin appeared in the seafood case at $8.99 a pound.

Today, the price dropped to $7.99, and I picked up a nearly 2-pound fillet, which should yield six to eight portions.

For dinner tonight, I'll bake the salmon for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees for medium rare. First, I usually squeeze fresh lemon juice over them and add chopped herbs and ground Aleppo red pepper. 

I'll serve them with blanched and garlic-sauteed collard greens (99 cents a pound at H Mart in Englewood).

Salmon from the Yukon River in Alaska have even more healthy fats than Copper River fish. 

The Yukon River salmon are genetically programmed to store those fats for their 2,000 mile-plus journey up what is the longest salmon river in Alaska.

Wegmans carries Yukon River wild salmon, but the nearest store is more than 30 miles from my home. 

The fresh, keta salmon fillets are $11.99 a pound at the Wegmans in Bridgewater. The store describes the flavor as "rich" and "buttery."

Jersey blues

Also at Costco today, I picked up 2 pounds of Jersey Fresh blueberries, the equivalent of three pints at $1.83 a pint. That's not such a great price, but they are plump and sweet.

Although I've been harvesting red-leaf lettuce from my garden, I also bought a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix ($4.79) for variety in my salads.

I had a $10 Costco gift card the company sent to me after I complained that I found a small, black fly in the spring mix.

A 2-pound package of Cabot sliced cheddar cheese from Vermont is now $7.49, up from $6.99. Bananas are 3 pounds for $1.47.


The wild salmon fillet I bought from Costco today yielded eight portions that were a little smaller than usual.

They cooked in a preheated, 375-degree oven in 10 minutes for rare and 12-13 minutes for medium. The rare salmon melted in my mouth.

I reserved three raw portions for my wife and son, who like their salmon cooked through.

After I ate, I delighted in rolling up the skin that had stuck to the aluminum foil in the pan, and popping them into my mouth.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Calling all soft-shell crabs

Soft Shelled Crab on Noodle SoupImage by spiralmushroom via Flickr
A soft-shell crab served in a bowl of noodle soup.

The appeal of a soft-shell crab is clear: You enjoy all the meat without the bother of cracking open all that shell. 

The crab does the work for you by shedding its shell several times between late May and September as it grows larger.

Crabs are my son's favorite food, so for a celebratory lunch after his 8th-grade graduation ceremony on Monday, we drove over to Lotus Cafe, the Chinese restaurant in Hackensack.

We wanted to have soft-shell crabs at Lotus Cafe for dinner on June 18, but they ran out of them early that evening. 

A few weeks ago, we had them prepared in Wondee's great Panang curry, but the Thai restaurant in Hackensack was out of them on Sunday, June 19.

Lotus Cafe prepares them three ways: in a spicy garlic sauce, with ginger and scallion or fried -- a preparation called pepper and salt.

We ordered them in garlic sauce and fried, along with water spinach in fresh garlic, soup and bowls of white and brown rice. 

It was a big lunch, but I was happy with canned vegetable soup, and fruit and cheese for dinner.

Lotus Cafe says it uses three crabs in each entree ($19.95). 

The delicious garlic-sauce crab was cut into bite-size pieces and sauteed with crunchy pieces of celery and water chestnuts, and strips of seaweed. 

The second crab entree also was cut into pieces, beautifully fried, and served with bits of garlic and hot pepper. The plate was garnished with a "flower" made from radish, I believe, using toothpicks and a rubber band.

Although soft-shell crab entrees at restaurants are a sure sign of summer, I haven't seen any in the market. 

At Whole Foods Market in Paramus, soft-shell crabs are sold breaded and fried for $5.99 each, an employee at the seafood counter said Tuesday. 

You can buy them online. One Web site is offering a dozen frozen soft-shell crabs for $99.95.

The official Maryland Seafood site says the Chesapeake Bay blue crab increases "by one-third in size" during shedding.

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

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

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Comparing two meals out for $20 and under

The front enterance of The Cheesecake Factory ...Image via Wikipedia
A cookie-cutter chain restaurant in Seattle, Wash.

We had dinner out for about $18 each on Saturday night at Pine Hill, a Korean restaurant in Paramus, and took home leftovers.

A few days earlier, I had lunch with two friends at a chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory in Hackensack, and forked over $20 in splitting the bill three ways. (Both figures include tax and tip).

For dinner at Pine Hill, I had a large bowl of spicy soup filled with codfish and vegetables ($14.95), served with steamed rice, and shared 11 complimentary side dishes that are part of every Korean meal.

My wife had a stone bowl of soft-tofu stew with shrimp  ($10.95) and my son had a large bowl of spicy soup with short ribs ($13.95). They had juice ($2 each) and I drank water.

My son said he "couldn't move" after finishing his soup, rice and side dishes.

Our healthy side dishes, or panchan, included cabbage and radish kimchis, bean sprouts, tofu, sweet yam, an egg souffle, shredded radish, acorn gelatin, an iceberg lettuce salad and a small, whole grilled mackerel.

When I asked, the waitress brought us more of the sweet-and-spicy cabbage kimchi and two more pieces of tofu. 

Pine Hill is off the beaten path for Korean food -- far from the dozens of places in Palisades Park. But it serves more side dishes with dinner than the others.

What did $20 get me at The Cheesecake Factory? I ordered a large salad with blue cheese and walnuts, but asked the waiter to hold the chicken ($13.95). I drank seltzer and a large cup of black coffee.

At another chain restaurant, Joe's Crab Shack in Clifton, we ordered a $29.99 pot of three kinds of crab and the kitchen overcooked them. Our total bill was nearly $100.

The crab meat I was able to extract from the soft shells was tasteless.

Both The Cheesecake Factory and Joe's were crowded and noisy. Joe's doesn't even take reservations.

Pine Hill Restaurant, 123 Paramus Road, 
Paramus; 201-843-0170.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

If you think that's a lot ...

Fragaria × ananassa 'Chandler,' a short-day co...Image via Wikipedia
How much would you pay for organic strawberries?

My dry cleaners is in the same shopping center as the ShopRite in Rochelle Park, so after dropping off two pairs of pants, I went into the supermarket, looking for Jersey Fresh blueberries.

Two for $5, a bit pricey. A&P is selling a six-pint pack for $6.99 with a store card through Thursday.

Large red or black seedless grapes are on sale for 99 cents a pound with the A&P card.

At ShopRite, a pound of organic strawberries were $2.99 with a store card, twice the price of conventional strawberries. 

If you think that's a lot, I saw organic strawberries at Whole Foods Market in Paramus for $3.99 a pound.

I bought one pack of the ShopRite organic strawberries, because I've read that fruit gets more pesticides than any other.

At Fairway Market in Paramus, a whole beef tenderloin for filet mignon is $6.99 a pound (4-to-6-pound average).

ShopRite often puts the same cut of beef -- from free-range, grass-fed cattle in Australia -- on sale for $4.99 a pound with a store card.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I saw a Big Wheel in Englewood

Emmentaler (also known as Swiss Cheese), while...Image via Wikipedia
Emmentaler cheese from Switzerland is ready for its close-up.

I stopped for a free lunch of cheese samples on Wednesday at Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, and as I munched my way around the store, I dialed a friend who lives nearby.

We're talking, and I'm eating and looking at cheese wedges and samples when I realized they were displayed on top of the biggest wheel of cheese I have ever seen.

The label said the wheel of Emmentaler cheese from Switzerland weighs 206.5 pounds. Today, I found this at
"Switzerland's oldest and most important cheese, Emmentaler has a distinctively nutty-sweet, mellow flavor that makes it perfect for almost any use — from snacks to an apr├Ęs-dinner fruit-and-cheese plate. This cow's-milk cheese is light gold in color, with marble-size holes and a natural light brown rind. It was named for Switzerland's Emmental Valley and is exported in giant wheels weighing from 150 to 220 pounds each."

Blue crabs

After my visit to Jerry's, I stopped at the H Mart in Englewood to pick up six or seven live blue crabs ($2.99 a pound) for my wife and son, who have the patience to pick out the meat.

After she boiled the crabs with Korean red-pepper powder, my wife gave me a bit of the meat, and it was sweet.

I also bought two small, oblong Korean melons, on sale for 89 cents a pound. They are similar to honeydew, but the one I cut open at home wasn't ripe yet.

Kimchi factory

My third stop in Englewood was to pick up a large jar of handmade Arirang mak kimchi at the factory.

I bartered two Neapolitan pizzas from Jerry's for the cabbage kimchi, which I have been buying from the owner, Mrs. Oh, for years.

She has been kind to me, often giving me the kimchi for free, and now I've found food I can give her in return. She told me she loves fresh mozzarella cheese.

View a delightful video on the making of kimchi at the following link:

Two generations of kimchi makers

Three-stop food run in Englewood:

Jerry's Gourmet &  More, 410 S. Dean St.; 201-871-7108.
H Mart, 25 Lafayette Ave.; 201-871-8822.
Arirang Kimchi, 191 W. Englewood Ave.; 201-503-1314.
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shame on Hebrew National

A cooked hot dog garnished with mustard.Image via Wikipedia


Have you seen the latest Hebrew National TV commercial, the one that calls its hotdogs "the best of the best of the best"?

I was watching morning TV on an exercise bicycle at the gym on Monday, not taking notes, so I might have missed another "best."

Later, this appears on the screen: "OMG, they're kosher."

More copy tells you the beef hotdogs contain nothing artificial, but there's no mention of preservatives or whether the cattle feed contains antibiotics, growth hormones and animal byproducts.

OMG, they're stuffed with antibiotics.

OMG, they're drowsy with growth hormones.

OMG, they're preserved to last forever.

Trader Joe's, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods Market and other stores sell uncured hotdogs made from beef raised without antibiotics, hormones or animal by-products.

H Mart coupons

I tried to use the H Mart coupons I got in the mail, but the produce at the Little Ferry store looked sort of forlorn today.

Gala apples, in the bag or loose, were bruised. The red-leaf lettuce was 99 cents, but I decided to continue eating the lettuce growing in my garden.

There were no coupons for the other items I was looking for: 

Fresh fish (Spanish mackerel was $3.49 a pound vs. $4.99 a pound at Whole Foods Market in Paramus); stewed tofu with red-pepper sauce and hot-pepper sauce in a squeeze bottle.

I also picked up Champagne mangoes, a box of 18 for $8.99, or about 50 cents each, compared to five for $5 at Whole Foods. Collard greens were 79 cents a pound.

I drink lactose-free milk and was surprised Lactaid conventional milk and Organic Valley milk were priced the same ($4.49 for a half-gallon).  

The Cheesecake Factory

Two friends asked me to meet them for lunch today at The Cheesecake Factory in Hackensack, where takeout slices of cheesecake are priced at around $7 each.          

I had a large salad with blue cheese and walnuts. 

One friend had a large bowl of pasta with meat sauce, and the other chose a soup-sandwich combo. I drank seltzer, they drank water, and each of us had coffee.

With a 15% tip, each of us paid $20. That seemed like a lot for lunch.

I was chagrined to see I was charged $13.95 for the salad, even though I asked the waiter to hold the chicken usually served with it.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Waiter, there's a fly in my salad

Carmel ValleyImage by JasonUnbound via Flickr
Earthbound Farm runs a market in California's Carmel Valley.

Earthbound Farm is a company that stands by its products -- as shown by the $10 Costco Wholesale cash card and a letter of apology I received in the mail today.

I go through a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix just about every week, and recently, I found a small, black fly in the dinner salad I made at home. At first, I thought it was a piece of cracked, black pepper.

I filled out the Earthbound Farm feedback form online, explaining my concern. Previously, I complained about premature rotting of the spring mix, and also received a $10 cash card for use at Costco.

At Costco, a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix costs $4.79.

Trader Joe's

We were looking for a suit for our son this afternoon at a store on Route 17 in Paramus, so we stopped at Trader Joe's just up the road.

We bought uncured, antibiotic-free bacon and hot dogs ($3.99 each), sliced yogurt cheese with jalapenos ($4.69) and Italian-style soy sausage ($3.49).

My son liked the organic, whole-wheat spaghetti I prepared with Fairway Market vodka sauce the other night, so I bought two more one-pound packages of the pasta ($1.39 each).

The fully cooked, baby back pork ribs with BBQ sauce were $9.99 for 24 ounces, but the meat is conventionally raised. Unfortunately, Trader Joe's stopped selling naturally raised pork ribs from the Niman Ranch.

Our last items were a large container of organic plain no-fat yogurt and a 26-ounce jar of organic vodka sauce ($2.99 each).
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Friday, June 17, 2011

The other rebate shoe drops at Costco

A piping-hot Korean soft-tofu stew with egg.

On Thursday, I received a rebate check of $151.35 -- 2% cash back on purchases at Costco Wholesale, where I pay an annual fee of $100 for an Executive Membership.

In February, I received a $322 rebate check from American Express for purchases I made in 2010, including 3% back at restaurants and on gasoline purchases, 1% back for Costco purchases; 2% back for travel purchases and 1% everywhere else.

The American Express credit card is called the Costco True Earnings Card. 

Tofu hits the spot

We couldn't wait for the weekend, when we usually dine out, so we returned to our favorite Korean restaurant on Thursday night for a filling meal of spicy tofu stew, vegetable side dishes, eggs and rice.

We don't seem to be able to stay away from Restaurant So Gong Dong in Palisades Park for more than a few weeks. 

We've tried other tofu houses and other Korean restaurants that serve soft tofu, but So Gong Dong remains our favorite. The price of $9.99 for a complete meal -- including tax -- doesn't hurt, either.

Even if you don't choose oysters, clams or shrimp in your tofu stew, this is a healthy meal. The stew is available from not spicy to "more spicy."

The soft tofu is brought to the table is a stone bowl, and it's bubbling furiously. This is when you crack one of the small eggs on the rim and empty it into the hot stew to cook it.

There's nothing like breaking the barely cooked yolk over the rice, and eating them together.

After you place your order, you are brought the eggs and side dishes of cabbage and cucumber kimchi, bean sprouts and a peppery concoction of raw squid.

The stew and a second stone bowl with steamed rice come later.

We also ordered a seafood pancake to share ($10.99), but the tofu stew meal is so generous, it will more than satisfy most people.

The $9.99 and $10.99 include tax, as I said, but they are rounded up to $10 and $11 on the bill.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park;
201-313-5550. Open seven days. BYO. Valet parking available.

Restaurant deals 

Many North Jersey restaurants are offering discounts to lure customers, and in some cases, you can sign up for e-mail coupons.

Others arrive in the mail. Today, the Money Mailer contained the following discounts:

  • Luka's Italian Cuisine, 238 Main St., Ridgefield Park, is offering $8.95 lunch specials with soup or salad and pasta; 25% off dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays, and 15% off dinner on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Restaurant Galapagos, 222 Main St., Hackensack, allows kids to eat free on Thursdays and gives $2 off any Ecuadorian dinner of $10 or more. Breakfasts of $6 or more are cut by $1.
  • Uncle Paulie's Puro Sabor, a Peruvian restaurant at 109A W. Pleasant Ave., Maywood, is giving 20% off meal checks of $10, $25 or $50.
  • Presto's New York, a brick-oven pizza and pasta restaurant at 772 Main St., Hackensack, is offering a number of discounts, including 15% off the entire check and a free small pie with the purchase of two large pies.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A man, a car and a shopping cart

A row of shopping carts.Image via Wikipedia
How many millions of dollars in damage to cars are caused every year by lazy shoppers who leave metal carts anywhere but where they belong?

My wife sent me to Whole Foods Market in Paramus on Wednesday in search of organic chicken feet for a tasty poultry, yam and vegetable soup that both she and my son devour.

I checked the freezer where I usually find them and asked the butcher, but there were none to be had. 

But I saw 100% grass-fed lamb shoulder blade chops from New Zealand at an excellent price, $6.99 a pound, and bought three for a future dinner for them.

My wife used chicken necks she had to make the soup.

On the way to my car, I saw a distinguished-looking, white-haired man maneuvering a late-model Acura into a parking space and nudging a shopping cart that was left there by the lazy moron who had the space before him.

The cart rolled a few inches and hit the front bumper or fender of another car.

I got into my car and started to drive past the man and his Acura. Instead of moving the cart away from the other car, he was opening his trunk.

I lowered my window and asked him why he wasn't moving the cart? Is it possible, I said, the man was so out of it he didn't realize he pushed the cart into another car?

He was with his wife. He stammered, then said he'd move it. 

OK. Does anybody know why manufacturers don't install rubber pads or bumpers on the carts to minimize all the damage to shoppers' cars?

I guess there is no solution to lazy shoppers who are so exhausted from picking out groceries, waiting in checkout lines and loading their purchases into their cars that they just drop the cart anywhere. 

At the ShopRite in Englewood, shoppers need to deposit 25 cents to unlock a shopping cart, then return the cart to a corral to get their coin back.

Why don't more stores do that?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

H Mart sends out store coupons

NJ - Bergen County - Ridgefield: Super H-Mart ...Image by wallyg via Flickr
The biggest H Mart in Bergen County is in Ridgefield.

Tuesday's mail held a surprise -- a booklet of discount coupons from H Mart, the Korean supermarket chain with four stores in Bergen County.

The coupons give you a discount on produce; kimchi, poultry, meat and seafood; spicy soup mix, small appliances and other items. They are valid from June 18-July 1 or July 2-17.

I applied for an H Mart 1% cash rebate card a few months ago, and the coupons were sent to my home.

The booklet contains a "low-pricing pledge."

"H Mart is dedicated to giving you low prices every day. Not once in a while. Not once in a blue [moon]. But all day every day."

The store's prepared items are a great introduction to Korean food, if you haven't already discovered its vibrant colors and flavors. 

We regularly buy finger maki -- seaweed rolled around rice and crunchy vegetables -- stewed Alaskan pollock, potatoes or tofu in a spicy red-pepper sauce; and translucent noodles made from yam flour and mixed with vegetables.

H Mart is also our main source of whole fresh fish, such as the trio of sea bass my wife brought home on Monday.

The chain sponsors "Kimchi Chronicles," a PBS series with Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten that began on June 5 and can be seen locally on WNET. 

The H Mart in Englewood was just renovated, and there are stores in Fort Lee, the newest; Little Ferry, the dowdiest; and Ridgefield, the biggest. H Mart also has a store in Edison.

A salty Chinese tale

I had lunch with a friend at P.F. Chang's China Bistro in Hackensack on Tuesday, and three of the four dishes we tried were too salty.

My friend had a lunch special, beef and broccoli served over white or brown rice ($9.45). She liked the beef, but said overall, the dish had too much salt.

I choose three half-portions of vegetables: spinach with garlic, spicy green beans and Sichuan asparagus ($2.95 each). There was no charge for a bowl of brown rice.

The spinach was perfect, each vibrant-green leaf glistening with oil, but the sauces with the green beans and asparagus were so salty I didn't bother spooning them over the rice and tried to pick out just the vegetables.

Next time, I'll ask to have all the vegetables prepared with just garlic or see if there are any low-sodium options on the menu. Or I'll go to Lotus Cafe in Hackensack for lunch.

I looked around P.F. Chang's during our lunch and noticed a large majority of the 215 seats were empty, despite its location in Bergen County's premier shopping center.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 390 Hackensack Ave., 
Suite 50, The Shops at Riverside; 201-646-1565.

Back in control

After a four-day visit to Montreal, where I couldn't always find healthy food, I was glad to return and do some food shopping.

I picked up another large fillet of fresh, wild salmon from the Copper River in Alaska at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack for the bargain-basement price of $8.99 a pound.

I cut the fillet into six portions and baked them for 20 minutes with fresh lemon juice, coarse Aleppo red pepper and chopped mint and cilantro from the garden.

I had two portions for dinner, with a salad, and another this morning over salad with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, hummus and a Korean stewed potato.

I never saw wild salmon on menus in Canada.

Free-range beef

ShopRite is selling Nature's Reserve free-range, grass-fed Whole Beef Tenderloin for Filet Mignon from Australia for $4.99 a pound with a store card through June 18.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A 19-pound lobster awaited its fate

Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. Your prayers for good food are answered.

By Victor E. Sasson

It's difficult but not impossible to get a bad meal in Montreal, the sophisticated, French-speaking city that is only about an hour away from North Jersey by plane.

By the looks of the people on downtown streets and in the metro, this city of islands is a rich, ethnic stew that is reflected in restaurants and fast-food places.

All prices are in Canadian dollars. This past weekend, a U.S. dollar was worth only about 95 cents Canadian. Meal taxes in Canada total about 15%.  

Almost everyone we encountered was bilingual.

Au Pied de Cochon

The big surprise at a restaurant that serves just about every part of the pig is the tank of lobsters near the door and a bed of shellfish on ice nearby.

Our waitress said the huge crustacean we saw in the tank was the "Monster Lobster," a 19-pounder the kitchen would turn into a number of dishes for $500 -- a discount on the menu price for lobster of $30 a pound.

We started with a soft-shell crab that was cut up, battered, fried simply and served with a fish-sauce dip ($18), and a salad of blue cheese, walnuts, crisp apple, endive and red-leaf lettuce ($9).

We also shared a Quebec specialty called poutine that elevates french fries into a main dish: This version had gobs of melted white-cheddar cheese and was  smothered in gravy ($7).

My wife and son shared a pig's foot ($22) -- the tender meat was shredded and served with onions -- and I ordered a fillet of hake that was cooked perfectly, only until it was translucent, and served Portuguese-style, with pork and clams in a pleasantly salty broth ($30).

On the way out, I saw a large man seated at the bar in front of the small, open kitchen tucking enthusiastically into something the size of a small fireplace log. 

He said it was a pig's foot stuffed with foie gras, which is as rich a dish as I can imagine.

Rushing to make our 5 p.m. reservation last Thursday, we had marched right past the restaurant, which has no sign. Look for the number "536" above the door.

I originally wrote that the restaurant's name translates to "The Pig's Foot," but was mistaken. It means "To the Foot of Pig."

Restaurant Au Pied du Cochon, 536 Rue Duluth East, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; 1-514-281-1114. Reservations recommended.

Restaurant Dima

Montreal is famous for its Jewish delis, but I'm not eating meat and, anyway, I wanted to get in touch with my Sephardic Jewish roots.

We took a long subway ride to North Montreal on Saturday, then a bus to Rue Dudemaine for an early dinner at a Syrian restaurant that serves Aleppo-style food. 

We ordered the usual suspects: A green salad, hummus and muhammara ($4 each); a trio of kebabs for my wife and son to share ($22), a dish of rice ($2.50) and a small portion of falafel for me ($4.25). 
Let me digress and discuss my pet peeve about the pocket bread served at Restaurant Dima.

Montreal has a number of Arabic bakeries that send their  thin, Lebanese-style  pocket bread to restaurants in South Paterson, where it is heated up in a microwave, plastic bag and all.
But why would a Montreal restaurant serve bread the same way? Why not serve fresh bread made only hours before?

I said to the owner of Restaurant Dima, gesturing to the bread, "I guess there are no Syrian bakers in Montreal." 

He answered there is no difference between Lebanese and Syrian bread, and he wasn't interested in my opinion.

The Syrian pocket bread -- the bread Fattal's in South Paterson bakes daily -- is thicker and just a bit doughier, all the better to scoop up dips or soak up salad dressing.   

I could have used that bread for Dima's simple salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato coated in a great olive oil, lemon juice and mint dressing. 

My son loved the kebabs, and the hummus had lots of tahini, but the falafel were just OK and the muhammara didn't have enough Aleppo red pepper in it. 

We were the only customers at mid-afternoon Saturday.

For dessert, I went across the street to Mahrouse, a Syrian patisserie, and bought three large graybeh (phonetic spelling) for $1 each. 

They are bracelet-like cookies made from flour, sugar and butter, with a single pistachio where the two ends meet.

These were bigger than my mother's, good and crumbly, too, though they didn't melt in my mouth as hers did.

The few Arabic food businesses are on a single block of Rue Dudemaine in a quiet residential area. 

Prices at Restaurant Dima are higher than at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, and Aleppo serves better food.

Restaurant Dima, 1575 Rue Dudemaine, Montreal, 
Quebec, Canada; 1-514-334-3876.

Armenian pizza

We attended the Formula 1 race on Sunday, and went to the circuit three days in a row for practice, qualifying, preliminary races and the main event. 

For Saturday, I picked up two Armenian pizzas downtown at a chain called Arouch. The za'atar  ($1.99) was dry, but the Greek ($2.99 for lots of fresh spinach and cheese) was moist and delicious even after a night in my hotel room mini-fridge.

Downtown Montreal also offers Turkish and Middle Eastern options, including a chain called AlTaib Boulangerie (bakery). 

Formula food

At Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, food choices were limited to hot dogs, hot and cold Italian-style sandwiches, gooey pizza, smoothies, ice cream and beer -- lots of beer.

I saw two men climbing stairs to a seat near us with a 30-can case of beer. 

The five French Canadians seated in front of us drank at least three bottles of red wine in about an hour to wash down pate with baguette slices, cubed cheese, and prosciutto and melon.

Unfortunately, as I discovered at the Italian Grand Prix last September at the Monza track, fan comfort at the Montreal circuit comes second to cramming as many people as possible into the track and the stands, with no shelter from the elements.

For at least the second year in a row, it rained, and the race started behind a safety car, but was stopped after 25 laps because of a heavy downpour. 

We joined thousands of fans who headed for the exits and the subway, and stopped at our hotel -- Chateau Versailles -- for our luggage before taking a taxi to the airport for the flight home.

We never saw the end of the race, which was restarted after a two-hour delay. Our seats on Sunday cost $260 each.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Party atmosphere, disappointing food

Joe's Crab Shack - Newport Beach, CAImage by TheRogue via Flickr
At Joe's Crab Shack, the fish and shrimp are a lot more satisfying.

Eat at Joe's for the shore vibe, festive atmosphere and dancing servers, but don't expect much from the signature crab dishes.

If you like noise and loud music, you'll find plenty of both at Joe's Crab Shack in Clifton, where dozens of the young, enthusiastic servers drop everything and dance every 45 minutes as disco lights revolve overhead.

Maybe the dancing and the servers' colorful T-shirts are designed to distract you from the ultimately disappointing crab buckets and steam pots at this chain restaurant. 

We started with cups of lobster bisque ($3.69 each) and I had a side Cesar salad ($3.19) before we shared two entrees, the Caribbean Feast ($19.89) and the Crab Daddy Feast ($29.99). 

The Sea Turtle Sundae was $7.49, and a cup of weak black coffee was $2.49. I declined a free refill.

With iced tea and lemonade, and a $12 tip, I ended up spending nearly $100.

My wife and son liked the lobster bisque and lemonade, but I thought the thick soup tasted more of corn than of crab.

Joe's calls some of its entrees "feasts," but take that with a grain of salt. 
I found the Caribbean Feast the most satisfying, with its juicy fillet of mahi-mahi, shrimp prepared two ways, and rice with pineapple and big chunks of carrot and other vegetables.

The Crab Daddy Feast combines Dungeness, Snow and King Crabs in a bucket with an ear of sweet corn and two boiled, skin-on potatoes.

All of the crab legs (not claws, as I wrote earlier) had one thing in common: They were soft and hard to crack, so it was a struggle to get the crab meat out of them. I ended up eating only slightly more crab than shell.

And the crab I did eat wasn't that tasty -- it bordered on being dry --  despite the spicy boil we ordered. 

I had asked the waitress if she knew the weight of the crab in the bucket, and she said each of two crab clusters weighed 18 ounces and there were two King Crab legs. 

Of course, I didn't have a scale at the table, but there seemed to be less crab than that.

We plan to return to Joe's for the twin-lobster steam pot, and to try more of the fish and shrimp. But we'll steer clear of those pesky crabs.

There are other nearby food options as well, including Zinburger and It's Greek to Me.

Joe's Crab Shack, 405 Allwood Road,
in The Promenade Shops at Clifton shopping center, 
Clifton; 973-777-5114. No reservations taken.

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