Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two seafood meals are miles apart

 We wish the food and preparation at Bahrs Landing matched the view.

We ate out two days in a row, enjoying fresh flounder both times, but the settings and the way each restaurant handled seafood could not be more different.

Our first meal was 60 miles away at Bahrs Landing in the sleepy village of Highlands -- a restaurant that has lured Jersey Shore visitors since 1917.

The next day, we drove less than 2 miles to Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, where the menu offers a variety of high-quality seafood cooked to perfection -- such as tender shrimp, scallop, squid and fish cake poached in delicious broth.

Stuck in the past

We were disappointed with Bahrs, which seems to be stuck in the past. When is the last time you saw a broiled fresh fish fillet covered with paprika?

A fly in the dining room is never a good sign, and I noticed one on the inside of a plate-glass window as soon as we were shown to our table at mid-afternoon last Friday.

The fly was still there when our soups arrived, and I squashed it against the glass with my cloth napkin, then got up to put the napkin and dead fly on a nearby tray used for dirty dishes.

Slow service

Only a handful of other tables inside and outside were occupied, but service was slow.

My cup of Manhattan clam chowder tasted OK, but there were more potatoes than clams ($4.50).

My wife is especially fond of lobster bisque, but she found Bahrs' version too salty and missing any lobster meat ($5.99). The restaurant sells cans of both soups.

Fish with paprika

My broiled flounder came with quartered red-skin potatoes and sliced carrots ($11.99). It tasted fresh, but the paprika didn't do anything for it and the portion wasn't what you'd call generous.

My wife's crab-cake sandwich was a mess ($9.99). The roll was much too big and the sandwich included iceberg lettuce and tasteless, pale red tomato slices.

Time for renewal

I ordered a seltzer ($2.25 with free refills) and it came in a frosted glass showing the new $128 million bridge near the pricey restaurant (see photo above). A cup of black coffee was $3.

Before we ate lunch at Bahrs, we helped other volunteers for the American Littoral Society plant beach grass across the inlet in Sandy Hook National Park.

Let's hope the beach-restoration project and the beautiful new bridge give the owners of the restaurant the impetus to renew their menu and improve the preparation of their soups and other dishes.

Lotus Cafe 

The next day, our experience at Lotus Cafe was far different.

The fresh-fish special was a whole, 2-pound flounder that I saw a couple enjoying as we were shown to our table in the crowded dining room.

We started with seafood soup for three -- with tender squid, shrimp, scallop and fish cake ($10.50). The broth was simple, but delicious, and we loved this soup.

Whole fish

The waiter recommended we order the fresh, wild-caught flounder pan-fried, instead of steamed with ginger and scallion, the way we usually order fish fillets at the BYO Chinese restaurant.

The flesh of the fish had been scored into a diamond pattern, making it easy to pick off the pieces with chopsticks or a fork. We also liked the crunchy fried tail and body fins ($26.95).

But the underside of the fish was a little oily, so I think we'll try it steamed next time.  

Spinach and shrimp

Our other dishes were water spinach sauteed with fresh garlic ($8.95), and perfectly cooked shrimp with X.O. sauce, described on the menu as being made with shrimp roe, dried scallops and herbs ($15.95).

We asked for three bowls of brown rice, instead of white, and drank a lot of the house tea, opening the lid of the pot in a universal request for a refill. I also enjoyed a bottle of Mexican beer brought from home.

The service at Lotus Cafe is quick and efficient, and I see the same waiters there year after year. 

Bahrs Landing, 2 Bay Ave., Highlands; 732-872-1245.
Web site: Old-fashioned seafood

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., in the Home Depot Shopping Center, Hackensack; 201-488-7070. BYO.
Web site: Modern seafood

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What breakfast looks like at Crepevine

In February, I had breakfast at Crepevine in Burlingame, Calif., where I enjoyed this salad nicoise with seared ahi tuna ($11.95). I didn't eat the bread and butter. 

Crepevine Restaurant, 1310 Burlingame Ave., 
Burlingame, Calif; 1-650-344-1310.
Customers order at the counter.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

At Maritime Parc in Jersey City

Black Cod (also called sable fish) with Lobster Hash, foreground; Winter Carrot Ragout, center, and Black Bass with Sauteed Apples. The chef at Maritime Parc likes to cut up food into small pieces. 

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

At Kevin's Noodle House in Daly City, Calif.

This is a steaming bowl of Vietnamese seafood noodle soup with garnishes, including fresh cilantro, at Kevin's Noodle House outside San Francisco, Calif. ($5.95 for the medium bowl).

Kevin's Noodle House, 85 Southgate Ave., Daily City, Calif; 

650-992-3814. Open 7 days 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. 

Web site: Pho Huynh Hiep 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whole Foods: Great fish at a good price

Hake with Hazelnut Sauce
Hake with Hazelnut Sauce (Photo credit: Joanna Petrova)

Editor's note: Today's bill of fare includes a wonderful fish called hake and two easy ways to prepare it, a brief discussion of the phrase "all natural" and a comparison of prices at Whole Foods, Fairway, Costco and ShopRite.

I spend most of my food dollars at Costco Wholesale and ShopRite, but stop regularly at Whole Foods, H Mart and Fairway to take advantage of their sales.

On Monday, Whole Foods Market in Paramus had fresh, wild-caught hake on sale for $7.99 a pound -- about what I pay for haddock, cod and flounder fillets at Costco in Hackensack.

Not too many years ago, hake was a popular fish in Europe that would show up occasionally on Manhattan restaurant menus. In Spain, it is called "merluza."

Last year, I bought hake fillets at Whole Foods for as low as $5.99 a pound -- a bargain considering what a great eating fish this is.

Even at $9.99 a pound, the regular price, this North Atlantic fish would be a good buy because Whole Foods is the only supermarket I know that gets fresh fish 7 days a week from its own processing facility, Pigeon Cove in Gloucester, Mass.

Red hake
Red hake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Preparing hake couldn't be simpler. I had my 2.04-pound fillet cut into six pieces, 1 inch to 2 inches thick. Hake is a meaty fish that flakes beautifully.

You can open a can of organic diced tomatoes, add extra-virgin olive oil, dried herbs and red-pepper flakes, plus fresh lime juice and red or white wine. Sprinkle a little salt on the fish, add it to the heated sauce, cover and cook.

Fillets up to 1 inch take about 15 to 20 minutes. Thicker fillets should cook in about 30 minutes. You can serve them with pasta or rice and a salad.

Hake with chili spices

Another way to prepare hake is to coat it in a combination of breadcrumbs and spices from Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit (except the masa flour). I keep a container in the refrigerator and add black sesame seeds and other spices periodically.

If you eat meat, you'll love this chili-spice breading with chicken, beef, pork or lamb.

Again, sprinkle a little salt on the fillets and press them into the spice mixture, coating all sides. On Monday night, I prepared all six pieces this way, roasting them in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

With either cooking method, when the fillets start coming apart or flaking, they are close to being ready. 

My wife raved, saying the fish tasted really fresh. The next night, we split one leftover fillet.

Pasta with sardines

We served it with whole-wheat pasta in a sauce of chopped sweet pepper, fresh tomato, garlic and sardines in oil -- plus olive oil, red pepper flakes, anchovies in oil, and a small can of tomato sauce.

On Monday, I also found frozen oxtails in Whole Foods' meat department freezer for $6.99 a pound. compared to $6.29 a pound for conventional oxtails at Fairway Market in Paramus. 

Unlike Fairway, Whole Foods only sells beef from cattle raised on vegetarian feed, without antibiotics or growth hormones.

I charged the Whole Foods hake and oxtails to a registered American Express card, earning a $10 statement credit on the $50-plus order.

Oxtails refund

On the same day I brought the oxtails home, I received a refund check for $18.68 from Cargill Meat Solutions for Rumba-brand oxtails from Costco that we cooked and found to have too much fat and bones.

At Fairway Market on Tuesday, I picked up three sales items: four kinds of Fairway pasta sauce at 2 for $6, regularly $4.49 each; Golden Pineapples at 2 for $4, and 1-pound containers of Sunset-brand Campari tomatoes at 2 for $3.

Fairway pasta sauce comes in 32-ounce bottles, compared to 24 to 25 ounces for most other brands. You can pay up to $8.49 for a bottle of Rao's pasta sauce, but why would you throw the money away?

I usually add a can of anchovies to bottled pasta sauce for robustness, but you don't actually taste those salty little fillets. Red pepper flakes, garlic powder, non-salt seasoning -- all of it can improve a $3 bottle of marinara.

Recycled excuses

Just when I think Fairway might be growing on me, an employee does something stupid, like the clerk who literally threw everything I bought, including the glass bottles with the pasta sauce, into a single reusable bag, even though I put two on the counter.

And, of course, let's not forget New York-based Fairway is the only supermarket that doesn't give you credit for a reusable bag. 

Basically, the owners don't care if they trash New Jersey's environment with their plastic bags, nor do they take back those bags for recycling, as does ShopRite.

Now, Fairway plans to open a second store in Woodland Park, meaning there will be thousands of additional plastic bags on the loose.

'All-Natural' brown eggs

At ShopRite in Englewood, I found a dozen Land O' Lakes All-Natural Extra Large Brown Eggs on sale for $2.50, but cut that to $1.5o with a 50-cent coupon that was doubled at the register. 

These eggs demonstrate the meaninglessness of the phrase "all natural," which has no set of standards, unlike "organic."

The Land O' Lakes carton mentions the chickens' vegetarian feed contains no growth hormones or animal byproducts, but is silent on whether they receive antibiotics in their water. 

Costco v. ShopRite
My wife bought a 5-pound bag of carrots at ShopRite for $3.49 -- 50 cents less than usual -- but at Costco, a 10-pound bag of Earthbound Farms organic carrots is $6.99.

She also bought Readington Farms antibiotic-free chicken -- drumsticks, thighs and a whole fryer -- but none of it was on sale. ShopRite routinely discounts Perdue, Tyson and other inferior, drug-filled chicken.

At Costco today, Kirkland Signature frozen, wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon was $27.99 or about $9.30 a pound. A 10-pound box of sweet potatoes was $6.99. Three pounds of bananas were $1.39 or about 46 cents a pound, lower than any other store.

Two 96-ounce bottles of Apple & Eve Organic Lemonade were $7.69. An attractive, BPA-free set of 16 plastic glasses and tumblers in four colors was $19.99. 

Using and hand-washing plastic glasses and plates (for cold food) helps us cut down on use of the dishwasher.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Going solo in search of a good meal

Mukeunji Korean Restaurant (Photo credit: Pabo76)

Editor's note: Today, I discuss eating out alone, a promotion at Whole Foods Market in Paramus and the closing of Fuddruckers.

Eating out alone has never been fun, though I tolerated it more when I was young and foolish, and traveled extensively.

While I've occasionally found another lone diner to share my table, eating out alone almost always guarantees poor treatment in restaurants -- you usually get the worst or smallest tables.


On Saturday night, with my family away for the weekend, I wasn't sure where I wanted to eat, but decided to stop at Yamagata, the first new Japanese restaurant to open in Fort Lee in many years.

Yamagata is in a strip mall off Palisade Avenue, in the space once occupied by Moon Jar, Chef Ji's Moon Jar and It's Greek To Me, which moved down the street to a larger space. I've eaten in all of the predecessors.

When I walked in, I expected to be greeted by a host near the door, but Chef Yama and another chef working behind the sushi bar nodded to me.

For some reason, the host is positioned at the rear of the small dining room, which was nearly full. I asked to see the menu. I looked at some appetizers and sushi combinations and they seemed pricey. 

I noticed one seat open at the small sushi bar, and figured that was where I would be seated, not at one of the free tables for two.

I picked up a flier advertising a Yamagata lunch special for $14.50, including soup, salad and ice cream. I asked the host what happens if the customer doesn't eat ice cream.

"There's no deduction. We give the ice cream for free," he said. How about fruit? I asked. No fruit, he said. I left in search of a warmer place.

The Tea Bar

In the same mall, I saw The Tea Bar, a Korean cafe and restaurant that opened where the popular Coffee Tree Cafe once operated.The menu in the window listed tofu and vegetable dishes, in addition to lots of beef-and-kimchi combos.

I got back into the car and drove to Broad Avenue in Leonia, turning left toward Palisades Park. After I crossed the border, I noticed new Korean restaurants and shops on a street that seems to be constantly changing.

Muk Eun Ji

I was looking for Muk Eun Ji (also written Mukeunji), a Korean barbecue restaurant that tries to stand out from the crowd by offering reasonable prices and 1-year-old cabbage kimchi imported from South Korea.

Even though I was alone, the hostess seated me near the front of the restaurant at a table for four. A wooden box held metal chopsticks and spoons.

Soft-tofu stews are $9.99 each, with rice, seven free side dishes and an egg souffle. Nine versions of a rice-based dish called bibimbap are served, from $9.99 to $14.99.


This is the first Korean restaurant I've seen that lists the weight of one order of barbecue (one-half pound), starting at a low $9.99 for one portion (sliced pork belly).

To cook on the table, a minimum of two orders is required. Shrimp also is available, though not listed.

The old kimci, called Mukeunji, is available for $3.99, but it is also used in some of the stews, such as the soft-tofu and kimchi stew I ordered ($9.99).


The wonderful panchan or side dishes included fresh cabbage kimchi, white radish kimchi, tiny shrimp in their crunchy shells, potato salad with mayo, bean sprouts, stewed tofu and preserved radish. I asked for more stewed tofu and fresh kimchi. 

I  also asked for brown rice, which was closer to black with small black beans, though the portion wasn't as big as the white rice served at So Gong Dong and other soft-tofu houses.

My tofu stew was spicy and tasted tangy from the 1-year-old kimchi. But I couldn't finish the stew and took some of it home in a small container. Once reheated, it made the perfect snack.

Mukeunji gave me just what I needed when eating alone: a warm welcome and lots of good food at a reasonable price.

Mukeunji Korean Restaurant, 217 Broad Ave., Palisades Park;
201-363-0600. Open every day from 10:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Organic-food mob

I drove over to Whole Foods in Paramus on Saturday afternoon and found dozens of drivers searching for a parking space -- as if the store was giving away organic food.

Shoppers were blowing horns and cutting off other cars. I turned around and went home.

I have until March 23 to use an American Express credit-card promotion giving me $10 off a $50 order.


At Fuddruckers headquarters in Texas, a woman in the franchise department said the shuttered Paramus restaurant is not expected to reopen. 

She said the franchisee had lost his lease after more than 20 years at the location on Route 4. The other half of the building houses Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, which is still open.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

All dining coupons aren't created equal

Orange Glazed Crispy Sole at Session Bistro in Maywood.

I really can't fault the food and service at Session Bistro in Maywood, but how does a restaurant run out of seltzer?

On Friday night, I had a satisfying seafood dinner at the small BYO by the tracks, washed down with a nice Italian red wine I brought from home.

But it wasn't until after I had purchased a $25 dining certificate for $10 that I saw "special instructions" on the printout. I would have to spend a total of $35 and an 18% gratuity would be added before my discount.

Family away

My family was away for a three-day weekend and I couldn't persuade a friend to join me, so I went alone, hoping I could find an appetizer, salad and entree to reach the $35 threshold.

Session calls itself a fusion restaurant, but it has a hard time filling what was once an Italian deli, judging from my visit for dinner on Friday night and a breakfast there on Jan. 27, when a friend and I were the only customers.

For dinner, the tables are covered with white cloths, but industrial-looking electrical sockets are visible high on one wall. At breakfast, I noticed some of the drop-ceiling tiles were discolored.

Table for one

Although there were empty tables for four on Friday, the host insisted I sit at a table for two next to a bar, with the register and telephone only inches away from the right side of my head.

I started with an appetizer from the specials read to me by the waiter, Grilled Baby Octopus with Arugula and White-Bean Puree for $9.95. The tender octopus was delicious and perfectly grilled.

When I asked the waiter for seltzer, he said it had run out. I drank water, in addition to my wine.

Soup had meat

The waiter said soup or organic salad came with entrees, but I told him I wasn't eating meat, so he said I'd have to have the salad. 

The small bowl of greens, blue cheese, diced cucumber and refrigerated grape tomato was dressed with a French vinaigrette the chef made. Very nice.

My entree was a tasty Orange Glazed Crispy Sole, served over rice, for $17.95. The waiter said the kitchen didn't have brown rice, but offered me a sweet potato puree instead.

Tempura of fish

The large, moist fillet was prepared in the style of tempura, with what I felt was too much batter, and served over the sweet potato puree and Chinese broccoli. The pleasant orange-chili glaze contained fresh citrus.

I was pleasantly full, but short of the $35 minimum, so I ordered another octopus appetizer, which I like as much as the first.

My food bill was $37.85 with a $25 discount. Tax was 90 cents, and no 18% gratuity had been added. I left a $6 tip. American Express credit cards aren't accepted there.

I won't be buying any more certificates. I prefer vouchers from Groupon or Living Social, which have no minimum spending above the total value of the vouchers.

I've found Travelzoo vouchers exaggerate the total value of the deals.

Session Bistro, 245 Maywood Ave., Maywood; 201-880-7810.
BYO. Parking in lot.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A tale of one sauce and two dinners

Fresh fish at Costco Wholesale in South San Francisco, Calif. The warehouse store carries wild-caught fish from the Pacific that New Jersey shoppers never see at their Costco.

Editor's note: Today's bill of fare includes how to turn one sauce into two dinners, reduced-fat cheeses and a few sales items I found at Whole Foods Market and H Mart.

We love the wild-caught fish fillets available at Costco Wholesale, and cooking them with tomatoes ensures good eating for at least two home-cooked dinners.

No recipe is required. Anyone who can open cans and boil pasta can turn out two satisfying meals.

I started with fresh Pacific cod fillets from the Hackensack Costco for $7.99 a pound and two cans of tomatoes I had in the cupboard -- a large can of whole peeled tomatoes and a smaller can of diced organic tomatoes with sea salt.

I emptied the cans into a deep, 12-inch non-stick pan with a glass cover, added a few ounces of olive oil and seasonings, including powdered garlic, red pepper flakes, and dried Italian herbs, and the juice from two limes from the refrigerator.

I covered the pan and brought the tomatoes to a boil over a medium-high heat.

I cut the large, long fillets into pieces of roughly 4 ounces to 6 ounces, added a little salt and put them into the tomatoes, lowering the heat to medium and covering the pan.The flaky fish was ready in about 15 minutes.

Rice and pasta

I used a rice cooker to prepare organic long-grain brown rice with lentils. I started the rice first, because that took about 30 minutes. I spooned the fish with the tomatoes over the rice and added a salad, wine and seltzer for a wonderful dinner.

There was plenty of sauce left, so the next night, I heated it up in a smaller sautee pan with a cover and used a separate pan to boil about one-third of a pound of Colavita whole-wheat capellini, which took 4 minutes.

I drained the pasta, added it to the sauce, mixed them together, covered the pan and cooked the pasta for another 2 minutes, then turned off the heat to allow the pasta to soak up the sauce.

I ate this pasta in the fish-flavored sauce with leftover cod, another salad and grated cheese. 

Other fish

Fish and tomatoes go together well, so this preparation is terrific for any of the other fillets found at Costco, such as wild-caught flounder and haddock, and farmed catfish, or the many whole fish sold at H Mart, the Korean supermarket chain.

Alternately, you can use a 32-ounce bottle of pasta sauce, plus a small can of tomato sauce, to prepare the fish on the first night, yielding a thicker sauce for the pasta on the second night.

I also like to add a can of anchovies and their oil to the sauce for a more robust flavor, though I didn't do so this time. 

When boiling pasta, it's not necessary to use the 4 to 6 quarts of water called for on the package nor to salt the water, especially if your sauce and fish have added salt.

The capellini, which is like angel hairs, cooked in 2 to 3 inches of water.

Old cheese

Grana Padano from Italy once was called "caseus vetus" or "old cheese," according to the small print on the package I bought at the Hackensack Costco for $9.49 a pound.

The wedge of grainy cheese, made with part-skimmed cow's milk and aged over 18 months, is sold under Costco's Kirkland Signature label.

The cheese and fresh fruit make a great dessert.

Other reduced-fat cheeses available at Costco include thin-sliced Jarlsberg Swiss Cheese at $9.99 for 2 pounds and sliced Finlandia Swiss, Cheddar. Havarti and Colby Jack, also $9.99 for 2 pounds.

The Jarlsberg has 50% less fat than regular cheese, the Finlandia 25% less fat than full-fat cheese.

I use the Jalrsberg Swiss in omelets, eat it with fruit or roll it up with Kirkland Signature smoked wild salmon for a snack.

Sale items

On Monday at H Mart in Little Ferry, I picked up a box of 16 Champagne mangoes from Mexico for $9.99, a savings of $3.

Fresh collard greens were 99 cents a pound. Two prepared items -- stir-fried japchae or translucent yam-flour noodles and kimbap or a roll with seaweed, rice, vegetables and imitation crab -- were $4.99 each for a 1-pound package.

On Tuesday at Whole Foods Market in Paramus, 59-ounce bottles of Indian River Select 100% Florida Orange Juice (not from concentrate) were 2 for $5 -- about the same price per ounce as Tropicana in the 64-ounce cartons at Costco.

A wedge of fig cake with Marcona almonds from Valencia, Spain, was $7.99 a pound -- $2 a pound less than at Fairway Market in Paramus, the only other store where I've seen this product.


We had a terrific meal at Wondee's on Saturday evening, seated at a table near the front plate-glass windows, and we got the Thai soups and salad we ordered in only about 5 minutes.

I especially like the tofu salad with its sweet-sour-spicy dressing, fruit and lettuce leaves. We chose a whole fresh red snapper steamed with garlic and chili, and served on a fish-shaped metal plate over a burner ($18).

The rest of the family had won ton soup with pork, and steamed shrimp-and-pork dumplings. 

Wondee's, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700.
BYO. Free parking in rear lot.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Making coupons work for you

Will Fuddruckers reopen in Paramus?

 Editor's note: Today's bill of fare includes using coupons to buy healthy food, dinner at The Bergen Room, Fuddruckers in Paramus, Costco Wholesale, Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice, chocolate syrup made without high fructose corn syrup, and a fond food memory from my recent San Francisco trip.

I'm not a big fan of coupons and all the processed food you can buy at a discount with them. In terms of nutrition, they are no bargain.

But I found some coupons in the Sunday newspaper that gave me discounts on Silver Palate oatmeal and Smart Balance's butter-like spread and fat-free lactose-free milk.

At the ShopRite in Paramus, a 16-ounce box of Silver Palate Thick & Rough Oatmeal was on sale for $3.49 (50 cents off) with an additional savings of $1.50 -- or $1.99.

With two $1-off coupons, I bought two boxes of Silver Palate oatmeal for 99 cents each.

Smart Balance spread also was on sale for $3.49 (30 cents off) and with a doubled 75-cents coupon, each 15-ounce container was $1.99. 

Smart Balance lactose-free milk wasn't on sale, but with a $1-off coupon, I was able to get two half-gallons of the fat-free free stuff for $6.98 -- 10 cents more than ShopRite's lactose-free milk.

Smart Balance says its fat-free, lactose-free milk is as "thick and creamy" as 2% milk.

I also had coupons for Silver Palate pasta sauce, which was on sale, but even with the extra discount, they weren't a good buy.

I also picked up other sale items, including two 16-ounce containers of Florida strawberries and a dozen Land of Lakes Large Brown Eggs, all for $1.99 each.

Six-ounce containers of ShopRite low-fat yogurt -- made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup -- were 45 cents each.

Healthier choices?

We met friends for dinner Thursday night at The Bergen Room -- the restaurant run by the culinary program at Bergen Community College in Paramus -- but I wonder why there were no healthy choices on the limited menu.

The vast majority of the "customers" are frugal senior citizens who, like me, are watching what they eat to control their cholesterol intake or avoid clogging their coronary arteries.

The only two entrees available were Grilled Strip Steak with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Asparagus, and Shrimp with Fettuccine in Alfredo Sauce, which is made with cream and butter.

I asked the waitress (a student) whether I could have the pasta in a tomato sauce, but she said the only sauce available was Alfredo. I have avoided that sauce like the plague.

I ate five shrimp and twirled the pasta around my fork for a few mouthfuls, but left most of the generous portion on the plate. I also had the asparagus from a friend's plate. My wife said some of her pasta was undercooked.

Both of my friends had the steak.

The menu listed two desserts, Key Lime Pie with Whipped Cream and Bergen Parfait. My wife tried the pie; I declined dessert.

Appetizers were Spicy Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese and Celery Sticks and French Onion Soup. I chose the latter, but didn't eat the bread or cheese that came with it. Caesar Salad also was served, with the dressing on the side.

Whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, fresh fruit for dessert? Not available.

The chief draw here are the prices. A three-course dinner with tea, lemonade or coffee was $9.50 per person. I left $25 for my wife and I.

This dinner didn't have a theme, unlike the first time we ate in The Bergen Room in April 2011 and enjoyed "A Taste of Latin Cuisine," which included a delicious corn chowder, a Boston lettuce salad and a fish entree.

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


In the past few days, I've been calling Fuddruckers headquarters in Texas, but haven't had any success in finding out why the Route 4 restaurant closed and whether it will reopen elsewhere.

I called the Paramus Health Department on Friday and was told the popular hamburger restaurant had gone out of business. The company says it was a franchise.

A Web site called Manta estimated the restaurant's annual revenues at $1 million to $2.5 million, and said it employed 20 to 49 people.
English: A cheeseburger and French fries on a ...
A Fuddruckers platter.

When I ate meat, I loved going to the Paramus restaurant for a naturally raised ostrich burger and baked potato, with a small bottle of wine and plenty of freshly made salsa, sliced tomato and jalapeno peppers from the free fixings bar.

I washed it all down with unlimited seltzer, which was free. They also served a a great catfish sandwich. Customers ordered at a counter after waiting in line, between beer cases.

Fuddruckers was the first of the so-called premium hamburger chains, and when the Paramus store first opened, you could see into a cold room hung with the beef that would be freshly ground for the burgers.

New soup at Costco

I enjoyed Cedarlane-brand All Natural Vegetable Miso Soup, which I picked up at Costco Wholesale recently from the same refrigerated case where I've found Cedarlane's Chopped Vegetable & Barley Soup.

The soup is made with vegetable broth, but contains "chicken base," so it isn't vegetarian. Ingredients include mushrooms, edamame, snow peas, corn, baby spinach and green onions in a Japanese-style miso. 

You get two 32-0unce containers (4 pounds) for just under $10. One container of soup and a big salad with sliced cheese and wild lox makes a nice, light dinner.


On Thursday, I found a 4-pound bag of wild Maine blueberries in the freezer case at Costco in Hackensack that rang up at $9.99, compared to $9.89 for a much smaller bag of Kirkland Signature Whole Dried Blueberries, which I've been buying for a few years and adding to pancakes and hot cereal.

I've been looking for a substitute for the dried blueberries, because they include "sugar, natural flavor and sunflower oil." 

I saw a man grab a bag of the dried, sugar-added blueberries at Costco and tell his wife and son, "You start eating these and before you know it, you've had a $10 snack."

So, it's no surprise he had a big pot belly that made him look pregnant.

Taste of Tropicana

The FDA temporarily halted imports of orange juice from Brazil, fearing they contained a banned fungicide, prompting Tropicana to start using 100% Florida orange juice in its Pure Premium product.

I recently finished four or five bottles of Tropicana that contained juice from the U.S. and Brazil, and I've noticed the pure Florida juice tastes a lot better than the blend.

I'll have to watch the labels on Tropicana to see if the company continues to use 100% Florida orange juice.

Chocolate syrup

On Friday, I stopped at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street to see if I could find chocolate syrup made without high fructose corn syrup after returning two bottles with corn syrup to ShopRite and getting a refund.

My wife bought them for our teenage son, who makes chocolate milk with the syrup or pours it over ice cream.

The store carries Nestle Nesquik Chocolate Syrup and the front label states: "NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP." It is made with sugar, water and cocoa.

A 22-ounce bottle was $2.50.

El Huarache Loco

I returned from San Francisco on Feb. 20, but can still taste a large taco filled with black mushrooms, crema and hot sauce -- a special of the day I bought from a Mexican food stand in the Alemany Farmers' Market (not Almeda or Alameda, as I wrote earlier).

The thick, fluffy hand-made corn tortilla was unusual, almost like bread, and it had been heated on a griddle. I also had a cactus salad. Both were delicious.

If you visit Fog City, don't forget to look for El Huarache Loco's food truck or stand.

Web site: Wonderful Mexican food

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Friday, March 9, 2012

They're kosher, but are they any good?

Kosher McDonalds restaurant in Ashqelon, Israel
In a kosher restaurant, no dish mixes meat and dairy.

After another good breakfast at The Golden Grill in Teaneck, I took a stroll and discovered a neighborhood of ethnic restaurants with a surprising diversity.

Most of the restaurants in the township's West Englewood section are found on Queen Anne Road and West Englewood Avenue -- all within several blocks.

And most are kosher, catering to a large number of Orthodox Jews and offering barbecue, pizza, sushi and Iranian or Mediterranean fare. They are supplemented by a kosher bagel shop, delicatessens and cafes.

Non-kosher places

But you'll also find non-kosher Chinese and soul-food takeout places, and the Golden Grill, which serves breakfast and lunch. 

And Patisserie St. Michele, a French bakery on Queen Anne Road, is not to be missed.

Restaurant row

Arrayed along one side of West Englewood Avenue are Chopstix Glatt Kosher Chinese Takeout, Dougie's BBQ, Rabica Mediterranean Cafe, Royal Grill (Mediterranean & Persian Cuisine) and Sushi Metsuyan.

Dougie's serves pasture-fed Black Angus beef raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. Rabica's menu lists salads, pasta and fish, with an appetizer and entree costing $20 to $30.

The newest place on Queen Anne Road is Schnitzel+, a restaurant with a bright, modern orange-and-white interior that specializes in Israeli-style breaded chicken cutlets.

$16 family pizza

Sammy's New York Pizzeria has family-size pies starting at $16, and offers  gluten-free dough. 

Non-kosher options include Zen Kitchen, the Chinese takeout shop we've been using for more than five years, and Mom & Pop's Southern Kitchen on State Street.

At The Golden Grill, a breakfast of two eggs, fried whiting or a large fishcake made from canned salmon, home fries and a small glass of juice is $6.50.

Kosher dos and donts

If you plan to visit a kosher restaurant, keep in mind they usually are more expensive than their non-kosher counterparts. They also close on Friday afternoons or evenings, in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and reopen on Saturday nights.

They also close the night before Jewish holidays.

If you love seafood, don't expect to find lobster or other shellfish, squid or shrimp, all of which are not "kosher."

And you cannot bring a bottle to a kosher BYO unless the wine is kosher.

Are they any good?

When I still ate meat, I might have tried the naturally raised beef at Dougie's BBQ, but now I have no interest in paying more for kosher food that is about the same quality as non-kosher food, especially because I couldn't find a wide range of seafood when dining out.

Please use Google for addresses and phone numbers.

Here are a few Web sites: 


Chinese, Japanese and Thai food 

Home of the 24-ounce burger