Saturday, April 28, 2012

Is it a student center or a supermarket?

The scene at a Whole Foods Market in SoHo, not at a nearby university.
Another unusual feature of this Manhattan store is a gelato bar on the first floor.
Is Bowery -- or skid row -- an appropriate name for the store's burger bar?
Who is drinking all the tea to go with these tea cookies?
The sushi bar uses a conveyor belt to present items priced at $3 and up.
A $45-a-month Whole Foods Market Wellness Club entitles members to cooking and yoga classes, and discounts of 10% on food and other items, including these salad bowls.
Members of a cooking class enjoying the fruits of their labor in the Culinary Center.
Take a seat and order dinner from an open kitchen (menu below).
Pan-Seared Cod with Couscous and Mango Salsa is only $16.99.
Bars and restaurants on Eldridge Street are a few blocks away.
Family Recipe (231 Eldridge St.) is owned by a female Japanese chef.
A bodega is a reminder you are on the Lower East Side.
Zoe is another restaurant on Eldridge Street.
Beautiful tiles adorn a hallway in a residential building.

Every Whole Foods Market is different, and the two-level store on East Houston Street in Manhattan is unlike any Whole Foods I've ever seen.

I spent a couple of hours there this past Thursday night, watching well-heeled neighborhood residents rub shoulders with apparently well-heeled students from nearby New York University.

Getting an education

On the second level, where food is served, students seemed to predominate, gathering around books at communal tables, enjoying dinner or relaxing in small couches and talking.

The store, one of seven Whole Foods in Manhattan, boasts of innovation. Here is an excerpt from its Web site:

"Check out Rustica Minardi, our interpretation of an Italian osteria; our Beer Room, with six beers on tap and extensive home-brew selection; the Brinery, a destination for all things pickled; Fresh & Wild salad station, and much more."

The store is in lower Manhattan, at East Houston Street and the Bowery (Third Avenue) -- borders of SoHo and the Lower East Side, respectively -- but it is called "the Bowery store."
Ignoring history

That is an unfortunate designation, especially when it is used at the burger bar, because it recalls horrific incidents in a nearby park on Chrystie Street in the early 1990s, when homeless men were robbed and set on fire. 

All Whole Foods Markets are a celebration of natural and organic food, but the two Manhattan stores I've visited recently make my Whole Foods in Paramus seem plain and unimaginative.

There is plenty of prepared sushi in Paramus, but nothing like the long sushi bar with a conveyor belt on East Houston Street.

Several rice bowls are available at the sushi bar.

The Paramus store offers an abundance of hot and cold prepared food for takeout or enjoyment in a small dining section, but you can't look at a menu and ask a chef to prepare your dinner before your eyes and serve it to you, as you can on East Houston Street.

I once visited the Whole Foods in Union Township, in Union County, and was amazed by Osteria, its small Italian-American restaurant, where you can order a la carte or choose a pasta-and-salad meal for 4 people for only $25.

And wine is available with your meal.

Why can't we have that in Paramus?

Whole Foods Market, 95 E. Houston St., Manhattan; 212-420-1320; open 7 days from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Web site:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A $5 lunch comes with a catch

Bowl of Sushi (Painting by Hiroshige)
Bowl of Sushi by Hiroshige. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Editor's note: Today's buffet includes a visit to a restaurant in Hazlet, the Jamaican national dish, how to make an open-face omelet, shopping at Trader Joe's, another Korean meal and a brief discussion of 'road food.'

Around midday at Park East, a restaurant and sushi bar in Hazlet, you'll be handed a card listing more than a dozen $5 lunches.

But if you don't eat meat, you'll be disappointed that most of them include beef, pork or chicken. All come with a side of potato chips.

Fish and chips

I asked the waiter to name the "catch" in one non-meat offering, Corona Battered Fish Sandwich, and whether I could substitute something for the potato chips.

He said the fish was cod, but that if I wanted salad, coleslaw or anything else, I would have to pay a $3 supplement, as listed on the back of the card.  

I go vegetarian

I then asked about the a la carte vegetables ($4 each), and whether the kitchen used butter -- another artery clogger I try to avoid. He said he believed they were steamed.

I ordered the Chef's Vegetables and Sauteed Spinach, a cup of black coffee and water (a total of $10.34 -- $2.34 for coffee).

An acquaintance came in 10 minutes later, sat down at my table and ordered the Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich with potato chips ($5). The hero was the standard size.

Is that butter?

The sauteed spinach tasted wonderful. Was that "buttery taste" from butter?

At the bottom of my small bowl of zucchini, carrots and string beans was a puddle of ... butter? 

However, the place seems serious about sushi. I saw an employee ducking into the back of the sushi bar with a plastic tub holding two or three whole fish.

Park East, 3352 Route 35, Hazlet; 1-732-739-2002.

In my home, a pan of Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish goes quickly.
When we said we would buy 24 cans, ShopRite cut the price further.
We used salted Alaskan pollock from Costco Wholesale, instead of more expensive cod.

Many Jamaican-Americans rely on visiting relatives to bring them an odd tree fruit called ackee.

Though it is called a fruit, ackee isn't sweet. 

But its blandness is a perfect foil to the salted fish and sweet and hot peppers in Ackee and Saltfish, a Jamaican breakfast served with boiled, soft green bananas.

We usually buy our ackee in a can, but quality varies and so does the price -- $8.99 to $14.99 for 19 ounces of the fruit in salt water, what you'd use to make a pan of Ackee and Saltfish, the national dish.

We got a discount on a case of 24 cans at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street, but recently, my wife was told the discount is no longer available.

Ackee on sale

The other day, she called from the Rochelle Park  ShopRite and said 19-ounce cans of Grace-brand Ackees were on sale for $9.99 each. 

She saw the same brand for more than $14 a can at Hackensack Market.

I suggested she ask ShopRite's manager if she could get a discount on 24 cans, and he agreed. We paid $9 a can -- a savings of $59.76 on the case, according to the receipt.

(Originally, I wrote she got the deal at the Englewood store, where she shops most of the time.)

Open-face omelet

Heat up a couple of ounces of extra-virgin olive oil and add liquid egg whites.
Add slices of smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon.
Add a slice of cheese, such as yogurt cheese with jalapenos.
Tip pan if liquid egg remains on top of omelet and cook it on the sides of the hot pan.

Making an open-face omelet allows you to add more ingredients than if you tried to make a folded omelet, and you never have to turn it over and risk ruining it.

Use a non-stick pan and a high flame to heat up a couple of ounces of extra-virgin olive oil, then turn down the heat to finish the omelet and produce a nicely browned bottom.

I use a generous pinch of Aleppo red pepper from Fattal's Syrian Bakery in Paterson on all of my egg dishes.

The liquid egg whites and smoked wild salmon, both from Costco Wholesale, already contain salt.

Trader Joe's

I bought sliced Yogurt Cheese with Jalapenos at Trader Joe's in Paramus ($4.79 for 12 ounces).

On the same trip, I picked up five 1-pound packages of Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli (spirals), Penne and Spaghetti ($1.39 each).

Liters of 100% Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and 100% Spanish Extra-Virgin Olive Oil were $5.99 each.

I also bought antibiotic- and preservative-free bacon and hot dogs for $3.99 and $4.29, respectively.

A 64-ounce bottle of Organic Lemonade was $2.99, compared to two 96-ounce bottles of Organic Lemonade for $7.69 at Costco Wholesale.

Costco Wholesale Corporate Logo
Costco Wholesale Logo ( Wikipedia)

Food notes

We had another good meal at Muk Eun Ji, a Korean restaurant that matches or beats competitors' prices for barbecue, soft-tofu stew and other traditional dishes.

Barbecue portions are 8 ounces. The restaurant also is known for serving tangy, 1-year-old imported  kimchi ($3.99). 

My wife and son selected two meats for their barbecue meal -- sliced pork belly in wine ($12.99) and bulgogi or  marinated, thinly sliced beef ($16.99) -- and cooked them on a table-top grill.

They preferred the beef to the pork, which they said was dry.

I had tofu stew ($9.99) and we shared a stone-bowl vegetarian bibimbap, a rice-based dish ($11.99) that allows you to adjust spiciness with gojuchang, a red-pepper paste in a squeeze bottle.

We especially liked the soundtrack of American rock-and-roll songs.

Muk Eun Ji, 217 Broad Ave., Palisades Park; 

Organic chicken feet

Although I've stopped eating meat, I've been trying to get my wife to buy naturally raised pork, beef and other items from Whole Food Market in Paramus.

For years, she bought mystery chicken feet from ShopRite for one of the soups she makes.

Earlier this month, she found organic chicken feet at Whole Foods for $2.99 a pound and organic chicken necks for $3.99 a pound.

In the store's freezer, I've also found organic beef bones with marrow and organic goat meat on the bone.

'Road food' 

Recently, in the truck lanes of the New Jersey Turnpike, I saw a Costco Wholesale tractor-trailer being passed by a ShopRite 18-wheeler.

A tractor-trailer from Perdue lagged -- just as the antibiotic-filled chicken does in quality.

On Cedar Lane in Teaneck, I saw the driver of a red Coca-Cola truck lean out of his cab's open window and spit onto the pavement below.

A couple of blocks later, stopped in traffic again, he pinched his nostrils between his fingers and expelled the contents of his nose.

I'm glad I stopped drinking the teeth-rotting beverage in 1975.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When 'Costco' is what's for dinner

From Costco Wholesale: Fresh flounder, organic brown rice with lentils and lime sections.
Earthbound Farm's Organic Spring Mix, canned-fish salad and Sunset beefsteak tomato.
In the canned-fish salad, only the Moroccan sardines, right, didn't come from Costco.


Food from Costco Wholesale forms the basis of most of our home-cooked meals -- quality is high, prices are low and the Hackensack warehouse store is closer to me than any of the supermarkets I patronize.

I usually can find three kinds of fresh, wild-caught fish fillets for $7.99 a pound -- flounder from Canada, haddock from Iceland and cod from the Pacific -- but when I can't, I'll pick up a 3-pound bag of frozen wild salmon or mahi-mahi, one of the meatiest fish around.

In a covered pot, I've cooked a frozen mahi-mahi fillet in bottled Mexican green salsa in under 30 minutes, and this preparation requires only the addition of a little lime juice to the sauce.

Last week, I picked up two 36-ounce bottles of Wholesome Sweeteners' Organic Blue Agave for $9.89. 

When this item first appeared in October 2011, it came in 23.5-ounce bottles for $7.75.

I use it to sweeten plain, low-fat yogurt and espresso, but I overheard a woman tell her friend that she uses it as pancake syrup.

Terrific produce

Sunset-brand Beefsteak Tomatoes are pesticide free, and come in a 5-pound box ($6.79). They give the Jersey Tomato a run for its money.

I have never found a better-tasting salad than Earthbound Farm's Organic Spring Mix or its 50-50 Spring Mix and Spinach, and the price is usually $4.99 or $4.79 for a 1-pound container.

When this salad mix in on sale at ShopRite, a 1-pound container is $5.99. Otherwise, it's $6.99.

Trader Joe's

An acquaintance says the prices at Trader Joe's never change, which may be true, but they are higher than what Costco asks for an equivalent item and the small selection could never replace the warehouse store.

Trader Joe's, on the other hand, carries preservative and antibiotic-free cold cuts, hot dogs and bacon; organic whole-wheat pasta, sliced yogurt cheese and other items I've never seen at Costco.

Price roller coaster

Costco's prices go up and down -- $2.99 for three of those large, seedless cucumbers on April 12, $3.39 on Monday.

Last week, I also found six tins of Season-brand skinless-and-boneless sardines for $5.99 (after an instant $2 coupon), but the cans are smaller than the ones from Al Shark Moroccan sardines with skin and bones ($1 each at Brothers Produce in Paterson).

Liquid eggs

A 10-pound bag of Earthbound Farm's Organic Carrots were $6.99. A dozen 11.1-ounce cartons of Vita Coco pure coconut water were $15.79.

Six 16-ounce cartons of Kirkland Signature Real Eggs (99% pure egg whites) were $9.49 or $1.58 each, and the liquid eggs can be frozen. 

Kirkland Signature is Costco's house brand.

Two Kirkland Signature Organic Brown Eggs topped with a slice of reduced-fat cheese.

Mashed sweet potatoes

For a side dish, mashed sweet potatoes with garlic couldn't be easier.

Wash and then cut the sweet potatoes in two or three pieces, retaining the skin. Smash garlic cloves with the flat side of a chef's knife, peel and trim the hard stem end. 

Boil the sweet potatoes and garlic until  the potatoes are soft -- 20 to 30 minutes.

Drain the pot, and for a large serving, add 3 or 4 ounces of extra-virgin olive oil or Smart Balance spread, a little salt and Costco's Organic No-Salt Seasoning, and mash.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

A generous slice of South Korea on Lincoln Highway in Edison

The attractive interior of SKD Tofu House in Edison, where a complete meal of tofu, rice and side dishes costs $10.

Soft-tofu stew includes five side dishes and a fresh egg to cook in the hot broth.
Japchae is a non-spicy dish pairing vegetables with translucent, yam-flour noodles.

You can't argue with the freshness of live fish at H Mart.
The food court at the Korean supermarket in Edison.
Pigs' feet also are available sliced.
The buffet at Picnic Garden, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ restaurant.
Carnivores will delight at the abundance of raw meat on the buffet.
Raw shrimp, right, are displayed on plenty of ice. Each table has a big grill.


A friend who lives in Edison invited me to have dinner at a soft-tofu restaurant, which turned out to be part of a large Korean shopping center on Lincoln Highway.

SKD Tofu House and Picnic Garden BBQ Restaurant flank a big Korean supermarket, H Mart. 

Other businesses include Korean and Chinese-American banks and a Korean bakery.

Another wing of the shopping center, which opened about 18 months ago, is vacant.

For a soft-tofu restaurant, SKD has a stylish interior, and the food and service are as good as any of the tofu houses I've tried in Bergen County.

My friend ordered a soft-tofu stew, which came with excellent cabbage and cucumber kimchis, three other free side dishes, a fresh egg and a small rice for $10, including tax. 

I had a large serving of japchae, translucent yam-flour noodles that are stir-fried with shredded vegetables, and asked the kitchen to hold the beef ($12).

We got a second set of the delicious side dishes, including bean sprouts and pressed tofu, as well as  hot tea.

SKD in the restaurant's name stands for So Kong Dong, a neighborhood in Seoul, Korea, known for its soft-tofu houses.

H Mart shopping

After dinner, we shopped at H Mart and looked over the all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ buffet at Picnic Garden.

At H Mart, I bought a box of 10 Champagne mangoes for $4.44 and a box of 20 Shin Ramyun Gourmet Spicy dried-noodle soups for $14.99 or 75 cents each (usually $17.99).

These superior mangoes also are known as Ataulfo, a variety with yellow skin, a thin seed, fiber-less flesh and buttery texture.

The Edison H Mart is one of six in New Jersey, including the Englewood, Little Ferry, Ridgefield and Fort Lee stores I usually shop in for fish, Asian greens and prepared Korean food.

In fact, for dinner tonight, we're having fresh, whole, wild-caught sea bass my wife bought on Saturday at the Englewood H Mart for $5.99 a pound. 

I came across the history of the supermarket chain on its Web site:

"We are H Mart, short for 'Han Ah Reum,'
which just happens to mean
'One Arm Full of Groceries.'
We're an Asian-inspired supermarket
started in 1982 in Queens, New York.
Despite our small beginnings,
we have grown because of
our continuous commitment to
the freshest ingredients in all our offerings --
while never forgetting that
value is just as important.
We hope our culture brings you new inspiration and
we look forward to seeing you soon." 

Edison, which has nearly 100,000 residents, is a center of Asian-American culture and food. It is about 40 miles south of Hackensack.


SKD Tofu House, 1755 Lincoln Highway, Edison; 1-732-777-2110. Web site: Korean Comfort Food

H Mart, 1761 Lincoln Highway, Edison; 1-732-339-1530. Web site: Better Food, Better Life

Picnic Garden, 1763 Lincoln Highway; 1-732-650-1000. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Low quality, high prices

T.G.I. Friday's
T.G.I. Friday's (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor's note: Today, I compare meals at T.G.I. Friday's and Lotus Cafe, both in Hackensack; and publish photos of Korean comfort food in Palisades Park.

I once had a cheeseburger at what I believe was the first T.G.I. Friday's -- on Third Avenue in Manhattan.

That was decades ago, and I no longer eat cheeseburgers or any other meat or poultry, and when I did, I tried to find beef, lamb or chicken raised without antibiotics or growth hormones.

I worked in Hackensack for nearly 30 years, and never visited the T.G.I. Friday's on Hackensack Avenue, so I wished my wife well earlier this month, when my 14-year-old son said he wanted to have dinner there.

My wife, son and his best friend spent $74.90 on food and soft drinks, got $18.72 in coupon and other discounts, and ended up paying $69.11 for three, including tip and tax.

For not much more than the original amount, four of us could have had a six-course Chinese dinner across the way -- at Lotus Cafe, a BYO in the Home Depot Shopping Center.

Looking at the itemized T.G.I. Friday's check, I see lemonades for $3.49 each, with free refills.

They shared the Tuscan Spinach Dip for $9.19. According to the nutritional information on the company Web site, the dip has a whopping 1,000 calories and 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

Nothing on the Web site indicates that Chicken Fingers ($10.79) or any other meat is naturally raised. 

At Lotus Cafe, the Dinner for Four ($66) includes Chicken & Wild Bamboo Soup, Mooshu Delight, Seafood and Tofu Casserole, Filet of Sole with Ginger and Scallion, Garden Fresh Vegetable and fruit for dessert.

With tip and tax, the dinner costs about $21 per person.

Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 201-488-3202. Open 7 days. BYO.

Kimchi with raw oyster

Last weekend, we had another great meal at So Gong Dong in Palisades Park: Soft-tofu stew, fresh egg, seafood pancake, rice and side dishes.

The stew, a popular Korean comfort food, is $9.99 with rice and four side dishes, and tax is included in the price, which is rounded up to $10 on the check. 

The stew is available not spicy, spicy or more spicy.

A birthday party at the second-floor restaurant.
I broke a fresh egg into my bubbling soft-tofu stew with oysters.
A seafood-vegetable pancake is made from rice flour.
We love the kimchi (rear), but not when we get a raw oyster with it.

So Gong Dong Restaurant, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 201-313-5550. Open 7 days. BYO. Free parking on side streets.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just what the doctor ordered

The Garden Cafe salad bar at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.
I usually make a big salad, and add a small soup, right.

My first impressions of the cafeteria at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center came as I walked past it three times a week on the way out from sessions in cardiac rehab.

It was before 10 a.m., and often, there was nothing on the salad bar. I saw whipped cream and strawberries nearby, and assumed the worst.

That was last year. 

This year, I am volunteering at the hospital on Wednesdays and finishing my noon-to-4 p.m. shift with a meal in the Drapkin Family Garden Cafe on the first floor, which is open to employees and the public.

Volunteers get a dining card worth $8, which just about covers a big salad and small soup. The salad bar is 53 cents an ounce.

I pile fresh spinach leaves and spring mix into a clear plastic container, adding chickpeas, kidney beans, beets, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumber, cherry tomato, olives and other items, drizzling everything with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

The cafe usually has a wonderful, non-meat soup, such as butternut squash, corn chowder, potato and leek, and thick vegetable barley (shown in photo).

Today, the non-meat soup was cheddar and broccoli, so I passed. 

Unfortunately, the opening on the cafe's recycling container is too small for the plastic container,  forcing me to take it home to recycle.

Drapkin Family Garden Cafe at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, 350 Engle St., Englewood. Open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

No-recipe home cooking in photos

Breakfast salad: Organic spring mix with beefsteak tomato, za'atar thyme mixture, and reduced fat cheese; cabbage kimchi, olives and canned-fish salad (yellowfin tuna, pink salmon and sardines).

Small mustard greens with a bottle of Mexican green salsa.

Mustard greens plated with half of a mahi-mahi fillet cooked in spicy green salsa or salsa verde and a sweet potato made in 6 minutes in a microwave (speed-cook setting).

An egg-white omelet with reduced-fat cheese, white anchovies and coarsely ground Aleppo pepper plated with leftover sugar pea shoots.

Fresh greens

I cook greens, fresh broccoli and French green beans the same way, and they are ready in under 5 minutes.

First, cut and wash your greens, then blanch in a covered pot with boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes.

Using the cover, drain the pot and put it back on the stove with no flame under it.

You can drizzle the greens with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle on a little salt and add seasonings such as powdered garlic and black pepper.

Or, you can add a little soy sauce and sesame oil, and no-salt organic seasoning. You're done.

Fish in green sauce

Pour half of a bottle of spicy Mexican salsa verde into a large, non-stick pot and warm it up. Add any kind of wild-caught fish fillets, including frozen mahi-mahi or Alaskan salmon.

Pour the rest of the sauce over the fish and squeeze the juice of one or two limes into the pot. Cover and cook for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on whether the fish is fresh of frozen.

You also can cook a whole fish this way. Slash each side in three places with a sharp knife to help you judge when the fish is done.

You can serve fish in green sauce with a sweet potato, organic brown rice with lentils, made in an electric rice cooker; or whole-wheat pasta with bottled sauce.

I reserve the green sauce for use with omelets or eggs fried sunny side up.

Canned fish salad

Empty canned fish and oil or water into a plastic container, add chopped celery or sweet pepper and then flavor with Dijon mustard, fresh lime or lemon juice and powdered cumin to taste.

Cover and refrigerate.


H Mart or other Asian supermarkets are great sources for a wide variety of fresh greens, including spinach, collard, mustard, bok choy and Chinese broccoli.

Costco Wholesale usually has fresh wild-caught haddock, flounder and Pacific cod, but when it doesn't, I buy frozen mahi-mahi or salmon in the freezer section.

Costco also sells Kirkland Signature Organic No Salt Seasoning, a blend of 21 spices and other ingredients.

ShopRite and Hackensack Market carry Mexican green salsa from Goya and La Costena. A 16-ounce bottle is enough to prepare as much as 2 pounds of fish.

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