Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Introducing the not-so-happy hour at Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack

At Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, the terrific guacamole is prepared from a single avocado at your table ($14), but during happy hour you can get unlimited refills. 

The restaurant makes fresh corn tortillas in the dining room.


For Christmas, my wife bought me a $100 gift card to Rosa Mexicano in Hackensack, a fine-dining favorite of ours where almost everything is made from scratch.

We decided to drive there today and use the card during the restaurant's happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (and all day Sunday).

During happy or cantina hour, bottles of Mexican beer are only $4, appetizers are discounted and you can get unlimited refills of the terrific guacamole, which is made with one avocado and costs $14.

Happy hour scratched

But not today.

When I walked in with my wife and mother-in-law this afternoon and told the hostess we were there for happy hour, she said it was cancelled for the holiday.

I said the restaurant's Web site didn't mention that; she asked another employee, then said she was sorry she couldn't accommodate us.

The bar was about half-full, and the experience was embarrassing, to say the least.

Silent Web site

I looked at Rosa Mexicano's Web site this morning and saw the happy hours listed, as well as special happy hour drink and food menus.

I saw nothing about the happy hour being called off, because Rosa Mexicano is serving a special New Year's Eve menu for $45 a person with unlimited margaritas, beer and other alcohol for another $28 a person.

If one person wants the special holiday menu, everyone at the table has to order it. Ditto for the drinks; I drink, but my wife and mother-in-law don't.

In addition, the menu includes chicken, sausage and Mexican doughnuts (churros), none of which I eat.

Paul the manager 

When we got home, I called and reached the restaurant's manager, who identified himself as Paul.

I mentioned the Web site's silence on happy hour being cancelled for the holiday.

He said I should have asked to speak to him, but also noted "he just got in" to work. He also said he wanted to make things right.

But I said the Web site should be updated, and he should train his hostess to be more flexible.

Then, I wished him a Happy New Year and hung up.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

At Costco, should you go for fresh or frozen from the deep sea?

I poached fresh, wild-caught Icelandic haddock fillets from Costco Wholesale in Roasted Poblano Salsa from Whole Foods Market in under 10 minutes. 

Editor's note: With only a couple of exceptions, I prefer fresh, wild-caught fish fillets from Costco Wholesale.


When I felt like fresh fish for dinner on Monday, I drove a couple of miles to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack at a little after 3 in the afternoon.

The warehouse store offers a large variety of seafood from all over the world -- fresh, frozen, wild and farmed.

As usual, I found fresh, wild-caught fillets of cod, haddock and flounder for as little as $7.99 a pound, and chose a 1.6-pound of package of flaky haddock from Iceland ($8.99 a pound).

I knew I had a 16-ounce bottle of 365 Everyday Value Roasted Poblano Salsa from Whole Foods Market and fresh limes at home, all I would need to poach the haddock, which I cut into serving pieces and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper.

Less than 10 minutes after the salsa and fresh lime juice came to a boil in a covered pan, I was spooning two portions of fish over leftover organic brown rice.

I actually cooked my haddock for only 5 minutes, and it continued cooking after I turned off the fire.

A glass of red wine and a triple-washed Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix Salad ($4.89 a pound) completed the meal.

Previously frozen lobster tails at Costco Wholesale are $21 a pound. The label describes them as "warm water" lobster, but the use of a preservative is a real turn-off, and I've never purchased them. Where are they from? The label doesn't say. See a comment at the end of the post for information on the origin of these lobster tails.
Boxes holding 10 pounds of frozen Red King Crab.
The label doesn't say where these cooked legs and claws come from, though we bought loose king crab legs from Costco's Seafood Road Show for our Christmas dinner, and I assumed they were from Alaska.
At the Hackensack warehouse store, previously frozen whole wild octopus from the Philippines, left, and frozen calamari tubes.

Frozen or previously frozen?

Costco's Seafood Road Show ended a long holiday run in Hackensack today, and we liked the loose frozen King Crab legs we bought for our Christmas dinner ($17.99 a pound).

We steamed the fully cooked legs for Christmas, and made a salad with the leftovers with diced celery, onion and sweet pepper, dressed with Dijon mustard and fresh lime juice.

We also like previously frozen Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon, which shot up to $18.89 a pound last May.

Recently, the price of 1 pound of the sliced salmon went down to $15.99, compared to $15.59 in May 2013.

We've also enjoyed frozen hake and wild sockeye salmon fillets.

But we avoid most of the frozen shellfish Costco sells, as well as the previously frozen farmed Black Tiger Shrimp from Vietnam.

We also are no fans of fresh farmed fish -- from the huge fillets of artificially colored salmon and steel-head trout to the tilapia.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Early Can Can Sale at ShopRite brings good news and bad news

Golden Pineapples are on sale today for only $1.99 each at the Paramus ShopRite, 224 Route 4 east.


The good news is ShopRite isn't waiting for January to kick off its winter Can Can Sale, which usually brings deep discounts on hundreds of items.

The bad news is there aren't that many great deals, at least judging from the Can Can Preview Sale at the Paramus ShopRite.

And store employees seemed to suggest bigger price cuts are still to come.

This morning, I picked up two Golden Pineapples for $1.99 each, the lowest price I've seen at the Paramus supermarket.

Friendly's Ice Cream in a 1.5-quart package was $2.59, a discount of $1.49, but Turkey Hill was only 50 cents off.

BPA-free Ziploc plastic containers for storing leftovers also were only 50 cents off. Two 9-cup containers were $3.49.

The ShopRite-brand was less, and the label said BPA, a chemical called Bisphenol A, isn't used to make the plastic in the containers.

Smart Balance spreads are great butter substitutes, and sometimes they are half-price at the Paramus ShopRite.

But not today, when the price for Smart Balance in 15-ounce containers was cut by just 50 cents.

A 4-pound bag of California Navel Oranges was $2.99.

The Can Can circular that came with the newspaper included a Super Coupon for Poland Spring Water in 16.9-ounce bottles.

But at $9 for three 24-bottle packs, the savings per bottle over Costco Wholesale is less than a half-cent a bottle.

It's not clear whether the sale prices on pineapples and oranges are part of the Can Can Preview Sale, and you need a store card to get any of the discounts.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Flooding at Little Ferry H Mart, Korean soft tofu in Palisades Park

On Saturday, customers trying to enter the parking lot of H Mart in Little Ferry wished they were piloting a boat.


H Mart customers love the bargains they find at the Korean supermarket chain's Little Ferry store, but can't shake the feeling the space is sorely in need of a makeover.

Flooding continues to occur in the parking lot. 

The actual store entrance is one of the shabbiest I have ever seen, and takes customers past a liquor concession.

Customers can easily see the interior begs for the same kind of renovation the Englewood store received more than a year ago.

I once peeked into the Little Ferry H Mart's worn public lunchroom and fled, never to return.

The Little Ferry H Mart appears to occupy half of a much larger building that once operated as Valley Fair and then Value Fair, a collection of small merchants. But they are long gone. 

On Saturday, I stopped in Little Ferry for a 15-pound bag of white rice, and also took home mangoes and scallions.

H Mart has sold 15-pound bags of Kokuho Yellow Label, a white rice grown in California, for as little as $7.99.

But the sale price shot up after a drought hit that state. On Saturday in Little Ferry, a 15-pound bag was $12.88.

I also picked up two other sale items, a box of 15 mangoes for $7.99, and five bunches of scallions for 99 cents with a store card.

H Mart, 260 Bergen Turnpike, Little Ferry; 201-814-0400. Open 7 days. 

Mangoes from Ecuador were a good buy, but I passed on the 5-pound box of Spanish Clementines, below.

Soft-tofu dinner in Pal Park

After the excesses of our Christmas Day dinner, we wanted a simple meal on Saturday, the one night we eat out, and headed for our favorite Korean soft-tofu restaurant in Palisades Park.

I am still in love with the bold flavors and value of this complete meal at So Gong Dong Tofu & B.B.Q. for only $10, including tax -- soft-tofu stew, a fresh egg, white rice, side dishes and tea.

Perilla Seeds and Oyster Soft Tofu was boiling furiously when it was set down in front of me, allowing me to poach a fresh egg in the steaming broth, below.

True comfort food: Eating a yolk broken over white rice.

We were served five complimentary side dishes, instead of the usual four, including cucumber and cabbage kimchis, above, and bean sprouts, sliced radish and seaweed with a spicy gochujang or vinegared red-pepper paste, below. One of the dishes holds a dipping sauce for the pajun or seafood and vegetable pancake we ordered.

Simple decor, with plenty of room for extended families.

A new superfood

I chose a relatively new item on the place-mat menu, Perilla Seeds and Oyster Soft Tofu, which is $10.99, a dollar more than the 13 soft-tofu stews without the seeds of the Asian Shiso plant.

I ordered the stew "more spicy," one of four levels on the menu, including "no spicy."

Perilla Seeds are said to have twice the heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids as chia seeds.

I couldn't see the seeds in the stew, which tasted a lot like the regular Oyster Soft Tofu I order, but I still enjoyed it.

My wife had her usual, Pork Soft Tofu "more spicy" ($9.99), and we also ordered Pajun, a seafood and vegetable pancake made from rice flour to share ($11.99).

So Gong Dong Tofu & B.B.Q., 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 201-313-5550. Open 7 days.

Valet parking and street parking. Meters in effect until 9 p.m. Side-street parking is free. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Homemade king crab salad, Costco corrects Egg Whites carton

Leftover Alaskan King Crab from our Christmas Day feast went into a salad dressed with Dijon mustard and fresh lime juice, front. I made a second mayo-free salad from canned Pink Salmon and sardines, rear. Most of the ingredients in both salads came from Costco Wholesale.


The best leftover from our huge Christmas Day dinner were two long fully cooked Alaskan King Crab legs I bought at Costco Wholesale.

I also had a claw from one of the four live lobsters we boiled.

I diced celery, onion and sweet peppers; shelled the crab and lobster, and mixed everything together with Dijon mustard, fresh lime juice, Chianti wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil and Costco's Organic No-Salt Seasoning, all to taste.

I made a second crunchy salad from three 6-ounce cans of wild Alaskan Pink Salmon and one of Season-brand Sardines, including their water and oil, also from Costco, and used the same dressing, plus ground cumin.

The new Kirkland Signature Egg Whites carton from Costco Wholesale. The previous container, which we bought in early June, was incorrect in saying there was no pull ring under the screw-off cap to deal with, below. 

A simple 100% egg-whites omelet with grated Pecorino Romano, a sheep's milk cheese from Italy available at Costco, makes a great breakfast when paired with leftover organic whole-wheat pasta shells from Whole Foods Market.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Bad service at Joyce Chinese Cuisine, Christmas dinner at home

The beautifully decorated dining room of Joyce Chinese Cuisine in River Edge is quite a contrast after you've seen litter, a broken sidewalk and parking rules that are difficult to fathom at the shabby strip mall on Kinderkamack Road the restaurant calls home.


When I found out a friend had made numerous business trips to Hong Kong, I asked him to meet me for dim sum at Lan Garden on Route 46 in Ridgefield.

But he said he had heard bad things about the Chinese restaurant, and suggested we have dim sum instead at Joyce Chinese Cuisine in River Edge.

When I got there on Tuesday afternoon, he was already seated and announced that, guess what, Joyce doesn't serve dim sum.

But the two Chinese restaurants have one thing in common: Indifferent service from a young staff.

The table at Joyce Chinese Cuisine held a tea pot, but only one cup, and a single glass of water.

After I arrived and sat down, the server brought us menus and went away, but I had to ask another waiter for a tea cup and a glass of water.

I liked the food at the Szechuan restaurant, especially an appetizer of Hot Spicy Cold Noodles ($5.50), with their delayed heat.

But after we finished it, a busboy came over and started to clear all of the dishes and chopsticks off of the table before I told him we were waiting for two other dishes.

Most of the other customers appeared to be Chinese, usually a good sign.

I have long been loyal to Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, where I see the same waiters year after year and have gotten excellent service.

An appetizer of Hot Spicy Cold Noodles is not to be missed.

A lunch entree of Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce with broccoli was $13.50.

Dry Sauteed String Beans can be ordered without meat ($10.25).

Wonderfully spicy carrot and radish, above, and peanuts are complimentary.

Test your chopstick skills by picking up these and putting them in your mouth.

Tea is free, but Joyce Chinese Cuisine does charge for premium brews.

Joyce Chinese Cuisine, 478 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge; 201-261-8858. Open 7 days. Parking in front and rear.

A bountiful seafood feast

We started our Christmas dinner this afternoon with two items from Costco Wholesale, Lobster Bisque and fully cooked Alaskan King Crab Legs, which I steamed for 15 minutes.

We followed that with four live lobsters, which averaged a little more than 1.5 pounds each. I ate mine with the juice of a fresh lime.

We spent $65 on the meaty crab legs and nearly $57 on the lobsters, but I'm planning to make a seafood salad with the leftovers.

After the soup, crab and lobster, I only had room for some yuca with garlic, but the rest of the family tucked into Cuban-style roast pork and dirty rice, along with the yuca.

Left uneaten were five whole fish a family friend prepared for our dinner.

We drank Kirkland Signature Prosecco, a sparkling dry white wine from Italy, and ShopRite's Sparkling Cider, made from 100% apple juice and imported from Spain.

A 24.5-ounce bottle was on sale with a store card for $1.49 on Tuesday, with a limit of four. That's a dollar off the usual price.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From Alaska to Cuba, our huge Christmas dinner will be global

A butterflied whole roasted pig at La Pola in West New York, a Cuban-sandwich shop that is a magnet for pork lovers at the holidays, below. A whole pig is $300.

Belarmino Rico named his shop after La Pola, the town in Spain where he was born. Few would argue with his claim that he is "The King of the Cuban Sandwich," which he learned to make in Havana after emigrating to Cuba.


I've lost count of how many courses we are planning for our Christmas dinner.

We've been gathering food since Monday, and this afternoon, my wife went to the ShopRite in Paramus for four live lobsters ($8.99 a pound).

Meanwhile, I brought home more than a pound of fresh spinach, which we plan to cook with extra-virgin olive and garlic.

Earlier, my wife visited a family friend who prepared five whole fish for our dinner on Thursday.

They will join king crab legs from Alaska ($17.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack), and Cuban-style roast pork with all the trimmings from La Pola in West New York.

The tip jar at La Pola.

Tortilla Espanola is a Spanish potato omelet.

A tray of steaming Cuban tamales.

We join the pork pilgrimage 

Every year on the day before Christmas, hundreds of Cuban-Americans and lovers of their garlic-rich cooking make the pilgrimage to La Pola, a Cuban-sandwich shop at 54th Street and Palisade Avenue in West New York.

Proprietor Belarmino Rico -- with the help of sons Tony and Joe, his wife and his loyal employees -- does a 24-hour marathon of preparing roast pork and side dishes for customers who stream into the small shop to pick up what they pre-ordered.

The day before Christmas is the busiest, but Rico also prepares Cuban holiday dishes for Thanksgiving and the new year.

This morning, my son joined me for the drive to La Pola, where he had a crispy Cuban sandwich and I sipped cafe con leche as I caught up with the Ricos.

We took home a roasted pork leg, a small Tortilla Espanola, a tray of Yuca with Garlic and another of Aroz Morro or congris, which is white rice cooked with black beans.

A couple of bags of Plantain Chips and a small plate of Chicharones or fried pork rinds completed our order.

Yuca with garlic is true comfort food.

The classic Cuban Black Beans.

A glazed ham.

The Ricos and their employees work tirelessly to fill Christmas orders.

Today, Belarmino Rico, center, waited on a steady stream of customers who had pre-ordered roast pork and side dishes for Christmas.
All of the legs, shoulders and whole pigs are roasted in a pizza oven, above.

La Pola's Cuban Sandwich ($7) is prepared in a heated press or plancha: The classic ingredients are roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles.

Joe Rico.

The six provinces of Cuba, above, and the Spanish flag, below, are painted on La Pola's plate-glass windows.

If you missed ordering roast pork for Christmas, La Pola will be taking orders for New Year's Eve.

La Pola, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 1-201-867-6028. Closed Christmas Day. Closed Sundays. Cash only.

Monday, December 22, 2014

When sun hides, homemade comfort food can help to lift your spirits

The yolks of two organic eggs from Costco Wholesale, served over organic brown rice, are the closest things to the sun I've seen lately.


Northern New Jersey has seen one dreary day after another, and the sun isn't going to be visible until Friday, according to the forecast I saw this afternoon.

That may be why, for breakfast today, I fried two organic eggs sunny side up, and added grated Pecorino Romano cheese before sliding them out of the pan over organic brown rice.

Another comfort dish I prepared for dinner this week were organic whole-wheat pasta shells from Whole Foods Market with anchovies and sardines.

My wife thawed hake fillets from Costco Wholesale and smothered them with onion, garlic, sweet pepper and fresh thyme.

When gloomy weather prevails, eating well is a sure way to lift your spirits. 

A glass of red wine with dinner doesn't hurt either, especially when it's California Cabernet Sauvignon from Costco, a great value at $4 a bottle.

My wife baked hake fillets with onion, garlic, sweet peppers and thyme. I added fresh lime juice at the table.

Grated Pecorino Romano from Costco Wholesale is the finishing touch after you've plated organic whole-wheat pasta shells with anchovies and sardines. I used cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce and diced organic tomatoes -- along with red wine, olive oil and seasoning -- to make the sauce.

I used homemade creamy Italian Dressing from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood to dress my salad of organic spring mix, cucumber slices and pomegranate seeds. The dressing is made with mustard, anchovies and fresh garlic.

At Bloomingdale's in Hackensack today, I saw this French-made pot. The price: $521.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Costco's Greek smoothie, Korean blood sausage, Arirang Kimchi

Langers Mango Nectar and Kirkland Signature Greek Yogurt are two of the ingredients in smoothies we make with fresh bananas and frozen strawberries and blueberries, all from Costco Wholesale.


Kirkland Signature Greek Yogurt has it all -- it's non-fat, packed with protein and calcium, and versatile.

We use the tangy yogurt to thicken fruit smoothies, garnish hot cereal, mix it with diced cucumbers and dried mint to eat over organic brown rice or quinoa, and as a stand-in for sour cream on baked sweet potatoes.

Two 32-ounce containers were $7.39 at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

Costco's Greek Yogurt and dried mint on a baked sweet potato served with an egg-white omelet.

A sweet potato with Greek Yogurt and pomegranate seeds, also from Costco, served with sauteed spinach and Jamaican ackee and salt fish.

Korean blood sausage, kimchi

I returned to Arirang Kimchi's new store in Ridgefield today to replenish my supply of its incomparable handmade cabbage or mahk kimchi.

The ingredients list is short: Nappa Cabbage, radish, salt, salted shrimp, red pepper, garlic, anchovy sauce, ginger, water, sugar, scallion.

A 5-pound bag is $7.99.

The crunchy kimchi will leave your lips tingling.

Next door at H&Y, a Korean supermarket, I grazed on free food samples, including several kinds of fruit, maple tree water and two types of fish cake in hot soup.

When I got home, I snacked on cabbage kimchi and a slice of Jun's Wild Sesame Tofu with gochujang, a spicy vinegared red-pepper paste.

One of the popular free weekend food samples at H&Y, a Korean supermarket in Ridgefield, is blood sausage, foreground. A woman who was eating a sample said the sausage is made with translucent noodles mixed with cow's blood. A package was $6.

Live abalone are available.

Jun's Tofu is made at H&Y, including soft tofu for soup ($3.50), left, and Wild Sesame Tofu, sold in 30-ounce blocks ($5), right. Jun's Tofu is non-GMO.

A delivery truck for Arirang Kimchi reflected in the glass of the store at 1 Remsen Place, Ridgefield, next to H&Y Supermarket.

Above and below, Arirang Kimchi ready to be delivered to Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong on East 32nd Street in Manhattan, a Korean barbecue restaurant owned by a famous comedian.

Arirang Kimchi, 1 Remsen Place, in the H&Y Marketplace shopping center, Ridgefield; 201-313-7975. Open 7 days.