Friday, January 31, 2014

Riding the price roller coaster at my Costco Wholesale warehouse

The price of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon rose by more than $3 -- to $18.89 for a 1-pound package -- but it wasn't the only recent increase at Costco Wholesale.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss the up-and-down prices at Costco Wholesale, a new frozen vegetable blend and an old Fort Lee diner that has gone upscale.


Another one of my favorite foods -- the 3-pound bag of raw almonds sold at Costco Wholesale -- is more expensive.

We stopped buying roasted almonds and other nuts with salt; roast raw, salt-free almonds at home and dust them with Saigon Ground Cinnamon from Costco.

They are a favorite snack.

But the 3-pound bag of U.S. No. 1 raw almonds was $14.49 on Jan. 23 at my Costco in Hackensack, compared to $12.99 on Dec. 3, 2013.

A little Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto goes a long way to boost the flavor of tofu in a takeout dinner salad, above, or two organic brown eggs from Costco Wholesale,  served with organic brown rice, below.

Up and down

Prices seem to go up and down at Costco, but at the far smaller Trader Joe's, prices stay flat.

For example, Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix at Costco is $4.49, $4.79 or $4.99 for a 1-pound tub, and the price fluctuates.

The price for other produce, such as Sunset-brand tomatoes, also varies, but 3 pounds of bananas at $1.39 is a constant and the lowest price I've found in North Jersey.

Three products with lower prices than before are Jarlsberg Lite Deli Thin Sliced Reduced Fat Swiss Cheese (2 pounds for $8.59), salted cod from Canada (2 pounds for $11.99) and fresh mahi-mahi fillets ($5.99 a pound).

On Tuesday, my wife bought 10 pounds of organic carrots at Costco for the usual price of $7.99, and 10 pounds of sweet potatoes for the same price.

Asian-style veggies

A new frozen product, Kirkland Signature Stir-Fry Vegetable Blend, is $7.59 for a 5.5-pound bag that is labeled product of "USA, Canada, China, Mexico and Thailand."

Costco charges only $6.79 for a 5-pound bag of organic mixed vegetables.

The stir-fry blend turns mushy if you cook it in a covered pan, and when I followed the instructions and stir-fried the broccoli, snap peas and other vegetables in a wok for 5 minutes, they were still cold and had to be heated up in the microwave.

A cup of organic coffee at Chillers Grill in Fort Lee is $1.99, plus tax, with at least one free refill. It doesn't measure up to a good cup of non-organic coffee. The upscale diner at 2191 Fletcher Ave. replaced the Red Oak Diner.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A slice of sunny Cuba chases away winter

Straight from a heated press, a classic Cuban sandwich -- layered ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard -- is $6 at La Pola Restaurant in West New York, "El Rey de Sandwich Cubano."

Joe Rico, who has been working in his father's shop since he was 5 years old, builds a sandwich with Cuban water bread, hand-sliced roast pork and other ingredients.


You'll forget the bone-chilling weather after just a few minutes inside La Pola in West New York, listening to the machine-gun Spanish and sipping a cup of freshly pressed sugar-cane juice.

Belarmino Rico, the owner of La Pola, calls himself "The King of the Cuban Sandwich," and it's no idle boast.

He roasts the pork in a pizza oven, and sells hundreds of the freshly made sandwiches each day, along with a limited menu of Cuban and Spanish dishes, cafe con leche and sugar-cane juice.

A friend loved his Cuban sandwich, but as someone who doesn't eat meat, I was happy with coffee and the delightfully sweet juice.

La Pola is named after the small town in Spain where the elder Rico was born before he emigrated to Cuba, where he learned to make Cubanos at his uncle's bodega in Havana.

A heated press or plancha compresses the sandwich and turns it crispy.

Rico's hands are a blur as he assembles the sandwich, above and below, before spinning around to put it into the heated press.

Sugar cane is pressed to order, producing a pure, sweet drink that is a powerful reminder of the sunny island of Cuba. The split cane is kept on ice, below.

A big cup of sugar-cane juice or jugo de cana is $4.50 without ice.

The Ricos offer more than a dozen sandwiches.

La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 201-867-6028. Open 5 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Sundays. Small parking lot. Cash only.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nibbling around the edges of a few non-food issues

This one-ply toilet paper is so thin and narrow it is difficult to keep your hand clean unless you double and re-double it.


Did I buy the Scott Tissue I've been cursing for the past few weeks?

Yes. I actually purchased a large package of this thin, narrow toilet paper at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.

In the past, when I've purchased toilet paper at Costco, it usually costs more than the Kirkland Signature store brand.

I'm sure the Scott Tissue cost less, though I don't have the receipt in front of me.

This toilet paper may not even be good enough for prisons and mental hospitals.

I just looked at the package, described by Scott as "Our biggest pack ever!" Groan. There are plenty of the original 36 rolls left.

A Russell Hobbs electric kettle, right, and glass tea pot on a warming tray.

Makes me blue

Another terrible product is Clorox Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner Bleach & Blue, which shouldn't be confused with the regular, white tablet also sold as Automatic Toilet Bowl Cleaner.

On Dec. 16, I purchased two packages, containing two tablets each, when they were on sale at Target in Hackensack, and two packages of the white tablets ($4.49 each).

I found the Bleach & Blue tablet gave the toilet water an appealing color, but did a miserable job of controlling stains below the water line and odor.

The white tablet, which I bought for many years before Costco discontinued it, does a much better job on stains and odor.

I returned one package with one blue tablet and got a full refund, then discovered a second, unopened package, and will have to go back.

Great customer service

We love the Russell & Hobbs 1.7-liter Electric Kettle with Keep Warm Tea Tray I found on when another electric kettle started rusting inside after a dozen years.

But after a week or so of using the new electric kettle, I noticed a stain forming on the shiny interior bottom plate that eventually turned brown.

I called the company, and as I suspected, the stain was from minerals in our drinking water in North Jersey.

As the instruction booklet suggested, I used diluted vinegar and allowed it to soak inside the kettle for 30 minutes, but it didn't remove the stain.

I told that to the woman at customer service, and then asked if the company could send me another kettle. 

She agreed, and it showed up at our door two days later.

Then, we cleaned the original kettle with Bar Keepers Friend Cleanser & Polish, a terrific product we have been using for a few years to clean stains on our steel cookware.

The opening on the kettle is narrow, but large enough for a woman's hand, and my wife was able to remove all of the ugly brown stain.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

You can't beat this heart-warming $10 dinner

Fresh eggs poaching in "more spicy" Oyster Tofu, one of the many soft-tofu stews that are served steaming hot and boiling rapidly at So Gong Dong in Palisades Park.

Steamed rice in a stone bowl is included. If you have room, use your spoon to pry up the crunchy crust of rice at the bottom for a real treat at the end of the meal.


A comforting meal of Korean soft tofu, rice and side dishes never gets old, especially when  temperatures plunge and icy winds are blowing.

So Gong Dong in Palisades Park has held the line on a complete meal for $9.99, which is rounded up to $10 on the check and includes the tax.

On Saturday evening, four of us were served hot tea after we were seated in the second-floor restaurant's traditional dining room.

The meal includes a stone-bowl of steamed white rice that cooks to a crisp along the bottom, four side dishes and a fresh egg that you crack into the bubbling broth to poach and eat over rice.

You can order your tofu stew plain or with pork, seafood, kimchi and other items, and ask for it from "no spicy to more spicy."

The side dishes are cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, bean sprouts and spicy raw squid, and as we finished them they were replaced without prompting.  

Fresh eggs with two of the side dishes and a dipping sauce for a seafood pancake we ordered.

Crunchy cucumber kimchi is one of our favorite side dishes.

Expanded menu

So Gong Dong has expanded its menu to include bibimbap, barbecued squid, and tofu soup with noodles or ramyun, and we've tried them all.

But the restaurant's strong suit is soft-tofu, and for $10, you get a meal that is comforting, delicious and filling.

We haven't found the same combination of taste, service and value at any other Korean tofu house in North Jersey, and there are many, in Fort Lee, Ridgewood and other communities.

Pajun is a pan-fried seafood pancake made from rice flour, squid and scallion ($11.99). It can be shared by four or more.

The place-mat menu offers more than a dozen kinds of soft-tofu stew.

So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, Palisades Park; 201-313-5550. BYO (though the waiter on Saturday night wouldn't allow me to drink a beer I brought with me).  

Valet parking or free parking on side streets. Meters in effect until 9 p.m.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Taking a break from the cold with cafe con leche

To escape the bone-chilling weather today, I ducked into La Barca, a small Dominican restaurant on Broadway, near West 163rd Street, in Manhattan. Cafe con leche -- strong espresso coffee with hot milk -- was only $1. I had two.

With outside temperatures hovering around 20 degrees, the restaurant provided a pitcher of ice water to customers who ordered a bowl of chicken soup or a filling lunch of Dominican specialties.

A flat-screen TV was tuned to Dominican Television. Sandwiches, left, are prepared in a heated press.

Some of La Barca's lunch offerings. The restaurant is at 3892 Broadway, near New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

First report on Port of Call buffet in Hackensack

Port of Call, an all-you-can-eat Asian buffet restaurant in Hackensack with 400 seats, opened on Wednesday.


A restaurant owner who had dinner at Port of Call, the new all-you-can-eat Asian buffet restaurant in Hackensack, says he prefers another seafood buffet in Little Ferry.

He also said he doesn't see how the new restaurant -- the biggest in Hackensack -- can survive with its high rent and no liquor license.

He said he had dinner there about 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the first day Port of Call opened, and didn't see many other customers or that much food laid out.

The restaurant offers "American fusion and sushi," and claims to serve more than 200 items a day, including beef, pasta, cooked seafood, raw bar and salads.

Serves sashimi

One thing he likes is that Port of Call serves sashimi, raw fish without rice, in addition to sushi and sushi rolls (with rice).

The restaurant owner says he prefers Minado, a "Japanese Seafood Buffet Restaurant" in Little Ferry, with all-you-can-eat dinners ranging from $29.95 to $31.95, higher than Port of Call's introductory prices.

Minado, at 1 Liberty Road, is opposite H Mart in Little Ferry.

He believes Port of Call is paying about $30,000 a month is rent at the Home Depot Shopping Center, 450 Hackensack Ave. in Hackensack, and cannot rely on high profits from selling beer, wine and liquor.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Falling for tasty meals hook, line and sinker

Organic whole wheat shells in marinara sauce with Moroccan sardines, organic baby spinach, organic diced tomatoes and fresh garlic. Ingredients are from Whole Foods Market in Paramus, Costco Wholesale in Hackensack and Fattal's in Paterson.

A multi-fish platter with Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix and Sunset-brand English Cucumbers, both from Costco. From left, canned pink-salmon and yellow-fin tuna salad with Dijon mustrard, ground cumin and lime; Kirkland Signature smoked wild sockeye salmon slices from Costco and Alaska Smokehouse wild sockeye salmon fillet. 

Editor's note: When you have a bad restaurant meal, as I did this week at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, a chain restaurant in Hackensack, you learn to appreciate food you buy and prepare at home. Even if you go organic, you'll save plenty of money over dining out on mystery ingredients -- VICTOR E. SASSON.

Costco sells frozen Norwegian mackerel fillets that are processed in South Korea, prepared here with sweet pepper, garlic and onion, and served with Chinese takeout brown rice and breadfruit from Jamaica. The fillets aren't well trimmed, and I found a few small bones in them.
Two organic eggs with Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, all from Costco Wholesale, served with leftover whole wheat shells.

On Tuesday morning, I loaded up my car with recycled plastic shopping bags, dry cleaner bags, food wrapping and other bits of plastic packaging and packing material, and recycled them at the ShopRite in Paramus. ShopRite is the only chain I know that recycles plastic bags and gives shoppers 5 cents back for every reusable bag they bring with them.

On the way home from a doctor's appointment on Tuesday afternoon, I stopped at Whole Foods Market in Paramus, above, where there were few signs of the panic shopping I saw at other supermarkets before a Jan. 2 snowstorm that dumped 7 inches on Bergen County.

My purchases at Whole Foods included about 2 pounds of Organic Lacinato Kale at 40% off (two long bunches for $4). I fried chopped Christopher Ranch California Garlic from Costco until it was fragrant, placed the washed pieces of kale into the pan to cook -- covered -- with a couple of ounces of inexpensive sake, and ate it with our dinner of ackee and salted codfish. 

A simple Kirkland Signature Egg Whites omelet with two reduced-fat cheeses, all from Costco, served with leftover Chinese takeout brown rice moistened with Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce (Black Label).

Monday, January 20, 2014

P.F. Chang's: Greasy fingerprints, water spots and more

Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic was the best dish I had for lunch today at P.F. Chang's in Hackensack.

I asked for Garlic Snap Peas, above, and Sichuan Asparagus, below, to be stir-fried with garlic like the spinach, but got two different preparations.

The asparagus were overcooked, and made with onions and bits of pickle.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss a mediocre lunch at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, the opening date for the all-you-can-eat Port of Call Restaurant, and where to go for great Chinese food, all in Hackensack.  


Water spots on both silverware and small plates on the table were unappetizing enough when I sat down for lunch today at P.F. Chang's China Bistro in Hackensack.

But I had to send back a large plate with a greasy thumb print the waitress set down in front of me, and saw more greasy fingerprints and food stains on a soy sauce container.

On top of that, an inexpensive lunch I have ordered at other P.F. Chang's here and in California wasn't as good as I remembered it, because the kitchen didn't get it right.

Utensils were wrapped in a cloth napkin, but the water stains on them and on small white plates were a turn-off. I asked for and ate with chopsticks.

Stick with Lotus Cafe

I should know better than to go anywhere in Hackensack for Chinese food but Lotus Cafe, a BYO at 450 Hackensack Ave., in the Home Depot Shopping Center.

But I've enjoyed ordering three side dishes of bright-green vegetables stir-fried with garlic at P.F. Chang's, a good deal when eaten with a complimentary bowl of brown rice.

However, what could go wrong did go wrong: 

The snap peas and asparagus weren't stir-fried simply with garlic, the asparagus were overcooked and the separate kernels of brown rice were difficult to eat with chopsticks.

Water spots on utensils and plates, and greasy fingerprints only added to my misery.

There is plenty of salt in the food. So, it's a mystery why soy sauce is on the table.

Small orders of vegetables are $2.50 each. A pot of green tea was $3.50, but it didn't appear on the check. 

Green tea was served in a traditional pot.

A friend ordered Mongolian Beef ($15.95) and a lunch portion of fried rice with pork and vegetables ($8.50), and liked them both. He took home most of the fried rice, and paid the tab.

I'm looking forward to the special Chinese New Year's Menu that will be served at Lotus Cafe, starting on Jan. 30.

My friend demolished the Mongolian Beef at P.F. Chang's.

When my friend asked to take home his largely untouched fried rice, the waitress brought a container and crammed the rice into it as we watched, instead of taking it away to be packed up in the kitchen.

The exterior and dining room, above and below.

Port of Call , which has three all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants in Florida, is expected to open this week in the Home Depot Shopping Center in Hackensack.

Delayed opening

Port of Call Restaurant is promising more than 200 items will be "served daily."

An employee said the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant is expected to open on Wednesday. 

The food is described as American fusion and sushi, and there is enough variety for a dozen restaurants.

Lunch will be served Mondays to Fridays for $13.69. Saturday and Sunday brunch will be $17.69. Dinner will be served 7 days for $24.99 to $27.99.

These "introductory prices" are good until March 31. The buffet restaurant, which is opposite Lotus Cafe, was to open on Dec. 7, 2013.

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

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

Port of Call Restaurant, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 201-488-0888. BYO, parking lot.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Warming up with hot mint tea in South Paterson

A photo of the 13th century Citadel of Aleppo in the dining room of Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, above and below.

The restaurant is at 939 Main St. in Paterson.

Editor's note: We've had some depressingly chilly and sunless days in North Jersey this January, and I'll take comfort wherever I can find it -- with a glass of hot mint tea or home-cooked favorites.


It's an especially quiet January for the owners of Middle Eastern stores, restaurants and bakeries in the South Paterson section of Silk City.

On Tuesday, when I had an errand in Paterson -- known for its Great Falls and its glorious silk-industry past -- I immediately thought of stopping at Aleppo Restaurant and Fattal's Bakery on Main Street.

At the Syrian restaurant, the owner emerged from the kitchen and offered me a glass of hot mint tea, made with fresh mint leaves, or his justifiably famous lentil soup to warm up from the chilly, rainy weather.

I love the pureed soup, which reminds me so much of the one my mother prepared, but I chose the tea, adding a half teaspoon of sugar as we caught up, seated in the empty dining room.

When I got home, I rummaged in the cupboard and found a pouch of Basak-brand Lentil Soup from Turkey, reconstituted it with water and heated it up on the stove until it boiled and thickened.

It didn't approach the versions prepared by my mother or Aleppo Restaurant, but I enjoyed it nevertheless, squeezing fresh lime juice over it and adding a generous pinch of ground cumin. 

Fattal's at 975-77 Main St. in Paterson is expanding its parking lot.

99-cents sardines

I purchased the lentil-soup mix on a previous visit to Fattal's, the Syrian bakery, grocery, butcher shop and cafe less than two blocks away from Aleppo Restaurant.

On Tuesday, I picked up 21 cans of Al-Shark Sardines in Tomato Sauce, which has less sodium than the same Moroccan sardines in oil, for 99 cents a can.

These sardines are wonderful in canned fish salad, heated up and eaten with rice, added to pasta sauce and eaten right out of the can with salad.

I also purchased a 28-ounce jar of Salloum Bros. Marmalade from Figs for $5.99, even though I saw a less expensive brand.

Sugar was listed second on the ingredients label of the cheaper brand; Salloum lists it fourth after figs, sesame and anise. Both are from Lebanon.

A favorite snack is a spoonful of fig marmalade followed by a spoonful of Kirkland Signature Natural Peanut Butter from Costco Wholesale, but I also eat the thick fig spread with cheese, almonds and fruit.

I also picked up Fattal's own 6-inch Meat Pies ($8.99), a comfort food that is terrific heated up in the oven, if you eat meat. They can be frozen, too.

My mother sometimes added pine nuts to her chopped meat after spreading it on the oiled dough.

For a sweet-and-savory breakfast, I added Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale to an egg-white omelet and a leftover baked sweet potato.

Besto pesto

I love having a jar of Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale in my refrigerator to use at any meal -- whether to spread on a sandwich, add to egg and fish dishes or mix with hot pasta, including whole-wheat shells or imported egg-noodle tagliatelle. 

Ingredients include 100% Italian basil from the province of Genoa, extra-virgin olive oil, sheep's milk and cow's milk cheeses, sea salt, pine nuts, garlic and black pepper.

The pesto doesn't have to be heated up before you mix it with hot pasta, and it's best to add it to fish and egg dishes after you take them out of the oven or off of the stove.

A 22-ounce plastic jar of Basil Pesto is $7.99.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Enjoying the many winners from Costco Wholesale

A recent addition to the fresh-fish case at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, wild-caught mahi-mahi fillets from Costa Rica take a swim in Mexican green salsa with fresh lime juice, pinches of Aleppo pepper and fresh basil leaves.

Three more winners from Costco -- Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from Italy and Campari Tomatoes -- team up to make a beautiful salad. Two other ingredients are sliced fuyu and cucumber, and everything is dressed in extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


Lollo Rosa, Tango and Mizuna.

They roll off your tongue and dazzle your taste buds when they meet in a salad made with Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix.

The prewashed spring mix is among the many winners from Costco Wholesale that have become staples of our diet at home.

I have an Earthbound Farm salad after just about every home-cooked meal, often adding cheese, fruit and cucumbers.

Sliced fuyu, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and organic spring mix.

Reduced-fat cheese

Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from Italy, in wedges or shredded; Ground Saigon Cinnamon, Himalayan Pink Salt in its own grinder, Organic No-Salt Seasoning, Basil Pesto, Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon -- the list of winners is long.

Aged cheese cut from the wedge is ideal to eat with fruit and cinnamon-dusted almonds or to add to fried organic eggs, using a vegetable peeler.

The rind can be diced and added to pasta sauce, lending it a distinctive flavor.

The shredded cheese gives body and flavor to Kirkland Signature Egg Whites when they are mixed together before you add them to the pan for an omelet or frittata.

The hard cheese is made from part-skimmed cow's milk, and a serving has only 1.5 grams of fat.

Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano cheese added to organic eggs with leftover organic quinoa made in an electric cooker with organic diced tomatoes, all from Costco Wholesale. The quinoa has fewer carbohydrates and more protein than organic brown rice.

Fish in salsa

The fresh, wild-caught mahi-mahi I bought last week at the Hackensack Costco was $5.99 a pound or $2 less per pound than the same fillets I purchased at the warehouse store in December.

I squeezed fresh lime over the fish, which I cut into serving pieces, and then added a pinch of Aleppo pepper. 

They cooked for 10 minutes in Mexican green salsa I had heated on top of the stove to a gentle boil, and I ate the meaty and flaky fish and sauce over organic quinoa. 

This time, I used a preservative-free brand, Herdez Salsa Verde from Mexico, I found at ShopRite.

The label on the bottom of the plastic, 1-pound tub of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix.

Peeled garlic

Peeled garlic from the Christopher Ranch in California is a real convenience item, allowing you to chop up a handful of cloves, throw them into heated extra-virgin olive oil until they are fragrant, and stir-fry fresh broccoli or organic baby spinach from Costco with a little salt and red-pepper flakes.

A 3-pound bag of Monviso heirloom garlic cloves was $5.99 at the Hackensack Costco. 

Last week, I bought a bag with a use-by date of Feb. 15.