Sunday, November 30, 2014

In an informal test, Wondee's Thai food beats Bangkok Garden

Compare Som Thum, a fresh green papaya salad, at Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles on Main Street in Hackensack, above, and a takeout version from rival Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant on the next block, below.
The strands of papaya are thinner in the Bangkok Garden salad, and the taste doesn't match that of Wondee's salad.

Wondee's Thom Yum Koong, a spicy soup, above, has more shrimp and mushrooms than Bangkok Garden's takeout version, and the broth tastes cleaner. 
Bangkok Garden says it was the first Thai restaurant in Bergen County when it opened 25 years ago in January. Today, the dining room, compared to Wondee's, is beautifully decorated and in beautiful shape, above. The restaurant also has a full bar. 
Wondee's is a BYO that opened in 1997, and its dining room is much smaller than Bangkok Garden's, and in poor shape, with torn carpet and an uneven floor raised above pipes. This summer, fresh paint on the walls and ceiling helped a little, but the restaurant is in desperate need of a complete makeover.


The waitress at Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant asked me to sit at an empty table while I was waiting for my takeout order on Saturday afternoon.

I looked at the polished wood floor, the tablecloths and the elaborate Thai decorations, and then thought of the shabby interior of Wondee's on the next block, where I've enjoyed wonderful Thai meals for more than a dozen years.

But when I got the two dishes home and tasted them, I knew why I was the kind of customer who doesn't judge a restaurant by its decor.

Bangkok Garden's green papaya salad seemed to have all of the right ingredients, but the portion was smaller and the taste was off.

The broth of the shrimp-and-mushroom soup, made with lemon juice and chili paste, also tasted odd, as if it had been sweetened. 

The soup also didn't have as much shrimp or mushrooms as Wondee's version, which I order every time I eat there.

Bangkok Garden's prices also are higher than Wondee's.

Like I said, you can't eat the wallpaper.

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 1-201-883-1700. BYO, rear parking lot. Closed Mondays.

Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, 261 Main St., Hackensack; 1-201-487-2620. Full bar, rear parking in metered lot. Open 7 days.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Arirang Kimchi welcomes customers before official opening

The bright color, the bold flavor, the crunch -- Arirang Kimchi has it all. Today, I brought home a jar of cabbage kimchi from Arirang's new store in Ridgefield.  

Editor's note: Today, I discuss the long-awaited opening of Arirang Kimchi in a new location, and an American Express promotion that offers $30 in statement credits when you shop at small businesses.


For devotees of Arirang Kimchi, the wait is over.

Today, co-owner Kyung S. Oh welcomed the handful of customers who have gotten the word Arirang Kimchi is finally open in Ridgefield -- about 14 months after the family closed its Englewood location.

The official opening of Arirang's store in the H&Y Marketplace shopping center is set for Dec. 18.

But Mrs. Oh says customers are welcome to stop in before then. She expects to open the store every day from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

This afternoon, two employees of H&Y, a Korean supermarket, came over with a small plate and asked Mrs. Oh for some kimchi to go with their lunches.

She gladly accommodated them. 

The Oh family's handmade kimchi is preservative- and MSG-free, and the best commercial product available in North Jersey.

"Arirang" is the Korean word for "spring." The business was located in Hackensack and then Englewood for a total of 32 years.

There is no substitute for Arirang Kimchi.

 The unadorned storefront in the H&Y Marketplace at 1 Remsen Place in Ridgefield.

Bags of kimchi greet customers. One special is a 5-pound bag of kimchi for $7.99.

Arirang Kimchi's raw ingredients include baby radish, front, and Napa Cabbage.

H&Y Marketplace, a Korean supermarket, is part of the Small Business Saturday promotion from American Express.

Spend $10, get $10

American Express is offering up t0 $30 in statement credits, if you use your registered card to make purchases during Small Business Saturday.

Today, I spent $10 or more at three small businesses to qualify for a credit of $30.

At Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood, I bought a 2.2-pound bag of coffee beans from Italy for $9.99, and a half-liter bottle of Ponti Balsamic Vinegar for $1.99.

At H&Y Marketplace in Ridgefeld, I bought two items on sale, a tray of 12 Sharoni-brand Persimmons from Spain ($11.99), and a 16-portion box of Shin Ramyun Noodle Soup ($10.99).

At Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant in Hackensack, I ordered takeout: 

Green Papaya Salad ($8.95), and Tom Yum Goong, a spicy soup with shrimp and mushrooms ($4.50).

The dining room at Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, 261 Main St., Hackensack.

The Green Papaya Salad in its takeout container.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Giving thanks for crab cakes, red snapper, steak and tacos

My Thanksgiving appetizer of handmade Phillips Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes from Costco Wholesale with Whole Foods Market's Roasted Salsa Verde and a side of organic purple sweet potatoes, which I mashed with extra-virgin olive oil, cinnamon and other seasonings.


I happily celebrated another turkey-free Thanksgiving this week, filling up instead on great seafood dishes, mashed purple sweet potatoes and an organic spring mix salad with crunchy pomegranate seeds.

And as we did before I stopped eating meat and poultry nearly five years ago, we don't have leftovers from a whole bird, because my wife roasts only the most flavorful dark-meat parts.

I started my feast on Tuesday night with a takeout order of fish tacos from Taqueria Los Gueros in Englewood.

On Wednesday night, I threw together a dish of pasta with sardines, using leftover bottled sauce in the refrigerator and a few ounces of organic whole-wheat capellini, which are just a little thicker than angel hair and cook in three to four minutes in a shallow pan (no need to salt the water).

And for breakfast on Thursday morning, I prepared a 10-inch egg-white frittata with smoked wild salmon and Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market.

My Thanksgiving entree was a whole red snapper prepared by a family friend and leftover wild-caught U-12 shrimp from H Mart in Englewood that my wife marinated in fresh lime juice and chopped garlic.

Pre-Thanksgiving takeout

At Taqueria Los Gueros, 48 W. Palisade Ave. in Englewood, we took advantage of Taco Tuesday, when 5 Pastor, Carnitas or Pollo tacos are only $4.99.

But my wife, who ordered the takeout, said the server wouldn't give her any fresh pineapple, an essential ingredient in a Taco el Pastor, and the way it comes when you eat it there.

The Taco Tuesday price is $1 less than what Pastor tacos cost the rest of the time.

She brought me an order of four fish tacos topped with avocado slices, what the taqueria calls Mexican Tacos ($8), but the portion was noticeably smaller than what I was served at Los Gueros in March.

I was in Englewood late Wednesday afternoon and stopped at Balthazar Bakery, 214 S. Dean St., for two $2 baguettes, waiting on line behind six or seven other customers.

Then, I stopped at Jerry's Gourmet & More at 410 S. Dean St., where I was surprised the hordes of pre-holiday shoppers left behind three Meals To Go, those complete restaurant-quality takeout dinners that are cut to $5.99 after 4 p.m.

Organic purple sweet potatoes from Whole Foods Market with conventional sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's. I mashed about 2 pounds of each with extra-virgin olive oil after boiling the skin-on sections together for about 45 minutes. The water turned purple.


For breakfast, I prepared a 10-inch frittata with Costco Wholesale's smoked wild salmon. 

This week, my wife paid $15.99 for a 1-pound package of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon, close to the $15.59 the sliced salmon cost in March 2013. This year, the price had suddenly risen to $18.89.

For our Thanksgiving dinner, I started with two wonderful Phillips Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, also from Costco, and delicious mashed organic purple sweet potatoes.

For $21.99, you get six frozen 3-ounce crab cakes (about $4 each). The first ingredient listed is crab meat.

My entree was a whole fish and wild-caught shrimp with chopped garlic and lime juice.

A few hours later, I had a simple salad of organic spring mix and pomegranate seeds, both from Costco.

The meat eaters in the family really went to town, preparing naturally raised turkey drumsticks from Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff, heating up a fully cooked naturally raised ham from Wellshire, and cooking oxtails and rice with pigeon peas.

I drank a red wine from Siciliy.

A wedge of smoked wild salmon frittata with roasted green salsa I made for my Thanksgiving morning breakfast and served over organic quinoa.
This morning, I had pasta and eggs -- a wedge of frittata with leftover organic whole-wheat capellini and sardines.
I used a 16-ounce carton of the 100% Egg Whites from Costco Wholesale with chopped garlic, scallions, grated sheep-milk's Pecorino Romano cheese and a little low-fat milk before I poured it into a preheated 10-inch pan with olive oil on the stove, below.
As the crust set, I added a half-pound of sliced Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon from Costco Wholesale, where a 1-pound package was nearly $3 less last week. 
The frittata finished cooking under the broiler. I spooned on Whole Foods' Roasted Salsa Verde in the last few minutes.
A takeout order of Mexican Tacos from Taqueria Los Gueros in Englewood. Two corn tortillas are used for each taco. The green salsa that comes with them is hot and the red salsa is really hot. You also get marinated onions and jalapeno peppers.
A complete Grilled Hanger Steak takeout dinner from Jerry's in Englewood includes bowtie pasta with pesto, broccoli with garlic and steamed vegetables. Two other dinners contained roasted pork chops.
The price for a Meal To Go is cut to $5.99 after 4 p.m.
I ignored the many temptations at Balthazar Bakery, ordering my usual, two crusty baguettes, still only $2 each 12 years after the retail store opened.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't wait for holiday to make meals a riot of flavor and color

For dinner on Sunday, we had wild-caught shrimp from Mexico -- $16.99 a pound at H Mart in Englewood -- over a moist side dish of organic quinoa prepared in an electric cooker with organic chicken stock, organic diced tomatoes, organic lentils and peeled whole California garlic cloves, all from Costco Wholesale. The shrimp were marinated in chopped garlic and fresh lime juice.


I can't get into Thanksgiving this year. Too much traffic. Too many people in the food stores.

This morning, I made my final holiday shopping trip -- to Whole Foods Market in Paramus for two small naturally raised hams for the meat eaters in the family ($7.99 a pound).

We also have four turkey legs from Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff stored in the freezer, and my wife also plans to serve curry goat and rice with pigeon peas.

I'm planning to have a whole red snapper prepared by a family friend, a crab cake and, possibly, a wild-salmon burger. 

The last two are from Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, and already in the freezer.

A sweet Thanksgiving

I bought conventional sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's last week, and today, I picked up organic purple sweet potatoes at Whole Foods.

I'll boil them with whole garlic cloves, drain them and mash them with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, cinnamon, curry powder and other seasonings.

We'll also serve a big organic spring mix salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, pomegranate seeds and Grana Padano Cheese, all dressed in EVOO and balsamic vinegar. 

My wife went to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack on Monday right after it opened and reported it was "mobbed."

She bought pomegranates ($14.99), a 9-inch apple pie ($9.99), Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix ($4.79) and 3 pounds of organic bananas ($1.99).

I also went holiday shopping on Monday morning on the way home from the gym, stopping at ShopRite in Paramus for two sale items, a 5-pound box of Spanish Clementines ($4.99) and Turkey Hill Ice Cream ($1.99).

My wife steamed whole wild-caught porgy last week -- $2.49 a pound at H Mart in Englewood -- with fresh okra, onions and sweet peppers.

Quinoa with creamy garlic cloves stood in for bread at breakfast with two organic eggs, non-fat Greek yogurt with cucumbers and mint, and pomegranate seeds. I sprinkled za'atar thyme mixture over the quinoa before I reheated it.

A half-dozen jumbo California Pomegranates were $14.99 at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. Though they are more expensive, the seeds from them are far superior to those from smaller and cheaper pomegranates, such as those I bought for 99 cents each at ShopRite in Paramus.

A 5-pound box of Spanish Clementines were $4.99 at the Paramus ShopRite. The store also had 5-pound boxes of sweet potatoes for $2.49.

A beautiful display of sweet potatoes and yams greeted shoppers this morning at Whole Foods Market in Paramus. I bought about 2 pounds of organic Purple Stokes Sweet Potatoes on sale for $1.49 a pound to mash with conventional sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Two places you must visit on crazy Route 17 in Paramus

A delicious Harvest Salad at the Suburban Diner on Route 17 in Paramus is served with a small bowl of soup, below.

Manhattan Clam Chowder.

Editor's note: Traffic seems to be building as Thanksgiving approaches, but I managed to make four stops for lunch or food shopping on Friday and Saturday.


New Jersey specializes in highways lined with entrances and exits to restaurants, stores and malls, ensuring drivers several heart-stopping moments on every trip.

But two good reasons to venture out on Route 17 in northern New Jersey are the Suburban Diner and Trader Joe's -- in that order.

On Friday, I met a friend at the diner for a heart-healthy lunch before we drove up to Trader Joe's, which, like every food store, shouldn't be visited on an empty stomach.

At the diner, I ordered a special of Harvest Salad, which came with a cup of soup ($11.95).

Fresh spinach was the foundation for roasted butternut squash, pear sections, crumbled blue cheese and dried cranberries, with, at my request, a creamy pear vinaigrette dressing on the side.

Refreshing and delicious, though the pear could have been riper.

Suburban Diner, 172 Route 17 north, Paramus; 1-201-261-2605.

I roasted Brussels Sprouts from Trader Joe's with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt, adding grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, red-pepper flakes and black pepper after I removed the pan from the oven.

Shopping frenzy

We thought the diner was busy, but when we got to Trader Joe's, the crowd of shoppers seemed even bigger.

But I didn't have to wait to check out. 

According to my receipts, I drove to Trader Joe's, shopped and checked out in 16 minutes.

I bought a large stalk of Brussels Sprouts ($2.99); two 64-ounce bottles of low-sodium Garden Patch, which is 100% vegetable juice ($3.49 each); and two 2-pound bags of sweet potatoes ($1.69 each).

For the meat eaters in the family, I picked up two packages of antibiotic- and nitrite-free bacon ($5.49 each); uncured, antibiotic-free beef hot dogs and jumbo hot dogs ($4.99 each).

A 4-pack of Organic Apple Sauce with Cinnamon was $1.99.

Trader Joe's, 404 Route 17 north, Paramus; 1-201-265-9624.

A 3-liter tin of Corrado's Extra Virgin Olive Oil was $23.99 on Saturday -- $10 more than the same quantity of EVOO at Fattal's in Paterson.

Stocking up on EVOO

After hearing about the poor olive harvests in Spain and Italy, and possible higher prices for extra-virgin olive oil, I drove to Fattal's in Paterson on Saturday.

I picked up three 3-liter bottles of Al Defah Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $13.99 each, adding them to the two I had at home.

I also picked up Fattal's Mini Meat Pies ($8.99), and a package of crushed dried mint ($6.99 a pound).

The EVOO in the Al Defah bottles is said to be from Palestine, and I've been using it for months in salads and cooking.

After visiting Fatal's, I crossed the border into Clifton to shop at Corrado's, a big, ethnic supermarket that once was the low-price leader.

But the prices for most produce, imported whole-wheat pasta, dried cod from China and Canada, and extra-virgin olive oil were higher than at the other stores I patronize regularly.

The only real bargain I saw were bananas for 39 cents a pound.

I didn't buy anything, and I don't think that has ever happened before on my infrequent visits to Corrado's.

Fattal's, 975-79 Main St., Paterson; 1-973-742-7125. Open 7 days, parking lot.

Corrado's Family Affair, 1578 Main Ave., Clifton; 1-973-340-0628. Open 7 days, large parking lot.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flavors from the Middle Eastern kitchen bring meals alive

Pomegranate seeds and non-fat Greek yogurt lend a Middle Eastern accent to organic Spanish brown rice with black beans, garlic cloves, organic diced tomatoes and saffron.


This onetime bread lover couldn't get enough of loaves spread with a fragrant mixture of za'atar (Arabic for "thyme") and olive oil.

Fresh bread covered with za'atar -- dried thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds -- was terrific, but I also loved toasting it and hearing the mixture sizzle when it got hot.

Za'atar and yogurt, filled with diced cucumbers and dusted with dried mint, are flavors I recall fondly from the Syrian cooking I enjoyed growing up in Brooklyn.

I discovered Aleppo pepper -- a simple, mildly spicy crushed red pepper that adds color and flavor -- in the Syrian groceries and restaurants in Paterson's Middle Eastern bazaar. 

I continue to enjoy those flavors today.

Now, I use za'atar to season eggs, rice, fresh tomato slices and other food, relishing the sour sumac and crunchy sesame seeds.

In an omelet stuffed with smoked wild salmon, the sourness of the za'atar contrasts nicely with the slightly salty fish.

At dinner tonight, I tried to recall the flavors of my mother's mujaddara -- a rice-and-lentil dish served with yogurt, diced cucumbers and dried mint -- using thick Greek yogurt and hothouse cucumbers from Costco Wholesale, dried mint from Fattal's in Paterson and pomegranate seeds from ShopRite.

Aleppo pepper and za'atar thyme mixture can be added in the last few minutes of cooking an egg-white omelet stuffed with reduced-fat Swiss cheese or used liberally inside and outside the omelet.

I sprinkled thyme mixture over organic Spanish brown rice before I reheated it in the microwave, and used a thick layer, such as you'd find on za'atar bread, with two organic eggs fried sunny side up.
Aleppo pepper added color and flavor to fresh wild Atlantic cod when I poached the skinless fillets in Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market, and organic diced tomatoes and fresh lime juice, both from Costco. The fish was $7.99 a pound at Costco.

Taking a break from eggs at breakfast, I plated the last piece of leftover cod with sweet potatoes and whole garlic cloves mashed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt, cinnamon, curry powder and other seasonings.

Za'atar thyme mixture, Aleppo pepper, dried mint and many other spices are available at Fattal's, 975-77 Main St., Paterson; 1-973-742-7125.

Fattal's is open 7 days a week and has a large parking lot.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How sweet this comfort food is -- baked, mashed or boiled

I sliced a large sweet potato, boiled the disks until they were tender and added them to a 10-inch whole-egg and egg-white frittata with chopped scallions and garlic; grated cheese and a little low-fat milk. A few slices of reduced-fat Swiss cheese went on top of the potatoes, as did black pepper and no-salt seasoning.

Editor's note: Costco Wholesale sells many foods in packages easily consumed by a family of four, but sweet potatoes come in 10-pound bags. Here are a few ways to use them.


At Costco Wholesale, you can buy 1 pound of organic salad mix, 2 pounds of tomatoes or three large hothouse cucumbers, all easily consumed by a family of four.

But sweet potatoes come in 10-pound bags ($8.49), meaning you'll have to get busy, if you want to use them all before they spoil.

Several years ago, my trainer at the gym suggested I go on a no-bread, no-pizza diet to lose weight, but added I could eat my fill of sweet potatoes.

I'm still on that diet and I still love sweet potatoes -- mashed with extra-virgin olive oil, sliced and boiled for use in frittatas or simply baked until the sugar oozes out of where you vent the skin with a fork.

At ShopRite in Paramus, 3-pound of bags of smaller sweet potatoes, washed and sized, are $2.99.

But the store also sells starchier yams, so make sure you get sweet potatoes.

If you Google the nutritional value of sweet potatoes v. yams, you will find contradictory entries.

A post on The Globe and Mail newspaper Web site says sweet potatoes have fewer calories and far more of an antioxidant called beta-carotene. 

"Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index number than yams, meaning their carbohydrate is released more slowly into the bloodstream."

See: Which one's healthier?

I start the frittata on the stove and finish it under the broiler, above.
A filling breakfast of sweet-potato frittata and baked sweet potato, both accented with Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce (Black Label), which is available at Hackensack Market on Passaic Street.
I boil sweet potatoes with the skin and whole peeled garlic cloves in a loosely covered pot until tender, about 45 minutes; drain them, return them to the pot and add extra-virgin olive oil and almost anything I have in my spice cabinet -- black pepper, red-pepper flakes, sea salt, curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and more -- before mashing them. At breakfast, mashed sweet potatoes are great with eggs, omelets and frittatas. 
Fresh Atlantic cod, long-line caught in Iceland, is only $7.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. The skinless-and-boneless fillets, cut into serving pieces, poach in only 7 minutes in hot Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market with Costco's organic diced tomatoes and fresh lime juice. At dinner tonight, the perfect side dish was mashed sweet potatoes, above.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Great Thai food in a familiar -- but worn -- setting close to home

At Wondee's in Hackensack, Pla Ning is a steamed whole fish smothered in mushrooms, ginger, celery, onion and pickled mustard greens, all served on a hot plate ($18).


The dining room at Wondee's in Hackensack got a little fresh paint this summer, but other problems with the dated decor remain at what I consider the best Thai restaurant in North Jersey.

Chef Wandee Suwangbutra is still at the top of her game, as the great food shows, and her prices can't be beat. 

Wondee's charges $18 for a whole fish that would cost well north of $20 anywhere else.

Down the street at Bangkok Garden Thai Restaurant, a whole fish is listed online for $28.95. 

Wondee's is a BYO, Bangkok Thai has a liquor license. 

My favorite seafood dish at Wondee's is Ocean of Garlic ($18). The beautifully fried shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels are tender, grease-less and studded with garlic. Cutting the richness of the dish is a crunchy salad of pickled cabbage and carrots, and there is lettuce for wrapping the seafood, if that's how you want to eat it.

Torn carpet, uneven floor

On Saturday night, we were seated at a table on the raised floor, which apparently covers pipes, near the kitchen doors.

I had to be careful in placing my chair's rear legs away from a ramp that meets the floor in the front part of the dining room.

The dining room is clean, but the carpet is torn in places and patched with tape, and I noticed that one of the seats at a table across the way was stained.

Loyal customers who use the rear parking lot know enough to step up onto the raised floor when they enter and down when they leave.

Wandee rents the space she calls Wondee's (she spells her name with an "a").

Then food arrived

But when the food began to arrive, I stopped thinking about the decor, poured the Guinness Draught I brought with me and dug in.

First, I enjoyed a bracing soup with chili paste, lemon juice, mushrooms and crunchy shrimp called Thome Yum Koong.

My entree was Ocean of Garlic, which has become my favorite seafood dish at Wondee's.

Other members of the family had wonton soup, and shared a whole sea bass and Pineapple Fried Rice.

Pineapple Fried Rice includes shrimp, chicken and Thai sausage ($11).

I used a spoon to bring up shrimp and mushrooms from Thome Yum Koong, a spicy soup made with lemon juice, chili paste, kaffir lime leaves, galanga and lemongrass ($4 for a small bowl).

The meat eaters in the family always order Geuw Nam or wonton soup with roasted pork and vegetables ($3.50).

Wondee's Fine Thai Food and Noodles, 296 Main St., Hackensack; 201-883-1700. BYO, parking lot in rear. Closed Mondays, no delivery.