Monday, April 28, 2014

Take the next exit for Starbucks in the slow lane

Compare the Protein Bistro Box at Starbucks Coffee in Ramsey, above, to the Hummus & Pita Veggie Tray at the Starbucks Coffee franchise in the Clara Barton Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike, below.




By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The coffee at Starbucks company and franchise stores may taste the same, but there are other differences that might not be readily apparent.

Starbucks Coffee stands in service areas on the New Jersey Turnpike don't serve the same food as the Starbucks in towns like Ramsey, Englewood and Hackensack.

At the Clara Barton Service Area, the last in the southbound lanes of the turnpike, I bought a Hummus & Pita Veggie Tray a week ago Sunday.

The grainy hummus didn't taste as if it contained any tahini, lemon juice or garlic, and on a second visit five days later, I tried to read the ingredients through the tray cover.

All I could make out was the word "sugar." 

Also, the cut ends of the broccoli florets had turned brown.

What I really wanted that day on the turnpike was a Protein Bistro Box with a great piece of cheese, fruit, a hard-boiled egg and other items, but it isn't available at franchises.




A takeout order of Chinese Fried Buns with Chives & Eggs, above and below, from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, a hole in the wall on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan that was written up last week in The New York Times' Hungry City column.




Fighting crowds for a bite

I had a few hours to kill in Manhattan on Sunday night, but had a hard time finding a parking space, this on the one day of the week meters are free.

I parked around the corner from Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, which The New York Times reports serves bowls of  soup filled with hand-pulled noodles or la mien, which traveled from China to Japan and became ramen.

I groaned when I saw a line at the door of the small restaurant (811 Eighth Ave., near 49th Street) so went in and ordered takeout -- two fried buns filled with chives and eggs for $3.50 plus tax.

They were piping hot when I got them back to the car, beautifully fried with hardly a trace of oil and filled with more chives than egg. Delicious.

And because I wasn't sure my space was legal, I moved on.




Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen, above, was so crowded a server asked me to wait outside with my receipt for takeout. And a sign on the door said "cash only."

Mouthwash, skin lotion and more in Kung Fu Ramen's bathroom.


Starbucks and Chipotle

I found another parking space on West 57th Street, and walked to a Starbucks Coffee.

I asked for my Grande Veranda Blend in a 16-ounce ceramic cup ($2.20), and that got me a discount of 10 cents.



Asking for your coffee in a real cup at Starbucks earns a discount.
The line at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which serves meat and poultry without antibiotics or growth hormones.

Veggie Bowl

I was still hungry, and after leaving Starbucks Coffee, I came across a Chipotle Mexican Grill a few blocks away.

I got on a long line for counter service, and ordered a Veggie Bowl with pinto beans, guacamole, spicy salsa and brown rice ($8.50, including tax).

The employees worked frantically to keep up with the crowd.

Unfortunately, I had to walk past an uncleared table, hardly the most appetizing thing you want to see when you're hungry.



"Chipotle supports family farms," according to a sign on the wall.

An uncleared table I passed on the way to the counter to order a Veggie Bowl, below. 




Sunday, April 27, 2014

Here's how my smoked wild-salmon frittata got to go to the opera

On Saturday morning, I prepared a frittata with smoked wild salmon, reduced-fat Swiss cheese slices, plenty of chopped garlic, fresh Italian parsley, Mexican green salsa and other ingredients, most of which came from Costco Wholesale.

Editor's note: Today, I report on lunch at the opera, followed by a bountiful dinner at Greek Taverna in Edgewater. 

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Bring lunch, my friends advised. Everybody does.

And to get the best seats, arrive at the Edgewater movie theater an hour ahead of the scheduled start of "Cosi Fan Tutte," a comedic opera that was transmitted live on Saturday from the Met in New York City. 

My friends said we had to get there early, because they couldn't hold seats for me and my wife.

On Friday night, my wife stopped at the H Mart in Englewood, looking for opera food, including those addictive Korean seaweed, vegetable and egg rolls called kimbap or japchae, translucent vermicelli noodles made from yam flour.

All gone.


Not quite as imposing as the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan, Edgewater Multiplex Cinemas is a comfortable setting for watching live opera -- great sound and high-definition images, stadium seating with lots of legroom, extraordinary voices, skillful acting, beautiful costumes and great music from a full orchestra. And you can avoid overpriced popcorn, soda and other movie fare by bringing your own lunch. Tickets are $25 or $23 for seniors.

Plan B

The next morning, I started preparing my usual Saturday frittata, and decided a couple of large wedges would make a nice lunch at the opera.

I told my wife to look in the freezer to see if we had any more of the long spinach pies from Fattal's Bakery in Paterson, and if so, to put two in the oven.

I packed dried organic dates and figs, and unsalted almonds, all from Costco Wholesale, and just before we jumped into the car, grabbed a liter bottle of seltzer and another of organic acai juice from the fridge, plus a fork and a plastic cup.

We finished all of the food before the curtain fell for the last time.

In hindsight, we could have brought more, including coffee to keep us awake during the 4-hour-plus performance.

In fact, we were so hungry that we overate when seven of us gathered for dinner later at Greek Taverna in City Place Mall, on the other side of the multiplex's parking lot.

And since the movie theater winks at its no-outside-food, no-outside-drink policy for opera goers, most of whom are seniors, why not bring a little wine or dark beer to wash down your lunch or sip in the subdued lighting before the overture?


Delightful experience

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra was conducted by James Levine from a motorized wheelchair, and I saw a lot of wheelchairs, walkers and canes being used by Edgewater audience members on Saturday.

One woman was rolled into the theater in a semi-reclining position. 

A relative guided an elderly woman with a cane to her seat next to me. She fell asleep before the opera started, then awoke later and saw most of it.

With his fly away gray hair and casual dress, Levine provides quite a contrast to the musicians, who were in tuxedos and gowns.

As I ate my frittata and sipped seltzer or juice, I saw a lot of seniors with large bags of popcorn on their laps.

I loved the Mozart opera, which dates to 1789 and explores a politically incorrect theme: All women are predictably unfaithful.

It's filled with one liners and hilarious and ribald observations, and I wonder if the frank libretto -- with a reference to men's "equipment" and multiple sexual partners -- has been updated.

Of course, if written today, the opera could easily expose the infidelity of males.

The extraordinary singers I heard sometimes sang different words at the same time, as shown in subtitles, an interplay that reminded me of a Dixieland jazz band.


At Green Taverna in Edgewater, Spanakopita or spinach pies, one of four appetizers we shared at dinner on Saturday, were $8.95.

Taverna Grilled Vegetables with balsamic infusion were $14.50.

Three or four large pieces of grilled Haloumi Cheese were $9.50.

The restaurant's creamy Taramosalata ($6.95) wasn't too salty, as are many commercial examples. The spread is made with fish roe, almonds, lemon and olive oil.

At Greek Taverna

I don't have to tell you Greek restaurants no longer are inexpensive.

I recall a trip to the Greek islands in the early 1990s, and a couple of boozy lunches in ouzeries, restaurants that serve small plates of food and glasses brimming with potent, anise-flavored ouzo.

Too bad Greeks haven't brought that concept to North Jersey.

But Greek-owned diners soon were followed by restaurants, including It's Greek To Me and Nisi Estiatorio, the late, lamented Englewood fish house that served pristine seafood.

When I lived in Englewood, It's Greek To Me was an inexpensive dinner choice, but a few years before I moved out in 2007, prices had risen to the point where we sought cheaper alternatives.

Our big, fat Greek dinner

Famished from watching a 4-hour-plus opera with too little food on Saturday, seven of us walked over to Greek Taverna, ordered too much food and, speaking for myself, overate. 

We shared four appetizers, three entrees, a large Greek salad, two side dishes and someone had chicken soup ($5) and Katsikisio, warm goat cheese topped with apricots and almonds ($9.95), and that worked out to $26 a person, including tax and a generous tip.

I love Greek food for the purity of preparation, which uses extra-virgin olive oil and shuns artery clogging butter, and how almost every dish is served with fresh lemon -- as central to the cuisine as the sun is to life.

I can't fault the food at Greek Taverna, and I enjoyed the experience of passing around plates and sampling many more dishes than usual.

And the service was good late Saturday afternoon.

Still, we told the waiter we would be sharing most of the dishes, but had to ask for serving spoons.


Arnaki Tis Gastras is described on the menu as a traditional dish of braised lamb shanks with roasted potatoes and cheese ($20.50). Friends who shared it said the dish also contained apricots and cinnamon. They took home leftovers.

Garides Ellinikes are described as jumbo shrimp sauteed with tomatoes, mushrooms, fresh herbs and feta cheese, and served with rice ($24.50). I shared this entree with my wife, but had a hard time finding the "jumbo" shrimp.

A large Horiatiki (Greek Salad) was $11.50, but most of it went home with one of my dinner companions.

Horta, a side dish of sauteed dandelions, was $6.95.
One of my dinner companions brought a bottle of red wine from Cyprus to enjoy with our dinner at the Edgewater BYO, below.

The dining room before it filled up on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Reservations are recommended on weekends.

In 2011, we tried a branch of Greek Taverna in Glen Rock and hit rough spots. See:

Green Taverna was a work in progress


Greek Taverna, 55 The Promenade, City Place Mall, Edgewater; 201-945-8998. BYO, open for lunch and dinner, garage parking under mall.

Web site: Greek Taverna USA

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Try a nice piece of fish at Sanducci's Trattoria

Tilapia Francese at Santucci's Trattoria in River Edge can be made without butter. The lunch entree comes with a generous, nicely dressed salad, below; coffee and a free refill.




Editor's note: Today, I discuss lunch at Santucci's Trattoria in River Edge, a recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Bread Crumbs and Anchovies, a quinoa salad, a rare visit to Stop & Shop in Teaneck, and signs of life in a Hackensack building that once housed a Korean bakery.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

One of my friends wanted antipasto for lunch. The other one was in the mood for a chicken parm sandwich. And I felt like a nice piece of fish.

We all got we wanted today at Sanducci's Trattoria in River Edge.

The menu offered only two farmed fish -- tilapia and salmon.

I chose the tilapia and was impressed with the large, fresh-tasting fillet and how beautifully it flaked, as well as the sauteed vegetables and the size of the well-dressed salad ($12.95).

My friend loved his gooey Chicken Parmigiana Hero ($7.50), and took home half for dinner.

And the other friend was delighted with his Antipasto Plate ($8.95).



The Antipasto Plate at Sanducci's Trattoria.

The chicken in the Chicken Parmigiana Hero is hidden under a blanket of melted cheese.

Tables and booths are available on the restaurant's first level. The people in the family photos on the dining room walls look like they could be your relatives.

Casual service

Lunch service today was casual, even though the dining room was far from full.

The waiter brought my salad first, and my friends weren't served their sandwich and antipasto until I finished and was ready for my fish entree.

While I ate salad, they ate bread, and the waiter happily brought a second basket.

There is limited parking in front, and from the rear lot, you have to take an elevator to the restaurant's second level, then walk down stairs to the main dining room.

The restaurant shares an entrance with a preschool, which explains the mothers and one father I saw picking up their children and strapping them in for the ride home.



Sanducci's offers a buffet lunch for $11.95 Mondays through Fridays, above and below.



Sanducci's Trattoria, 620 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge; 201-599-0600. BYO, parking lot in rear.

Web site: The lunch buffet is back



Pasta recipe needs tweaking


My version of Spaghetti with Garlicky Bread Crumbs and Anchovies from The New York Times has more oil, garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes and hot pasta water than called for.

I also used organic whole wheat spaghetti from Italy I buy at Whole Foods Market.



More liquid?

Pasta swallows handfuls of parsley and baby spinach, and tends to need far more liquid then you think.

Tonight, I prepared a recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Bread Crumbs and Anchovies from The New York Times' Dining section.

I used the two egg yolks called for, though I think 1 pound of pasta could stand more, but tripled the 6 cloves of garlic, and used more parsley, extra-virgin olive oil and hot pasta water.

I had hot sauce on hand, but not fish sauce.

I also used capers from a jar in the back of my refrigerator I usually forget is there, and a little shredded Asiago Cheese.

I ate the first portion without the recommended salt, black pepper and lemon juice, but added them to the second, and they improved the dish, especially the fresh lime juice I used.



Organic whole wheat shells from Whole Foods Market with extra-virgin olive oil, baby spinach, chopped garlic, grated Pecorino Romano Cheese and a teaspoon or two of Costco Wholesale's prepared Basil Pesto.

Leftover cooked organic quinoa from Costco Wholesale was easily turned into a crunchy salad with diced scallion, skin-on cucumber, sweet pepper, onion and apple. The dressing is red-wine vinegar, fresh lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil.

After I ate half the quinoa salad for breakfast on Tuesday, I topped the remainder with two organic eggs from Costco Wholesale, above.



Stop & Shop in Teaneck

I needed bread crumbs and parsley for The Times recipe, and didn't want to go out of my way, so stopped at Stop & Shop in Teaneck on the way home.

Stop & Shop is best known for a full line of naturally raised and organic food labeled Nature's Promise and found on almost every shelf and in every refrigerated case.

But prices are generally higher than at ShopRite and other stores.

For example, I saw a 13.25-ounce box of whole wheat spaghetti for $1.59, compared to a full pound of organic whole wheat spaghetti from Whole Foods Market for $1.39.

Two 40-ounce jars of Victoria Marinara were on sale for $10, but I bought them at Costco Wholesale for $8.39 last November and for under $7 when they were on sale.

Half-gallons of Stop & Shop Lactose-Free Milk were $3.99 each, compared to $3.49 for ShopRite's store brand.

The spaghetti recipe was good with the Rienzi Italian Style Bread Crumbs (made with corn syrup, unfortunately) I found at Stop & Shop, but next time, I'll see if I can get  much better ones at Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, where I buy crusty baguettes. 



The signs for a Korean dumpling restaurant remain on a Main Street building across the street from Sears in Hackensack, but the place never opened. Now, a sign says Upsy Daisy will be opening soon, below. A Shilla Korean Bakery operated there at one time.

Upsy Daisy will serve lactose-free ice cream, coffee and other items.



Monday, April 21, 2014

'Healthy' pork, Starbucks' hummus and more

Putting aside the debate over whether animal fats are inherently unhealthy, you can find ham and pork ribs raised with none of the harmful additives used by factory farms, including a Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Uncured Petite Ham, above, and Homestyle Meals Pork Baby Back Ribs, below.




By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

I spent hours on the road Sunday, but the rest of the family enjoyed an Easter dinner of uncured ham and antibiotic-free baby back ribs.

To beat the crowds, my wife drove the few miles to Whole Foods Market in Paramus around 8:30 on Sunday morning, and picked up an assortment of naturally raised meat and poultry.

A fully cooked Niman Ranch Uncured Petite Ham was $7.99 a pound; Homestyle Meals Pork Baby Back Ribs, also fully cooked, were $15.10.

She also bought frozen Pineland Farms Oxtails, $7.99 a pound; and frozen chicken backs and necks for soup, $1.29 to $2.99 a pound.




I missed the ShopRite sale on sweet potatoes (5 pounds for $2.99), and bought a box at the Paramus store this morning for $3.99 or about 80 cents a pound.


Starbucks' hummus

Homemade hummus in Brooklyn is a distant memory, but I still enjoy scooping up the chickpea dip with fresh pocket bread, as long as it's made with a little tahini and plenty of garlic and lemon juice.

In recent years, I have enjoyed a great substitute for my mother's hummus at Aleppo, the Paterson restaurant named after the Syrian city where my Sephardic Jewish parents were born.

On Sunday, on a road trip to Baltimore, I stopped at the Clara Barton Service Area of the New Jersey Turnpike, and saw that the shortest line was at Starbucks and the longest at Burger King.

I ordered a 12-ounce Starbucks Veranda Blend coffee, and looking over the prepared food, selected a refrigerated plastic clamshell with three or four small pieces of pocket bread, cut vegetables and a small container of hummus.

My friend paid just under $20 for my coffee and hummus, and for him, a ham-and-cheese sandwich and Naked-brand smoothie.

When you're driving long distances on a major toll road, you can't be fussy.

The thick, grainy hummus, with the bread and vegetables, was filling, but not very tasty.

In other words, certainly nothing to write home about.

I noticed the cut ends of the broccoli florets were brown, then popped them into my mouth.

The Starbucks on the turnpike are franchised to HMSHost, an American subsidiary of an Italian highway and airport food-service giant, Autogrill S.p.A.

The hummus package was stamped with the day it was prepared (Saturday), and a label stating that it was for sale until 2:45 p.m. Sunday.



I baked the ShopRite sweet potatoes on parchment paper at 400 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the natural sugar oozed out of them.


Paramus ShopRite

At the ShopRite in Paramus, the 5-pound boxes had "SWEET POTATOES" written on them, but the sign said, "SHOPRITE YAMS."

Elsewhere in the store, potatoes sold loose for 99 cents a pound were labeled "sweet potatoes/yams."

Yams are usually starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.

Half-gallons of ShopRite Lactose Free 1% Milk were $3.49, and I've found this milk sweeter than Costco Wholesale's Organic Low-Fat Milk.

I don't add sugar to coffee or tea. A little sweet milk is welcome.

ShopRite's 6-ounce containers of Fruit on the Bottom Low-Fat Yogurt were 50 cents each, not the cheapest, but the yogurt blend is made with sugar, not fructose.



Fresh Atlantic cod fillets take about 10 minutes to cook in bottled Mexican green salsa with added lime juice and Aleppo pepper, above. The mildly spicy salsa also is terrific for adding a savory flavor to baked skin-on sweet potatoes, below.

The meaty cod cooks quickly in a covered, non-stick pan, and flakes beautifully. 



Cod from Costco Wholesale

I wanted to pick up fresh fish for dinner at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, but I had skipped lunch and my stomach was empty.

Don't food shop when you're hungry, I've read, or you'll buy more than you need.

Of course, I could always try a few free food samples first before I started shopping.

When I walked into Costco around 3:30 this afternoon, I panicked -- no samples, not near the vitamins or the gum and snacks, not near the freezer cases. No cheese, no salsa, no crackers, no nothing.

I still managed to keep my purchases under $100.

A 2.26-pound package of wild Atlantic cod, long-line caught in Iceland, was $7.99 a pound.

Two 1-gallon bottles of Kirkland Signature Fresh Pressed Apple Juice were $7.99; 2 pounds of those incomparable Campari Tomatoes were $4.49; and 1 liter of Kirkland Signature Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup from Canada was $11.99.

Two liters of Sambazon Organic Acai Juice from Brazil -- labeled a "super food" -- were $8.99. 

A 28-ounce bag of organic, sun-dried Made in Nature Dates from Tunisia was $8.79, and a 5.5-pound bag of frozen Normandy Vegetables (organic broccoli, cauliflower and carrots) was $7.79.

After a dinner of cod prepared in bottled Mexican green salsa, with lime juice and Aleppo pepper, I had a salad of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix ($4.99 for 1 pound) with crunchy, skin-on Sunset English Cucumbers (3 cukes weighing a total of 2 pounds for $3.99).



No pits, no preservatives.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

More fish tales from eating out and eating in

Lotus Cafe in Hackensack's Home Depot Shopping Center does a brisk takeout business. The Chinese BYO, which opened in 1993, offers free delivery within 3 miles, with a $12 minimum (450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 201-488-7070).

Seafood Soup for 2 is filled with tender shrimp, squid, fish cake and vegetables in a perfectly seasoned broth ($7.50).


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

On Saturday morning, I discussed with my wife eating out at either Wondee's or Lotus Cafe, two favorites near our home.

By mid-afternoon, my wife informed me that, on the one day we eat out, everyone had made other plans.

I flirted with the idea of driving to Fort Lee for sashimi -- which no one else in the family touches -- but decided it was time for a simple Chinese meal of soup, vegetable and rice.

I drove to Lotus Cafe, ordered Seafood Soup for 2, Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with Fresh Garlic and brown rice.




Chinese Broccoli Stir Fried with Fresh Garlic is both deliciously leafy and crunchy ($9.95). Brown rice is available at no extra charge.


At home on Saturday morning, I prepared a smoked wild-salmon and Swiss cheese frittata with bottled Mexican green salsa and prepared pesto, above and below. The basic mixture included egg whites, whole organic eggs, shredded cheese, organic low-fat milk and sun-dried tomatoes, with most of the ingredients from Costco Wholesale, as was the salmon, reduced-fat Swiss cheese and pesto. 


Ackee and Salt Fish, the Jamaican national dish, can be made even spicier with Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce (Black Label). The bland ackee fruit and boiled green banana are foils for salted fish from Costco Wholesale (Canadian cod or Alaskan pollock), and sweet and hot peppers, garlic, onion and scallions, below.



Seasoned and pan-fried fresh, wild haddock fillets from Costco Wholesale ($8.99 a pound) are especially good covered in sauteed sweet peppers and onions.