Sunday, April 19, 2015

A world of flavors in N.J.-N.Y.C.: Italian, Korean, Chinese, Jewish

A wood-burning oven at A Mano, 24 Franklin Ave., Ridgewood, gives its deliciously smoky flavor to more than the authentic Neapolitan pizzas.

Editor's note: I had hoped to bring you more photos with this post, but a bug in my iPhone continues to prevent me from uploading images to my computer via Google+.


When a friend suggested lunch at a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in Ridgewood, I figured I could order a nice salad instead of a pie.

I've been on a successful no-bread, no-pizza diet for years, and didn't want to break it.

On Friday, A Mano in Ridgewood came through with a salad of one of my favorite greens, peppery arugula, topped with a little cheese, and fresh artichokes imported from Italy and wood grilled in the restaurant ($11.99).


My friend had a Garlic and Shrimp Pizza ($18.99) washed down with a large bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water ($4.99).

Ridgewood probably has more restaurants than any other town in North Jersey, and we walked by several that were empty or had only a few customers at lunchtime Friday.

That was the case at A Mano, where the staff outnumbered the customers. 

Soft Tofu with Pork, prepared Medium Spicy, at So Gong Dong, 118 Broad Ave., Second Floor, in Palisades Park. The stew is bubbling and steaming when it comes to the table, hot enough to poach a fresh egg that is included with your complete meal. You also get rice and side dishes ($9.99)

Seafood pancake and side dishes

What's not to like about a complete meal centered around a healthy soft tofu stew with vegetable side dishes, steamed rice and a fresh egg, all for just $9.99?

For a change of pace on Saturday night at So Gong Dong, I ordered a Pajun, a non-spicy grilled seafood-and-scallion rice-flour pancake with side dishes, including seaweed in gochujang, a spicy red-pepper sauce ($11.99).

The pancake is made with tender squid and shrimp, and served with a dipping sauce.

My wife and mother-in-law each had tofu stew -- one Medium Spicy and the other Little Spicy -- and shared an order of Steamed Dumplings, which contain pork ($8.99).

In the years we've been patronizing So Gong Dong, the food and service have been great, the menu has been expanded and the prices have stayed reasonable.

But on Saturday, when we ordered a tofu stew to take home, we discovered the restaurant has switched to a cheap, flimsy plastic container for the hot stew that can easily open, if the bag tips over in your car.

We narrowly averted that mess; others may not be so lucky.

Crunchy cabbage kimchi, above, and non-spicy bean sprouts, below, are two of the five side dishes at So Gong Dong, and second and third helpings are served willingly, if you have the room. You also get a stone bowl filled with steamed white rice.

Originally called So Gong Dong, the popular tofu house also is known as So Gong Dong Tofu & BBQ and SGD Dubu, with branches in East Hanover, Cherry Hill, Hartsdale, N.Y.; and Glenview, Ill.

On the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Grand Street, between Eldridge and Allen streets, above and below, once was part of a district of dry goods stores selling sheets, curtains, bedspreads and lace tablecloths. Today, the neighborhood is part of a widely expanded Chinatown.

This afternoon, at the Chinese-owned Great Bakery, 303 Grand St., I purchased two Macau-style Egg Tarts for $1.10 each. They were topped with a little burnt sugar in contrast to plain Egg Tarts.

Nearby Sara Delano Roosevelt Park is a magnet for the homeless.

At Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, 137 E. Houston St., you can get a Sweet Potato, Spinach or Vegetable Knish, in addition to the traditional Potato and Kasah knishes. But at $3.75 each, you're in for sticker shock. Cash only. Outside, the big sign over the doors spells "Schimmel" without the "c," so maybe it should be Yonah Schlemiel Knish Bakery.

Take a number at Russ & Daughters, a popular appetizer shop at 179 E. Houston St. I saw a young couple sitting on a bench outside and working their way through a bagel stuffed with an inch-thick layer of cream cheese and a little smoked salmon. Hold the bagel and revolting amount of cream cheese, and give me the salmon, but I'll bet this famous shop doesn't offer the wild-caught variety that is available at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. 

At home, I keep it simple and rely on great ingredients from Costco, including 100% Egg Whites and Mateo's Gourmet Salsa for this omelet stuffed with fresh spinach.  

Home cooking with Costco

I've really gotten to like the 32-ounce jar of Mateo's Gourmet Salsa ($4.97) I buy at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack as a garnish for omelets, baked sweet potatoes and organic brown rice, and to mix with guacamole.

Another great Costco ingredient for egg and pasta dishes is Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano, an aged cheese made with part skim milk that is sold shredded in 16-ounce plastic containers ($8.49, that's $3 off, until May 3).

Om Wednesday, my wife also picked up our usual 1-pound package of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, and it rang up at $4.29, the lowest price I've seen in a couple of years.

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