Friday, July 31, 2015

Exploring the Mediterranean at another bargain lunch in Manhattan

A quartet of Truffle Mushroom Croquettes -- crispy outside, creamy inside -- was one of the starters on the $25 lunch menu at Fig & Olive in midtown Manhattan. The dish includes cremini mushrooms, parmesan and bechamel with a Truffle Olive Oil aioli.


I picked the Mediterranean menu at Fig & Olive for my second Summer Restaurant Week lunch in Manhattan.

The $25 prix-fixe lunch, plus tax and tip, is a bargain, and includes bread service with a trio of extra-virgin olive oils.

The server put down two Spanish olive oils and one from California, describing the last as "grassy and herbaceous."

Olive oils from Greece, Spain and other countries also are used in many dishes.

Restaurant Week lunches include an appetizer, main course and dessert, selected from a limited menu, and no substitutions are allowed, not even fruit in place of dessert.

I don't eat dessert, and prefer the prix-fixe lunches I've seen advertised in Montreal -- appetizer, main course and coffee or tea -- usually for $20 or $21.

The Midtown branch, one of three Fig & Olives in Manhattan, has a dining room and bar on the first level and another dining room upstairs, with a total of 180 seats.

I made a noon reservation for me and my son on Thursday, and when we left, the restaurant was nearly full.

Both the food and service were great, and I felt pleasantly full after only two of the three courses.

On Thursday, my appetizer was Cucumber & Pink Peppercorn, a refreshing Chilled Cucumber Soup with mint, lemon, orange and shallot that was poured at the table. The soup is made without milk or cream.

Bread service included three extra-virgin olive oils.

For a main course, my personal Paella del Mar included shrimp, mussels and calamari over creamy rice with a saffron aioli and Hojiblanca Olive Oil.

My son picked Grilled Lamb on rosemary skewers, with Couscous, Greek Yogurt and Honey, and Koroneiki Olive Oil ($5 extra). A grilled caramelized fig, which he gave to me, was wonderful.
My son's dessert, Orange Panna Cotta with cookie crumble. I took home a second dessert, Crostinis with strawberries and mascarpone.

The second-level dining room on East 52nd Street, near Fifth Avenue, above and below.

The first-floor dining room and bar.


Fig & Olive - Midtown, 10 E. 52nd St., near Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.; 1-212-319-2002.

Summer Restaurant Week Web site:

By using a registered American Express card to pay, you can get a $5 statement credit for up to four lunches or dinners.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wild sockeye salmon with diced tomatoes, pesto and ripe peaches

Fresh wild sockeye salmon accented with pesto, a reduction of organic diced tomatoes and red wine, and a grilled ripe peach.

Editor's note: You'll need ripe peaches for one of my favorite preparations of grilled fresh wild salmon. Today, I also discuss the end of ShopRite's Summer Can Can Sale, and a few good buys at Whole Foods Market.


After two or three tries, I finally found some peaches that ripened on my kitchen counter for a savory and sweet preparation of fresh wild sockeye salmon.

Wild salmon fillets are widely available at Costco Wholesale, ShopRite and other stores, but I have yet to see them on restaurant menus this summer.

I grilled the fillet -- cut into six serving pieces and seasoned with sea salt and fresh lime juice -- and peach halves on the stove top.

First, in a pan, I reduced a can of organic diced tomatoes and red wine, seasoned with garlic powder, black pepper and a few red-pepper flakes, until the mixture thickened.

The prepared pesto doesn't need heating. All of the ingredients (except the wine) came from Costco Wholesale.

I started to grill halves from three peaches before I put the salmon on a preheated stove-top grill, skin-side down. Peaches take a total of 20 minutes on both sides; the salmon is cooked through in 8 minutes over medium-high heat.

Fresh wild sockeye salmon fillets were $9.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack. I plated the salmon before adding the organic diced tomatoes and refrigerated pesto.
The Eastern Peaches I bought at Costco Wholesale (6 pounds for $8.49) are distributed by a Glassboro, N.J., company. They came in 100% recycled box made in North Carolina, but there is no indication where the fruit is grown. They ripened on the counter in two days.

The next day, I used the leftover reduction of organic diced tomatoes and red wine to stuff an egg-white omelet, along with smoked wild salmon, fresh spinach and reduced-fat Swiss cheese slices, above.

The omelet, made in a 10-inch pan, is enough for two. You can serve it for breakfast with leftover pasta, a baked sweet potato or organic brown rice, all good bread substitutes.

Adirondack Seltzer

ShopRite's Summer Can Can Sale ended unexpectedly on Saturday, but the store continues to offer 1-liter bottles of Adirondack Seltzer for 40 cents each or $4.80 for a case of 12.

I found two cases of Lemon-Lime at the Paramus ShopRite and three more at the Englewood ShopRite.

Salsa, coffee, wine

I don't eat chips, but love the 365 Everyday Value salsas from Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Last week, I picked up jars of Roasted Salsa Verde and Roasted Chipotle Salsa ($2.69 each for 16 ounces).

They can be heated up with fresh lime juice and used to poach fresh fish. You can then use the salsa over rice or another side dish you serve with the fish.

Leftover salsa also can be used in omelets.

A pound of organic Pacific Rim Coffee Beans were $8.99 (you can grind them in the store), and a bottle of sparkling wine from Spain (Brut) was $5.99.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Enjoying a bargain lunch at a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Manhattan

Two of the starters available on the $25 lunch menu at Ai Fiori, a seafood restaurant in Manhattan, are Chilled Corn Soup, above, and a Salad with Manchego Cheese, below.


I picked Ai Fiori for lunch in Manhattan on the strength of a memorable four-course birthday dinner I enjoyed a few years ago at an affiliated restaurant, Marea.

And what better time to try Ai Fiori than during Summer Restaurant Week, when hundreds of city restaurants offer $25 three-course lunches and $38 three-course dinners?

Normally, Ai Fiori offers a two-course lunch for $45, plus $18 for an additional course.

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing for our entree, but we had to ask for slices of lemon.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star

When we walked into a Fifth Avenue hotel in the 30s, where Ai Fiori is located, we saw a sign noting the restaurant has been awarded 1 Michelin star in the 2015 guide (out of 3).

That's great, I thought, and while we loved the food and attentive service, I now wonder how a fine-dining restaurant kitchen could send out a seafood dish without a slice of lemon.

I started with a Salad of crisp Baby Lollo Rossa Lettuce, other greens and Manchego Cheese, with a dressing that included aged sherry.

My wife had the refreshing Chilled Corn Soup with charred corn, Calabrian chili and basil, and a waiter poured it out of a pitcher at the table.

The soup tasted creamy even though it had a milk base, according to the maitre d'.

Skate, hold the thin ice

Both of us chose the Pan-Roasted Skate Wing with Couscous, which was made with olives, broccoli and tomato aioli.

At my request, the skate was prepared with olive oil instead of butter. It was crisp outside and moist inside, and it benefited from a little fresh lemon juice from slices we asked for. 

For our third course, we wanted berries, but weren't allowed substitutions for the Chocolate Tort or a second dessert listed as Meringue.

So, we asked for the desserts to go for another family member who has no dietary restrictions.

Our two lunches totaled $50 before tax and a 20% tip, and by using a registered American Express Card t0 charge them, I'll get a $5 statement credit.

Ai Fiori serves butter with bread, but I asked for extra-virgin olive oil into which to dip the crusts, and used some of it over my salad.

The restaurant's dining room, above and below, is on the second floor of the Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, accessible via a winding marble staircase.

We had a comfortable corner banquette, and were able to get seated before our 12:15 p.m. reservation.

Ai Fiori has 1 Michelin star, and Marea, which heads the Altamarea Group of restaurants, now has 2 Michelin stars.

We walked to the restaurant from the midtown bus terminal, pausing to look at Seward Johnson sculptures displayed in a pedestrian mall that runs for several blocks along Broadway. Above, one of the two figures in "Los Mariachis."

Table and chairs are set up on Broadway for people having an al fresco lunch, including a man who said he paid a bargain $2.75 for two slices of pizza and a soft drink at a nearby pizzeria.

"Monet, Our Visiting Artist" is the title of this Seward Johnson sculpture.
Instead of driving into the city and blowing a small fortune on gasoline, the Hudson River toll and parking, we took the bus from our home in North Jersey. Round-trip for two was $12.30.


Ai Fiori, 400 Fifth Ave., Second Level, in Langham Place Fifth Avenue Hotel, Manhattan; 1-212-613-8660.

Restaurant Web site: 

NYC Summer Restaurant Week continues through Aug. 14, except Saturdays. Web site: 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What gives with Egg Beaters 100% Egg Whites at Costco Wholesale?

My wife went to Costco Wholesale in Hackensack today, looking for Kirkland Signature 100% Egg Whites, but she came home with Egg Beaters 100% Egg Whites. And she ended up paying more for less product.


I warmed up quickly to Kirkland Signature 100% Egg Whites at Costco Wholesale.

Costco introduced the 100% Egg Whites to replace Kirkland Signature Real Egg Product, which was 99% egg whites, plus color, spices, salt, onion powder, xanthan gum and other ingredients not found in the real thing.

The new liquid product was cholesterol-free and had no saturated fat, but was thin and watery.

Still, it produced terrific egg-white omelets you could stuff with smoked wild salmon, cooked fresh spinach, cheeses, salsa and other ingredients.

Egg Beaters?

This morning, my wife went to the Hackensack Costco, but couldn't find Kirkland Signature 100% Egg Whites -- six 16-ounce cartons for $9.99 that were introduced a little over two years ago.

Instead, she brought home an Egg Beaters package, which doesn't offer as much value as Kirkland Signature did, containing only four 16-ounce cartons of 100% Egg Whites for $8.99.

That means you get one-third less product (four cartons instead of six) for only a dollar less than the Kirkland Signature version.

What gives, Costco?

Is this a temporary substitute for the Kirkland Signature version? Or is this change permanent? 

Cage-free controversy

Costco has been severely criticized recently for saying it would stop selling whole eggs from caged chickens, but continuing to do so years after the pledge.

If you buy Costco's Kirkland Signature Organic Eggs, the package is labeled cage free.

There was no such labeling on Kirkland Signature 100% Egg Whites or the new version from Egg Beaters.

The latter are from Con Agra Foods in Omaha, Neb., the big packaged-food company that doesn't have the greatest reputation.

A Kirkland Signature 100% Egg Whites omelet I made this morning with my last carton. I stuffed it with cooked fresh organic spinach, two kinds of cheese (reduced-fat Swiss and shredded Parmigiano Reggiano) and salsa, and ate it with sweet plantains and leftover organic brown rice.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A few good buys at ShopRite's Can Can Sale and at Super H Mart

At the Super H Mart in Ridgefield on Sunday, king whiting, front, and red snapper, both wild caught, were $3.99 and $4.99 a pound, respectively. Whole porgy (not shown) were only $2.99 a pound.


Now you see it, now you don't.

That seems to be the nature of sales in such supermarkets as ShopRite in Paramus and Super H Mart in Ridgefield.

At the Paramus ShopRite, the second week of the Summer Can Can Sale doesn't offer the same deals as last week.

On Friday, I used a Super Coupon I clipped from a flier to purchase three 28-bottle packs of Poland Spring for $10 with the store card and the purchase of $10 in other items.

My other purchases were Bing Cherries from Washington State for $1.67 a pound, two 1-pound packages of Luigi Vitelli Organic Whole Wheat Fusilli at $1.25 each and a 3-pound bag of Organic Sweet Potatoes for $5.99. 

We used a second Super Coupon to buy three more 28-bottle packs of Poland Spring for $10 at the Englewood ShopRite.

The Summer Can Can flier that came with Sunday's paper no longer offers the Poland Spring deal.

And the Paramus ShopRite last week didn't repeat the deal on six pints of New Jersey Blueberries that I purchased for $6.99 on July 10.

H Mart -- a week later

On Sunday, I found the usually good prices on fresh fish at the Super H Mart in Ridgefield.

I bought two wild-caught whole king whiting that weighed about 2.5 pound each ($3.99 a pound).

My wife cut them into about eight pieces, and seasoned, floured and pan fried them.

Whiting is a mild-tasting fish that flakes beautifully, and the central spine is just about the only bone you have to deal with.

Baby Mustard Greens or Gaichoy were 88 cents a pound, a discount of 10 cents a pound, and two heads of red-leaf lettuce were 99 cents or half-price.

I wanted to buy another large, heavy watermelon like the one I got a week earlier for $6.49, but all of those I saw were smaller and the price went up a dollar per melon.

The produce section of the Super H Mart, the Korean chain's biggest store in Bergen County.

Super H Mart makes its own cabbage kimchi and sells several bottled brands, but I prefer to go to Arirang Kimchee, which specializes in cabbage, cucumber and other kimchi, at H&Y Marketplace, Ridgefield, not far from Super H Mart.


ShopRite, 224 Route 4 east at Forest Avenue, Paramus; 1-201-291-4180. Open 7 days.

Super H Mart, 321 Broad Ave., Ridgefield; 1-201-943-9600. Open 7 days.

Arirang Kimchee, 1 Remsen Place, Ridgefield; 1-201-313-7975. Call for hours.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

At Costco, lower price on King of Cheeses, news of Teterboro store

Often called the King of Cheeses, wedges of Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy are now available at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack for $8.49 a pound, compared to $11.79 a pound in February 2014.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss three of my favorites, all available at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack -- Parmigiano Reggiano, Basil Pesto and Fresh Wild Sockeye Salmon. On a recent vacation in Montreal and Vermont, sad to say, I never saw wild salmon on a menu.


I'm not sure what's behind Costco Wholesale's dramatic price cut on imported Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese.

I'm pretty certain this crumbly, slightly salty aged cheese, which is wonderful with fruit and in salads, has always sold for more than $10 a pound.

But on Thursday, at my Hackensack Costco, the price was $8.49 a pound for a cheese that's aged more than 24 months. 

I grabbed a 1.45-pound wedge, even though I haven't finished the Parmigiano Reggiano I bought for $9.77 a pound at Maywood's Marketplace in June.

Once you take the cheese out of the wrapper, it's best to cut the wedge into smaller pieces, trim off the rind and store it in the refrigerator in an air-tight container, such as Snapwear.

You can dice the rind and use it to flavor pasta sauce; it doesn't completely dissolve, so if you want to remove it before serving the dish, use bigger pieces and fish them out.

Parmigiano Reggiano is made with part-skimmed cow's milk, rennet, cheese cultures and salt, so it doesn't have as much fat as many other cheeses.

The wedge I bought has a best-by date of March 2016.

Shredded Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano, which is more expensive than the same cheese in wedges, and Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto accent organic eggs poached in marinara sauce. You could just as well shave cheese from a larger piece over your eggs as they cook. You can also find recipes for stuffing zucchini flowers with the cheese or adding it to lasagna and other dishes.

Fresh Wild Sockeye Salmon with Pesto and Lime. The salmon, which was $9.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack, was grilled on the stove top over medium-high heat for 8 minutes with a little sea salt and fresh lime juice. Chopped herbs from our garden, Aleppo pepper and Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto were added to the serving pieces after they were taken off the heat.

Costco's pesto topping an egg-white omelet stuffed with smoked wild salmon, fresh organic spinach, reduced-fat cheese and salsa. A 22-ounce jar of Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto, which must be kept refrigerated, was $7.99.

Teterboro Costco

Even though the Hackensack Costco is so popular that parking and shopping there can be an ordeal, I haven't spoken to anyone who is looking forward to the opening of a bigger Costco near Teterboro Airport.

The new Costco is under construction in a shopping center off of Route 46, and still is scheduled to open in the fall. Hiring for the bigger store begins in September.

In the absence of official information, I've been questioning employees in Hackensack about the new store, which is 3 miles away from the old one.

On Thursday, I was told that, yes, the new store will have a liquor license and carry alcohol, including Kirkland Signature Wines, such as a wonderful California Cabernet Sauvignon and Prosecco from Italy at low Costco prices.

When I asked a couple of months ago, I was told no liquor license, no Kirkland Signature Wines.

But it doesn't look like the Teterboro Costco will offer wheel alignment to members who buy new tires.

A few months ago, we bought new Michelin tires for one of our cars at the Hackensack Costco, then had to make an appointment at another tire dealer to have the wheels aligned.

Boycott Walmart

The new Costco will be in a shopping center with a Walmart, which has already opened.

I am boycotting Walmart to protest its mistreatment of workers.

And I'll have no use for a Costco gas station in my all-electric car.

I'm not looking forward to driving 10 miles round-trip to Costco, compared to my 4-mile round-trip now.

Let's hope the new parking lot will be designed better.

Now, lazy shoppers stop their cars dead so they can wait for a space close to the doors, blocking the main entrance to the lot in Hackensack.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Lasting vacation images: Allure of Montreal is more than food, music

Children are endlessly fascinated with the rising and falling water in a fountain in Complexe Desjardins, which is part of Underground Montreal, a network of enclosed shopping centers, office buildings and hotels linked by the city's Metro.

Another fountain entertained children in the plaza outside Complexe Desjardins, near the main stage for free concerts during the 10-day International Jazz Festival, which ended July 5.

The French influence? A mortar that appears to be circumcised was being offered along with the pestle in an IGA supermarket in Complexe Desjardin.

Parking meters in Montreal also provide a secure place to lock your bicycle. In Manhattan, food deliverers and others chain their bicycles to lamp posts and street signs.

Underground Montreal was developed to keep the city humming during long, brutal winters. This fire hydrant sign suggests accumulated snow can reach unheard of heights in an urban setting. 
The Metro in Montreal has rubber wheels and is quieter than the subway in Manhattan, another island city. A single fare is $3.25 Canadian, but you can buy three days of unlimited rides for $18 Canadian. The U.S. dollar was worth about $1.20 Canadian during our visit in late June and July, and Visa was giving $1.23 to $1.25 for purchases charged in Montreal.
New Canadian bills have a clear panel, left, unlike anything I've ever seen before.
A street in the East Montreal section shows the typical wrought-iron staircases that are part of the city's architectural heritage.
On two sides of Saint Catherine Street, a mural shows an addict shooting up, above, and the gold statue atop a church, below.

At this kiosk in the Complexe Desjardins, you can use your pedal power to charge your smart phone or other device, as long as you have a charging cable with you.
In the IGA supermarket, homeless men can cash in the aluminum cans they collect at this machine. The man waiting his turn complained the supermarket once had several machines, but now only this one, and said the man in front of him should be more considerate. 

In Complexe Desjardins, you'll find Sushi Shop, part of a chain, where you can get a freshly made Calypso Roll, which includes lobster, crab, green apple, avocado, mayo and other ingredients, all wrapped in rice paper, for $12.59 Canadian, including 15% tax. On my credit card statement, I was charged a total of $10.04 U.S. 

At Rachelle-Bery on Saint Catherine Street in Montreal, a store that sells only organic or natural products, three liters of organic juice (such as apple-grape-cherry) were on sale for $5 Canadian. When I asked for a plastic bag, I was charged 6 cents. The total on the credit card bill sent to my home was $4.04 U.S. Jean Coutu, a drugstore chain, doesn't charge extra for plastic bags. 

A salad bar called Cultures in a food court on Saint Catherine Street.

At Cultures in Complexe Desjardins, a trio of salads -- rice with lentils, couscous and a bean combination -- were $10 Canadian, plus tax.

The Saint Catherine Street food court is below street level, tricking the eye with this car and pedestrians in a window.

A counter-service Greek restaurant in Complexe Desjardins serves wine and beer and has its own seating area.

Goat Cheese Lollipops, above, and small Spinach and Cheese Quiches, below, were among the hors d'oeuvres served at the Hyatt Regency Momtreal, the headquarters hotel for the annual International Jazz Festival. 

For $20 Canadian a night, a room on the hotel's Regency Club level included a large buffet breakfast, hors d'oeuvres and salads served starting at 5 p.m., and refreshments and desserts served at other times through the day.
One of our neighbors on the 11th floor of the Hyatt Regency Montreal ordered room service and put out the trays, which we would see on the way to breakfast, above and below. Sometimes, no one would collect them for hours.

When we came back from breakfast, someone had thrown a cloth napkin over this mess, but it remained in the hall.

On the line to order an omelet in Saveur, the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Montreal, where a window seat is coveted, below.

We found the Venetian blinds aren't dusted very often and food particles aren't removed, below.

After we complained two days in a row, a cleaning crew was called in.
On June 29, the stylish Erykah Badu, billed as the Queen of R&B, made her first appearance at the Montreal jazz festival, and her sensual voice and jazz-and-soul-tinged melodies soon had her adoring fans on their feet, below.

Just about everyone in the hall knew the words to Badu's songs, which were drowned out by her highly amplified band. Tickets to her show were the most expensive we bought at $118.50 each for the second row.

University jazz groups gave free concerts every afternoon at 1 and 3 in Lounge Heineken, a tent with tables, chairs and comfortable couches, where you could order beer and food.

On July 1, we grabbed an umbrella and walked downtown to see the Canada Day Parade, which featured many of the ethnic groups that live in Montreal, including mainland Chinese, above, and Scandinavians, below.

English jazz singer Jamie Cullum, second from left, performed with a big band of Montreal musicians on July 1, in one of the best concerts we saw. Tickets were $88.50 Canadian each, about 20% less in U.S. dollars. Most of the ticketed concerts we saw ran two hours or a bit longer.

After the concert, Cullum gave a free performance at a nightclub, and introduced Malaika, a singer-songwriter from Ireland, below.

Malaika has a beautiful voice, but her generic pop songs disappointed many in the club who had hoped to hear jazz standards.

Acoustic jazz guitar virtuoso Jesse Cook blended gypsy, Spanish, jazz and rumba influences in a July 2 concert with a small band that rocked Maison Symphonique, home of the Montreal Symphony. Tickets were $73.50 Canadian each.
Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra performed songs associated with Big Easy on July 3, in what was the highlight of the festival for me and my wife. Tickets were $70.50 Canadian each for Row C.

On the other hand, we felt jazz singer Patricia Barber of the United States played the piano with her small group too much and didn't sing enough in what was one of the shortest concerts we saw. Tickets to her show were only $52 Canadian each for Row AA, so I guess we got what we paid for.

The sun-splashed plaza outside Complexe Desjardins was always filled with people and a diversity of entertainment, above and below.

On June 28, at our first concert, we had a front-row seat for the spirited performance of a flamenco troupe ($57 Canadian each), and on July 5, our last concert was the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, above ($73.50 Canadian each).

I left the gospel concert before it ended and returned to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Montreal, where I grabbed a couple of chairs on the terrace for the festival finale, a free 2-hour tribute to blues legend B.B. King on the main outdoor stage, below. But the music stopped after just an hour to allow another group to play on another stage, and many people on the hotel terrace left.
We could hear the B.B. King tribute much better than my iPhone camera could see it.