Thursday, December 31, 2015

Costco contradictions: Black truffles from Italy, toothpaste with 'deicer'

Imported from Italy, a Sabatino Tartufi Duo -- Whole Black Summer Truffles and Truffle Sea Salt -- was $19.99 at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro on Wednesday.

Also at Costco, Colgate Optic White Toothpaste contains propylene glycol, "an additive that is generally recognized as safe for use in food," according to a 1997 statement from federal regulators.


Costco Wholesale continues to offer more gourmet and organic food, including the imported Sabatino Black Truffle Duo I picked up on Wednesday afternoon.

But the quality of other items sold at the warehouse store often is poor or questionable, such as Colgate Optic White Toothpaste we bought and then returned for a full refund.

That was after I noticed a major ingredient is propylene glycol.

It's a synthetic liquid that is used "to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions," according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

See: Public Health Statement for Propylene Glycol

We returned the unused portion of Colgate Optic White Toothpaste for a full refund. Other ingredients include sodium saccharin and sucralose, two sweeteners.

In the same refrigerated case at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro, you can find antibiotic-free Coleman Organic Chicken Wings ($2.99 a pound), above, and Perdue Whole Cornish Hen ($1.99 a pound), below. The latter are raised with harmful antibiotics. 

The Cornish Hen is labeled "hatched, raised and harvested in USA."

The parking lot and store were packed on Wednesday afternoon, the day before New Year's Eve.

More checkout lanes

Although the parking lot and warehouse were packed, I had only a short wait behind two other customers to check out.

The larger Teterboro store appears to have more checkout lanes going at one time than the old Hackensack warehouse.

And on this, my third or fourth visit to the new Teterboro warehouse, I saved energy by walking through every aisle, picking up items on my list, rather than hunting for each item individually.

Two other gourmet items I purchased on Wednesday are refrigerated Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto ($7.99), and a wedge of aged Kirkland Signature Parmigiano Reggiano ($8.49 a pound), often called the "King of Cheeses."

The pesto is made with imported Genovese basil, and the cheese is made the same way it has been for centuries in Italy, where it was cut from a full wheel.

Organic Bananas were only $1.99 for 3 pounds. Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix, a weekly staple, was $4.49 for a 1-pound tub.

A 3-pound bag of peeled Christopher Ranch California Garlic was $7.39.

A 2-liter bottle of Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, packed in Italy, was $14.99 or about $7.50 per liter.

The bottle contains a blend of oils from Italy, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Portugal.

An inch-thick Mahi-Mahi Fillet with Roasted Peppers and a Vegetable-Stuffed Portobello Mushroom from Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood.

Fish, wine, salads

My reward for braving the crowds at Costco was enjoying a glass of red wine with another restaurant-quality takeout dinner from Jerry's Gourmet & More, 410 S. Dean St., Englewood.

I also found the auxiliary parking lot at Jerry's much easier to get into and out of than the larger one.

Besides three dinners, I picked up more Mild Provolone Cheese, on sale for $2.99 a pound.

My Mahi-Mahi Dinner from Jerry's came with a stuffed mushroom and two salads, Beet-Tomato, and Artichoke-Fennel with fresh herbs, above. I gave Chicken Dumplings to another family member. Two other dinners, called Meals To Go, had entrees of Grouper with Roasted Peppers and Chicken Cacciatore, both with pasta, asparagus and roasted sweet potatoes ($7.99 each).

Around 2 Wednesday afternoon, this lot had free spaces while the main lot was overflowing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Celebrity chef pasta sauce, angry lobsters and organic sweet potatoes

At $7.69 for a 25-ounce jar at the ShopRite in Hackensack, celebrity chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich surely is laughing all the way to the bank, as the label on her hoity toity pasta sauce shows.

Prego, which is made by Campbell Soup Co., should explain what's "traditional" about adding sugar to pasta sauce, and using dehydrated garlic instead of fresh.


Should you pay more for such a basic as bottled pasta sauce just because a celebrity chef slaps her mug on the label?


A 25-ounce jar of Lidia's Vodka Sauce lists "heavy cream" as the third ingredient, and for the privilege of clogging your arteries, you'll pay an outrageous $7.69 for it at the ShopRite in Hackensack.

Few pasta sauces are made from the short list of ingredients you'll find on the front label in the Victoria brand, and its delicious Vodka Sauce doesn't contain any cream, heavy or otherwise.

Victoria Marinara is available at Costco Wholesale, and ShopRite occasionally has great specials on all of the Victoria sauces.

Luigi Vitelli-brand Organic Whole Wheat Pastas from Italy are $1.25 a pound at ShopRites in Hackensack and Paramus or less than non-organic whole wheat pastas from DeCecco and Gia Russa, even when the latter goes on sale, lower right.

At the Hackensack ShopRite on Sunday, I was looking for salted codfish when I came upon a Battle of the Giant Lobsters, above and below. I was told they weighed 4 pounds to 6 pounds.

These big lobsters were $12.99 a pound.

Salted codfish

The Hackensack ShopRite had 1-pound bags of salted codfish from Canada on sale for $7.99, a discount of 50 cents, less than the price at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro.

I bought four bags, as well as a package of Luigi Vitelli Organic Whole Wheat Penne; two half-gallons of ShopRite Lactose Free Milk ($2.99 each); and antibiotic-free Readington Farms chicken drumsticks and thighs.

I used a coupon for $5 off a purchase of more than $40. 

The Trader Joe's at 404 Route 17 north in Paramus charges $1 a pound for organic sweet potatoes when you buy a 5-pound bag, above, but nearly $1.50 a pound if you buy only 3 pounds, below.

Sweet deal?

The Paramus Trader Joe's now stocks both 5-pound and 3-pound bags of Organic Sweet Potatoes -- a great bread substitute at breakfast or any meal -- but you'll pay more for the smaller size.

A 5-pound bag I bought on Monday afternoon contained small sweet potatoes ideal for baking until they are oozing with natural sugar, as well as larger ones for boiling and mashing with extra-virgin olive oil, skin and all.

This morning, I cut up about 3 pounds of big organic sweet potatoes and boiled them in a covered pot with more than a half-pound of peeled California Garlic Cloves from Costco Wholesale until they were soft (about 40 minutes).

I used a half-dozen seasonings -- sea salt, cinnamon, curry powder, garam masala, black pepper and red-pepper flakes -- and a generous pour of olive oil before mashing them.

You can fry two organic eggs sunny side up and when you eat them, break the yolks over mashed sweet potatoes for a breakfast that is both filling and comforting.


Monday, December 28, 2015

In heavily Asian Fort Lee, no-frills ramen parlor arrives by way of Korea

A vegetarian version of Miso Ramen with an extra-cost topping of fresh spinach at Menya Sandaime in Fort Lee.

Karakuchi Ramen with fatty slices of pork gets a little heat from Korean pepper.

Editor's note: Today, I discuss some of the changes in the dining scene in Fort Lee, which boasts a diversity you can't find in neighboring Palisades Park.


Fort Lee clearly remains the leading destination in North Jersey for lovers of Asian food.

New and old Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants tease the palate of the adventurous, and filling, inexpensive meals are widely available.

Menya Sandaime, the borough's third ramen parlor, took a circuitous route, according to Chopsticks NY, a free English-language guide published by a Japanese newspaper.

The ramen parlor's "parent company is a yakiniku barbecue restaurant in Tokyo [that] opened a popular ramen chain in Korea," according to an August 2014 review in Chopsticks NY.

The spot in Fort Lee, a Hudson River town with many Korean and Japanese residents, is its first branch in the United States. 

Last Friday, a review in The Record of Woodland Park identified Menya Sandaime as "part of a South Korea-based chain," but didn't mention its Japanese origins.

Cheap and filling

The menu is limited, but filled with comfort food:

Tokyo- and Sapporo-style ramens for $8.50 to $11 each (plus such extra-cost toppings as spinach and boiled egg halves); a stir-fried dish with seafood, a couple of small rice bowls topped with pork or beef, and pan-fried pork dumplings.

On Saturday afternoon, we waited only about 10 minutes before we were seated at a table for four. 

Depending on the review, Menya Sandaime has 22 or 25 seats, but when the restaurant is busy, customers also are seated in an employee break room.

Don't expect any frills. 

The floor in the dining room and unisex bathroom appears to be bare concrete, and the music on the sound system is loud, perhaps to encourage you to eat and leave as quickly as possible.

The ramen -- pork-bone broth, house-made wheat noodles, hard-boiled egg, vegetables and fatty pork belly -- doesn't quite fill the bowl.

Still, this is a cheap, tasty and filling meal.

The best ramen in Fort Lee? 

I haven't eaten ramen in several years at the other spots, Batten Ramen and Ramen Setagaya, so I'll let their loyal customers fight it out.

At Menya Sandaime, bowls of ramen come with a wooden ladle you use as a spoon, and chopsticks.

Vegetarian options

I love Asian soups, but don't eat meat, so looking at the menu, my eyes were drawn to Ankake Yaki Ramen, a dish of noodles topped with seafood.

The server said they were stir-fried.

But I could have a vegetarian version of Miso Ramen ($11), a soup made with soybean paste, by eliminating the pork, and I understood the server to say a vegetarian broth also is used.

It was a delicious bowl of soup filled with firm noodles, cabbage and bean sprouts, but I'm not sure the fresh-spinach topping was worth $2.

My boiled egg half was cold, and the yolk was hard.

My wife and son ordered Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.50) and a spicy Karakuchi Ramen ($9.50), respectively, plus two orders of pork dumplings, and they enjoyed all of it.

You get six Gyoza (pork dumplings) per order for $4.90. Though I didn't try them, because I don't eat meat, I'm skeptical of one newspaper critic who claims they are the best in North Jersey.

Menya Sandaime is a BYO with seating at tables and at a counter facing the kitchen.

The small dining room on Saturday around 4 p.m. Loud music discourages lingering.

The menu is presented in an open box.

Menya Sandaime occupies the first floor of an old house on a street with new construction and high-rises.


Menya Sandaime, 1638 Parker Ave., 1st Floor, Fort Lee; 1-201-482-4141. Open 7 days. 

The name translates to "third-generation noodle shop," according to one review. BYO, metered street parking and small lot behind building.

In the Oak Tree Center, below, you'll find Batten Ramen, the first ramen parlor in Fort Lee (2024 Center Ave., cash only).

Next door to Batten Ramen is Saigon Kitchen, below, a restaurant that specializes in Vietnamese pho, a noodle soup with an anise-flavored broth.

In addition to several phos, Saigon Kitchen's menu also offers a tamarind soup.

Vegetarian Pho also is offered.

Soba Noodle Azuma, the flagship U.S. branch of a large Japanese chain serving handmade buckwheat noodles and other dishes, opened at 246 Main St. in Fort Lee, opposite Ramen Setagaya.

After 25 years, Silver Pond Seafood Restaurant at 230 Main St. has closed for renovations, according to signs on the front doors, below.

Silver Pond's lunchtime dim-sum service was eclipsed by Lan Garden, 88 Route 46 west in Ridgefield, where dumplings and other treats are available all day and late into the night.

The Silver Pond sign is dated Sept. 1, 2015, and construction permits are visible nearby.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bowl of coffee at Le Pain Quotidien, sale on holiday blends at Starbucks

The communal table at Le Pain Quotidien on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.


Last Sunday, I took a break at Le Pain Quotidien in Manhattan, and learned the bakery with a full menu is based in Belgium, not France, as I had thought.

I sat at the communal table in the branch at 1131 Madison Ave. (84th Street), and ordered a large cafe au lait ($4.95).

The waiter brought me a bottle of water, a glass and the coffee in a bowl.

Le Pain Quotidien wants you to cup your hands around the bowl and warm them as you lift it to your lips. Nice.

This morning, the small Starbucks Coffee in Hackensack was as busy as stores I've visited in Manhattan.

Sale at Starbucks

At my Starbucks in Hackensack on Saturday, I had five bags of coffee beans I bought during an online sale ground Turkish for my drip coffee maker.

As I waited on line, I saw end-of-the-year sale signs offering one bag of Starbucks holiday coffee free with the purchase of one bag.

That's a good deal, so I went back today and bought two 1-pound bags of Christmas Blend Espresso Roast ($14.95), and had the beans ground Turkish.

The Hackensack Starbucks at 360 Essex St., near a large medical center, is open 7 days from 5:30 a.m. or 6 a.m. to late into the night (1-201-457-3323).

A Starbucks Ground Christmas Blend is among the holiday coffee offered in a year-end two-for-one sale.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

After a simple but filling meal, our Christmas leftovers will go fast

Cooked Wild Red King Crab Salad, dressed with Dijon mustard and fresh lime juice, was the starter for our modest Christmas dinner. The crab legs were $19.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro.

My entree was seasoned Wild Gulf Shrimp sautéed with olive oil and chopped fresh garlic. The meat eaters in the family enjoyed Cuban-style roast pork moistened with mojito, a lemony garlic sauce. The shrimp were on sale for $14.99 a pound at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.


There are plenty of leftovers from our simple Christmas dinner on Friday.

I didn't have much of an appetite after shelling 2.5 pounds of Wild Red King Crab legs and preparing a sinful salad, with diced celery, sweet peppers and fresh cilantro; sauteeing 3 pounds of Wild Gulf Shrimp, with olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes; and steaming a pound of kale in chicken stock and sake.

I enjoyed a heaping portion of crab salad on top of red-leaf and organic lettuces; and plenty of sauteed shrimp and kale, but didn't have room for Organic Quinoa, and mashed squash and carrots I also prepared this week.

My wife and son's entree was the Cuban-style roast pork, with a layer of fat under crispy skin, we brought home from La Pola Restaurant in West New York, along with yellow rice made at home, all in a lemony garlic sauce.

We toasted our good fortune with Bellinis, substituting a Spanish sparkling wine for prosecco.

On Friday morning, I made a 10-inch frittata with wild smoked salmon, chopped garlic, organic diced and fresh tomatoes, black olives and grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, and plated it with sauteed baby spinach and baked sweet potatoes.

In the last five minutes the frittata was finishing under the broiler, I added Roasted Salsa Verde from Whole Foods Market left over from poaching fresh cod earlier in the week. I used about 3 cups of 100% egg whites, plus the other ingredients.

This morning, I plated Christmas leftovers for breakfast, clockwise from top, chopped kale, Organic Quinoa with Garlic, a wedge of Wild Salmon Frittata, and a combination of Kabocha Squash and Organic Carrots, mashed with extra-virgin olive oil.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

We're adding Cuban roast pork, wild shrimp to our Christmas menu

Cuban Sandwich master Belarmino Rico, 76, at the plancha, the heated grill that transforms an ordinary ham, pork and cheese sandwich into a hot, crispy Cubano.

On Wednesday, Rico checked the pork he roasts for five hours in a pizza oven at La Pola Restaurant, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York. Today, in an annual holiday ritual, he will be waiting on hundreds of customers who will flood into the small luncheonette to pick up Christmas orders -- including whole butterflied pigs, ribs and hams, plus all of the Cuban side dishes.


On Wednesday morning, when we pulled into the tiny parking lot of La Pola Restaurant in West New York, we witnessed the calm before the storm.

Belarmino Rico, who justly deserves the title of "King of the Cuban Sandwich," was roasting pork and waiting on an occasional customer in preparation for today's onslaught.

As my wife enjoyed a hot, crispy Cuban Sandwich or Cubano and I sipped a cafe con leche, Rico explained that he had stopped taking orders for Christmas.

Today, three generations of his family and his loyal employees are greeting hundreds of customers who come in to pick up whole pigs, roast pork, ham and ribs, which will be displayed on racks and tables.

They'll also take home such Cuban dishes as congris, rice cooked with black beans; yuca with garlic, chicharrones or pork rinds, and a tortilla Espanola, a Spanish potato omelet. 

Rico named his Cuban sandwich shop for La Pola, the small town in Spain where he was born before he emigrated to Cuba.

We had a prior commitment today so on Wednesday, we picked up roast pork for our Christmas dinner on Friday.

On Wednesday, La Pola Restaurant was experiencing the quiet before the storm.

At La Pola, a Cuban Sandwich is made with a 12-inch section of water bread filled with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, moistened with a garlic sauce called a mojito and heated until crispy in a press.

La Pola's own Plaintain Strips are delicious and low in salt.
La Pola, on Palisade Avenue and 54th Street in West New York, is cash only.
Wild Gulf Shrimp are on sale today at Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

Going wild for shrimp

The roast pork from La Pola Restaurant in West New York is for the meat eaters in the family.

This morning, I went to Whole Foods Market for another main dish, Wild Gulf Shrimp, which were on sale for $14.99 a pound.

That's about what Costco Wholesale charges for farmed Black Tiger shrimp from Vietnam. Customers are told nothing about how they are raised.

On Friday, we'll also have a wild Red King Crab Salad dressed with Dijon mustard, fresh lime juice, seasonings and fresh chopped cilantro.

Side dishes include mashed Kabocha Squash and Organic Carrots, Organic Quinoa with Garlic and a salad of Organic Spring Mix. 

Whole Foods Market in Paramus has the best fresh seafood counter in North Jersey. One of the employees, left, gladly deveined the 3 pounds of wild shrimp I asked for.

As I waited for the shrimp to be deveined, I munched on samples of cheese, nuts and dried olives.

These bunches of Organic Cilantro are about twice as big as the conventional cilantro sold at the nearby Paramus ShopRite for 99 cents.