Saturday, May 30, 2015

My $58.36 lunch at Local Seasonal Kitchen is worth almost every penny

Pan Seared Wild Steelhead Trout, swimming in Glutten Free Red & Barley Miso Broth, is on the lunch menu at Local Seasonal Kitchen in Ramsey.

Shishito Peppers with Togarashi, a mild Japanese spice mixture, is one of the small plates the menu lists as "For The Table."


If I was by myself, I would have been satisfied with 
a delicious lunch of crisp-skinned wild steelhead trout, perfectly pan-seared to medium, and served over toothsome noodles.

But I met two friends at Local Seasonal Kitchen in Ramsey on Thursday, and was open to their suggestion we share two of the small plates the menu lists as "For The Table."

And even though I never touch dessert and rarely order coffee in a restaurant, I was intrigued in a how-do-they-do-that kind of way with a vegan, dairy free "cheesecake" made completely from nuts, fruit and sugar ($14).

I took two small bites with sips from a latte ($6), then asked the server to pack up the rest of the Strawberry Bar to go.

So, even though we were going Dutch, that's how my lunch tab hit $58.36, including tax and tip.


We're eager to have another lunch at Local Seasonal Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant that believes "food tastes better when prepared in season."

But pricing is puzzling.

My piece of steelhead trout ($24) was close to twice the size of a fillet served for lunch in a fine-dining seafood restaurant in Manhattan.

But $14 for a small piece of vegan cheesecake? And $6 for a latte that was inferior to the one served at the Starbucks near the historic train station up the street? 

Cups of regular coffee were $5 each.

Skimpy za'atar

A "For The Table" item we shared, Grilled Naan with Za'atar, was only $4.

But as soon as it came out, I saw how the kitchen had skimped on the Middle Eastern mixture of dried thyme, sumac, sesame seeds and salt, most commonly served as za'atar bread.

I grew up eating za'atar bread, a comfort food that is usually made with fresh, round flat bread that is literally black with a spread of sour-and-salty za'atar and olive oil.

When you toast a wedge, the sesame seeds sizzle.

Dinner prices are higher. My steelhead trout, $24 at lunch, is listed for $36 on the dinner menu.

Grilled Naan with invisible Za'atar.

Our filling lunch

We started with that disappointing grilled naan and a second small plate, Shishito Peppers with Togarashi ($9), which proved addictive.

A consolation prize was wrapping one of the grilled peppers and a few crunchy nuggets of garlic in a piece of the soft naan.

My friends loved what they ordered, a lunch special of Pompano ($24), and Whole Wheat Pappardelle in a hearty sauce of turkey, chicken and wild mushrooms ($18).

A server showered the pasta with plenty of freshly grated cheese.

Our waitress told us Local Seasonal Kitchen serves only wild-caught fish, but I questioned her on why the menu listed my selection of steelhead trout as "steelhead salmon."

She said it's because the trout is so much like wild salmon in color and texture.

Unfortunately, when I checked today, I saw Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch lists many wild steelhead populations as threatened or endangered.

A lunch special of Pompano with Meyer lemon, pesto, asparagus, snap peas and farro.

A lunch entree of Whole Wheat Pappardelle Bolognese, this one made with turkey, chicken and wild mushrooms, not ground meat.
I asked for the steelhead trout "medium," and it came out perfect.

A vegan, dairy free Strawberry Bar.

The dining room of Local Seasonal Kitchen, above and below. The farm-to-table restaurant is in the kind of shopping center every small North Jersey town seems to have at least one of.

"Don't buy food from strangers" is the motto above the bar.

The Women's Room.

A glimpse into the kitchen at the end of lunch service.

The check was presented in a book on grilling.

Local Seasonal Kitchen is sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a Chinese restaurant in the Village Square Shopping Center on Main Street in Ramsey.


Local Seasonal Kitchen, 41 W. Main St., in the Village Square Shopping Center, Ramsey; 201-962-9400. BYO, free parking.

Open for lunch Tuesdays to Fridays, and dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

This week, we go shopping for tires, tofu and turkey necks

Whole Foods Market at Bergen Town Center in Paramus.


It's no secret Costco Wholesale has great prices on food, especially for a growing number of organic items.

But the Hackensack warehouse store is just as appealing for its inexpensive clothing -- including 100% cotton dress and casual shirts for men, and slacks imported from Italy -- and even tires, among many other non-food products.

This week, I sent my wife to Costco's tire store for Michelin Energy Saver tires for her 2010 Toyota Prius, a gas-electric hybrid.

Instead, she came home with another fuel-efficient tire, the Michelin Defender, which has an astounding 90,000 mile tread-wear warranty, compared to 65,000 miles for the Energy Saver.

The tires were $115.99 each, but Michelin offered a coupon for another $70 off on the purchase of four. 

And we'll eventually get $14.89 back in credit card and Costco rebates on the total price of $496.64, including mounting and balancing.

The only disadvantage to buying tires at the Hackensack Costco is that you have to go elsewhere to have your wheels aligned.

Fresh wild-caught Ocean Perch from H Mart in  Little Ferry prepared with sweet peppers, above, and seasoned and pan fried, below. They were $2.99 a pound on Sunday, when the Korean supermarket offered free seafood tastings, including boiled octopus and broiled eel.

Tofu, mangoes and fish

At H Mart in Little Ferry on Sunday, I picked up fresh whole Ocean Perch for $2.99 a pound, and a 1-pound tray of Stewed Tofu for $5.99.

A tray of kimbap -- a seaweed, rice and vegetable roll with Korean pickles -- was $4.79.

Stewed tofu from H Mart, right front, can be eaten cold right out of the refrigerator or warmed up with other side dishes.

With a store card, a 15-pound bag of Hukukome Medium-Grain White Rice, product of the U.S.A., was on sale for $11.99, and a box of 16 mangoes was $10.99, a discount of $4.

A 16-portion box of Shin Ramyun, a spicy noodle soup, also was on sale, for $9.99.

Two packages of fresh Oyster Mushrooms were $2.49 or half price.

A seedless watermelon was on sale for $4.99, compared to a little larger watermelon I bought at ShopRite for $6.99.

Organic quinoa prepared in an electric cooker with organic black beans and organic diced tomatoes.

Turkey necks, salsa

I stopped at Whole Foods Market in Paramus on Tuesday for 16-ounce jars of Roasted Chipotle Salsa and Roasted Salsa Verde ($2.69 each).

For dinner, I used the chipotle salsa to poach the Icelandic haddock fillets my wife bought at Costco Wholesale for $8.99 a pound on Tuesday, the day she had the new tires installed.

At Whole Foods, I also picked up packages of frozen turkey necks and backs for soup ($1.99 a pound), and a 3-pound-plus package of fresh chicken drumsticks, also on sale for $1.99 a pound.

All Whole Foods poultry is antibiotic free.

I also found small, juicy Sonya Apples from New Zealand on sale for $1.99 a pound.

A can of Organic Black Beans was $1.29.

At home, the black beans went into a rice cooker along with two cups of organic quinoa, a can of organic diced tomatoes, four cups of organic chicken broth or water, and extra-virgin olive oil.

I served the quinoa dish with the haddock, using the salsa the fish was cooked in as a sauce.

Organic whole-wheat pasta

At ShopRite in Paramus, I stocked up on Luigi Vitelli-brand Organic Whole Wheat Pasta from Italy, including spaghetti, linguine and capellini.

At $1.25 for a 1-pound package, this is lowest price I've found for organic whole wheat pasta, beating Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's.

Also at ShopRite, Golden Pineapples were reduced to $1.97 each.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Let them eat bread -- while you maintain your hard-won weight loss

A 10-inch frittata with smoked wild salmon, sweet potatoes and fresh spinach (folded into the egg mixture) starts out on top of the stove and finishes under the broiler. After you remove it from the oven, add Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto from Costco Wholesale, where you can find most of the other ingredients.


Sweet potatoes, baked or mashed. Organic brown rice and organic quinoa prepared in an electric cooker. Organic whole-wheat pasta imported from Italy.

Let me count the substitutes I've enjoyed since embarking on a no-bread, no-pizza diet several years ago, and shedding 40 pounds.

I put back about 10 of those pounds after I gave up one of my two part-time jobs and became less active.

But the bread substitutes still work to help me maintain my weight loss, and they can be enjoyed at any meal where bread is served, even breakfast.

Of course, I don't drink soda, never touch dessert, eat reduced fat cheeses and try to avoid pasta sauces and other products made with added sugar, which is linked to the obesity epidemic.

A wedge of the frittata with baked and mashed sweet potatoes, the latter made with extra-virgin olive oil, cinnamon, curry powder and other seasonings.
Organic brown rice joins mashed sweet potatoes at another meal with a wedge of frittata.

Luigi Vitelli-brand Organic Whole Wheat Capellini, an Italian import available for $1.25 a pound at ShopRite in Paramus, complements an egg-white omelet stuffed with spinach.

Mateo's Gourmet Salsa and Earthbound Farm Organic Baby Spinach, both from Costco Wholesale, are perfect for stuffing a 10-inch omelet made with Kirkland Signature Egg Whites.

Mateo's Gourmet Salsa has no added sugar. A 32-ounce jar was $4.97 at Costco in Hackensack.

Some Kirkland Signature spices now have a new top, above, replacing a top that would sometimes come off, below, dumping ounces of black pepper, red-pepper flakes and other seasoning into the food you were preparing.

Here, I was seasoning the frittata egg mixture (16 ounces of whites and three whole organic eggs) after folding in the fresh spinach with a spoon.

Here, organic brown rice makes a nice foundation for a light dinner of salted fish prepared with sweet peppers, all accented with Valentina Mexican Hot Sauce, below.

Organic quinoa (prepared in an electric cooker with organic black beans, organic diced tomatoes and olive oil), with Roasted Chipotle Salsa I used tonight to poach wild-caught Icelandic Haddock Fillets, below.

The fresh haddock was $8.99 a pound at Costco. A 16-ounce jar of the salsa was $2.69 at Whole Foods Market in Paramus. I used most of the jar to poach 1.8 pounds of the fish in under 10 minutes. Tonight, I added the fresh juice of a lime and a little red wine to the salsa, and brought them to a boil before adding the fish and covering the pot.

Monday, May 25, 2015

At Emma in Englewood, you'll find art on the plate as well as on walls

An artful appetizer of Piquillo Peppers -- stuffed with shrimp and draped in a red-pepper, bechamel and squid-ink sauce -- was a special on Saturday evening at Emma Restaurant in Englewood. 

Emma, which opened about three months ago, serves virgin cocktails that you can have made with liquor from home. I brought a bottle of Havana Club Rum for the mojito I enjoyed at dinner.


We always avoid trying a new restaurant right after a favorable newspaper review, but figured the Memorial Day weekend would thin the crowd.

And we were right, especially because we showed up famished on Saturday, 45 minutes before our 5:30 dinner reservations at Emma, surprising an employee who was working on place settings.

We shared two appetizers and ordered three entrees, and loved the Englewood restaurant's bold, pan-Latin flavors and beautifully composed plates.

Seated at the front of the empty dining room, we started with a complimentary plate of flat bread and three spreads, including hummus, and then shared Crostini Tastings on baked country bread (three for $9, six for $14).

I chose Jamon Serrano and Argentine Chorizo for my wife and mother-in-law, who eat meat, and Chipotle Shrimp for me.

They were as good to eat as they were to look at.

Then, we were wowed by an appetizer special, Pequillo Peppers stuffed with Shrimp and decorated with a red-pepper, bechamel and squid-ink sauce ($14).

An entree of Skirt Steak with Grilled Asparagus, Mashed Potatoes, Coffee Jus and Chimuichurri Emulsion.

A nook in the restaurant. Other tables were bare during our visit.

Cod Asado swimming in a Stew of Seasonal Vegetables and Potatoes in a Tomato Shellfish Broth.
Shrimp Burger, hold the bun, with pickled red onion, frisee and so-so plum tomato slices. French fries were served with it, below.

Steak, cod and shrimp burger

My wife ordered her Skirt Steak entree well-done ($26), and my mother-in-law enjoyed her Cod Asado, served in a shellfish broth ($23).

Only my entree lacked eye appeal. 

I ordered the Shrimp Burger ($16) without the toasted brioche bun, having broken my diet by eating flat bread and a crostini, and it looked naked on the platter.

The chipotle-flavored chopped shrimp and onion burger tasted terrific, though, and I indulged in too many of the french fries that came with it.

One of three piquillo peppers in the appetizer special.

Crostini Tastings are meant to share: From top, Jamon Serrano, Figs & Melted Queso Cremoso; Argentine Chorizo & Chimichurri; and Chipotle Shrimp, Avocado, Cilantro & Lime.

A mojito with fresh mint, lime and 7-year-old BYO rum from Cuba ($6). Restaurant-made Ginger Pear Iced Tea is brewed hot, then poured over ice ($3). In both case, less ice would be better.

Emma Restaurant is next door to It's Greek to Me on Palisade Avenue in Englewood. A number of other restaurants preceded Emma in the same storefront, including Sol & Sol, a kosher deli that closed in 2010.


Emma Restaurant, 34 E. Palisade Ave., Englewood; 201-227-6103. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. BYO.

Open today, Memorial Day. Metered street parking. Web site: Art on the plate 

Our dinner for three cost $125, including tax and an 18% tip.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Giulia's Kitchen has new chefs, but the food is just as appealing

Cod Persillade on a bed of purple cabbage and leeks at Giulia's Kitchen, a Cliffside Park restaurant with new chefs and a new menu, described as contemporary comfort food.


The unsightly and noisy construction project across the street from Giulia's Kitchen in Cliffside Park could have something to do with why the dining room was nearly empty on Thursday night.

Slowed by rush-hour traffic, we were a little late for our 5:30 p.m. reservation, and the big hole in the ground has eliminated metered parking spaces on Anderson Avenue.

Forget about parking on the narrow side streets, which are packed with residents' cars and SUVs.

I finally found a space on Anderson, in front of a nail salon, but had to ask a cop if it was OK: The meter was covered by a plastic bag.

We were the only couple in the dining room of this neighborhood spot, and another customer sat at the bar in the back.

We had a terrific dinner of salad and fish, with only minor disappointments, and the meal was a relative bargain, thanks to a Living Social voucher, another sign the restaurant isn't doing as well as it could.

Branzino is a staple of restaurant menus, but Giulia's Kitchen managed to grill the farmed fish until the skin turned golden and crispy, and still deliver moist flesh. Delicious.

A wonderful salad of Grilled Corn, Tomatoes and Avocado.

Giulia's Grilled Romaine Heart sounded terrific, but was served still refrigerator cold, and the two big pieces were difficult to cut with a knife. The best thing about this salad were the anchovies.

I ordered a glass of Nero D'Avola Reserva from Sicily for $8, but was served only a half-glass. 

No other table was occupied during our meal.

I am sure the Pyramids in Egypt were completed in less time than this residential-retail project in the heart of Cliffside Park -- across the street from Giulia's Kitchen -- another sign of incompetent leadership in a town that has been ruled for decades by the Calabrese family.

Salad, cod and branzino

We started with a terrific Grilled Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salad for my wife ($10). 

The salad, crowned by a large shrimp, was dressed in balsamic vinaigrette and rosemary aioli, a mayonnaise.

My salad, Giulia's Grilled Romaine ($8), would have been better if it had been cut into four pieces and spent more time on the grill to take away the chill from the refrigerator.

I couldn't have been happier with my entree, described as Fresh Top Loin Cod, a wild fish fillet, covered with fresh herbs and served over a warm salad of savory chopped cabbage and leeks ($24).

And I asked my wife to let my try some of her delightfully crispy Grilled Branzino, which was served whole with Ratatouille ($25). 

The farmed fish also is available as a fillet.

Our last visit

We visited Giulia's Kitchen last June, when Chef Michael Ostros came out to greet us at our table.

Chef Mattia Miradoli, 34, originally opened Giulia's, named for his daughter, in March 2013, but died unexpectedly in September of that year.

Thi Bay Miradoli, the chef's sister, is now manager of the restaurant, which reopened in May 2014.

Ostros is gone now, but the restaurant still serves many of Mattia Miradoli's original recipes with the help of a kitchen crew under the family's culinary guidance:

Fred, who was Mattia's sous chef; Moises, who was hired by Ostros; and Juanita.

Then as now, we purchased a Living Social dinner voucher for $35 that entitled us to $70 worth of food, plus tax and tip on the full amount.

Click on the following link to read about our first meal at Giulia's:


Giulia's Kitchen, 696 Anderson Ave., Cliffside Park; 201-945-1680. Open for dinner only. Closed Sundays. Liquor license.

Parking meters are in force until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.

Web site: Contemporary comfort food

Friday, May 22, 2015

Obese family shops for sweets at Balthazar Bakery in Englewood

This obese man and teenager, along with an obese girl who might have been the boy's sister, were among customers buying pastries on Wednesday afternoon in the crowded retail shop of Balthazar Bakery in Englewood, where Memorial Day weekend shoppers had to wait on a line for service. 

A 4-inch Mango-Passion Fruit Tart was $4.50.


My visits to Balthazar Bakery on South Dean Street in Englewood have become routine.

Every two or three weeks, on a Wednesday afternoon, I stop there for two baguettes, still $2 each more than a dozen years after the wholesale bakery's retail store opened.

I usually find one or two customers ahead of me.

Then, I get back into the car and drive a half-mile or so to Jerry's Gourmet & More to sample cheese and olive oil, and buy restaurant-quality takeout dinners.

This past Wednesday, I encountered more than a dozen other customers lining up to buy pastries and bread for the Memorial Day weekend.

I couldn't find a space in the small parking lot, and yelled at a woman who bounded out of a Mercedes-Benz in the handicap-parking space, "You're handicapped?"

She said she would move soon, but that her autistic child was inside the car, which she left running.

Close quarters

I parked across the street in the lot of a building under construction, risking my life to cross the street -- a twisting two-lane, one-way speedway -- to reach the bakery.

Inside the small retail store, the line included an obese man with gray hair and a teenage boy choosing pastries that they certainly didn't need.

Nearby, an obese girl, presumably the boy's sister, waited for them to pay, and they left together.

Like SUVs and other large vehicles that take up more room on the road, increasing traffic congestion, this trio took up more room in the cramped store, making my wait even more uncomfortable than usual.

Struggling with weight

I was uncomfortable on two scores:

Looking at fat people isn't my favorite pastime, reminding me of my struggles with weight since I was a teenager.

And my will power is sorely tested by all of the great pastries displayed at the counter of the French bakery.

Customers at Starbucks on Essex Street in Hackensack on April 28.