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Archive for August, 2010

We would like to heartily congratulate Sorella for winning this month’s Bathroom Award. Nice work, guys. We will be putting your certificate in the mail. I’m sure you’re eagerly awaiting it.

But seriously, this was a nice restroom. And I loved the pics of the dogs. The lighting on either side of the mirror was perfect (bright but not frightening). The lacquered wood paneling plus white mini tiles was a lovely interior design move. And notice the candle to my right (or left depending on your perspective). Nice touch!

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For this week’s review, Elana and I decided to expand the geographic horizons a bit and feature a Long Beach Island staple – The Clam Bar of Harvey Cedars Shellfish Co., located on center street in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island.  The Clam Bar is pretty much exactly how it sounds: a horseshoe shaped bar with about 25 wooden stools surrounding it.  A surly woman (“Nel” is her name) shuffles clockwise around the interior of the bar, serving her patrons.  The Clam Bar is perfect for us right now.  It is The Jersey Shore’s style of comfort food – lots of simple, yet tasty, seafood offerings – many of which come fried.  And comfort is needed on this Sunday.  Despite the marvelous weather, Elana is somehow battling a cold, and I am still considerably hungover from an unnecessarily late Saturday night.  It is equally comforting to know that the Clam Bar will accept my excessively casual appearance – a not-totally-dry bathing suit, wrinkled tee, and flops – I blend right in.  We bring our parents along because, well, parents get hungry too I suppose.

Upon sitting down at the bar we are immediately greeted with both good and bad news.  The good – a woman next to us discovers an actual pearl in one of her oysters. Really, she showed us.  The bad – Nel’s assistant politely advises us that Nel is not a fan of Elana’s iPhone and to “put it away before she gets angry.”  Elana (wisely) refrains from explaining to the assistant that we are merely using her camera function on the iPhone. Thus, pictures of the food could unfortunately not be captured for this review.  Myself and my family spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out if Nel actually saw the iPhone or if the assistant was acting rogue on this one.  In retrospect, it is a comical scene – yet at the time, we feel like we may be in Nel’s penalty box for the techy infraction – she has already served two other groups with food that have come in after us.  “I think we are ready to order now” – Mom says, and Nel finally takes our requests. Nonetheless, big time service demerit here.

For appetizers, we order a dozen raw clams on the half shell as well as clams marinara, which, as the menu claims, are hot and spicy.  The raw clams were extremely fresh – which is part of their whole act.  Upon ordering the claims, Nel heads over to a shucking station – a center island inside the bar where tons of clams are kept on ice, shucked, rinsed and served within nanoseconds.  With some horseradish, cocktail sauce, and lemons – they are delicious.  Dad agreed – opting to couple his clams with a mere dash of Frank’s red hot.  The clams marina are good – little neck clams sitting in a pool of hot marinara – however they were not “hot and spicy” as advertised.  This appetizer comes with bread for mopping up the sauce – a nice bonus for a hungry Italian family.  The marinara sauce is solid, but nothing to write home about.

The dinners are also strong – Elana ordered shrimp cocktail – the ones that require the customer to do the peeling him/herself.  Yet she did not love the Dijon mustard sauce, which she found to be bland, but really liked the consistency and taste of the shrimp.  Myself and Mom went with some fried heavy hitters – Mom ordered the shrimp, and I got the scallops.  They each come in a plastic basket, served over a couple thousand fries.  Both are extremely tasty – a perfect brown cornmealish crust surrounds these treats and lends itself to good consistency.  The scallops have a snap to them, yet are still juicy and filling.  Dad goes for the Soft shell crab sandwich.  The crab meat was small in its portion at times and tough, yet had excellent sauce & tomatoes.  Lastly, the french fries were quite satisfying – not too greasy or soft, nor charred or overcooked.  I, myself, could have used a little more natural salt flavor with the fries, but everyone else disagreed with me.

We did, however sneak the iPhone into the bathroom for a couple of pictures.  Nel had no idea.


Ultimately, The Clam Bar is a worthwhile experience.  It’s unique, down and dirty, local atmosphere combined with fresh, above average food, make it a fun, casual place to go should you find yourself at LBI during the summer. The food is affordable and it is BYO, as well.  Just don’t piss off Nel!

Overall Experience – The Big Lebowksi

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This weekend, as you know, is Labor Day weekend. The unofficial end of summer. To commemorate this solemn event, John and I are having a summer blow-out week on this here blog. It will be BIG! It will be HOT! It will be HUMID! It will be MOSQUITO FREE!

Anyway, since we still have a few real weeks of summer left, and some lovely fall weather coming up, we thought we’d start this SUMMER BLOW-OUT WEEK (did you hear that echo or was it just me?) with a recipe for gazpacho. And here it is:

Ingredients:
(recipe courtesy of the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, with revisions by Marmo)

2  5.5 ounce cans of V8 juice

1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes

1 red pepper, cored, seeded, and diced

1 jalepeno pepper, cored, seeded, and diced

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped

2 cloved of garlic, chopped

1 cup breadcrumbs

1/4 c olive oil

juice from 2 limes

salt and pepper (to taste)

Combine the V8 juice, cucumber, red pepper, jalapeno pepper, red onion, tomatoes and garlic in a food processor and pulse until pureed.

Add the bread crumbs, olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Stir together. Transfer to a bowl or pitcher and chill in the ‘fridge for at least an hour.

That’s it – eat it up!

You can also add some sliced avocados on top if you like (don’t mind if I do!)

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Something Simple

Since it’s Friday, I thought I would keep it light and easy today. What follows is a recipe for a simple mango salad (featured above):

Ingredients:

1 mango, sliced

basil, chopped,

olive oil

sea salt

This recipe goes by taste, so I omitted measurements (risky, I know – throw caution to the wind, everyone and abandon your measuring spoons!!).

First thing, get a pretty bowl. Seriously, it makes all the difference. Then, slice your mango into long, thin strips. Place the strips of mango in the pretty bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and basil. That’s it!!!

If you want, you could add heirloom tomatoes. Tomato and mango taste REALLY good together. I promise.

Have a good weekend, everyone (I think our readership is up to 9 right now, so THANKS!!). If you get bored over the weekend, please review the following posts that can provide MINUTES of entertainment:

Joe Doe Review: In which Elana drinks GIN and is mesmerized by a fried pickle.

Pizza Lesson the First: Because, oh yes, there will be more. But this is a good one, so read it again (please).

Tomato Poem: Because I seriously got John to write a poem about a tomato. And it’s good.

And finally, the La Isla Review: we are as upset about it as you are.

Happy Weekend!

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Since John was (GASP!) golfing. It was girls’ night. My friend Stacey and I headed to the Lower East Side establishment, Joe Doe.

I got there a little early, as I was on a mission. For gin. I really like gin. Anyway, I wanted some. And from the looks of their online cocktail menu, Joe Doe was willing to help me fulfill my mission.

I began with the Joe Doe Celery Soda. With house-made celery soda and some fun celery-salt/sugar on the rim, it was the perfect pre-dinner summertime drink. I was also served some complementary fried chickpeas. I’ve always been a fan of the chickpea, and I have to say frying them is definitely a good plan. Joe Doe’s version was light and crispy.

With drink in hand, I began to take in my surroundings. Joe Doe has a Southern farmhouse style: exposed bricks on the wall, dark wood tables, and lots of eclectic stuff (signs, photos, tins) hanging on the walls. The bluegrass and blues music selection helped to accentuate this vibe. The restaurant is small – I would say cozy. There are maybe six tables and seating at the bar. It feels very comfortable, not cramped at all. And very easy to strike up conversations with your neighbors if you are so inclined.

Stacey turned up and we ordered round 2 of drinks: this time the Smokey Joe (also with gin – are you sensing a pattern?).  This one wasn’t my favorite. Stacey called it “the watery Bloody Mary.”

We did manage to order some food: to start the Warm Turkish Lavash, which was a zucchini Baba Ganoush with home made pita bread, cotija cheese and garnished with a pickle (at this point I should interject that I really like Joe Doe’s use of pickles). The lavash was delicious. And the pita – I’m not sure I have the words. But I will try. Thick, chewy (in a good way)….perfectly baked.  The best I’ve had. This was definitely a home-run of an appetizer.

Onto dinner. I ordered the Roasted Bobo Chicken with corn rice pudding and peppers. Stacey opted for the Sumac Marinated Beef with roasted potatoes and a fried pickle. I must pause again here to comment on the use of pickles:

YOU SHOULD ALWAYS FRY A PICKLE.

I’m just saying. It was amazing. And I told the waitress in no uncertain terms that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS FRY A PICKLE. She clearly thought I had had too much gin, but I stand by my statement.

My chicken arrived with the foot STILL ATTACHED! Some people might be put off by this, but I squealed in delight (sort of). I kinda thought it was cool. Anyway, the chicken was well roasted and juicy with a crispy skin – I cleaned my plate.

We went on to order two desserts. Because, why not? They were the Wildflower Honey Custard and the Berries and Tapioca. The Wildflower Honey Custard was served with a crispy peanut flatbread (incidentally, when I was typing “flatbread” into my phone while taking notes that evening, my iPhone auto-corrected it to “goatheards”). This dessert was ridiculous. And by ridiculous, I mean I would like to eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner. And I could have, because the portion was huge. I like huge dessert portions, so no problem there…but our Berries and Tapioca remained untouched. However, our waitress neatly packed it up for me in a Tupperware container with the instructions that it was “best enjoyed late at night with the refrigerator door open.” How did she know?

I found the wait staff to be friendly and helpful, knowledgeable both about their seasonal food menu (Joe Doe tries to use only locally and organically raised/grown products) and their wine and cocktail offerings.

And the bathroom had a magazine rack!

Overall Movie Equivalent: Napolean Dynamite – The Offbeat Success

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Pizza: All Up In Your Grill

John and I have a small obsession with pizza. We each own a pizza stone and frequently experiment with making different kinds of pizza, using different types of flour (white/whole wheat/semolina/00) and unusual toppings (my current favorite is caramelized onion and gruyere cheese). We also like to visit various upstanding pizza restaurants on either side of the Hudson and eat as much as we can while trying to pick up some tips for our own concoctions.

Last February I even hosted the First Annual Pizz-Off! In my apartment. A sort of Pizza Olympics that involved five different teams creating pizzas in two different categories (“traditional” and “creative”) all the while wearing fake moustaches. It was quite an event. We set off the smoke detectors repeatedly.

As the quest for the perfect pie continues, I thought it would be nice to share the (limited) knowledge that I have. My resident pizza expert is my mom, Marmo to those of you who know her. This past weekend we decided to make pizza from scratch and cook it on the grill. I took pictures and even filmed it for you! Exciting, riiiiiiight? You better believe it. What follows is a recipe for pizza dough, complete with step-by-step photos, and a video showing the process.

Now, a word about the video: this is my first time using iMovie. I know, I’m a little behind. I filmed this on my iPhone, and I filmed it vertically. What I didn’t realize is that iMovie would rotate this and give me no way to flip it back to right side up. So if you could all tilt your heads to the left….(I’ll get it right next time).

PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE

1 envelope active dried yeast
1 cup warm water
4 c all purpose flour or bread flour
¾ t salt
½ cup warm water
2T olive oil

In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water…stir in ½ cup of the flour.  Cover and let stand for about 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the mixture will appear foamy. At this point, add the other ½ cup of warm water, salt and olive oil.  Slowly begin to add the remaining flour (you can use a standing mixer or a food processor).  When all of the flour is incorporated kneed the dough until it is smooth.  It may take about 10 minutes….Then dust the dough lightly all over with flour and place in a bowl covered with a cloth (not terry cloth!) to rise for about 1 hour.

When it has doubled in size, punch down the dough and divide into 4 parts.  Form each fourth into a smooth ball and let rise covered on a floured board for 30 minutes.  In the meantime heat the oven to 500 degrees for the 30 minutes (with a pizza stone, if you have one) in the lower third of the oven)….or fire up the grill!

If you’re using the oven, spread some cornmeal on a pizza peel and stretch out your dough (I like to use my hands but some people use rolling pins) to something resembling a circle. Throw your toppings on there, and slide it onto the stone in the oven. Keep a close eye on it – I usually bake mine for about 10 minutes, but times vary.

If you’re using the grill, you put the dough directly onto the grill grate. It’s quite a challenge to figure out the best way to do this (as you will see from the video). You grill it on one side, sans toppings, for a few minutes, flip it, and then load your toppings on the flip side (quickly!). Shut the lid of the grill so the cheese can melt properly.

Topping featured above: heirloom tomatoes, mangoes, goat cheese and fresh basil. I also threw some truffle oil on there, cuz I could drink that stuff like water. And yes I do know that’s disturbing.

Toppings featured above: heirloom tomatoes, roasted veggies, mangoes, and mozzarella cheese.

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Tomatoes, you see, are so very sick…
With colors so bright, and a versatile shtick.
Grow them yourself, or buy in a store,
These plump rosy dumplings, I truly adore.
Whether sliced or crushed, cooked, or fried.
There’s just no wrong way, they can be applied!
Is it a vegetable, or is it a fruit?
To me that is such, a pointless dispute.
But if made to pick, its optimal form
My choice would be easy, please let me inform:
It wouldn’t be on pasta, but that’s runner up,
But tomatoes on pizza, now that is what’s up.
Spread on a cloud, of freshly pressed dough,
With balls of mozzarella, to contrast its glow.
Placed in an oven, 900 degrees…
Charred to a crisp, yet soft when it’s squeezed.
Cut it or fold it, there is no wrong way.
Oh Pizza, my love, I never will stray.
And god bless tomatoes, and all of their might,
For if loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

* The purpose of this wonderful poem will become clear very, very soon….wait for it…..

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The other night, Elana and I headed to a Hoboken institution – the
cuban restaurant of La Isla – located at 104 Washington Street.  In
truth, either of us could have reviewed this restaurant without going
– we are pretty big fans of this joint and head there often – but in
an effort to maintain trust with our readers (5 and counting, plus
mom) we will only review after the experience is fresh in our heads.

While hardly a well kept secret, it still surprises me that a mention
of La Isla is sometimes met with a puzzling look by people living in
the immediate area.  Perhaps it is the basic sign that merely reads
“Restaurant” or its dingy appearance, but La Isla is one of Hoboken’s
better restaurants.  Its chef, Omar Giner, was recently featured in
The Food Network’s Throwdown! with Bobby Flay (and won).  And it’s
authenticity is a product of proximity – Hoboken closley borders the
towns of Union City and West New York – towns with a substantial Cuban American population.  Indeed, even Zagats gives la Isla a 26 food rating (defined as “extraordinary to perfection”).

Inside, it’s always a lively atmosphere.  Bright colors, festive
drawings, and unique ornaments fill the cozy restaurant.  The wait
staff is in uniform – hats and neon t-shirts. There is even a sit down
bar with circular diner style stools if you wish to forego the
traditional sit down dinner.  Sitting down, my sister and I are
anxious to tear into our bottle of wine (brought from home, La Isla is
BYO) and order from the dependable menu…

And the praise stops here.  La Isla was way off its game.  For an
appetizer, we ordered the Coconut Shrimp with Mango dipping Sauce and the Platano Asado, which is a Roasted yellow plantain stuffed with picadillo, beef & queso blanco.  The Coconut Shrimp had good texture and decent coconut flavor, yet we both agreed that the taste was lacking a little punch after a few chomps.  In addition, the yogurt sauce was watery and thin.  We were split on our feelings towards the Platano – i loved the satisfying nature of it, while Elana found the meat to taste like something from “taco bell.”

On to dinner.  I ordered the Stuffed Chicken Special: Chicken stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and machego cheese. Black beans and Taro root puree on the side.  It was very good.  The chicken was plump and juicy, and the “stuffing” gave it great flavor.  The black beans were an appropriate compliment.  Elana ordered the Durado: Mahi Mahi (grilled) with chick pea, bacon, potato hash. Grilled asparagus & saffron garlic aioli.  To be honest it was not good. The fish was a poor cut (gray and red, not white) and it lacked flavor. Parts of it were even “fishy”.  Indeed, the highlight of the dish was probably the the chick pea, beacon and patato hash – which was quite tasty, albeit a tad salty.

For Dessert, Elana ordered the Batidos – kind of like a milk shake (which we had to ask twice for; our waitress forgot it the first time). It was mango flavored and light, not too sweet.  It was pretty good, yet we both noticed its slight blandness.  We also split a Tres
Leches Cake, a common Central American dessert.  While it was not excellent, it was very good.  Our only small complaint was that the cake could have been more drenched in condensed milk, as portions were a tad dry.  For Elana – who I suspected was still hungry after the disappointment of the Durado – it was probably the highlight of the meal.

The bathroom is a small, unisex stall, one step above an outhouse. Nonetheless, the door locks in the event you have a spicy meal. Just saying…

We sign the check and leave La Isla, feelings quite disappointed.  I say to Elana – “I wonder if La Isla was just off tonight or if it is just average now…”   Yikes, hope we just caught it on a bad day.

Overall Experience – Miami Vice

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I’ve been hearing about La Isla’s Cuban Lattes for a while, so the other day my friend Meg and I wandered over before work to try one out. Since it was about 4,000,000 degrees outside we opted for the iced version. Sans sugar too, cuz Meg and I, well we got enough sugah, honey.

Totally kidding, people.

Anyway, the lattes are excellent. We are fans. In no time we were racing each other to the Path station in a caffeine-induced energy spurt, entertained (read: annoyed) everyone on the train by talking loudly and giggling, and then got to work and promptly fell asleep.

So go get a latte at La Isla and pep up your weekend!

Full review of La Isla coming soooooooon……

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Today’s review is of Sorella, a Lower East Side Italian restaurant. The cuisine is inspired by the Piedmont region of Italy, as is the wait staff’s emphasis on hospitality.

Enter Elana and Mom (John could not be with us on this occasion. He was either golfing or golfing at the time).

We dined at the communal table in the front room, which I highly recommend for its lively atmosphere.

Our meal began with a recommendation on drinks – I wanted something sparkly. And pink. It was a girls’ night after all. I should note that the servers are very knowledgeable about their wine list (all Italian wines). Ours suggested the Gabray Tordera from the Veneto region, which satisfied both my requirements (pink and sparkly). Plus, it was delicious. So much so, that at first opportunity I am going to run out and purchase enough cases to fill my fall-out shelter. If I only had one.

On to the apps: Watermelon Salad and Arugula with Pickled Cherries.

The Watermelon Salad is perfect for summer: light & refreshing with added cashews and cucumbers. And as mom noted, the basil really brought out the flavor.

The Arugula with Pickled Cherries was my choice mostly because I’ve never had a pickled cherry. Imagine that. I would like to have some more. Specifically in this arrangement of bitter arugula, prosciutto, sunflower seeds and shaved Parmesan. A light lemony dressing topped it all off.

Mom and I then split two larger dishes: The Tajarin Pasta and the fried Monkfish.

Tajarin is a thin, ribbon pasta made with egg yolks. It was done perfectly with a lamb ragu, topped with a black pepper ricotta. Pistachios and mint graced the tops of this little mound of pasta like greenery on the hills of Piedmont. …aahhhh…I ate the whole thing. Almost licked the plate, but I held myself back.

The Monkfish was lightly battered and fried with avocados (also fried: yum!) and accompanied by a carrot slaw with an orange dressing.

While we were chowing down (in a very lady-like manner of course and ordering seconds of the Gabray), we overheard one of the servers mention that they serve Baccala, which is essentially salt cod – a very Italian thing. And also a very brave thing to put on a menu. I give them mad props for this, and will have to try it next time I’m there. Which might be tomorrow.

Time for dessert: GELATO. Sorella makes their own gelato and we tried the sampler bowl of three varieties: Chunk Sorella (a salted caramel with chocolate covered pretzels and some other wonderfulness), Giandujotto (hazelnut), and Pazzo (peanut butter – CHUNKY STYLE!).  All were amazing and we ended up fighting each other for the last spoonfuls (I won). Incidentally, “pazzo” means “crazy” in Italian.

Every dish at Sorella has a unique taste. Each dish is its own event, and the main ones change daily. As they say on their menu, “stasera abbiamo,” which means, “tonight we have…” A great reason to keep returning for the next wonderful dish they will create.

Also, they have a giant photo of Boston Terriers in their bathroom. That’s pretty cool too.

Overall Movie Equivalent: Heat – The Edgy Near-Masterpiece

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