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Archive for the ‘Italian – NJ’ Category

Today, we bring you a review of John’s Pizza, on 87 Sussex Street in the Paulus Hook neighborhood of downtown Jersey City.  After some thorough internet research prior to our trip, I did indeed confirm that John’s of Jersey City was an offshoot of sorts from John’s on Bleecker.  This excited Elana and I.

The Scene: We went on a Monday night, but even for a Monday, it was pretty quiet.  Hopefully this was not an indication as to the quality of the pizza. It’s a pretty large spot for a pizza joint, with wood and stone floors throughout, and an upstairs that didn’t seem like it was getting a lick of use.  They had a full bar with beers on tap and, indeed, what appeared to be a coal fired, brick oven. If it was not so dang cold out, John’s would have been most likely sporting their outdoor seating scene, which appeared like a charming option.

The Grub: Prior to the pie, Elana and I sample some of our kryptonite, fried calamari (NOT pronounced cal-a-mod).  And while we realize making a crisp fried calamari is not exactly rocket science, some restaurants can still manage to bungle up calamari.  But not John’s – it’s close to perfect.  It is crispy and tender throughout, not rubbery or soggy.  Also, the squid is of sizable portion.  (Although it didn’t include the tentacles, which I like).  We also ordered what were termed “fried mozzarella wedges”  (creative!) which I very much enjoyed. They had a snapping crust and had a moist, even consistency throughout.  Each appetizer has an accompanying bowl of marinara, in which there are bits of basil leaves and perfect levels of olive oil lightly swimming about.  Chunks of freshly peeled tomatoes lend itself to a very smooth taste.

Onto the pizza.  Elana and I both got personal pies.  I ordered the “traditional” which was your basic margherita pie, while Elana ordered a pizza bianca – which had ricotta and mozzarella.  Both pies missed the mark a bit.  The Traditional had a TON of cheese, which was stretching all over the place, and slightly distracting me from the otherwise stellar sauce.   It’s definitely the tastier of the two.

Elana’s Bianca was a little bland.  Just like the traditional, the cheese is heavily applied, but it’s not packing a serious or sharp enough punch.  Both pies are unfortunately not sporting the “as-advertised” effects of a well functioning coal fired, brick oven.  The dough is a little crunchy and tough, with a noticeable stiffness throughout.

The Bathrooms – Elana reported: “The bathroom was clean and orderly, but a touch outdated and well-worn. Large mirrors were appreciated, but the potpourri and soap could have used more attractive containers.”

Overall, I must say that I was a bit let down by John’s.  Although a purported descendant of John’s on Bleecker, the apple seems to have fallen a bit far from the tree in this instance.  We prefer Grimaldi’s and Dozzino in Hoboken should you be looking for artisanal, Neapolitan style pizza within an earshot of an NJ path train.

Overall Score: Vanilla Sky

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As Hoboken residents, Elana and I were actually tracking the opening of Dozzino quite intently.  It was a big moment for us – to have an artisinal pizzeria in our backyard – and Dozzino did not disappoint.  Sure, for an upscale pie, Grimaldi’s serves its purpose every now and then (and quite well), but there is something to be said about a boutique wood fired brick oven pizzeria, where the soul of the pizzaiolos is felt throughout your entire dining experience.  Such is the case with Dozzino.

Over the last couple of months, Elana and I have gotten a chance to know the owners of Dozzino, Marc and Rob.  These guys are truly obsessed with pizza.  And as we came to find out, their obsession spills over into a zany, friendly, and self imposed obligation to spread the joys of pizza, bread, and their own interpretation of simple, quality Italian fare.

The above is proof of this.

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John and I have decided to just forget about “Pizza Month” which we began way back in October. The idea that we could limit our intake and subsequent discussion of pizza – a food that we are both clearly obsessed with – to just one month was downright silly and bad judgment on our parts. Our apologies. Going forward, we are going to frequently feature pizza – both the making of it and our maniacal running-around-various-cities to taste it. You can count on us.

Next up on the tasting end of things is Dozzino, a brand-spanking new (as of November 2010) artisanal pizza joint in the ‘Boken. To use some lingo I picked up in California, we were pretty stoked about the arrival of this place in Hoboken. Before, the only solid (in our humble opinions) pizza to be had in Hoboken was Grimaldi’s, of Brooklyn fame. Now we have our very own. We were all a-tingle.

“Dozzino” in Italian means “dozen.” The dozen refers to the amount of ingredients that goes into their pizzas: flour, water, salt, yeast, air, sea salt, tomatoes, fior di latte, extra virgin olive oil, basil, fire, love.

Dozzino is not your typical slice shop, nor does it purport to be. The pizzas can best be described as a combination of Neopolitan and Roman. They are personal in size with that doughy, charred crust characteristic of Neopolitan pies, but much less floppy and soupy in the center of the pie, which gives it a Roman flair. Typical of both areas, the ingredients (and this applies to the toppings as well) are fresh and simple. Pizza is not a complicated food, nor should it be. Keep it simple, stupid.

John and I strolled over to its 6th and Adams location one Saturday night to sample the fare. Upon entering, we were greeted with a well-designed and thoughtful atmosphere. The bar at the back of the front room has a chalkboard wall listing the daily specials in colored chalk. The shiny, chrome espresso maker hangs out back there as well, with a Santa Clause (it was the holidays) Mr. Potato Head keeping close watch over the espresso beans.

The natural wood, farmhouse-style tables have ample room for spreading out your various pizzas, crostini and salads, and the white-washed chairs and walls offer a nice contrast to the wood and chalkboard wall. They have a larger, back room and even a patio with a bocce court.

Since Dozzino is BYO, John skips on over to a local liquor store for a bottle of the Beringer Chenin Blanc shown in the first photo. John insists that I used to make The Box buy this for me with some frequency. I honestly don’t recall this at all (maybe because I’ve drunk too much of it?), but at $8.99, you can’t afford not to. We settle in with our sweet, grape-juice wine and order SPESTO!

“Spesto” is a Dozzino speciaty: a pesto made with spinach and walnuts, instead of the usual basil and pine nuts, and served on crostini of housemade bread. The housemade bread is excellent, and perfectly toasted. It is generously loaded with spesto, which is lucky because we really approve of this pesto modification. Chunky walnuts and mild spinach get a boost from an infusion of chopped garlic and drizzle of olive oil. We cleaned our plate.

After John sends me to the restroom (pics later!) to remove the spinach from my teeth, we receive our two ordered pies: the “La Pizza” and the “Diavola”. The La Pizza is topped with fior di latte, tomato and basil – the traditional pie and one which John and I feel obligated to sample every time we try out a new pizza place. For consistency! And science!

The La Pizza is delicately accented by little semi-molten blobs of creamy fior di latte (a mozzarella made from cow’s milk),  a fine layer of tomato as to appear almost pink, and sprigs of fresh basil. The crust has a bit of a char to it around the edges and is nicely chewy on the inside, although a bit dry. The toppings and crust work well together, making the La Pizza very easy to eat.

The Diavola is next up – a spicy combination of fior di latte, tomato, red pepper and calabrese salami. Sliced ultra-thin, the salami is like a tissue-thin blanket of fiery cured meat tucking in the other toppings on a mattress of pillowy dough. Wow, I just wandered off into a pizza-induced descriptive simile. Apologies. Clearly, this pie was my favorite of the two.

John and I decided to finish things off with two cups of Dozzino’s espresso, which is advertised (on their menu) to be the best in Hoboken and quite possibly in the USA. I do know a good cup of espresso when I have one, and this was definitely a good one. Their ultra-fancy espresso machine churned out two dark, rich cups for us that we threw back like frat boys doing shots at a bar. Minus the fist pumping and hooting.

Let’s not forget the bathrooms! While I was performing some dental-spesto removal, I snapped the following photos:

In addition to being clean and uncluttered, the Dozzino bathroom is well-lit with an ample-sized mirror. White subway tiles, accented by a stripe of red and gold (Roma’s colors) carry the modern and thoughtful interior design of the restaurant right into the bathroom. I would have appreciated some spesto-removing toothpicks, though.

We will definitely be back to Dozzino (John has already returned on his own). The well designed and spacious atmosphere and fresh ingredient pizzas combine to create a unique neighborhood restaurant that is a welcome addition to Hoboken.

Overall Experience: Napolean Dynamite – The Offbeat Success

* Note: The Specials chalk board photo and photo of the oven with espresso cup, courtesy of Dozzino.

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Yup,  That’s right.  We reviewed a Domino’s Pizza this past week.  We are officially losing our minds.  But, I have to admit…Domino’s had piqued my interest as of late with their aggressive media campaign, bragging of a revamped recipe.  I mean, I knew it was going to be awful going in, but I wanted to know just how awful it would be.  I walk over to Elana’s spot to flush my 3 mile jog down the toilet.

Service is prompt – the pizza arrives in literally 29 minutes after Elana places the call.  Opening the box yields a wildly uninspiring surprise; cookie cutter like, dry, flat-out ugly looking slices.  Luckily, I’m so hungry that I’ll eat just about anything.

You know how certain smells and music bring you back in time?  Well, it turns out that tastes do too.  Last time I had a Domino’s pizza was in college.  It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a pie or two to find its way to the fraternity house after guzzling a few thousand beers on a weekend evening.  In Lewisburg, desperate times would call for desperate measures.  As I bite into the “new and improved” Domino’s pie… not much has changed.  The tomato sauce still packs that harsh, stinging punch.  The cheese is dry, and cheap tasting.  The crust – well, to be fair, the crust is, actually, different.  It is injected with noticeable doses of garlic, butter and herbs.  I’m not sure if this is an improvement or not but, to Domino’s credit, it is indeed different.  Some of my bites actually tasted like buttered popcorn from a movie theater.

Admittedly, myself and Elana ate 7/8ths of the pie.  I mean, it is just cheese, tomatoes and bread…. so don’t think THAT much less of us.  But it pretty much sucked.  And there was an awkward feeling in the air after it was all said and done.   Maybe it was the grease that sat in our stomach.  Maybe it was the fact that our dinner had just been wasted by this harsh tasting frisbee in a box.  I think, however, it was disappointment.

See, i’m an optimistic fella.  I still held out for closure during the final moments of (the runaway trainwreck known as) Lost, despite the countless warning signs to the contrary throughout that dreadful last season.  I see the “light brown” in my occasional gray hairs.  And I’d watch the CEO of Domino’s on these commercials and think, perhaps, maybe this guy was right.  Maybe Domino’s could be edible after all.  Like Rocky’s message to the Russians, change was indeed possible!

But this was one instance where my optimism was powerless.  The pizza sucked.  I wished sis a good night, and sprinted home in tears.  ‘Til next time, I guess.

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Today we bring you a comparison review. Since it is still pizza month and we like to stress using fresh ingredients on pizza, we bring you a review and comparison of three hunks of mozz (muzz) from three different places.

From left to right we have pictured mozzarella from:

1. Fiore’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

2. Eataly in New York City’s Flatiron District

3. Lisa’s Deli in Hoboken, NJ

First, we would like to say that this is obviously not an exhaustive list of possible places to purchase fresh mozz. What about the Bronx? What about Little Italy? And so on….We will just say this: we know. We thought we’d start small. An intro, if you will, into the world of comparison tasting, with a few easily accessible candidates.

So, without further ado, here are our thoughts:

1. Fiore’s: This rendition was very tasty. It was lightly salted, which gave the cheese more flavor overall. It was not overpowering, but just right. Compared to the other two, it was a denser cheese. The color was also darker, an off-white instead of a bright white. I’m not really sure what that means, but I just thought it should be noted. This would be a great cheese to put on a Margherita pizza, as you wouldn’t have to add any salt. The flavor from the mozzarella would be all the seasoning you would need (excepting basil).

2. Eataly: This version was fairly bland in taste. It was unsalted. The texture was milkier, and it was definitely the softest of the bunch. This may have been because, while the other two were removed from their watery holding pens when I purchased them (many times fresh mozzarella is packed in water until it is ready to be used), this one came with its own little portable aquarium (tupperware container filled with water). We liked this softer texture, but weren’t blown away by flavor. This would be an excellent cheese to use on a pizza that had flavor from other toppings – pancetta or a similar meat for example.

3. Lisa’s Deli: This little one was also unsalted, and had a texutre somewhere in the middle of the other two in terms of softness….not too soft, not too firm, but juuuuuuust right. However, it didn’t pack a whole lot of punch in terms of flavor. This would be a nice mozzarella to use for a Caprese salad: sliced tomatoes placed on top of slices of cheese, crowned with a few basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

So instead of declaring a winner from these three, we feel like they all have their strengths and are appropriate for different uses. We are going to keep looking for THE mozzarella, though, so if you have a suggestion for one you would like us to try, please leave it in the comments section. Also, if any of you would like some mozzarella, I have a TON of it in my fridge right now. I think I was a little overzealous in my cheese purchasing.

* Disclaimer: The funny faces drawn on the cheeses in no way represent any real or actual person. I just thought it would be funny to give cheese faces that kind of look like gangsters. But not real gangsters. Just imaginary cheesey ones.

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Today’s review is of West End Station on 700 1st Street in Hoboken, NJ.  As a resident of western Hoboken, I was eager to check this place out.  It is located on the first floor within the Sky Club condominium complex and is another one of Anthony Pino’s restaurants (Anthony David’s and Bin 14 being the other two – which have yet to be officially reviewed, yet each “unofficial” visit has so far yielded very positive experiences).

West End gets out of the gate quite nicely, giving off a nice first impression.  On one side there is a bar with roughly 4 flat screen tv’s (which conveniently allows me to watch the Yanks own the Twins) while the other side is more of a restaurant.  It all blends pretty nicely, with a new tin ceiling, unfinished concrete floors and an awesome private party room that is shaped like a barrel.  Elana is a little puzzled by the multiple personality thing going on, but I seem to think it works.

We kick things off with a drink.  West End appears to have a nice drink menu, listing a wide range of custom mixed drinks.  On Thursdays, these drinks are 5 bucks each; which ain’t so bad.  Still, however, baseball is on….so, give me a beer.  Elana opts for a glass of wine which, to be honest, could have been more generously filled for 11 bones.

Since it is Pizza month and all (both for JohnandElana and Nationally), we decide to try their Marghertia Pizza which is listed under the “Brick Oven” heading. PIZZA TIRADE WARNING. At $9 this sucker is a little small.  And, yes, I understand many pizzerias make pizza to be served for one… but it is still small.  In addition, the “brick oven” must not have been that hot, because the pizza is pretty crispy all the way through.  That comment may not make any sense, so let me quickly clarify:  better brick oven pizza is typically charred and chewy… (Grimaldi’s, Luzzo’s, Keste, Lucali, etc).  That doesn’t mean good pizza cannot be crispy, it can.  But crispy pizzas are usually not the product of a good brick oven, whose heat is typically too intense to create an evenly cooked pie.  The West End crust is also a touch bland, but the sauce and mozzarella are decent, making the pie satisfactory in the long run.

For our main courses, I order the homemade gnocchi in the duck ragout sauce while Elana orders the barbecue pork chop with pumpkin bread pudding.  Both meals, as you can see, are handsome in appearance.  The dishes are well presented, even if they are in fact benefiting from Elana’s brand spanking new camera, which she cradles/oogles at throughout the evening. As for my gnocchi, it is indeed homemade and of very good consistency; not too tough.  The shredded duck is a nice touch to the whole thing.  One minor problem – where is the taste?  It was lacking quite a bit unfortunately.  Elana samples my meal and wholeheartedly agrees.  Taste is nowhere to be found – not in the gnocchi, not in the sauce, not in the duck.

Elana’s dish is a bit better.  The Chop is meaty, perhaps a touch tough, and of sizable portion.  The BBQ sauce is smokey and sweet – nice taste here.  Also, the pumpkin bread pudding is quality – great taste, perfectly moist and substantial.  It is easily the highlight of the experience – which is simultaneously a good and bad thing.

For dessert, we ordered doughnut holes with chocolate chili sauce – solid.  The doughnuts lacked a little taste, but the chocolate chili sauce was very good.  It was sweet, bitter and, true to its name, spicy.  My sister and I ate all of the doughnuts, and even shoved our forks into the sauce to clean up the last drops of it.  A success here.

The bathrooms were quite luxurious.  A nice wide open space with cool tile work and the vanity included a spacious farmhouse sink with dual faucets.

Service is also good.  Our waiter was attentive, prompt and of good positive energy.

Was I impressed?  In presentation, decor and scene – yes.  In the taste of our food?  Not really.  The place has potential, but is not of the same caliber of Anthony David’s or Bin 14.

Overall Movie Equivalent – Miami Vice

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This week’s review is of café la rustique, located at 611 Jersey Ave in downtown Jersey City, a pizza joint with other basic italian dishes to offer as well.  This is our first “Pizzeria” that will be reviewed, but definitely not our last.  A brief intro about Pizza:  myself and Elana are pretty knowledgeable about Pizza.  Granted, there are a couple of pies within reasonable geographical range that, admittedly, we have yet to try… but we’re pretty good on the subject.  We make it, we study it, take classes on it and  argue about it.  There are various types, shapes and tastes which are now classified as “pizza” but I, myself, like to generally break it down into three categories – (1) American Pizza (such as Di Fara) and (2) Naples-style brick oven pizza (such as Zero Otto Nove and Keste) (3) a Hybrid of the two (such as Grimaldi’s or Lucali).   Sure, there are other niche categories that exist – but these are the main categories.  I love all kinds, provided it is well made stuff, but have a soft spot for categories (2) and (3) – types of pizza usually crafted in a brick oven for that charred yet chewy crust.  This whole fascination with Pizza intensified two years ago, when I was fortunate enough to eat at one of the world’s oldest and best pizzerias – Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples.

Just look at this effing thing.  A charred, yet chewy circle of fine crafted slop.   Yes, slop.  That’s how they roll in Naples.  No neat and defined slices.  Just a piping hot, flattish charred bread bowl filled with the finest tomatoes and mozzarella. It was absolutely delicious.  Nonetheless, the bar was substantially raised (and has yet to be reached since then), but there are good nearby options.

It would be unfair to expect café la rustique to meet such lofty standards as those depicted above.  Rustique is an interesting place, and we were suspicious from the start.  We entered this non-air conditioned establishment on a warm autumn night.  There was literally only one other patron there while one woman seemed to make up the entire staff.  Not typically the greatest of signs.  There was an old television set sitting on top of the bar and jeopardy was on.  You may recall our boy Trebek appearing in a previous post.  I took this to mean something.

Right out of the gate, it earned a pizza demerit by offering the dreaded Buffalo Chicken Pizza as one of its offerings.  This is typically just a bad sign.  Pretty sure this is one of Dominos best sellers. I’m just not sure if I can take your pizza seriously but, alas, a glance into the back room revealed a brick oven…so there was hope.  Keep an open mind, I tell myself.

A bowl of bread was first served in a curious fashion.  Curious, because the butter that accompanied the bread was just sort of smeared on the inside of the bowl.  It just looked weird. For an appetizer, we ordered the Fresh Mozzarella Salad with tomatoes, roasted peppers and olives.  The mozzarella was very good, it was very fresh and not too salty.  Also, it was warm which led me to believe that it could be homemade.  If so, props. The tomatoes, however, were sort of tasteless and not so tender.  Roasted peppers were adequate.  I just could not get a feel for this place.

On to the pizza.  Elana selected their white pizza.  I, on the other hand, selected the Margherita pie.   I think it is important that when going to a Pizzeria, a plain or Margherita pie needs to be eaten, for two reasons.  First – the taste; fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on perfectly cooked bread is still an unbeatable combination.  Second – the Margherita tells the story of the pizzeria.  Essentially, it is the easiest way to differentiate between the qualities of various pizza.  I don’t think I’m saying anything groundbreaking here. How was this particular pie?  It was not bad.  The ingredients, particularly the tomatoes, were good.  As with the appetizer, it had good full flavor without a salty aftertaste.  The mozzarella had been carefully cooked in the brick oven.  It was not overcooked and was just right.

The crust, on the other hand, was pretty bland.  It just did not mesh well with the pizza.  It was also a little overcooked and tough for a brick oven pie which, traditionally, should be charred, yet fluffy due to its intense heat.  This was an average pie.

The service was fine i guess… the woman casually breezed in and out of existence and did what she needed to d0.  The atmosphere, as noted, was lacking.  Combined with being empty and hot, the door was left open for interesting stragglers to float in and out; some of which were mosquitos.  Mosquito count – Elana 3.  Me – 1.  I had been bit squarely in the center of my forehead.  This was no way to eat.

The bathroom, as Elana put it, was sort of like a supply closet and had the smallest sink imaginable.

If I end up living in the downtown jersey city area, I could see myself going back for a pie every now and then.  It is indeed located in a cool spot in town, and the pizza is decent.  But i can’t say I will go out of my way to go back.

Overall Experience – Vanilla Sky

Afterwards, however, I did have my first 3D HDTV experience at best buy.  Pretty damn sweet, minus the uncomfortable glasses.

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