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Posts from the ‘Paramus’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Spicy, Meatless, Horseless

Brooklyn taco duo

Brooklyn Taco The Saturday afternoon pop-up housed
inside Williamsburg's Donna was a pleasant surprise. Happy hour drinks
practically call for a little stomach padding. Guacamole (for god’s sake, never
say "guac"–do I even have to tell you not say "marg?")
always bores me to death and is overpriced to boot (I’m fine enjoying the
two-dollar's worth of raw materials in my own home) but for reasons I don’t
understand everyone always wants to order a shitload for the table, so I was a
mildly amused that the usual crowd-pleaser was fiery enough to elicit dismay. I'm
not even sure where they heat was lurking in the green mash. Same with the
tacos; those who went for the vegetarian version got dosed with a blast of
chile heat. Maybe the meat-avoiders were being punked? The cabeza was spicy,
not brutally so, and I was happy to have a chewy, substantial choice instead of
some stewed San Loco/Calexico blahness.

Blossom I probably wouldn’t have chosen a vegan
restaurant out of my own volition (though animal-free dishes are a step above
raw foods) but others’ birthdays are like that. And the
pistachio-and-pepper-dusted tofu was better than the sum of its parts. Probably
because of the foundational crepe stuffed with a root vegetable puree and the thick
lemon truffle sauce. It was more rich than austere. My camera photo was hideous enough that it decided to leave it out–I hate to give vegan cooking an even worse image.

Qi Bangkok Eatery I’m really not obsessed with Qi
even though I do get a kick out of the Williamsburg location (I'm pretty sure
I've mentioned it at least twice). It turns out that I now work a block from
the one on Eighth Avenue so I had to take a peek. I was surprised that they
also have a menu by Pichet Ong a.k.a. the “Bangkok Selection” (and that there
are still peep shows in Times Square) but it’s not the same as in Williamsburg,
no Ovaltine ribs, etc. and only available after 5pm. I just had the lunch
combo, steamed chicken dumplings that were kind of boring but not bad and
chicken basil chile stirfry that was spicier than expected for not having to
ask for extra heat. $7.95 isn’t a horrible price (you could pay $13 for a
takeout salad over here) for two dishes in a non-frenzied setting. I'll probably go back and just get a larb and a glass of Riesling (drunk lunch is my new midtown M.O.–don't tell anyone) You don't
like chandeliers in lucite boxes and Louis Ghost chairs during your lunch break?

Bonefish grill april duo
Bonefish Grill Ok, well, I am obsessed with Bonefish
Grill. Twice in one quarter is a lot even for me. This is a weirdo location in
Paramus that instead of sharing space with a fellow OSI brand like Carrabba’s is
attached to a Crowne Plaza next to a mall. So it felt like I was on a vacation.
There was no trout for my grilled fish with pan Asian sauce (pretty much soy,
ketchup and oyster sauce
) so it was scallops and shrimp instead. They did,
however, have a new appetizer, white tuna, a.k.a. escolar, a.k.a. shit fish
sashimi (that's seared) which I ordered because I’m wild that way. The seasonal sides have
progressively gotten more creative. I don’t mean that chickpeas, spinach and
turkey sausage is Michelin-worthy, just that it’s trying a little harder than the
usual mashed potatoes, rice or steamed vegetables.

Ikea Horse-free, I think, not that I would be
bothered by a little horse meat (apparently, the Swedes aren't either). I
haven’t eaten in an Ikea cafeteria in years—when did they replace the boiled
new potatoes with mashed?







  Kat a kat curry En route to my new favorite discount mall, I got waylaid at what used to be a huge International Food Warehouse/National Wholesale Liquidators combo. Now, the eclectic edibles—Bulgarian cheese, Serbian juice, Italian cookies—are crammed into the corner amidst Windex from Indonesia and bins of irregular Hanes Her Way.

I was saddened by the abbreviated grocery offerings, but cheered a bit when I found a box of spices for something called Kat a Kat. The name had appeal and according to the recipe on the box, the dish contains a symphony of organ meat: kidneys, hearts and brains. Not only did I put the box in my cart, I developed a sudden urge for Indian food. (I do realize now that Kat a Kat is Pakistani).

Mantra lounge

I did contemplate Bobby’s Burger Palace at the Bergen Town Center, but stuck to my guns: South Asian or nothing. It’s not like Paramus is Edison, teeming with options, however, it did look like there was an upscale-ish Indian restaurant, Mantra, just across Route 4 in a strip mall with a Macy’s Furniture Gallery. I imagined it would be similar to Moksha, and it was, though a bit more loungey–check out the flames popping up in the divider separating the bar, where they serve Desi wings and cheese amigos (inside out jalapeno poppers) from the dining room.

Mantra bhel poori

Bhel poori, the spicy-savory puffed rice snack presented while you pore over the menu, tended to confuse the half of the diners who weren’t Indian. Do you use your hands or eat it with a spoon like cereal?

Mantra samosas

Lamb samosas, nothing fancy. I always feel that the thick shell takes more precedence than the filling. Other appetizers like a balsamic-dressed salad with oranges and pears seemed too pedestrian while the lobster chat, too aspirational.

Mantra fish curry

The Mumbai fish curry was the best dish, very fiery and like a more overtly Indian fish head curry. Chile heat, yes, plus more curry leaf and brown mustard seed undertones. Tilapia isn’t the most exciting fish, but I don’t mind it in strongly favored sauces (in fact, I just used tilapia filets for a heavily spiced tagine).

Mantra mixed tandoori grill

Mixed tandoori grills tend to be…well, mixed; some chunks are more interesting than others. The bone-in meat was moister than the ground and re-formed pieces. This sampler included mal mal kabab (ground chicken), kesari jhinga (prawns), Lahore seekh kabab (lamb), barrah kabab (more lamb). Not all are pictured because I grabbed first, shot later.

Mantra exterior

Mantra * 275 E, Rt. 4, Paramus, NJ 

Legal Sea Foods

Did I love it? Eh, it’s purely a platonic relationship.

Legal seafood interior

Not that I make a habit of frequenting higher end seafood chains, but my recent experiences at McCormick & Schmick's and now at Legal Sea Foods (not so much Bonefish Grill—I’m sad that I didn’t have time to use my $10 ten-year [dating] anniversary gift card before it expired. If you don’t mind giving out personal information, you can get promotional gift cards on your birthday and anniversary for registering on their site. I get off on crap like this) have felt a little desolate and dreary. I’m not sure if it’s the economy or that I dine too late and the room has emptied out by the time I’m hungry (that’s what eating sliders for lunch at 4pm will do to you). At 9:30pm on this particular Saturday, there were only five or so other tables occupied while on my previous visit in 2004 there was a solid 45-minute-wait.

Legal seafood wontons

The shrimp dumplings–or rather wontons as they called them–were preferable to P.F. Chang’s version. The shrimp tasted like shrimp and the wakame salad was refreshing for a chain appetizer.

Legal seafood mahi mahi

Bizarrely, I liked everything about this special except the fish. The mahi mahi was overcooked and a bit lifeless, but I liked the Spanish-meets-fall flavors of kale, raisins and sweet potatoes. I’m not sure where the cashew crust fits in to all of that. I probably would’ve used pecans because that seemed more logical.

I’ve never been to a restaurant, chain or otherwise, so aggressive in talking up its wine. I don’t need any prompting, as I’m one of those oddballs who always requires an alcoholic beverage with my chain dinners because I’m classy (one of the reasons why I don’t gravitate toward fast food unless it’s the daytime or super late night). But our server must’ve just attended a pep talk on promoting their Chilean wine, also boldly announced in an insert in the drink list. I think the Olive Garden servers are also supposed to highlight wine, but at least in the city they don’t even make an effort.

We appeased him by ordering a glass of Cono Sur Pinot Noir, then he went into a spiel about how you can now take unfinished bottles or wine home due to changes in the law. (I was just going to say that I’ve never seen anyone actually take advantage of this, but the other night two women at Bocca Lupo ordered a second bottle between them. I admired their moxie. They did take a majority of that bottle to go, though.) Eh, I started with a cocktail so one glass was fine.

Speaking of wine, the next time I’m at the Garden State Plaza I’m totally eating at the Napa Valley Grille. There’s something very twisted about attempting to emulate West Coast wine country inside a New Jersey mall. Even better though, would be eating at the Napa Valley Grille in Yountville. French Laundry? Never heard of it.

Legal Sea Foods * 1 Garden State Plaza, Paramus, NJ

Legal Sea Foods

I love a good New Jersey chain restaurant, thats no secret, but Legal Sea Foods doesnt really fit into the Outback Steakhouse/Olive Garden/Chilis mold. It does sit right next to Ruby Tuesdays in the Garden State Plaza, but I think its trying to be more. And for some reason I can deal with an upscale Boston chain while the Napa Valley Grille in the same mall drives me nuts just on principle.

Sometimes I fear my fascination with chain eateries will cease to be the occasional amusement and that at some point I will have crossed over into the realm of typical customer. (I certainly don't think of myself as a “yuppie.” Lord, who would unless they were trying to be truly ‘80s retro, but I am white, live in a relatively affluent, peaceful tree lined Brooklyn enclave and enjoy food and wine. I don't partake in much sushi or chardonnay and barely earn enough to cover basic expenses.) The mousy, wire-rimmed glasses and office lady sweater duster look hasnt overtaken me yet. And so far, James isnt into shaker knits and pleats. We witnessed these old before their time twosomes, as well as merry divorcees bragging about reverting to their maiden names (and drinking the exact same Cabernet Sauvignon I have at home). Ill revel in Legal Sea Foods, but I refuse to be them.

You are reminded you arent truly fine dining because the waitstaff is a little overzealous. Our guy was manic (which was further proven by his giant, animated bubbly male handwriting on the bill) totally overdoing it like he really took to heart being told to compliment the customers choices during training. We ordered the seafood dip and he spazzed out, “thats my favorite, no one ever orders it.” Ok, fine, he couldve stopped there, but continued with vigorous disgust, “I don't know why no one ever orders it. It makes me sick!” Yikes, Ok.

After the crab dip so wonderful and misunderstood that it made our waiter sick I had the shrimp trio, which contained wood grilled, baked and stuffed, and coconut varieties. I also went starch crazy with my two sides and tried the jalepeno cheddar polenta (which was abnormally enormous, easily twice the size of Jamess portion) and baked squash, which was actually quite good: buttery, charred around the cubed edges and tossed with appropriately seasonal dried cranberries.

I left feeling slightly dirty and a tiny bit closer to impending suburbanhood. But at least I have yet to set foot in Napa Valley Grille.

Legal Sea Foods *One Garden State Plaza,Paramus, NJ