Evelyn Weiss Francisco is a Foodie and blogger from the Garden State. Her Blog, “Dishing on Dining“, has been running continuously since January of 2012. By day, Evelyn is a busy account executive with a Public Relations firm, by night, a writer with a passion for all things food related.
“With my father a cook and my mother a baker, I have always been surrounded by quality, fresh food preparation. I have learned to appreciate everything from the simplicity of raw fruit to artistic presentations of eccentric entrees and most importantly, to never be wasteful. The purpose of my food column is to take you, the reader, on an epicurean journey through eateries in New Jersey that run the gamut of different cuisines and cost ranges in the hopes of imparting to you the same love and appreciation I have for food”, states Francisco.
New Jersey has an array of talented chefs and exciting food establishments waiting to serve you in their own unique way. So come along for the ride, and read on while we take you through NJ’s restaurants, interview the Garden State’s top Chefs and share recipes….
Enjoy New Jersey!
Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.
It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.
Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.
I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.
They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.
Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.
With Valentine’s Day just behind us, many of you are still swimming in velvety pools of cocoa. I am not a member of C.A. (Chocoholics Anonymous), and I wouldn’t tell you if I were because it’s anonymous. But seriously, I don’t crave it; however, if there’s a piece of the finest form of that dark sweetness in front of me, I will have a hard time not taking part in at least one piece. I’m talking about the truffle, not the tuber fungus known as the “diamond of the kitchen”, but the chocolate confectionary. It was named after the fungus because of its resemblance in shape.
Two of the best helpings of chocolate truffles I had were in Europe – first in Lucerne, Switzerland at a small confectionery shop near the popular chapel bridge. Topping that was a small, very expensive, selection of truffles from Fassbender & Rausch in Berlin, Germany. It was so delicious – and did I mention expensive – we had never eaten anything so good so slowly to savor it.
Let’s bring this back to Jersey. I’ve already written a column here about some fantastic local chocolatiers such as Hanna Krause’s Candy in Paramus. I have to give it up, though, to the Europeans for winning the truffle contest. New Jersey recognizes Belgium’s flight to quality and flew in Godiva locations to many major malls in this state:
- ATLANTIC CITY
- JERSEY CITY
- SHORT HILLS
- TINTON FALLS
If you’re shopping in one of these mega retail locations and need to stop for a moment and close your eyes in delight, all you need is a handful of Godiva truffles that will hopefully last you the day.
Merriam has been telling people who speak the English language that the noun “tavern” is ‘an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold to be drunk on the premises’. By that definition, I always picture a bunch of locals enjoying libations together and perhaps snacking on some simple food items that can quickly be grilled or fried, all in the most casual of atmospheres.
Either Tavern 5 in Pompton Plains, NJ, picked the wrong name for its restaurant, or Merriam needs to get with the times. It’s not exactly around the corner from me, so I might not have even given the menu a look if it were not for my familiarity with the food styling of Executive Chef Anthony LoPinto, whose food I tasted long ago in a cooking class.
It was a Friday night, a packed house, and it’s a reservation-free zone. My preconceived notions were quickly put aside as I took in the wood and brick textures, which felt like a modernized farmhouse. The large bar area with high-top tables was full of friendly chatter, chewing and sipping beneath the copper-tiled ceiling. The dining area consists of two rooms, one with bench seating against the wall and booths. The back room leads to an outdoor dining area, but it was winter, so we only saw the potential of the garden.
I knew we were in store for a little more than typical pizza and burgers when I grabbed hold of the leather (-like?) menu cover with a logo-stamped copper piece inlay. Sure, the recognizable pub-food words popped off the page: meatballs, wings, tacos, and one’s eyes start to sarcastically roll until the eyes catch a glimpse of the heightened descriptions that change these routine food items into something desirable to order:
SPINACH & MEATBALL – rich meat broth, veal meatballs, spinach, egg
WINGS – Jim Beam maple glazed chicken wings, fresh chives
TACOS – Steak tacos, avocado, queso blanco, champagne vinegar slaw, chipotle aioli, tortilla chips
All the elaborations were so flavor-enticing, the four of us each ordered something different so we could share in the exploration. For the first round, we tried the Crab Cakes with noticeable jumbo lump crab, citrus aioli, baby greens. There was a special stone-fired Clam Pizza with clams out of shell, arugula and garlic. The dough had an intentional chewiness and was laden with too much garlic for this vampire. Garlic lovers would devour it though. The Arrancini was not the baseball-sized fried rice balls; they were five bitable munchkin-sized balls with bacon, cheddar, sweet corn, on a sufficient smear of chimichurri sauce. The New England Clam Chowder was nicely flavored with the typical potato, bacon, cream and clams, with the addition of carrots. The chowder was not predominantly potato, as some can be.
The main courses were near faultless. The generous six seared scallops were plump with a little breadcrumb crunch, nestled in butternut squash risotto, surrounded by a moat of green apple broth. The Linguini Bolognese consisted of three different meats that are braised separately, so each is cooked perfectly: veal, short rib, pork. The pasta was fancifully presented, almost stacked like a pyramid. The Chicken Tacos may sound boring, but they three soft tacos sit in a holder, filled with blackened chicken, pico de gallo, slaw, avocado and cilantro crème. They order different components with the steak and fish tacos.
The prize dish of the evening, though was the Braised Short Ribs, braised with red wine and coffee. The meat was cooked to tender, but herein laid the near faultless: there was a slight heavy hand on the salt, which we all agreed upon. Otherwise, delicioso. (I’m not sure why reminiscing on those ribs just turned me Italian.)
I was full enough at the point, but I needed to try the coffee they boasted about on Facebook, directly from Toca roasters up the road. And of course, this had to be accompanied by ice cream from a small batch shop in the Hudson Valley.
It may be difficult not to judge an eating establishment by its name, but unfortunately, in this fast-paced world, we dismiss quickly on the glance of a label. Don’t dismiss Tavern 5; if you put your glasses on, the logo on the web site has a tagline of “Neighborhood Restaurant”.
In summer of 2015, I noticed a “farmer’s market” open up in Bergenfield where a large clothing store had been. I put the term in quotes because there seems to be a trend of these predominantly fruit-and-vegetable stores opening up in Bergen County. To me, they are mini supermarkets focusing on produce. I envision a farmer’s market to be outdoors, such as the ones that pop up temporarily in the summer in Dumont, Fort Lee, Englewood, Paramus, Teaneck, Ramsey and many more.
There has been a small produce market for a few years now in Bergenfield called the New Bridge Farmers Market. That term seems to denote freshness, naturalness, which are easy-selling adjectives. But I was intrigued, nonetheless, what this new World’s Farmers Market on Portland Ave. had over the existing one in town. Within about a month of opening, however, it was closed already. Now, it is open, under the name Nature’s Farm Market and under a different owner.
I paid a visit quickly for fear it would disappear again. In addition to rows of fruits and vegetables, this new market has a deli counter and a butcher. From a distance, the meat looked fresh and appealing. As I came closer to the case, the appealing part turned to intriguing and a bit squeamish. But that’s just me because I’m not an offal person. Feel free to deduct points off of my foodie score card. I’m okay with it. Maybe I just can’t comprehend what a human would do with a cow’s tongue. It seems illegal. It feels dirty, but I don’t want to insult any cultures that revere it to be a delicacy. It must be tasty. I may have even had it once, sliced, at a Korean bbq restaurant in Palisades Park. I’m not telling. And in the case alongside the tongue are the other parts of the cow, neatly separated – the large heart, the feet, the intestines. This is an unusual place. Yes, you can get some of this at your local ShopRite, especially in Hispanic-populated neighborhoods, where I’m guessing a lot of nicely flavored broths are made with these components. I chose to move along to the fruits.
I was drawn to the inexpensive price of the avocados – Hass only 99 cents each. A package of red striated beans sat there, leaving me in wonder again. This is the store you go to when you have that recipe with some untraditional ingredients such as these beans, sour oranges, prickly pears, dragon fruit and some unidentifiable tubers. Even the Red Delicious apples looked different..like they were on steroids for 79 cents/lb. It’s fresh food for the adventurous; it’s a delight for many Europeans, Asians and Africans wanting to cook dishes from “home”. Let’s see if offals become a new food craze in America as sushi did. Maybe we’re missing out. I’m not ready to sing: “Something tells me I’m into something good.” Please explore the market for yourself though. If nothing else, you might find a less-expensive-than-anywhere can of wonderful Lavazza coffee or ….wait for it….ten different flavors of SPAM! I choose to remain a SPAM virgin but will grab some Lavazza or Fair Trade Melitta coffee and a sampling of fruits and veggies.
Some people like to see the complete process of the meat they are ingesting: from the hunt to the butchering to the cooking and the plating. I, for one, would enjoy watching from the cooking stage forward. In New Jersey, however, we have the “rare” opportunity of witnessing the filleting process of a freshly caught giant blue fin tuna. The event occurs only once a year and is dubbed the Blue Fin Tuna Filleting Festival. It is held annually at Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese food market on River Road in Edgewater, NJ.
The fish brought in to the store is generally around 500 lbs. This year, the carving event is held on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and on Sunday, Nov. 1 at noon. Sushi chefs will reduce the 400- to 600-pound whole tunas into piles of sashimi and sushi that will be for sale. I recommend bringing two things: high heels to see above the crowd and plenty of cash if you plan on bringing a taste of this monster home. The Japanese are willing to pay for the fatty pink meat.
Mitsuwa boasts that this once-a-year opportunity is a rare occasion, even in Japan. If you are interested in the art and preparation of sashimi and sushi, or maybe just interested in seeing a tuna fish that large, then it’s worth taking a peek at this event because a peek is all you may get. Usually the fisherman is present, describing the when-where-how the tuna was caught and further discussing the master’s technique as he makes his way through its anatomy. The pieces fall off the blade and onto Styrofoam boards and are wrapped and priced for immediate sale to the many hands grabbing forward for the best cuts.