Archive for the ‘Montclair Eats’ Category

Ahem, Bad Pizza in Montclair?

March 28, 2008

Dear loyal Jerseycool readers,

Someday our day boss will get off of his ass and hire enough staff to let Jerseycool maintain this blog better than he has over the past several months. However, until that  day comes, or until the recession makes Jerseycool our full-time gig, we will pick an choose our moments. This is one of those moments.

We turn our attention to Joel Schwartzberg’s blog on NJ.com where he subtly implies that one of the local pizza haunts up here in Jerseycool central was less than superb the other night.

Now we can list our favorites for Joel: Naunas, Mama Leone’s, Villa Victoria, Marzulla’s but JC thought our readers should have a crack at this one. So here it is folks. Fire away at Joel and tell him where he about your favorite Montclair Jersey pizza.

JC

Sesame Adds Flavor and Flair to Eastern Cuisine

December 2, 2007

Sesame
400 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ, 07042
973-746-2553
www.sesamerestaurant.com

I have a friend who won’t eat at a Chinese restaurants that has pictures of the food on the wall. Well, Sesame in Montclair would be on the short list of Chinese places she can eat at since you won’t find any pictures on the wall, instead there are large photos of scenes from ordinary life in China on the nicely decorated interior of Sesame.

Boasting a red brick interior and two-tiered dining hall, Sesame has the look and feel of an Italian restaurant. It sits in the same building as the historic Roberts Wellmont Theater and you can see attention has been paid to maintain the same historic feel.

The food lives up to the surrounding. We dined there a few weeks back and as always we sampled the steamed dumplings, which were warm and flavorful. Several groups around us ordered groups of appetizers and picked off of each others plates, which isn’t a bad strategy for groups since the menu is extensive without the daily specials.

We settled on the Moo Shu Pork and C had the duck special. Often JC finds duck to be a bit on the fatty side but Sesame’s was tender, juicy and well proportioned. The Moo Shu comes in a large plate and the initial plan was to bring home leftovers for lunch but it was simply too good to not finish off.

My personal best Moo Shu is still over at the Bean Curd in Chatham but Sesame’s isn’t far behind. If I was blindfolded and doing a taste test, not sure which would come out on top.

Sesame is open for lunch and dinner and there is a jazz brunch on Sunday, which is a holdover from the Blue Sky Café days at the same location.

If you are looking for quality Chinese food that goes beyond the typical menu, Sesame is will meet your need.

JC

Lalezar Rounds Out Montclair’s Diverse Menu

November 21, 2007

Lalezar
718 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ 07042
(973) 233-1984
http://www.lalezarcuisine.com

Ethnic food in Montclair is a bit like driving up Claremont Avenue, there are a lot of stops and plenty of time to look around. There are dining establishment with everything from sushi to Ethiopian to Cuban cuisine and everything in between, but one of the best and most consistent spots in town is Lalezar, at Turkish restaurant tucked away on the western slope of Bloomfield Ave.

Lalezar’s exotic tapestries and décor complements the fine Turkish cuisine. The quality of the food is evidenced by the large groups of families and locals that crowd into the two-tiered dining hall for the good eats inside. The families are also indicative of some of the fairest prices in the city with hearty meals between $10-$20.

We’ve eaten at Lalezar several times over the past few years and have yet to be disappointed. If you’re a first timer try several of the generous mideastern spreads on the menu. Hummas, babaganoush and the usual suspects are all there but we recommend the Ezme, chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and walnuts to start the evening off with a kick.

Another favorite is the Sigara Boregi, crispy phyllo wrapped with feta cheese and parsely.

There are several tasty fish dishes on the menu but lets face it when you go to a Turkish restaurant it’s all about the lamb and there is much to choose from at Lalezar, namely the doner kabobs, Kuzu Sis, lamb chops and the superlative Adana Kebap, ground lamb with onions, red peppers and garlic. Be warned it has spice to it.

Lalezar also has live Turkish music on weekends (there is a cover), belly dancing and makes good use of its Web site with an extensive listing of the menu and a new order online feature for people taking out.

JC

Crowds Haven’t Petered Out at Cuban Pete’s But Food Sure is Tasty

September 19, 2007

Cuban Pete’s
428 Bloomfield Ave
Montclair
973-746-1100

Cuban Pete’s, Montclair most crowded restaurant, is something of a mixed bag. It clearly is the party restaurant of choice in Jersey’s restaurant capitol. The place you go for atmosphere, the place you show off to friends and get a pitcher of sangria, albeit Shirley Temple-strength. However, the food can be hit or miss and the crowds can simply be annoying.

We checked out Cuban Pete’s on Labor Day weekend hoping that the holiday may have thinned out the crowds but apparently everyone else in town had the same idea. It was a 10 minute wait in the cramped alcove, not bad, but we really had hoped that by now the restaurant would have done more to make waiting for a table more comfortable.

Still, all things considered, 10 minutes isn’t that bad, we got a seat inside and had probably our best meal at the Cuban joint. Now, don’t misconstrue our food comments, we’ve never had a bad meal at Cuban Pete’s, it’s just that we’ve never been floored either. Culinary, Cuban Pete’s has always left us wanting a bit more.

The paella has always been OK. The grilled meat serviceable but nothing special They do make some mean plantains and this coming from a decided non fan of the banana relative but plantains will only get you so far.

Happy to report that for the first time Cuban Pete’s lived up to the hype.

The night did not start off promising. We ordered the goat cheese fritters, one of our favorites, and normally the balls of fried cheese are perfect but this batch just didn’t have the same bling as on others occasions.

It was an inauspicious beginning.

Cuban Pete’s has a nice selection of fish dishes but face it, this is a meat lover’s paradise. I opted for a ground beef and rice dish while C spotted one of her favorite dishes on the menu and ordered the suckling pig.

We were not disappointed. The ground beef was perfectly done and the suckling pig was moist and juicy. We also have to say the service was good for a packed place. When Cuban Pete’s first opened there were obviously some false steps. We won’t even go into the whole is there or isn’t there alcohol in the sangria debate.

But the restaurant has become part of Montclair culture and it looks like the food has improved dramatically. We’d like to see a Web site, perhaps one that took reservations to help cut down on the waiting, but Cuban Pete’s isn’t just a fun night out anymore, it’s also got some good eats going for it as well.

JC

Net Experience at Azora Dissapoints

August 2, 2007

Azora Japanese Restaurant
407 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ
973-233-9400

Azora is the sort of Japanese place you really want to like. It may be one of the nicest dining rooms in Montclair. High backed booths along the right side of the restaurant, nicely spaced tables in the center, and a wooden lattice motif that evokes the kind of Japanese-fusion the restaurant is going for. We really wanted to like the food and we really wanted to like our experience but we were left wanting more.

We came to Azora on busy Friday night, which may have been part of the problem. Like many of the smaller places along Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, Azora suffers from noise problems. It may be somewhat better in the high backed booths but at the tables where we sat it was terribly hard to have a conversation.

It’s a bit out of the restaurants hands, but we really wish some of these places would invest in noise dampening materials (yeah, we’re talking about you Table 8).

The first hint of trouble came with the waiter. We ordered from the fusion menu and C promptly asked about her cashew allergy.

“We don’t cook with cashews,” the waiter replied.

“But it’s on the menu, here” we said pointing to the items that listed cashews as part of the ingredients.

Blank stare.

Anyway, after being assured there were no nuts in what we ordered, C tried one of the fusion sushi dishes, which was quite good. While I opted for a tuna steak.

It took a solid 20 minutes or so for the food to arrive. Probably because the place was busy, still no one bothered to check on us and we had to ask about the food before it was brought out. A cardinal sin for any establishment.

Anyway, as feared, my late arriving Tuna was, how shall I say, a bit on the done side and not in a good way. It was OK but for what Azora charges I was looking for more than OK.

So, we’ll raise a glass of sake to Azora’s decor and hope we have a better experience the next time. If any readers out there have a better experience to report, we are all ears since we’re pretty sure that the place has to be popular for a reason.

JC

You Won’t Get Burned at Toast

July 30, 2007

Toast
700 Bloomfield Ave.
Montclair, NJ, 07042
973-509-8099
www.toastmontclair.com

Montclair’s western slope is undergoing a bit of renaissance these days. On one small block across the street from the arts museum you can find Turkish lamb, Indian Tandoori, and Moroccan couscous in the form of Lalazar, Taj palace and Marrakech respectivly. All of this a stone’s throw from Luna Stage, Wholefoods and the 07402 Starbucks.

The little area on the corner of St. Lukes Place and Bloomfield Ave. is becoming a destination spot for foodies.

Add to that the nouveau dinner spot Toast. Deciding not to compete with its more exotic brothers on the block, Toast serves breakfast, lunch and brunch on a menu that is long on variations of traditional American breakfast fare. The Crab Cakes Benedict, for example, is a tasty combination of seafood and egg that at first glance wouldn’t go together. We sampled and though fish and egg isn’t our speed it’s worth a try.

We also had the sausage and pepper omelet, which is more like a stuffed crape than a traditional omelet. Omelets, of which there are many to choose from, come with whole grain toast and tasty potatoes that justify the $5 bump in price over a similar meal at a dinner. The unsweetened ice tea is also a good call.

Toast has a crowded interior with a few high-backed booths on the side. It fills up quickly and was nearly full this past Friday around 1 p.m. We ate outside and found the service to be attentive if unspectacular.

With menu items like shrimp and bacon sandwiches, lobster rolls, stuffed French Toast and California Scramble, Toast doesn’t do much to hide it’s ambition to compete with Raymond’s over on Church St.

And though brunch will cost you a bit more than you’d pay at a local diner or even IHOP, our Friday brunch clocked in at a Montclair-reasonable $28, including an 18 percent tip.

We weren’t blown away by Toast but were intrigued enough to go back, which is what a new place ought to strive for. We’re particularly intrigued by the restaurant’s site, which promises seasonal menus and a store in coming months.

It’s worth a trip to the edge of town and judging by Toasts’ initial success it should be more of hit than recent tenets of the spot.

JC

Marrakech Comes up Roses on Second Visit

July 16, 2007

Marrakech
708 Bloomfield Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07042-2203

973-744-7733

Sometimes a restaurant suffers an off night. Sometimes the chef is off, the service is off and sometimes, especially if the restaurant is new, the food is a bit off. Chalk it up to growing pains and here at JerseyCool we try to cut our friends out in the restaurant biz a little slack.

So, we are really pleased to offer a revised review of Marrakech in Montclair. We dined at the Moroccan restaurant a few weeks ago with some friends and were fairly impressed with how far things have come, particularly the all important food.

We sampled a trio of appetizers the Briouats, Moroccan pastry rolls filled with chicken, vermicelli and mushrooms; Scallops; and the Cigar Marocain, a Moroccan pastry roll filled with ground beef and eggs.

You can’t go wrong with any of those, however we thought the scallops were perfectly prepared and actually outshined the more exotic Briouats and Cigar Marocain. Again, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed with any of the appetizers.

For a main course, your correspondent settled on the Bouillabaise after seriously flirting with the Pastilla aux Fruits de Mer, a filo dough pastry filled with seafood. We were not disappointed as the Boulliabaise of shrimp, mussels, cod and red snapper was perfectly prepared.

C ordered the Pastilla au Poulet, a similar filo dough concoction with shredded chicken and almonds and cinnamon. I wrestled away a sample and, indeed, this may be the restaurants signature dish. The meal you need to try at least once when you go there.

We also sampled the couscous and found that our precious criticism, a dry, bland couscous has been corrected. The couscous we had the other night was moist and succulent. A perfect compliment to the chicken dish our friend dinned on.

Finally, if you go to Marrakech try the tea. The Morroccan tea is prepared in a stainless steel kettle and poured theatrically into a cup. It’s also tasty and makes for a perfect ending to a meal whether or not you decide to sample any of the restaurant’s desserts.

We’re still not a great fan of the seating, which is too low, but in the sixth months or so since we first tried Marrakech we can firmly say this place is on the right track.

JC

Want more? Read out initial review of Marrakech.

Time for Dinner at Joe Bartonis

June 18, 2007

Joe Bartonis
151 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ, 07042
973-746-6700

Joe Bartonis deli has been a welcome addition to the neighborhood near Valley and Walnut Streets. In its short time there it has become a go to shop for not only sandwiches and pizza but homemade Italian pastas like gnocchi and linguine.

We were headed for the “other” Italian place across Valley but over the last couple of months there’s been a “Now Open for Dinner” sign out front so we decided to see what exactly dinner constituted at a deli this past Saturday.

Initially, we thought we’d be eating deli style, either out on Bartoni’s terrace or in the sparse dining area in the back but Bartoni’s does a nice job of turning the deli area into a dining room. The front of the place is still very utilitarian but chair coverings and table cloths do the trick out back.

Joe Bartonis is all about hospitality and before we had a chance to look at the menu a basket of bread and plate of olives and tapanade were promptly delivered. The free apps are what we’ve come to expect from Joe’s. The bread was spot on and the eggplant tapenade stood out. We’ll be looking for a jar of at our next gathering at home.

For starters, we had a warm mozzarella antipasto, which was fresh and melted in the mouth.

There were several dishes on the main menu that looked extraordinary and most were reasonably priced between $10 and $20. However, we decided to go with two specials. A gnocchi in olive oil and butter and a pan roasted salmon.

If you’ve bought the gnocchi that Bartoni’s sells in bags at the store than you know this is a house specialty and C, who is a fan of gnocchi in general, was impressed. The dish is on the lighter side of some of the gnocchi dishes found in town, which is good for those with smaller appetites.

I was a little hesitant about the salmon. It’s the only fish on the menu, which usually means frozen, but if it was, Bartonis did a good job of dressing it up. The pan friend fillet came with greens, potatoes and fried and crusted onions.

For dessert, we went with coffee and tea, which is notable only that the $2 cup of coffee comes in a cup that’s worthy of the price.

The only flaw in Joe Bartoni’s dinner game is that they are still a deli that serves dinner and not the other way around. We weren’t offered a seat out on the terrace when we walked in, which would be forgivable except that Bartoni’s terrace is off to the side and out of view.

Most likely this was a flaw of omission. The staff is friendly and chatty though some of that had to do with the fact we were the only diners inside. Not a good sign for the dinner experiment but the outside area was full.

We don’t know if this will work for the eatery. They have long-established and tough competition across the street. But we’ll be rooting for them since the quality and variety of food is some of the best we’ve had in awhile.

JC

Raymond’s Needs Some Basic Training

June 5, 2007

Raymond’s
28 Church Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
973-744-9263
http://www.raymondsnj.com


We popped into Raymond’s on Friday night after thunderstorms passed through and was lucky enough to get a spot outside on Church Street. We picked Raymond’s because the restaurants French toast got an undeserved slam in the Star Ledger’s Munchmobile section that day and we wanted to see if anything had gone downhill.

Well, we were 50-50 on that. C had a terrific dinner — a shrimp and grits concoction that was heavy but worked well especially as an outdoor dish. However, some of the frustrating things about Raymond’s were really apparent on Friday.

Over the years, we’ve noticed Raymond’s does the unusual really. Case in point, the diner’s unique French toast, C’s grits and their superb corn cakes. However, items that should be home runs are often lacking.

A few years ago I had a very forgettable egg-white omelet. It’s hard to mess up an omelet, eggs, filling, toast on the side but Raymond’s managed to do so. The eggs were bland and not just normal bland that accompanies eggs without the yolk.

Unfortunately, I went basic on Friday ordering a burger and was presented with something akin to a hockey puck. It’s perplexing that a place can be such a hit with some things and miss on the basics. However, we will give Raymond’s props for a great opening gazpacho and our neighbors at the table next to us didn’t stop raving over the soft shell crabs.

Now, if we could only get the burgers and eggs headed in the right direction.

Read our original Raymond’s Review.

JC

Munchers Not Impressed With Raymond’s French Toast

June 1, 2007

They came, they ate, they went eh. The Star Ledger’s Munchmobile did the breakfast rounds this week and stopped at non-other than Montclair’s own Raymond’s. We weren’t surprised by this.

Raymond’s has been a hot spot on the North Jersey breakfast scene since the 1990s. However, the upscale diner’s signature dish, French toast, did not make the grade with at least one of the munchers.

“Lovely to look at, but it had no taste.”

I suppose a day of eating French toast and pancakes must have ruined their appetite. We here have Raymond’s French toast on our last meal list.

On the positive side the munchers liked Raymond’s corn cakes.

JC