Posts Tagged ‘Dinner’

Tickle Your Taste Buds at Tillie’s

April 30, 2017

Tillie's

I first heard about Tillie’s on the Mouthfulsfood NJ board in early 2016 when one of the members posted a link to a write-up in NJ Monthly. Another member, paryzer, began posting regularly about his many excellent experiences there. So, I’ve had it on my “go to” list for a long time, but we didn’t get around to having dinner there until this past Thursday night.

Chef Wirt Cook and his wife Karen, who manages the dining room, opened Tillie’s in the fall of 2015. Named after his maternal grandmother, the restaurant is located on Millburn Avenue, in the town of Millburn. (Wow! Even at night, Millburn Avenue is one busy road! We parked our car across from the restaurant, but since the next light is quite a ways away, crossing the street was an exercise in extreme caution. As in, let’s-not-get- hit-by-a-car-on-our-way-to-dinner!)

The interior has pleasant décor: dark gray painted wood beneath wainscoting and light gray patterned moiré wallpaper above. There is high hat lighting in most of the room, three small crystal chandeliers at the back, and sconces all around. That lighting is perfect: bright enough to be able to read the menu without a flashlight, but low enough to provide a warm feeling. A long banquette covered in gray fabric is on one side, free-standing tables on the other and in the middle. Given our choice of tables, we opted for the two-top at the far end of the banquette. Seven tables including ours were occupied which for midweek in NJ is pretty respectable.

Tillie's

Tillie’s is a BYO. Since the menu on the website is a “sample,” there was no way to know exactly what would be on the menu. Michael decided to bring a Bordeaux which he felt would go well with beef or chicken, the two things he would be most likely to order. (Unless a restaurant is totally vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good bet that chicken and beef in some form will be on the menu.) Although he had brought a wine glass, it was not needed because Tillie’s provides very good ones.

Château Recugne

Immediately after being seated, we were given menus by our server Ashley who then expertly opened the wine. She also inquired as to our water preferences. As usual, a large bottle of sparkling for Michael and, although the drinks menu included root beer and ginger beer both of which I like, I decided to stick with Millburn’s finest tap water.

Once our orders were taken, Ashley brought over a tin pail which held a folded napkin with a pat of flavored butter sitting on top.

Corn Bread & Flavored Butter

Since our table was opposite the prep station, I had watched her putting the napkin into the pail, cutting up something (I couldn’t tell what), and wrapping it inside the napkin. I unfolded the napkin… Ta-da!

Corn Bread

House Made Cornbread

It was hot (not spicy hot but temperature hot). I tasted it. OMG! That cornbread was killer! Definitely one of THE best we’ve ever had. There were only four small squares but as the expression goes, thank goodness for small favors because had there been more, I would not have been able to contain myself, and then I would probably have been too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. And that would have been a shame because…. Well, you’ll see why….

A few days ago, Michael and I were discussing lettuce – specifically the fact that it has been eons since I’d last bought iceberg. He said he likes iceberg lettuce, so I said I’d buy some but hadn’t got around to it yet. The fates, however, were keeping an eye on him. Perhaps, you know where this is headed? Yes, one of the items on Tillie’s appetizer section was…

Iceberg Wedge

Iceberg Wedge with Crumbled Blue Cheese, Bacon & Tomato

Michael said the BLT concept with the classic blue cheese was a winner.

Happily, one of my favorite things was an appetizer option…

Chicken Liver Pâté

Chicken Liver Pâté with Chopped Egg, Saba & Challah

Yes, yours truly the Foie Gras Queen is a sucker for liver even it if isn’t foie gras. The very smooth pâté topped with chopped egg was a deconstruction of Jewish-style chopped liver where the liver and hard-boiled eggs are chopped together. Pâtés are usually accompanied by French brioche and you schmeer the pâté onto the brioche. Here, however, Chef Cook spreads the pâté atop the Jewish challah and tops it with the chopped hard-boiled egg. The addition of the saba added a touch of sweetness. My only quibble was that I felt the challah was cut a bit too thick. Cutting them didn’t work well, and when I picked them up, the thickness made it difficult to eat them neatly. Nevertheless, this was a delicious starter. And that included the greens which were lightly dressed with a very tasty dressing.

For the main course, Michael chose one of the two steak options.

Filet Mignon

Filet Mignon with Grilled Asparagus, Mushrooms & Sautéed Spinach

The filet was cooked precisely to his rare specification. I was a bit surprised that there was no starch, namely a potato in some form which usually comes with steaks. But Michael was very pleased with the green vegetables, and he remarked that the asparagus were grilled to just the proper side of al dente.

This is an appropriate spot to mention that he was ecstatic about the Château Recugne which as he anticipated went perfectly with the steak.

The website sample menu listed duck among the main courses. Since I love duck, I had asked paryzer if it was on the current menu, and he had said that it was. Despite the fact that the accompaniments were now entirely different, I ordered it.

Hudson Vally Duck Breast

Hudson Valley Duck Breast with Quinoa, English Peas, Radish Greens & Pea Tops

Honesty impels me to say that I didn’t find the plating particularly appealing. Because one eats first with one’s eyes, I began having doubts about the rightness of my choice. Also, what was on the plate was far more than I would be able to finish, so I decided that if I liked it, I would eat half and take the rest home. I started by tasting the smaller of the two pieces of duck. Whoa! It was fantastic! Cooked perfectly to my medium request, it was tender, moist, and full-flavored with a nicely crisped skin. Next, I tasted the quinoa mélange. Oh, my! Although I like quinoa, I wasn’t sure if or how it would work with the peas, et al, but it did. There was also a sauce that melded the mixture and added to the terrific flavor. I wish I had inquired what it was. So, sometimes plating can be deceiving because in every way, this duck dish was superb.

Have I mentioned that portions at Tillie’s are very generous? Therefore, we both exercised portion control and took home leftovers. I followed through on my original intention to eat only half while Michael ate about a third of the steak and half the veggies.

Room for dessert!

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie

There was no printed dessert menu. Ashley ran through the list verbally, but we actually knew before setting foot inside Tillie’s which one we’d be having. paryzer had rhapsodized about the Key Lime pie, and since it’s one of our favorite desserts, we ordered one slice to share. The very generous slice (Have I mentioned the generous portions at Tillie’s?) was easily enough to share and lived up to paryzer’s raves: an excellent crust with a lemon filling that was Goldilocks perfect: not too tart, not too sweet, but just right!

Tillie’s is not on any social media (I guess they feel word-of-mouth is working for them). It’s also not on OpenTable or any other reservations service which means booking is done the old-fashioned way with a phone call. That’s all fine with me. However, my single major complaint is that, as I mentioned above, the website (the one modern accommodation to today’s dining out world) has a sample menu instead of a current one; thus, it’s missing what I feel is important information one looks for on a restaurant’s site. They really need to rectify that.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a restaurant that has pleasing atmospherics, provides spot on service, and most importantly will tickle your taste buds with delicious food, Tillie’s is that place. We’ll be back!

To view the entire photo set of this dinner at Tillie’s, click here.

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At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

December 25, 2016

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Last night was the first night of Chanukah.  This year it happened to coincide with Christmas Eve. I had no memory of when that last happened last, so I looked it up. Nearly 40 years ago — 1978. (Yes, everything is on the Google!) Jen and Louis usually go out for dinner on Christmas Eve with his sister and her husband. Instead, they joined Michael and me in our apartment for our annual Chanukah dinner. Jen came in the afternoon to help with some of the prep. It was fun cooking together, something we’d not done in ages.

Michael got a half bottle of Pinot Noir in the liquor store across the street.

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

With the exception of dessert, the menu is the same every year.

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

My Famous Chopped Salad

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Pot Roast

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Potato Latkes

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Homemade Applesauce

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Red Cabbage with Apples

For dessert this year, we kept it simple:

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

I did do a bit of baking since we must have Chanukah cookies! With Louis in mind, they’re gluten-free though, frankly, you’d never guess it since they’re really tasty. The recipe calls for shortening, but I use butter because, let’s face it, everything tastes better with butter!

At Home: Chanukah Dinner 2016

Chanukah Sameach!

5-Day Birthday Dining Extravaganza (Part 3): Coup de Foudre at Le Coucou!

December 22, 2016

(Picking up where I left off last month after Part 1 and Part 2…)

Le Coucou

It was coup de foudre! For the French-impaired in the audience, that would be equivalent to “love at first sight!” In this case, more appropriately, love at first bites!

Le Coucou was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of 2016. Chef Daniel Rose is American, but never having cooked here, he made his name in the culinary world in Paris. With restaurateur Stephen Starr backing him, Le Coucou would introduce him to the US via the New York dining scene. It opened the third week in June. We had our first dinner there a week later.

Truth be told, we were known to General Manager Troy Weismann. He had previously been a manager at Upland (another Starr restaurant) a few blocks from our apartment where we’ve been dining with some regularity since it opened in the fall of 2015. Also, when we arrived at Le Coucou, we discovered that one of the reception staff is Frank (don’t know his last name). He had worked at Upland as well as two other restaurants close to our apartment that we frequent, The Clocktower (also a Starr spot) and Danny Meyer’s Maialino. Frank greeted us effusively at the door and introduced us to the lovely ladies at the reception stand. How flattering it was to hear them say that they’d heard about us and were excited to have us there!

The space is gorgeous. The long front room leads to another room behind it where the open kitchen is located. On that first visit, we were led to a capacious table near the open kitchen. Seated side-by-side on a cushy banquette, we had a partial view of the brigade at work. This became pretty much our regular table and can easily seat four.*

The dinner during my birthday extravaganza in October was our fourth visit. And we’ve since been twice more: in November and again this past Saturday. During our initial dinner, we met Chef Rose for the first time.  (Some patrons know him from his Paris restaurants which did not exist when we last visited France in 1999.  We’ve kidded him that at that time he was still a young lad in school.)  Sweet and self-effacing despite being so-o-o-o talented, he has gifted us with special treats and extra courses, often serving them to us himself. His cuisine is classic French. It is, in a word, sensational!

Jen and Louis joined us for the birthday extravaganza dinner. As I mentioned above, our table was a more than comfortable fit for the four of us. Jen and I sat on the banquette – she commented on how comfortably cushy it was — while Michael and Louis were in chairs opposite us.

Our captain for the evening was Jason. I must pause to note that service is always polished yet relaxed and friendly. That’s not just because we’re “friends of the house” since every report I’ve read has described the service that way. So, that is the Le Coucou way!

Michael consulted Jason regarding which wines by-the-glass would suit what he planned to order, settled on a Givry, and had two glasses.

Givry

Dinner always commences with a basket of wonderfully crusty bread accompanied by butter and lardo.

Bread Basket, Butter, and Lardo

I’m not a lardo fan, but since it is house made, I figured I should try it which I did during our first visit. Nope. Still not my thing. Unfortunately, there is no gluten-free bread, so Louis had to abstain. However, the good news is that there was hardly anything on the menu that he needed to avoid.

For the first course, Jen chose Poireaux: Leeks with Hazelnuts which I’d had during one of the prior dinners. Leeks Vinaigrette are a bistro classic, a must for anyone who loves leeks (raising my hand). The hazelnuts are a Chef Rose enhancement.

Poireaux

Louis, Michael and I chose Celeri Remoulade: Celery Root with Apple, Smoked Salmon, and Walnuts which Michael and I had not had before. Chef Rose amps up this French classic by combining it with smoked salmon. Brilliant!

Celeri Remoulade

Celeri Remoulade

For the main course, Jen had Canard et Figues: Duck with Mission Figs, Foie Gras, and Black Olives.

Canard et Figues

I’d had the duck during our first meal when it was accompanied by cherries and a scrumptious cherry sauce. And, of course, the foie gras! An enormous tranche! If you passed our table that night, that was me moaning in ecstasy. Jen found her version equally superb. As I adore figs, I’ve no doubt I’d love the dish that way too.

Louis had Halibut Beurre Blanc with Daikon Prepared as Choucroute.

Halibut Beurre Blanc

I had it in November, so I understand why he was totally happy with it. A perfectly prepared hunk of fish dressed with a classic sauce. As the French expression goes, “Le sauce c’est tout!” Plus, Chef Rose’s idea to prepare daikon radish in the style of sour kraut is an inspired conception.

Michael and I regularly check the on-line menu to see what new dishes Chef Rose might be presenting. When we saw the listing for Faisan à l’Alsacienne: Pheasant for two Alsace style with Foie Gras and Stuffed Cabbage, it was a no brainer as to what our main course would be.

Faisan à l’Alsacienne

Faisan à l’Alsacienne

Supremely succulent pheasant, two ginormous tranches of foie gras, and amazing stuffed cabbage (definitely not like the kind I prepare). What can I say? Heavenly!

We next all shared a Cheese Course.

Cheese Course

Dessert? Mais, bien sûr!

Michael and Louis each chose Mousse au Chocolat which Michael and I had shared at the end of one of our previous meals. Considering its serious deliciousness, I can understand why he decided to have it again. Oh, and Louis concurred.

Mousse au Chocolat

Michael had a glass of Madeira, a perfect accompaniment with chocolate desserts.

Madeira

Jen had Pluots Pochés: Poached Pluots with Thyme Sorbet. On the side: Almond Financier. She was pleased with everything. I had a bite of the financier. Very tasty!

Pluots Pochés

Pluots Pochés

I couldn’t resist having Chiboust aux Figues with Port Wine and Cinnamon especially considering my love of figs. Served warm, this light, elegant dessert was right up my sweet endings alley. (I had it again this past Saturday. Still scrumptious!)

Chiboust aux Figues

Well, not quite the end. As always, there were these lovely Mignardises: Pâtes de Fruits, Cookies, and Chocolate.

Mignardises

Dining at Le Coucou always feels special. Dining there with Jen and Louis in celebration of my birthday made it extra-special. No surprise that they loved it as much as we do.

Le Coucou has been showered with well-deserved accolades and has made every year-end “Best Restaurants 2016” list often in the Number 1 position. Obviously, Michael and I are far from the only ones who find everything about it enchanting.

I’m guessing you can tell that the “coup de foudre” we felt the first time has turned into an enduring love affair.  We have not the slightest doubt it will last into the foreseeable future.

*On one of our previous visits, our regular table was occupied by Danny Meyer and his dining companions.  No complaints from us about having a different table because (a) it was Danny Meyer and (b) we were seated at the backwards mirror image table just on the opposite side of the banquet immediate behind Meyer, et al,  with a view of the kitchen’s right side instead of the left. (And, no, we did not speak with Meyer though we have met him a few times.)  This past Saturday, since our table was already occupied, we were seated at a two-top at the rear of the front room with a view of that entire room as well a view into the back room with a more expansive view of the open kitchen than from our usual table. We liked it so much that when it’s just the two of us — which is most of the time — we’re going to request Table 54.

Le Coucou

Le Coucou

The entire photo set from the birthday extravaganza dinner can be viewed on my Flickr here.

Here are links to the photo sets from the other dinners we’ve had: June, July, August, November, December