Posts Tagged ‘Restaurants’

Dining Out: January – March 2017

May 17, 2017

Union Square Cafe

January
New York City
Dinner:
Shay & Ivy
italienne Taverna
Sahib
Eleven Madison Park (Michael’s Birthday)
NoMad
Café d’Alsace

Lunch:
The Clocktower
Union Square Café
Le Coucou (Michael’s Birthday)
iTrulli

New Jersey
Dinner:
Aarzu

February
New York City
Dinner:
italienne Dining Room
Union Square Café
The Clocktower
Kellari Taverna

Lunch:
Ruby’s
Eleven Madison Park
The Modern Bar Room

Brunch:
Le Coucou

March
New York City
Dinner:
Cherche Midi
Vaucluse
Le Coq Rico

Lunch:
Marta
Benoit

New Jersey
Lunch:
Jersey Short BBQ

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.

Fromagerie Redux

December 12, 2016

Fromagerie opened in Rumson about 40 years ago. Despite its name, it didn’t specialize in cheese but rather brothers Markus and Hubert Peter offered a classic French/Alsatian menu in a formal setting. It remained the only upscale restaurant in this area of NJ until Restaurant Nicholas came upon the scene in December 1999. We had dinner at Fromagerie soon after it opened but only a couple of times in the ensuing years before the brothers sold it to Chef David Burke ten years ago. He totally revised the menu to contemporary American. Our one and only meal during his tenure was very disappointing. Last year in October, Burke abruptly closed Fromagerie without an explanation. But it didn’t stay closed for too long long. Purchased by Paul and Enilda Sansone, who brought in Chefs Steven Botta and Angelo Bongiovanni to manage it, Fromagerie reopened three months ago.

The menu on the website lists French classics, Italian dishes, and a section devoted to a variety of steaks. It was, of course, the French items that piqued our interest. There are no prices, so we took the approach that “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

We had dinner at Fromagerie last Wednesday (12/7). We arrived shortly before our 9 p.m. reservation. Not that we would have needed one, but it’s too far away (40 minutes) to take the chance of doing a walk-in. And besides, why not get the OpenTable 100 points? As we suspected, the place was dead, i.e., 2 tables in the main dining room each occupied by a couple and another couple seated in the adjoining smaller dining room. So, including us, a total of 8 people. The couple at the table adjacent to ours left shortly after we were seated bringing the number down to 6. We did not look into the bar room to see if anyone was in there.

The dining rooms are lovely, having been refreshed since our visit during Burke’s tenure. Seating is comfortable, nicely-spaced tables are dressed with white linen, a brightly burning fire in the gas fireplace made for a cozy feel, and Christmas decorations are tasteful. Obviously, noise was not an issue. This is the kind of ambiance we love.

Fromagerie

Michael looked over the list of wines by the glass and chose a Côte du Rhône at a very reasonable $9/glass. He had two. We’d perused the menu at home and having decided what dishes we planned to order, we checked the menus presented to us to make sure those dishes were on it. The website menu was totally up-to-date. The only item not available that evening was the Cowboy Steak which didn’t matter to us since we weren’t interested in having steak.

Before I get into the particulars, let me say up front that there is excellent cooking going on in Fromagerie’s kitchen. But while all the food we had was delicious, there were some flaws with my dishes.

For the first course, Michael chose the Classic Caesar Salad prepared tableside ($14).

Classic Caesar Salad

Classic Caesar Salad

Based on tasting a bit of it, I agreed with him that it was top-notch, one of the best Caesars we’ve had.

As regular followers of this blog know, I am the self-styled “Foie Gras Queen.” So, it will come as no surprise that I couldn’t resist starting with the Pan Seared Foie Gras with Pears and a Port Wine Reduction ($16).

Foie Gras

Attractively plated, the foie was perfectly prepared and arrived properly hot though I thought the portion was a bit skimpy. It sat upon two slices of toasted bread that were so hard as to be inedible. The pears were delicious but were ice cold when they should have been warm or at the very least room temperature.

Just after our first courses were served, a young man came to the table with a bread basket holding an excellent selection.

Bread Selection

We both chose the sourdough roll. A superior roll, it was warm with a nice crust and was served with butter at the correct temperature. No dish of oil for dipping in sight! A giant plus!

For the mains, the Coq au Vin ($34) was a must have for Michael as it is one of his favorite French bistro dishes.  I didn’t taste any of it but he said it was a fine version.

Coq au Vin

Duck is one of my favorites, so I had the Duck Breast with Cherries & Grappa ($34).

Duck Breast with Cherries & Grappa

This exceptionally tender and juicy magret was prepared exactly to my medium specification with skin that had been rendered of fat sufficiently to leave it very crisp. Accompaniments were polenta and pickled red cabbage. The plate was finished cherry grappa sauce. Though this was more of an Italian-style preparation than French, I was fine with it. However, here’s where a major problem arose. Now, I love a delicious sauce and this sauce was delicious. But as you can see in the photo, the plate was literally swimming in sauce. Why, you are probably asking, was this a problem? Well, too much sauce meant some of the duck slices lost a bit of that wonderful crispness; the polenta was totally overwhelmed and practically disintegrated into the sauce; and the very tasty red cabbage (not mentioned in the description) was so buried, I didn’t realize it was there until my fork hit the “surprise” mound. I should also add that cutting into the duck slices became an exercise in trying not to splash sauce onto the tablecloth or worse onto my clothing. Ergo, a case of what could have been a superb dish somewhat ruined by plating gone wrong.

For dessert, we shared the Profiteroles with Chocolate Sauce ($12).

Profiteroles

Most of the profiteroles we’ve had have been filled with ice cream. These were filled with a very tasty pastry cream, a pleasing change as they were much lighter.

With the exception of the foie gras, portions were very generous. Because we are as always big on portion control, we took home some of each main course.

Service throughout the meal by our captain Jonathan was outstanding (he prepared the Caesar). Steven Botta stopped by during our meal to see how things were going and then again at the end at which point we had a lengthy conversation with him. He was very interested in and receptive to our comments. I mentioned the over-saucing problems, and Michael suggested that he put the wine list on the website.

We found the pricing in line with what we pay at most of the high end restaurants we frequent in NYC. It seems fair to us especially considering the quality of the materials Botta is using, including Pat LaFrieda steaks as well as the special grind La Frieda is doing for the burger which, Botta told us, is extremely popular. It’s currently available only on Tuesday nights.

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed this meal, and it’s pretty obvious Michael did as well. To be sure, the A+ service and wonderful ambiance were major factors in that enjoyment. Even though we generally don’t have burgers when we go out to dinner – more of a lunch thing for us – we intend to check out the one here. There are also other things on the menu that appeal to us which we look forward to trying during future visits. We’re pleased that Fromagerie is back!

The photo set of this dinner can be viewed on my Flickr here.