Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shouya, Otemachi (庄屋)

Man, I feel like writing a capsule review of this place. First day back from vacation, and hitting it hard with a plunge into the basement of the Otemachi Building and yet another new restaurant. Not intentional, I swear it.

Shouya is part of the big, bad New Tokyo group, which includes about 15 brands (lots of beer-specialist brands, then split between izakaya and Italian. Weird, as usual for one of these big groups.). I'm not sure where it fits into the hierarchy of their brands since I'm not familiar with Dining Out 53, Italico, La Stella, New Hoppen, Takao, Burian, Duffy's or any of the others. Maybe I'll see them on the street now? This branch (out of the 4 in the Otemachi area) has a distinct retro thing going on; Koala's comment was that it looked like a Japanese restaurant in America. I could see what she means, with the sorta shabby dark wood thing, but there were far too many Japanese people for any real confusion.

Lest we try to stretch this out too much, I'll just get to the point and say that all of us on today's team had the soba-eel set (zaru soba + una don). The soba was actually pretty good; maybe it's just been a while since I had soba, because now that I think back it was pretty soft. I guess the taste was decent. The eel was downright poor; still some largish uncut pieces of bone remained, and the taste was pure mud (I've come around to the view that things like eel and carp taste 'muddy', but it's not always a bad thing). Also came with some sliced omeletsu, pickles, soup, etc. If you could replace the eel with something else, this would be pretty good value for Y880.

Since 1937. We got trust and carry it out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Nucci's Italian Ice, Sewell

We wanted to track down the store associated with the tiny 'Italian Ice' sign we had seen on the road to Terra Nova. Rolling across the street we saw another, and followed this and some others, like a trail of breadcrumbs to the witch's house, to a small strip mall around the corner. Not an ideal location, but evidently Nucci's has been there for 4 years already, and they were doing some business even during the time we spent there.

Somehow the atmosphere isn't as appealing as a lot of other Italian dessert places. It's a bit more 'custard stand', by which I mean formica floors, flourescent lights, and all around cheapitude. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if it keeps the prices down, of course, but as with so much Italian Ice, when they're trying to do it right, the prices can't help but climb.

The quality at Nucci's pretty much justifies the prices though. We asked about the expense (before tasting) and they said the ingredients all come from Italy. I dunno if Italian stuff tastes better, but this sure tasted good. Coconut gelato was full of shredded coconut bits and then lots of coconut cream; you'd want to make this at home. Cannoli gelato was a new one on me; the gelato was flavored like cannoli filling (no chips) and then mixed with crumbled cannoli shell. A decent idea, but didn't match the creaminess or crunchiness of a real cannoli - stick with the real thing (amusingly, they also have cannoli shells there, and you can get them to fill one with gelato for you). We had another two flavors, something chocolatey and something red, that I may remember if I can find the pictures.

Worth stopping by if you're in the area, and remember - compared to ice cream, real gelato is lower in fat and sugar, but higher in taste!! Amazing!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terra Nova, Sewell

Well, we knocked off all the basics in order to bring you a comprehensive dining guide to South Jersey cuisine, such as it is. With that done, there was nothing for the last night but a leisurely dinner out, and Terra Nova is a competent location for that. Pictures may follow if I can find them.

The concept here is Italian...and sushi. It's not like they make chirashi pasta or anything, but they do have a big raw bar and a wide-ish selection of sushi, mainly American style rolls. The majority of the food, however, is big-plate Italian stuff.

The two big plates that we had were the:
  • Sonoma Skewers, two sticks with shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. It took Dad the better part of an hour to get through only one of them, and the other went home. While I didn't try them, they were certainly impressive on a size-and-roastedness basis, and I think we all know that bigger and grilled-er is better, don't we?
  • Meyer Lemon Veal seemed to have nothing to do with Meyer Lemons, much to my dismay (and wiki informs me, again to my dismay, that Meyer Lemons originated in China. I always thought they were invented by Meyer Goldberg in Crown Heights around the turn of the century, oy.). But it was a big (huge?) plate of whole-wheat pasta topped with 2 or 3 large slices of veal (sorta breaded-and-pan-fried style, as if for marsala or something) and massive amounts of sauteed mushrooms and (pickled) artichokes. The artichokes and mushrooms were the standout items here; everything else was a little soft and bland, which is almost OK for veal but a bit beyond acceptable for pasta. Unfortunately I ate everything; America is bad like that.
And we had some sushi. So American in style - using thin-sliced cucumber to wrap everything, then topping it with something that resembled Russian dressing (which has nowt to do with Russia, of course). The fish was mediocre in taste and texture, but actually quite fresh, so I guess that's an OK tradeoff. To a Japanese sensibility this is awfully weird, but to Americans it's probably a nice mix of tastes.

Too full even to consider dessert after all this foolishness, we rolled out and across the street for some water ice and gelato. Separate stomachs, y'know?

Ciconte's, Glassboro

Ahhh, the Final Countdown. Not only some cheezy 80's hair metal, but the enumeration of South Jersey meibutsu that we ticked off over the course of recent days. This is the biggest of them, and we've saved the best until somewhere around last...

Cheesesteaks. If you've ever had a Philly Steak...then forget whatever you ate, because including 'Philly' in the name is a dead giveaway that they're not making it right. A real cheesesteak doesn't need to remind you how authentic it is. So you can recognize one in the wild and possibly not be frghtened by its magnificence, here are some pictures of what cheesesteaks look like. The one on the left is the mildly-daring pepperoni steak, whereas the one on the right is a chicken cheesesteak.

It's really a mystery what makes these so great, but it's scientifically proven that they're nature's perfect food. The meat needs to be quite fatty, it needs to be griddled long enough that it starts getting burnt a little, the cheese needs to be cheap and fully melted (I'm not a Cheese-Whiz adherent, although most people think that's the classical definition), and the roll should be soft enough that it doesn't get in the way by being chewy or hard. I'd like to take everyone by the shoulders and shake them to convince them of the incredible deliciousness of cheesesteaks, because these pictures aren't going to do it, but the taking-and-shaking thing is pretty impractical also eh?

Ciconte's occupies the space that used to be Super Sub, in the little strip mall on 322 down the street from Glassboro High School where WaWa used to be. And their cheesesteaks are good; Sherri says that a lot of places skimp on the steak, but Ciconte's is a standout. That's why we went there, and she's right, they're great.

I like to call these 'up close and personal' and 'comin atcha', respectively:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Water Ice Station, Pitman

No doubt you'll remember the Water Ice Station from the 15 or so years they spent in their Pitman Ave location, just across the little alley from the Itaska Building and across the street from Rosebud Florists. There was a lot of sadness in some minds, at least mine, when they closed that store - last year, I think. There were some vague statements about how they wouldn't open that location again, but I didn't hear anything specific. So I was pretty happy to roll through town last week and see some signage on the Pizza Garden (formerly Stan and Mary's) to the effect that The Water Ice Station was moving in and sharing the space. Sign of the times, methinks...less rent for everybody except the owner of the old WIS location, which now looks extremely decrepit and unusable.

Until the new space is built out (currently there are some studs up and the new front window is in, so there's a lot of drywall and equipment-type work to be done) they're selling from this portable truck out in front of the store. Dad and I cruised down there to hang out and chillax yesterday, and here's what we ate.

I can't really imagine that you don't know what water ice, or Italian Ice sometimes, is, but here's a quick description: like sorbet, but cheaper (natural ingredients need not apply). Or maybe : like a Slurpee, but more solid. The Water Ice Station really made an impact on me when they opened because the flavors were so fresh and clear (and, dare I say it, natural?). The best things in my memory were the vanilla, lemon and chocolate, all of which had their own little surprises, but most everything is good. In this picture Dad is holding lemon and peach; sales from the truck are limited to about 6 flavors on a hand-written board.

Strangely, despite the board being hand-written, there was one flavor not on it, and I ordered that very Birch Beer flavor in a combo with Chocolate. If you squint you should be able to see the two-tone effect on top of this cup (nice closeup!), which is how they always treat multiple flavors. One goes in the bottom, the other goes in the top, and they make a little space on top for some of the bottom flavor. Smart orderers know that the sequence in which you name the flavors makes a difference, because the first flavor will go on the bottom, and you invariably get a bit more of that one. Plus on hot days that bottom flavor is going to melt and you're going to be stuck drinking sugar syrup, so you'd best make sure it's a flavor you don't mind drinking.

Nothing beats water ice on a hot day. Maybe a hoagie for lunch, a nice grilled dinner, and a quick walk downtown for waterice as it gets dark around 8:30? That's summer right there it what that is.

Mary's Panhead Pub, Gibbstown

Mary, why ya buggin? With this post, we finally make good on the first element of our nj promise - rockin'. Unfortunately, a wardrobe malfunction means there are no audio recordings of the event, but there are certainly pictures'll have to be in the Inner Circle to see those, unfortunately.

As you can probably tell from the name, Mary's is a biker bar. There are always a fair few bikes out front and bikers inside. Mary herself is thoroughly biker, and runs the place with a semi-benevolent iron fist in a velvet glove. You can see in the picture what kinda place it is. They have beer. They have whiskey. They have a branded Jaegermeister shot dispenser. And they have an extensive menu of greasy, salty, f-in delicious bar food.

The lighting isn't great, OK? It's a bar. Fortunately the camera is quality, and Picassa's I Feel Lucky function is skilled at fixing a crappy picture. Based on 30 seconds of use, it's my new favorite. On to the food.
I gravitated toward a Fat Boys. No human beat boxing here, just a pile of thinly-sliced roast pork topped with provolone and dipped in pork jus. So salty. So meaty. So delicious. The bun was pretty well soaked through, but that spongy texture only blends better with the pork. Ooooohhhhh...

Half-eaten BLT.
And some other kinda equally half-eaten bacon sandwich. Both deliciously porky looking, doncha think?

Mary's has plenty of other standard options to keep you happy, like jalapeno poppers (oooohhh) but the sandwich was more than enough for me.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

La China Poblano, Glassboro

Surprisingly, mes amis, there's a real dearth of Mexican opportunities around Pitman (and it's not just because of the racial bias, because the surrounding towns are weak also). Last week EOIPwJ visited a chain establishment called Moe's that was so dull we couldn't even get up the gumption to write about it (which you know is saying a LOT; it puts Moe's roughly on par with Famima). Mom and Dad say that the best thing to do if you want good Mexican is to go a bit south; I do apologize for the generalization, but among the large fruit orchards and other farms of the inner southern regions of the Garden State there are many Latino farm workers, and with farm workers comes farm workers' food. And the blessed virgin.

So, a funny thing about La China Poblano - it used to be a Chinese restaurant. Mom and Dad were friends with the owner, so we went fairly often, I think. I don't know how long it's been gone, but the front counter, the fish tanks, and various other decor elements remain the same. They've draped festive Mexican elements all over the tables and walls (are these serapes?), including some hilarious 'inca warrior' type pictures with cut, muscular men and swooning, buxom women. It's also dark enough enough to conjure instantly the feeling of a cantina in a spaghetti western (dunno, For a Few Dollars More or something?), but we solidered on with the picture-taking anyway.

The chips seemed to be made in-house (I suspect so because they were more thin and greasy than what you'd get from a bag) and the salsa was pretty good. Certainly I've had fresh salsas that were incredible (and you can even make a tolerable one yourself, given enough shallot, lime and cilantro. Aside: why do people dislike cilantro? I love it!) and these were...pretty good. It's nice that the chips come topped with a few beans and grated cheese; certainly more lively.

The house special sandwich consists, good lord, of a deep-fried steak topped with heaps of shredded Oaxaca cheese (largely mozarella) and vegetables. Sure looked good, but there was no lack of food on my own plate, so I didn't agitate for a taste.

I think a good way to tell that the place is pretty authentic (other than the fact that the waitress is shy and speaks precious little English) is that burritos are consigned to a dark corner of the menu. I've heard that these are an American invention (like proper pizza!), so if you see people proudly featuring them at the top of the menu, or as the primary driver of the cuisine, you should be aware. I'm not saying authenticity is a guarantee of good taste or nothin', I'm just, like, sayin'. This burrito was big and stuffed, though posibly a little lacking in love.

Enchiladas. Ohhh, do we love enchiladas. Soft tortillas, filled with soft, shredded chicken (I'd like to say it's sorta ropa viejo style but I think that's confined to beef. I'd also like to say that ropa viejo always reminds me of Tom Petty's Hard Promises album, the one that starts with The Waiting and has him standing in a record store on the cover. I thought that the bin next to him said Ropa Viejo, but I now see that it says Mucha Ropa instead. Ah well, at least we could have a pleasurable digression. And now back to our feature sentence.) and topped with copious quantities of green salsa, sliced onion, some white sauce, and a piece of fresh cheese (a little softer than mine; I've gotta work out a better method). The chicken was really exemplary; soft and delicious, lots of flavor. Even the side 'boat' of beans was quite good - not too fatty, not too heavy. The rice was forgettable, but that's no great sin when you're confronted by all this other goodness.

Mexican food. Yum.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Landmark, Glassboro

The Landmark - seemingly striving to be the hub of the massive and truly strange development activity afoot on the outskirts of downtown Glassboro. But quite accidentally - when this place fully remodeled and moved in to the old Franklin House site, I think most people were as surprised as me. It seemed like a fairly outside bet in the revitalization of a quite ordinary and decrepit downtown (the movie theater even used to have porn, which has gotta be a cliche for urban areas gone to seed). But they were either banking on big draws of business from Rowan University just down the road (not a bad bet) or else had some advance knowledge of the plans that were afoot, and now they must be rubbing hands with glee over the huge apartment blocks being built just across the street. It'll be interesting to see how this all turns out in these tough economic times.

Quite an intensive introduction for what's basically a sports bar, but if you don't know the American sports bar concept, mes amis, you probably should. It's a big bar. With lots of TVs. And you can watch sports. And eat greasy bar food. Got it? Not complex. This one expands the thematic pallette by adding 'Americana' to it - old signs (a style that you might be familiar with from something like TGI Friday's in Japan) and promotional items on the walls. Picture above is obviously a Music Man Van Halen guitar and a Strat with beer logos, but they have a bunch of other guitars along this wall and then also promo snowboards on another wall.

Then there's the food. Above you've got your basic crab cake sandwich (and crab cakes, despite their popularity in Pitman and the surrounds, are really a maryland meibutsu, so maybe I shouldn't go nuts on that) and your basic pulled pork sandwich. The crab cake was a fried nugget of pulled crab bits; not bad but not very exciting. The pulled pork was a little more juicy and a lot less tasty compared to the one from Fat Jack's last week. The fries were slightly odd; I can only imagine that they're dipped in batter before frying, and I should research how and why this is done rather than just speculating, but not today. All in all this was more filling than good, and the service was of the 'Be young, have, drink Pepsi, talk to the other waitresses'
Better luck next time, Mr. Landmark, but I fear that your customers are in a bit of a bind due to the excellence of your strategic location. Well done on that!

Pal Joey's, Sewell

Most places claim to have some meibutsu, ne? And they're usually pretty boring. How many times have you eaten famous local soba? Nihonshu? Akafuku? Need I continue? Philadelphia is a lucky, lucky city for the simple reason that it has too famous foods and both of them kick ass. While we have still not made good on all aspects of our rockin-lobster-cheesesteak pledge, the unspoken hoagie covenant has now been enforced.

I would like to think that everyone knows what a hoagie is, but for our readers in Botswana, it's a torpedo roll with a lotta Italian deli meat and cheese and vegetables stuffed in. Actually that's inaccurate, because there aren't really vegetables - just shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, sliced onion, and maybe some other bits for a spike of variety (I like peppers, either hot or sweet. I also prefer mayo to oil, but you may not want to admit that to your favorite deli manager). This is not a sub. It's not a grinder. All of those are inferior to hoagies. And as far as I can remember, every hoagie I've had is inferior to the least item from Pal Joey's menu.

I've never been clear on the full meaning of the name. Clearly it's a reference to the Sinatra movie that I haven't seen (but how many Sinatra movies have you seen? I've only seen From Here to Eternity, and part of The Manchurian Candidate (young Angela Lansbury gives me the creeps after watching too many episodes of Murder, She Wrote). Not even Cannonball Run II.) since there's a picture that's always been on the wall of a kid doing the famous hat pose; I imagine it's Joe's grandson, but it's just a guess.

The meaning of the food is clear, however. Every day for lunch people pile in (or call ahead to order, for maximum efficiency, highly recommended) and chau down on massive hoagies. There are about 20 choices on the menu, but for some reason my circle never goes past the following (pictures below are in order): Old Italian (prosciutto, spicy capicola, aged provolone), the R Special (Genoa salami, more capicola, sliced pepper shooters (small hot peppers stuffed with provolone)) or the Big T (Turkey.). Most people like the Primo size because it comes on a different roll (more crusty, sesame seeds) as opposed to the smaller size, which is on a standard white 8" roll (see below), but it's really a lot to get through. I didn't want to eat dinner after eating a whole one.

Of course, I wasn't eating just that...there's also a case on the side filled with drinks and a few more Italian specialties. The aforementioned pepper shooters can be purchased over here, although stuffed with prosciutto. There are marinated olives. There are artichokes. And there is this ungodly delicious marinated mini mozarella...Obiko should have it this good, my friends.

Ooof, I'm still full just thinking about it. And excited to go back again. Ha! Pretty sure they don't have a web site, but it's in the Timberline shopping center on Woodbury-Glassboro Road in Sewell, back in the corner. You'll find it.
856-415-9600 Do call ahead, it gets busy. And again, I recommend mayo, no oil, but you may struggle to get them to break routine to do that for you. You may also choose no oil, no mayo, and then put on oil yourself at home, which you can see Sherri preparing to do in the picture above.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rita's Italian Ice, Glassboro

Despite the friendly and familial name, this is a franchise water ice place. I'll probably manage to get to the Water Ice Station before leaving Pitman, so there was limited need to get into ice from Rita's (or explain it to you now), and as a result we just had soft ice cream.

Nothing to report one way or the other, except for the hilariously uninvolved attitudes of the girls working there. At 8:55 they closed the windows and started turning away the steady stream of people who were rolling into the parking lot hoping for some sugar. 9 PM is awful early for a water ice place to close on an 80-degree day, don't you think?

Not quite delivering on the motto. But man is this a big chain. 856-863-5600

Passariello's, Moorestown

Moorestown is a nice little place - probably sort of what Pitman aspires to be, but permanently advanced. Pitman doesn't have the proximity to population and business centers that's required to get people living there with enough money to live in these houses and shop in the stores (although I did once drive to Moorestown to go to Carl's Shoes since they have a better selection of dress shoes than anywhere else). Very pretty town.

And pretty towns need pretty pizza, and pretty calzones, and pretty pasta, and pretty desserts. Passariello's was one of the first things we came across while driving through town, and from the outside it met all criteria, so we called off the search. Farther down the street there turned out to be some places billing themselves as bistros, which might be entertaining for a return visit...if we lived here. But Passariello's certainly comes up trumps in the Pretty Pizza Department.

The concept here is semi-self-serve, 'stations' Italian. By this I mean that as soon as you walk in you'll be confronted by the Dessert Station, while to your left will be the Pizza Station (and if you're us, you won't ever get past it). If you're strong enough to move past all this pizzalicious goodness, you may spot a Pasta Station and a Salad Station, in that order toward the back of the store (now that I think about it, it's laid out perfectly in terms of propensity to consume!). Everything is a bit bright, cheerful and mildly red/black/white retro diner without being explicit about it. You make your purchase and then pick a table, booth, stool, etc. from the selection inside (crowded but still a few options at lunch time) or go to the back deck like us.
Yay, pizza. And baked calzone/stromboli cross-products. I didn't even realize that these pizza slices were all veg when I ordered them from across the room; they were just the brightest and freshest-looking items. Turned out well, except that they were almost too big to pick up (which is becoming a theme this week). Fortunately these are proper pizza with a healthy crust under them, none of that thin-and-droopy Napoli crap that gets passed off as pizza (I think we can all agree that pizza was perfected in America after centuries of it being close but not quite right in Italy). The baked thingy was sausagey and quite good, and the bread sticks were nice even if they didn't knock you out with garlic as we prefer them to. The gravy at this place, like at Venice, was very fresh and tomato-tasting. It's not coming out this way when I make it, which is either due to the meat, the wine or the lengthy cooking time that I'm using. Still, I like the more-cooked taste a little better. Tastes like love, ne?

EOIPwJ can't resist a good cannoli, and these were just sitting up in the case, waiting for us. They were pre-filled, which isn't a great sign, but the shells were still light and flaky. The filling also wasn't quite at the peak of freshness, but on the whole these met the requirement for cannoli product while on vacation to New Jersey.


Uncle Bill's Pancake House, Cape May

Another Cape May institution - down at the south end of the strip, a big round dining room, lots of waitresses (no sailor suits like The Lobster House, but still good), and massive breakfasts. I'm told that in season it's difficult-to-impossible to get a table here, but the week before Memorial Day, no probs.
Uncle Bill has a lotta...pancakes. Oh boy. And they are big, and they are fluffy, and they come with this wide, deep dimple in the middle that is totally full of butter that melts while you eat and...ooogh. Actually the side eggs and meat were less good than I wanted them to be, except the bacon, which was crisp and crackly the way god intended it to be. But the pancakes were everything one could hope for, adn that's what keeps the people comin' back.

Particularly amusing to me is the admonition (repeated on the other branch that we saw a few towns north, later in the day): No Credit Cards. ATM Inside.