Jersey so far

It’s now been more than a month since I moved from Motown Philly to Bergen County, New Jersey – land of well-manicured lawns, gigantic strip malls, and alcohol-less Sundays.

The suburban lifestyle is quite a turnaround from our previous urban environment. We can’t walk to restaurants, convenience stores, movies or just about anything. And with only one car, let’s just say I’ll be cooking more often.

However, my wife and I have found some time to go out and eat together so far, and we’ve gravitated to Ridgewood: an affluent town center a few miles south of us teeming with restaurants, boutiques and other rich-folk amusements. In general, the food has been good, though nowhere near amazing.

Other than the Country Pancake House, here are our other conquests:

CAFE TULIP

Probably the best of our Ridgewood meals thus far, this BYOB (they actually exist outside of Philly!) is a quaint, casual food factory with all the warmth and attention of mom’s kitchen. It’s described as a Mediterranean place but leans heavily toward Greek and Turkish, with lots of spinach, stews and fish specials.

We shared a sampler appetizer with grape leaves that were among the best I’ve ever tasted. For entrees, we both ordered fish specials, although I can’t quite remember the details. They were both white fish and both were perfectly tender and delicious. We barely found room for dessert, but the baklava looked too amazing to pass up. It was.

MALEE THAI

Down the street from Cafe Tulip, directly adjacent to the Ridgewood train tracks, is Malee Thai, an indoor/outdoor Thai restaurant. It serves traditional Thai dishes, including the over-ordered Pad Thai, as well as a number of pan-Asian delicacies.

We shared the Ka-Nom Jeep (Thai dumpling steam ground shrimp and pork, water chestnut wrapped with thin wonton skin, served with house special tangy sauce) for an appetizer and I ordered the Pad-See-Eew (flat noodle stir – fried with your choice of slices of beef, pork or chicken in sweet brown sauce and broccoli, egg) as my entree. Both were good but nothing special, and my wife felt the same about her shrimp curry dish.

GEN SUSHI

A fairly typical Japanese joint, Gen’s standing among Ridgewood restaurants is elevated due to quality sushi and imaginative roll (maki) combinations. We skipped the appetizers in favor of a sushi platter and extra rolls. The quantity and quality of fish for the sushi pieces were excellent. I was surprised to see pieces of yellowtail, salmon, tuna and others obscuring the underlying rice blocks with their heft.

We were particularly impressed by the dragon roll, which included salmon and veggies surrounded by rice and thin slices of avocado. I can’t vouch for the rest of the menu, but I heartily recommend anything with raw fish.

IT’S GREEK TO ME

This Greek place is close (in location) to the previous three but enjoys more outdoor seating than any of them. This is due to a beautiful terrace with open bay windows that is by far the best place to eat in the restaurant.

We only learned later that Greek is a franchise operation, which explained the simple, overpriced menu. We both ordered Greek salads (mine with grilled chicken) that were huge and satisfying, but we probably won’t be back to try anything else.

MELA

This Indian restaurant more than satisfied some midday hunger with an extensive and affordable lunch menu. Although the food is brought out on prison-style, divided metal plates, everything tasted great. I stuck by my old favorite, Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless pieces of chicken cooked in tomato and onion gravy), while my wife ordered the variation with shrimp. Her sister, visiting from Long Island, chose the Spinach and Mushroom Curry.

All dishes were served with basmati rice, a small fried spinach thing, and some sort of lentil bean stew. The naan was particlarly good and helped scoop up all of the saucy remains that the rice left behind. I can only imagine that dinner is just as appetizing.

Thus, the inaugural edition of my North Jersey Top 5 goes:

  1. Cafe Tulip
  2. Mela
  3. Gen Sushi
  4. Malee Thai
  5. It’s Greek to Me

Any other northern Jersey restaurant recommendations? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

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