Food & Wine Free-For-All

American, Food, New Jersey, Specialty Shops
This week we’re bringing you a very special edition of Dinner Royale! We brought our appetites down to Red Bank, New Jersey for this year’s Food & Wine Walk. A wristband got us access to thirty amazing restaurants offering samples of their food. Continue reading for highlights from our culinary tour of Red Bank Flavour and see how we declare this week’s winner after eating identical meals.

 

    NY strip and center cut filet served over crostini. Enjoyed in front of a water wall for extra whimsy.

NY strip and center cut filet served over crostini. Enjoyed in front of a water wall for extra whimsy.


Legs:

Stopping into Char for a bite was like stopping into Heaven for a bit of sunlight. Absolutely sublime but leaves you needing more. They were serving up New York strip AND filet straight from a carving board! On top of crispy, buttery crostini! With wine!

The two cuts of beef were both delicious but distinctly different. True to form, the filet was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Juicy, blood red and deliciously seasoned, it was soft enough to tear through with your teeth. The strip was just as nicely seasoned, with the stronger beef taste expected from a firmer cut. Perfectly cooked and rested; thank God their chef also likes medium rare.

While many of the restaurants on the Food and Wine Walk were somewhat stingy with their portions, Char was having none of it. They walked around with refills of wine and even gave Snax seconds! The whole experience was, well, heavenly.

Cheese push pops? CHEESE PUSH POPS?!? All of them, please.

Cheese push pops? CHEESE PUSH POPS?!? All of them, please.

While Char may have been the best experience of the day, the best bite goes to The Cheese Cave, hands down. CHEESE PUSH POPS?! Who is the genius who thought that up? Snax better watch out because I think I’ve found my soul mate. There were two to choose from. Sadly, we didn’t get to taste each others’.

Snax had avocado cream, goat cheese, red pepper jelly and cornbread crumble. He claims it’s amazing and I’m inclined to agree based off my experience. I had strawberry basil jam, lemon ricotta and pecan nut cake. Mind-blowing, mouth-watering, life-changing cheese pop. Why lemon ricotta isn’t incorporated into every meal ever is beyond me. It’s truly divine.

 

 

Black bean and corn salsa wrap filled with grilled chicken, melted pepper jack, and sour cream. Side of childhood and smoked chipotle sauce.

Black bean and corn salsa wrap filled with grilled chicken, melted pepper jack cheese, and sour cream. Served with a side of childhood and smoked chipotle sauce.

Snax:

From the outside, Jr’s looks like a typical American grill joint with the kind of grab and go food you don’t think too critically about; enjoyable but not noteworthy. Good thing we never judge a book by its cover and decided to stop into this unassuming little eatery.

The black bean and corn salsa wrap was an unexpected hit. The balance of flavor between chicken, salsa, cheese, and sour cream was impeccable. It was almost as if these ingredients joined forces to form a coalition hellbent on ridding the world of sub par wraps, one bite at a time. Legs doesn’t even like sour cream and still greatly enjoyed this wrap! What a time to be alive.

Remember tater tots? I certainly do and so does Jr’s. They understand the less appreciated member of the fry family and do it justice here. Nice and crispy shell surrounding a moist and delicious center. Perfection. Dipping these little bundles of joy into smoked chipotle sauce makes a good thing even better.

A championship performance from the underdogs at Jr’s.

Churro cake pops: scientifically proven to release copious amounts of dopamine in the brain.

Churro cake pops: scientifically proven to release copious amounts of dopamine in the brain.

Now here at Dinner Royale we tend to focus on the savory side of things. To change the pace a bit I present you with Lil’ Cutie Pops and their heavenly churro cake pops.

Biting into this pure bliss was like hearing “I Want You Back” for the very first time and being hit with Michael’s sweet melody. Powerful stuff from a pint sized package. The frosting on these bad boys was delightfully creamy and dusted with cinnamon sugar for just the right amount of sweetness. The cake itself was excellent. It firmly held together at first bite and fell apart in your mouth, not on the stick.

Thank you, Lil’ Cutie Pops, I am now going through
withdrawal without your magnificent take on churros.

I want you back!


And the winner is… Char!

Char had great food and a great experience to boot. Flawless from start to finish, we’ll definitely be coming back here for a special occasion sometime.

Since every restaurant was serving the same thing, we couldn’t declare a winner based off our choices. Check out our steakhouse-themed tie breaker to declare a winner:

 

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Steak Out House

American, Cuisine, Fine Dining, New York

The Battleground

Bobby Van’s, Financial District, New York

The Contenders

Lobster Ravioli vs. Roasted Chicken Breast
Lobster ravioli, sage butter, sauteed spinach and shrimp chunks? Served with  a side of tears.

Lobster ravioli, sage butter, sautéed spinach and shrimp chunks? Served with a side of tears.

Legs:

It’s been awhile since I’ve had lobster ravioli, but I always dwell on the memory fondly. Sadly, that was not the case at this gourmet Wall Street eatery. Maybe it’s my fault for ordering something other than steak at a steakhouse, so I guess I got my just desserts.

Lobster ravioli in sage butter? Yep, definitely. Cheers. Intense excitement built up during the salad round. Sadly, the instant my plate was set in front of me I knew exactly what was in store. Frozen. The sad, saggy centers held only a remnant of their pre-freezer glory. Tell-tale black zebra stripes decorating the pasta could only be produced by machinery. Call me crazy for expecting something fresh at $28 a plate.

My “sage butter” was just droplets of oil adorning the dish. The tough pasta did nothing to soak up my pathetic attempt at a sauce. Luckily, the lobster in the middle was in nice chunks. Frozen, thawed, stringy, chewy chunks. This catastrophe was sitting on a bed of spinach. Great! I love spinach! For reasons unknown to me, the chef decided to throw chopped bits of shrimp in with the sautéed greens?? Doesn’t make any sense; I can’t make heads or tails of it.

I’m in trouble.

Roasted chicken with creamy risotto and apple cider sauce. Strong aftertaste of regret.

Roasted chicken with creamy risotto and apple cider sauce. What hath God wrought?

Snax:

That’s right. I didn’t get a steak either. You’re probably thinking that we’re both crazy, but all of the steak options had supplemental charges and we weren’t exactly eager to spend at Bobby Van’s. So I went with the safe choice, chicken…I’m so naive.

What really drew me to the dish was the promise of apple cider sauce. What I got instead was the flavor of buttered movie popcorn with an almost caramel-like aftertaste. It was very strange but surprisingly tolerable with a spoonful of creamy risotto. This isn’t to say that the risotto rode in on a white stallion to save the day. They just complimented each other well in their fierce mediocrity and left me at the mercy of the evil king.

There was nothing thrilling about the chicken. It was OK and even had a decent char to it at times. Unfortunately it wasn’t consistent and slipped from a nice flavor to a burnt reminder that life isn’t always fair. The worst part was when the burnt flakes of chicken found a new home in the risotto like a friend who overstays his welcome at your place after getting kicked out of his. Hopefully chicken flakes can get off of my crummy risotto couch, get a job, and win this thing.


And the winner is… Snax!

✓Protein  ✓Sauce  ✓Sides/Veggies  ✓Presentation

My chicken tasted like chicken and my strange sauce and risotto mixture was also food. It’s hard to lose when your opponent is a specimen of mass production on top of an irrational pile of spinach and shrimp. Bobby Van’s, you’re a steakhouse in New York City and you somehow left us disappointed. Let’s see how Legs deals with another equation that doesn’t add up as she suffers this week’s punishment.


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Legs isn’t done yet! Check out how she really feels about Bobby Van’s in the very first issue of Sour Grapes!

Sour Grapes: Bobby Van’s

American, Fine Dining, New York, Sour Grapes

There’s a lot on my mind about Bobby Van’s, but first let me establish some credibility.

I’ve spent 4-5 years in the food industry at four different restaurants, both in front and back of house.  I know intimately all the ups and downs that come with food service, as well as the tricks restaurants don’t want you to know (more of your food is frozen than you think).  Because of my experiences, I’m slow to complain about service and food and quick to make allowances for less-than-fabulous experiences.  However, after my meal at Bobby Vans I just couldn’t keep quiet.

When we walked in at 7:00pm on a Friday to a nearly empty restaurant, I should have been scared.  I shrugged it off as a lunch crowd place.  It is, after all, directly across from the NY Stock Exchange.  Bobby Vans is an institution!  They don’t need to be busy at peak dinner hour on the weekend, right?

Our surly server begrudgingly took our order.  Having been in his shoes, yes, restaurant week probably sucks.  You’re taking a serious pay cut when three courses are offered for $38.  But as any seasoned server knows, you grin and bear it because that’s how the industry works.

“[Restaurant week] is your chance to wow me so I come back for my special occasions.”

-Snax

-Wow us, he did not.-

I’ve been to four establishments for this year’s restaurant week, and all most of them really focused on making their menu special.  Bobby Vans only included salads as appetizer choices.  Oh, how special.

My entree was beyond terrible.  Now granted, I don’t necessarily expect fresh, homemade pasta.  That’s a ridiculous standard to keep when you’re cranking out business at New York’s volume.  However, I’ve honestly had delicious, high-quality, frozen lobster ravioli at other places.  This was far below that standard.  Outside of restaurant week, the ravioli costs $28 a plate!!!  Highway robbery!

Snax’s chicken was clearly better, but it still wasn’t a victory.  The sauce was… buttered caramel corn flavored?  And the chicken, while moist, had charring in places that bordered on burning. There was not a vegetable in sight, unless you count risotto (I don’t).

In my opinion, this is a restaurant that peaked and is unwilling to accept that their glory days are over.  Yes the decor was beautiful, and yes they have a $1,500 bottle of wine on their menu.  But if you never update the food to fit current trends, how can you expect to stay relevant?

I’m guessing the NYSE keeps the place in business, because it’s certainly not the weekend crowd.  Even their own press page is heinously outdated.  With so many original, innovative, cozy places to eat in New York, why would anyone waste (a lot of) money here?

-Legs

 

The best part of the meal was when I discovered the truth behind our “candlelight dinner.”

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A Trip Down Under

Australian, Cuisine, Food, New York

The Battleground

Burke & Wills, Upper West Side, New York

The Contenders

Duck Burke & Wills Edit

Spiced duck breast with foie gras farotto, smoked raspberry sauce and grilled peaches. Candlelight for added romance.

Legs:

Duck is my favorite protein of all time, so I was insanely excited to see it on the menu at Burke and Wills.  Although we were initially drawn to the establishment because of the kangaroo burger, I knew there was no satiating my appetite without a hearty dose of duck.

I was not disappointed.  Skin perfectly crispy and wonderfully seasoned, a beautiful medium rare center and none of the overwhelming oiliness that duck is so renowned for.  It was my honor to have the opportunity to dine upon this bird.

The sauce: wow.  A light raspberry glaze with a hint of smoke was the perfect complement to such a meaty protein.  If it’s fruit it’s low calorie, right?  All of it was served on top of some darn good “stuff,” namely a light risotto… er… farotto with mushrooms (gross) and foie gras (yum!).  The grilled peaches on the side were somewhat of a disappointment.  A bit too dry and bitter to really satisfy your peach expectations.  Good thing they were just a footnote to the duck’s majesty.

All hail the queen.

Kangaroo Burger Burke & Wills Edit

Kangaroo burger with arugula, onions, and tomato jam. Served with triple fried chips, spicy mayo, and a reason to live.

Snax:

I consider myself to be an adventurous kind of guy. If I get an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary I’m more than likely to give it a whirl. When I was given the opportunity to have a bit of kangaroo for dinner I pounced. Things were about to get weird and I was so ready.

My medium rare marsupial hopped its way into my heart with the very first bite. The succulent patty was bursting with herbaceous flavor and a perfect char to seal it all in. There was even a taste of fennel seeds to it that I actually welcomed despite my extreme displeasure for them.

I could almost hear a chorus of didgeridoos as the subtle sweetness of the tomato jam infiltrated the burger and sent me through the roof. Luckily the arugula and shaved onions were there to break my fall as I gently came back down to earth. Sublime.

Thick cut fries aren’t my style, but triple fried chips are apparently a huge exception. I didn’t have any time to question the man I had become because I was too busy dipping the chips in spicy mayo. Sweet, sweet denial.

After that meal I really couldn’t care less about what dangers lie in the bush. I’m going to Australia and I’m going to eat everything in sight.


And the winner is…a tie?

✗Protein  ✗Sauce  ✗Sides/Veggies  ✗Presentation

Well this is awkward. Both meals were amazing and we both honestly preferred our own choices. It’s a draw! But somebody needs to stand tall on the mountaintop. Time to settle the score.

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Bleu, Blanc, Rouge!

Food, French, New York

The Battleground

Marseille, Hell’s Kitchen, New York

The Contenders

Lamb Chop Mareilles Edited

Lamp chops, pole beans, roasted eggplant, lamb jus and balsamic glaze. Omg.

Legs:

Let me start off by saying that I love lamb.  A lot.  It’s so delicious and I rarely have it, so this meal was a huge treat.  What’s more, this lamb in particular was amazing.

Perfectly seasoned, beautifully cooked, just the right amount of au jus… wow.  A little bit difficult to get off the bone at times, but you can’t blame the lamb for that.

What do I love as much as lamb?  Eggplant.  This plate has both?  Sign me up.  The eggplant was roasted until it was soft but not stringy and set on top of a balsamic glaze which it absorbed like a sponge.  Dredging lamb through balsamic glaze and chasing with a bite of eggplant may be my new favorite hobby.

The pole beans were a perfect blanket for the meal.  Still nice and crisp, a light green was the perfect complement.  Using another dense component like potato would have sent me over the edge, but the beans had the perfect amount of snap and air to form a stellar cohesion.

I’m obsessed.

Salmon Marseilles Edit

Salmon, roasted heirloom tomatoes, caramelized fennel, citrus broth. What could go wrong?

Snax:

When my salmon arrived wearing its ten-gallon tomato hat, I was so excited. I invited the salmon to take off his hat and stay a while. His friends salt and pepper were supposed to tag along, but we were stood up. Harsh.

It was an OK dish, but it could have been great. The citrus broth was wonderful and the fennel was exceptional. I absolutely hate fennel seeds, but I am now a huge fan of fennel itself.

Things were going very well until I bit into the salmon and tasted disappointment. What happened? No seasoning to speak of. Not a hint of salt or whisper of pepper. I looked over at the now toppled tomato and hoped it had more to offer. It really wasn’t fair of me to ask for more from a humble tomato. You tried, my friend, you tried.

If the salmon had been seasoned properly or had absorbed the broth’s flavor, then I wouldn’t have had a single complaint. C’est la vie.


And the winner is…Legs!

✓Protein  ✓Sauce  ✓Sides/Veggies  ✓Presentation

Every component of my dish was flawless and packed with flavor.  Snax’s poor, under-seasoned salmon never stood a chance.

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