Where the Wild Things Are

American, Cuisine, New York, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

Bareburger, 366 West 46th Street, New York City


The Contenders

Southern Elk Burger vs. Roadhouse Wild Boar Burger

Southern Elk Burger

Ready to be more jealous than you’ve ever been before? Fried green tomato with whole grain maple horseradish mustard top off pepperjack cheese, applewood-smoked thick-cut bacon and an ELK PATTY. Yeah, you’re jealous.

 

Legs:

Choosing from the incredible selection at Bareburger was difficult to say the least. I went in knowing I wanted an elk patty, and from there experienced mental agony as I longed for every burger option and could only choose one. Since my favorite burger style is western (fried onions, pepperjack, bacon, BBQ sauce), I decided to try Bareburger’s take on it, although they placed it a little closer to the equator than I’m used to. Southern Elk Burger, here I come!

Commence flavor explosion. Let’s start with the elk burger itself. Super juicy (read: actually dripping juice), bright red, tender and full of wonderful, amazing, gamey flavor. It tasted like I took a bite out of a living elk that had quickly grilled itself for my dining pleasure. And oh, what a pleasure it was. This game-changing patty was seriously enhanced by all of its condiment friends.

Everything on this burger was necessary, and everything on this burger was delicious. Thick-cut applewood smoked bacon was so thick I literally mistook an escaped piece for a french fry. This bacon stepped it up a notch and all other types of bacon should be ashamed of themselves for not living up to thick-cut’s exacting standards. Fried onions and bacon pair SO well together, and this was no exception. The caramelization of the onions and the smokey saltiness of the bacon is a classic combination that no man can come between.

My whole grain bun was garnished with two things:

  1. Fried green tomato
  2. Whole grain maple horseradish mustard

I cannot even begin to convey how astounding these two flavors are together. The tart, almost vinegary flavor of a fried green tomato needs this exact sauce to complete it and make it whole. Whole grain mustard is a long-time favorite of mine. Put in horseradish to make it even tangier? I’m intrigued. Add in maple to balance out the sourness you’ve just concocted? Completely sold. This was the single greatest bun-condiment-tomato combination I’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into.

I’m ruined for other burgers.


Roadhouse boar burger decorated with pepper jack cheese, turkey bacon, hass avocado, sweet apple grilled onions, red piquanté peppers, and smoked paprika mayo. Served with a side of meerkat. Not really. That would be awful.

Snax:

I was confident of two things as we were sat in the quirky space that is Bareburger. One, my life was now a little brighter as I stared up at the painted wooden bear head over our table. Two, I would not be leaving this establishment without an exotic burger in my belly.

Choosing from just one of Bareburger’s signature styles was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever faced on a menu. Every style has its own unique charm that beckons burger enthusiasts with a wink and a smile. After carefully reviewing my suitors I selected the Roadhouse with wild boar and began life anew.

The first bite had me peeling back layer after layer of bold flavor. Creamy, sweet, smoky, and even the slightest hint of spicy came stampeding out of this magnificent burger. All of the toppings flowed flawlessly from one to the next and came as close to the edge of being too busy without falling off. Pairing smoked paprika mayo with pepper jack cheese was a particularly inspired choice. Without the added flair to the mayo and cheese this burger could have become dangerously creamy, much like my River Grill experience. In fact, there was even more creaminess on the horizon as a slice of hass avocado joined the flavor bonanza.

Every topping on this burger was a winner from the get go, but the sweet apple grilled onions, turkey bacon (substitution), and red piquanté peppers brought out the best in my boar. The duality of sweet and savory in the onions and peppers helped contrast the boar’s slight char and welcomed tinge of gaminess. As a secondary protein, the turkey bacon worked as a gateway from topping to boar with the kind of humility you would expect from the perfect sidekick.

The boar itself was like pork’s far cooler cousin from out of town. It carried a char much like a beef patty but had a distinguishable flavor all its own. A bit gamey at times, but if you order a wild boar burger not expecting gaminess, then you should just keep quiet while the adults talk about burgers.

I really don’t see how this burger can be topped.

 


And the winner is… a tie?

✗Protein ✗Sauce ✗Sides/Veggies ✗Presentation

You might think this is a cop out, but you weren’t there. Both of our burgers were astounding. Like, game-changing, life-altering, head-over-heels fantastic works of burger art. Both proteins: succulent. Both sauces: legitimately incredible. Both veggies: lovely. Both presentations: well I mean they’re just burgers.

It’s a wash. How can you choose a favorite child? How can you choose a favorite Bareburger?

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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A Chinese Bistro?

Chinese, Cuisine, New Jersey, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

A & J Bistro, East Hanover, New Jersey


The Contenders

Hong Shao Niu Ro Mian vs. Dan Dan Mian

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup vs. Noodles in Hot Spicy Sesame Sauce

Tender, tender beef. Handmade wide noodles. Flavorful spicy broth. Bok choy. Fairy dust.

Legs:

A & J Bistro. What a place. Although the name would lead you to believe it’s French, actually they specialize in some of the best, most honest Chinese food I’ve ever had. Don’t get me wrong, I love lo mein, but General Tso never darkens the doorstep of A&J. At a place where the Chinese guests outnumber everyone else by at least 20 to 1, you know you’ve hit gold.

Except for our century egg, I’ve never had anything here I didn’t like. If ordering a noodle dish, they’ll ask you if you want wide or thin noodles. The answer is wide. Always. Their wide noodles are handmade, misshapen and absolutely mouthwatering. The thin? From a machine (can you blame them?)

Their beef is so tender. Like, cut-in-half-with-your-chopsticks tender. It also acts as a wonderful vessel for the lovely sauce it’s been simmering in. Packed full of flavor, this bovine knows what’s what.

But back to the sauce, which is more of a spicy vinegar oil than anything else. Maybe that sounds weird, but trust me, it works. It’s a thin sauce that’s a beautiful dark reddish brown and carries all the depth of flavor that hue would inspire. Just the right amount of acid, a subtle hint of sweet and a punch of umami all come together with a spicy finish. Of course, I went ahead and added more of my own rice vinegar, soy sauce and spoonfuls of A & J’s amazing chili oil, because you can never go wrong with (much) more chili.

The bok choy was an add-on and totally worth it. Gotta have my green. Steamed to a lovely shade and refreshingly crisp, I honestly believe it completes the dish.

Final note: A & J is so cheap. Like, every time I get the bill I’m astounded by how little the wide array of food has cost (you have to get some of their small plates to share – amazing). They are cash only, though, so come prepared.


Homemade wide noodles with sesame sauce and a stylish bok choy beret.

Snax:

Prior to meeting Legs I had never had authentic Chinese cuisine. The furthest I got was General Tso’s, pork fried rice, and eggrolls. As I am a functioning human being, eggrolls still hold a place in my heart, but the rest went by the wayside a long time ago. Now with a newfound sense of self-preservation and a love for A & J Bistro I never have to call Ming-Feng ever again.

My first steps into life after Tso lead me straight to dan dan mian. A & J’s handmade wide noodles left me with a sense of wonder as I entered the new frontier speeding passed towers of takeaway containers overflowing with lo mein. These noodles are nice and soft, devoid of grease, and gently carry a flavor rather than inducing the headaches I was so accustomed to when in range of its fast food cousin. Toto, we’re not in Grand Sichuan anymore.

I have never felt greater empathy for the seed/nut allergic masses than when slurping down noodle after sesame sauce covered noodle at A & J. Get your EpiPens out boys and girls. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. This lovely sesame sauce topped with peanuts delivers a creamy, rounded out nuttiness that delights with every bite. Never overwhelming in thickness and always exits the palette and just the right time, this sauce is a true professional. Adding chili oil, soy sauce, and rice vinegar gives the sesame a little more complexity, but it’s not essential to its resounding success.

Some protein would be nice and a lot more bok choy, which doesn’t come standard, but this modest little meal is the perfect introduction to the ill-informed. More Chinese please!

 

 


And the winner is… Legs!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✗Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

Snax didn’t even have protein. Chump. His sauce though… wow. He actually ordered what I wanted to get, but out of benevolence I allowed him to dine upon my (formerly) favorite dish. Looks like it pays to be kind.

 

November wins:

Legs: 1 – Snax: 1

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Healthy Revival

American, Cuisine, New York, Specialty Shops

The Battleground

ReViVer, Hell’s Kitchen, NYC


The Contenders

Loco Moco vs. Mahi Curry

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Loco Moco = an over easy egg sitting on a “chicken burger” served on a bed of brown rice and sauteed veggies, all topped off with a tomatillo sauce. Sounds too good to be true?

Legs:

While visiting ReViVer, which specializes in healthy fast food, I just couldn’t say no to something named Loco Moco. ReViVer offers nutritionally balanced food with quick service at fast food prices – and who doesn’t love a fried egg?

If only reality lived up to expectation. This was not a bad meal by any means. It was fine. Just fine. The chicken burger truly was a burger. The ground and then reformed patty just felt far too mushy, ruining its lovely balance of smoky seasonings. This came as somewhat of a nasty shock as I had been expecting a chicken breast, but I guess the fault there lies with me.

What I was hoping would be the epic climax to a roller coaster of a meal also left me wanting more. My over easy egg just wasn’t runny enough for my taste. It was more of a solid than a beautiful, creamy yolk. Combine that with the under-seasoned tomatillo sauce smothering everything and choking the meal’s life away, and the nail is in the coffin.

My rice and veg were great. Simply delicious. Perhaps because they weren’t trying as hard as their fancy neighbors. Brown rice, black beans, spinach and roasted tomatoes. Honest, hearty, down to earth.

Tofu, fennel, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cannellini beans, radish, and red quinoa, tossed with orange miso dressing and topped with toasted almonds and just the right amount of "oh my God."

Tofu, fennel, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cannellini beans, radish, and red quinoa, tossed with orange miso dressing. Topped with toasted almonds and just the right amount of “oh my God.”

Good thing we got the most delicious salad on the planet for a starter.


wpid-2014-11-06-00.12.24.jpg.jpeg

A huge slab of mahi-mahi served as a vessel for the coconut curry sauce I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Served with some pretty stellar vegetables to cheer the stoniest of hearts.

Snax:

When I went out on a limb and ordered fish at a fast food joint, I was numb with anticipation. Would I be rewarded for my risk and pull in higher earnings? Or would it explode in my face and further my losing streak?

Both. The answer is both.

On one hand, my meal was a Southeast Asian delight. My coconut red curry sauce is hard to play down. It tasted like a coconut got married to curry and served party-in-my-mouth for the reception. All of the guests were satisfied, most of all me.

On the other hand, the fish was “meh.” Any flavor the mahi-mahi originally had was completely overwhelmed by that beautiful, albeit powerful, curry sauce. The fish was basically just a hunk of protein sitting on veggies.

But oh, what veggies they were. Roasted zucchini, butternut squash and carrots provided the perfect amount of sweetness to the coconut curry marriage sauce. They complimented each other and were cooked very nicely. Spinach and broccoli came back in from the savory side of life to balance out all the flavors and make sure my taste buds got the full one-two. Brown basmati rice on the bottom of everything acted as a sponge to ensure that not a single drop of sauce got wasted.

This dish also came with a completely superfluous avocado salsa verde. I’m not sure why it was there and I barely remember eating it. Completely overwhelmed by the other great flavors going on.

Turns out you can have great fast food that’s healthy, but you still shouldn’t order the fish.


And the winner is… Snax!

✓Protein ✓Sauce ✓Sides/Veggies ✓Presentation

This one was kind of a no-brainer. Legs’ sauce had no flavor and mine was packed full of it. Legs’ veggies were good too, but my zucchini and butternut squash really brought this win home. She gets protein because I ate a flavorless slab of fish while her chicken mush actually had seasoning. But overall, I’m definitely the champion this time around.

November wins:

Legs: 0 – Snax: 1

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Banished to Siberia

New Jersey, Russian, Specialty Shops

A few months ago, Snax and I took a trip to Coney Island with some friends. For those unaware, there’s a huge Russian population over there, so we seized the opportunity to view their grocery store delicacies. Always ones for something new to try, we were appalled and intrigued when we stumbled across a cold, jiggling tray of aspic. We passed on it that beautiful summer day, but it’s been on Snax’s mind ever since.

He insisted – yes, insisted – on using it for his punishment this month. I’m rather fond of him, so I tried to talk him out of eating meat jello, but he would not be persuaded.

Where does one find aspic?

I’m so glad you asked. We had to hunt this down, seriously. Snax located Emporium International Foods about 30 minutes south of where he lives, and we went there blindly assuming they would carry this delicious Russian favorite. Despite having an exact address, we drove past it twice, due to the building be dominated by Just, the attached restaurant. When we did finally locate and walk into the Emporium, oh what a treat. It. Smelled. Incredible. That heavenly aroma wafting through our sensory receptors was due to the most amazing bakery display I’ve ever seen. A significant amount of the pastries and breads seemed to be made in-house, as well as a huge selection of cold meats and salads to take home. Sausages, cheeses, canned foods, dried foods, you name it. The food here is fit for the Kremlin.

deli2_thumb  bakery

Photo credit: www.emporiumfoods.com

We finally located the object of our trip and bought a few snacks for the ride home. Flaky, yummy, meat-and-potato-filled pastry goodness.

Without any further ado… Snax’s October punishment. I’m so glad it’s not me.

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Adams Apples

American, Charity, Cuisine, Specialty Shops
In honor of Snax’s 25th birthday, we headed to the National Apple Harvest Festival in Adams County, PA for a beautiful autumn day full of food and fun. There were plenty of craft vendors and live entertainers throughout the day, and all the festival food you could eat. And eat we did.

An onion blooming around spicy Texas sauce. Yee-haw!

An onion blooming around spicy Texas sauce. Yee-haw!

As a rule, Snax and I try not eat junk food. But when we first walked into the fair and were greeted by a Blooming Onion sign, we threw caution to the wind and dove into junk head first. The spicy, creamy Texas sauce was an amazing dunking complement to those crispy onion petals. The whole thing was very well seasoned, if somewhat undercooked. As we continued to eat the breading started to fall off in glumps. (By the way, this was the only stand at the fair selling veggies: deep fried broccoli to be exact.)

glump (n): A clump of something that is also gloppy.

I spilled a glump of chili on my new white shirt!


PUMPKIN funnel cake with cinnamon sugar angel kisses.

PUMPKIN funnel cake with cinnamon sugar angel kisses.

Once we had the bloomin’ down the hatch, we threw caution to the wind. While listening to a great old-school country band play on the Cider Barrel stage, we espied a Pumpkin Funnel Cake cart. Why yes, don’t mind if we do.

Who doesn’t love pumpkin? Who doesn’t love funnel cake? Why the two haven’t been paired together before is beyond me. These wormy cakes of majesty came with choice of topping: cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or glaze. Pretty sure the cinnamon sugar topping was the most amazing decision I’ve made since giving Snax a chance. Tastes like pumpkin pie, eats like funnel cake, feels like a hug by grandma.


Adams County: America's premier orchard location. Photo cred: rlorchard.com

Adams County: America’s premier orchard location. Photo cred: www.rlorchard.com

To let all that fried food digest, we hopped a bus to take a free tour of the Adams County orchards. Rolling hills with orchards heavy with fruit abounded and it was absolutely idyllic. We were blessed with perfect autumn weather: cool and crisp but still with nice warmth. Riding around on a bus with the windows down and taking in nature was an incredible break from the festivities.


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Pit beef. Look at all that smoke. Need I say more? Pit beef.

But back to the food. The line for the pit beef sandwiches was HUGE. So we obviously figured we had to try it out. Look at it smoking and bar-b-queing away. Go on, look at it. It’s actually better than you’re thinking. The beef was thinly sliced and placed on a bun which we promptly topped with BBQ sauce. Seriously delicious stuff, that.

The best bite of the day, however, goes to the apple sausage adorned with apple butter. No photo, unfortunately. It was a bit too… phallic… to be photogenic. Sweet and savory combined in perfect harmony in this tender, tender stick of meat. An added bonus? All proceeds go to the Pennsylvania Keystone Chapter of the MS Society. You can eat an incredible little meal while supporting a good cause.

We definitely had an amazing time at the Apple Harvest Fest.


A note from Snax:

Venison jerky, enjoyed Lady and the Tramp style.

Venison jerky, enjoyed Lady and the Tramp style.

I don’t really do much to celebrate my birthday other than the usual cake and inviting some friends over, but Legs wasn’t having it. I got to chow down on outstanding food, take in some great music, enjoy the beautiful vistas of Adams County, and spend the day wondering how I could be so lucky.

Seriously, who comes up with a road trip to this little slice of paradise for a birthday? Only the best.

You too can visit the festival for their last weekend on October 11th and 12th. You won’t have as good of a time as I had but you can try.

P.S. I got piglet kisses at the petting zoo!!
( I lured him with hay. No shame.)

 

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A Hundred Celebrations!

Chinese, Cuisine, Fine Dining, Specialty Shops

We’ve reached a momentous milestone:

100 likes on Facebook!

We really wanted to commemorate this special event, and most importantly say a big “thank you” to our supporters and food fanatics. So we celebrated the only way we know how: we ate something nasty.

In honor of 100 likes, Dinner Royale presents to you…

The 100 year egg

Thanks, Facebook. So nice of you.


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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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