Wednesday, October 28, 2009

El Sham (Medditeranian) - Hamilton, NJ

After reading the reviews on Chowhound, we decided to try El Sham today for lunch. We both took the day off from work today, and it was very fitting being our anniversary. After watching the Rick Steves episode on Iran this morning, I was craving some middle eastern cuisine, and this was the perfect fit for my cravings! El Sham is just a 10 minutes drive or so for us, so it was nice and close. The place is in a strip mall, and I have no idea if this is a new strip mall, or if it has been there for a while. As you walk in, the counter where you order is tucked into the back left hand corner. In the front of the restaurant, 8 tables occupy the open space. The walls are a light blue color, and the restaurant is trimmed out in yellow. The place may not be fancy or romantic, but I can tell you that it is clean! You can eat off the floors in here, and it just looks pristine. They also have nice dark colored tables, and the place is no frills. For lunch, we started out with the hummus, that was served with a nice light oil on top, some green herbs, and 4 fresh pita slices. This was very nice, and I could eat a ton of it. For an appetizer, it is the perfect portion, and I actually left a little on the plate to use on my sandwich. Zelda opted for the falafel sandwich, which was a nice sized portion, with lettuce, tomato, and a tahini sauce served in a pita. She said that this was much better than the last one that she had at Moustache in Lambertville before they closed. From the bite that I had, the spices were very nice, and this had some damn good flavors to it! I opted for the shish kabob sandwich, which was a nice grilled lamb cubed and seasoned. Let me tell you that this was awesome! The lamb was hot off the grill, and when I say hot, I mean hot! It was served with a nice lettuce, tomato, onion, and tahini sauce. The seasonings on this were absolutely perfect, and I love the hot temp on the lamb. It was cooked perfectly, and was just damn tasty. I added some hummus to the sandwich, and I recommend doing the same. It makes for a nice combo. All in all, for $20 with a couple of sodas, this made for a bargain lunch! The ambiance isn't the fanciest, but what is important is that the food is authentic, and damn good! We definitely plan on going back and I look forward to trying one of their many different platters, and Zelda looks forward to trying their falafel platter or vegetarian mixed platter! It's nice to have a new place like this in the area, with goo service, and great food! Kudos to the crew at El Sham! El Sham 1641 South Olden Avenue Hamilton, NJ 08610 Phone: (609)931-0513 Fax: (609)931-0514

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2000 Opus One

I know that there are many non-believers out there who claim to hate Opus one, and I attribute a lot of this to the inflated price. I was lucky enough to pick up a few bottles of this wine a few years ago for around $70, and I have to say that for the money, this was one hell of a great wine! I grabbed this from the cellar where we hide all of our “gems,” as a pre-anniversary celebration bottle, since our anniversary falls during the week this year. This had about 45 minutes to warm up on the way to Fiddleheads in Jamesburg, NJ, and was popped and poured. Gorgeous deep garnet classic cabernet color in the glass, thinning towards the rim made this wine still look very youthful. As a lot of you know, 2000 is not known to be a stellar vintage for the Napa Valley, but this wine showed to prove this wrong, as have some of the other big hitters from this vintage. On the nose, this reminded me of a nice Bordeaux with some cassis, tobacco, earth, blueberry, and cherry, with the smallest hint of band aid / brett. On the palate, all kinds of red cherry, blackberry, pomegranate, and raspberry jam. Off vintage my foot, this wine has a great fruity, jammy, and velvety structure, with a bit of oak on the medium finish. All in all, this was a pleasure to drink, and I couldn’t think of a better wine that I expected so little from to date. This was darn good, and I wish I would have bought more at this price. Thankfully we still have one left that we’ll revisit 5 years down the road. For now, feel free to pop one of these, as I believe it is drinking in a beautiful place. After drinking an ’02 Insignia just a few weeks ago, I think that this wine would give it a run for its money, and is 94 points worthy. Cheers!

Fiddleheads - Jamesburg, NJ

So tonight we are celebrating our 3rd anniversary a few days early, and two weeks ago I made a reservation at Fiddleheads in Jamesburg, NJ, as it was a place that we wanted to try. Jamesburg is just a mere 30 minutes away, and after having lunch there last Saturday, I was really looking forward to our dinner celebration there. As with many local restaurants that we like to try, Fiddleheads is BYOB. We walked in and were promptly seated, and the owner, Brian, knew exactly who we were, and knew the last name. I am on their Facebook fan page, so he must have recognized the picture, and I think that that is just a bit of great customer service. Needless to say, we had a great two top in the front window, which we didn’t ask for, but I love tables like this, being able to look outside at the scenery, and to see the passerby’s. Upon sitting I pulled out our Riedel stems, and immediately popped the 2000 Opus one that I had selected from the cellar for our anniversary. Just a few moments later the busboy came over and filled our water glasses, and took their stems. And for the record, there is nothing wrong with the stems they have, we just like to bring out own. There really are not that many BYO’s we visit where we don’t bring our own stems. When drinking fine wine, we like to drink from our own glasses, and yes, the glass does make a difference, so we make sure that we enjoy the wine to the fullest. Brian then came over with the menu’s and specials, and it was decision making time. There were probably 5-6 dinner entrée specials, and a few that looked very good. After just a few minutes, our server Nick came over with a basket of bread and took our order. For our appetizer, we started off with the cheese plate for $11.50, followed by salads with a shallot dressing, and Zelda opted for the walnut penne with asparagus and cherry tomatoes, and I ordered the rack of lamb. First out was the cheese plate, which consisted of several pieces of 3 different cheeses. There was a New York cheddar, Dubliner, and a smoked gouda, served with a toasted baguette that was sliced, spiced pecans, and a smoked-fig jam. The cheeses themselves were delicious, and for the price, we received a nicely sized portion. You just cannot go wrong with a cheese plate in my opinion, and it was fabulous. The smoked-fig jam was tasty, and complimented the cheeses nicely. The baguette was nice and fresh, soft on the inside, with a great toasted crust on the outside. I really liked these! Next out were the green salads, with nice fresh greens, and a shallot dressing. The lettuce was nice and fresh, with fancy greens, and the shallot dressing had a very nice lite flavor of subdued shallot. There was nothing overpowering about the dressing, and it was very tasty. I could eat this often, although it did need a bit of salt and pepper to really bring out the flavors. Out came our entrees, and Zelda’s pasta came out and the portion was monster. The pasta was nice and light, with a gorgeous presentation. There was a ton of asparagus, and what she really liked was the fact that the tomatoes were fresh, vibrant, and not overcooked. I think the tomatoes were actually tossed into the pasta after it had been cooked, and allowed to warm up in the bowl. It was a winner. My rack of lamb came out, and it was huge, basted in a honey mustard, and topped with a nut crust. I am not sure what kind of nuts they were as they we ground, but I am guessing it was pistachio. The racks were cut in pairs, with a lot of the meat left on the bone, opposed to just the lollipops on the end. I ordered these medium rare, and they were cooked very nicely. What I really like is the fact that when I cut into these, they were smoking hot in the center. I have no idea how they get the center so hot, but it was perfect, and they were nice and juicy. The sauce, which was a tiny bit on the sweet side, complimented the lamb very nicely! This was served with a nice French cut green beans that were nice and fresh, with some good fresh crisp to them. There was also a nice heaping helping of no frills mashed potatoes, which may be the best I have ever had. They were nice and fluffy, with a gorgeous texture, hints of white pepper, and some good butter flavor. They were just how I like them, and not runny in the least. It was almost as though they use the smallest amount of cream or milk, and they are delicious! Chef Dan came out during our meal and asked how everything was, and of course we gave him our praise. He is doing a great job in his kitchen, and I think that they are turning out some great dishes! Unfortunately, our stomachs were filled beyond belief, and we had to pass on dessert, but we know for next time to save room. The cranberry bread pudding looked to die for, and hopefully we can make it back soon to give it a try before it goes out of season. The décor at Fiddlehead is nice and comfortable. I like their sage color scheme and dim lighting, and the place is just cozy. Faux brick adorns the walls in many places, as well as ferns and other plants on that were painted on the walls. The window seats have nice décor that changes seasonally, and they have a nice fall scheme in them right now. The staff is extremely attentive, and very professional, and the service was as good as it could be. Kudos to our waiter Nick for giving us such great service! All in all, I was much more impressed with their dinner menu than their lunch. I guess it is almost an unfair comparison as the lunch fare that we ordered, sandwiches, cannot really be compared to their dinner menu on the same scale, and at $61, I couldn’t be happier, and I could not eat anymore. We skipped coffee as well, and enjoyed our evening and the rest of the Opus One before heading home. In short, kudos to Fiddleheads, and we look forward to returning in the future. Cheers! 27 East Railroad Avenue (Rte. 522) Jamesburg, NJ 08831 Phone: 732.521.0878

Friday, October 23, 2009

2006 Sanford Pinot Noir

This was not as tasty as past bottles, but it was also popped and poured and consumed right away. This definitely benefits from air as it's still young by my book, and an hour splash decant would not hurt in the least. Still the same earthy cherry and strawberry notes on the nose, with subtle hints of spice. Still some strawberry notes and spice on the palate, but it seemed to be lacking that cherry cola that I have grown to love from the Santa Rita Hills AVA. The finish was short and a bit more acidic than past bottles, but again, this wine is still young in my book. Will revisit plenty of times in the future as this is always a wine that we buy many of, but at this point, I think that the Alma Rosa is more to my liking. Sanford just hasn't been the same without Richard and Thekla! Locals: Glendale on Quakerbridge Road has this wine for under $25 cash and carry. This is the best price that I have seen on this wine in the area. Cheers! 88 points.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2006 Melville Verna's Syrah

Today I had a very long day with work and then school, so I was craving a nice syrah after school. OK, I really wasn’t craving syrah, and any adult beverage would have done, but it was time to revisit this wine after a year. Popped and poured through Vinturi, and allowed to "decant" in the glass over the course of 2 hours. This wine has integrated very well from a year ago. The nose is still absolutely ridiculous with tons of berry, pepper, and spice. The alcohol is still a bit prevalent, but not nearly as it was with past bottles. Oodles and oodles of dark fruit and berries on the palate, but the blueberry seemed to be the shining star, with a little more white pepper than I like, but this was still delicious. The finish is no longer hot like it was in the past, and has integrated nicely with some white pepper notes. This is a fun wine, and for the price, it is worth searching out a few more bottles. Kudos to the gang over at Melville producing great, consistent wines! 91 points

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Daryl Wine Bar - New Brunswick,NJ

Sweetest Day 2009 at Daryl Wine Bar...full review to come! Vino by the glass: 2004 Wellington Zinfandel 2006 Khroma Cabernet Sauvignon First course: 3 cheese tasting Short rib neopolitan with a carrot ragu, onions, and parsnip Diver sea scallops with lentils Pomme frites 302 George Street New Brunswick, NJ 08901 Phone: 732.253.7780

Fiddleheads - Jamesburg, NJ

Full review to come! Lobster salad sandwich with capers and light dill mayo on a warm croissant The best burger in Jamesburg: 1/3rd pound black angus. I opted to add bacon, as well as a caramelized horshradish onion as well. 27 East Railroad Avenue (Rte. 522) Jamesburg, NJ 08831 Phone: 732.521.0878

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fusion II - Hamilton, NJ

What is there to say other than “WOW” about the new venture at Fusion II in Hamilton, NJ! We have visited Kenji’s Fusion on Route 33 in Hamilton on multiple occasions , and this is an incredible new venture from the same owner…and he did it up with style and class! Fusion II is located in the new shopping center in Hamilton off of Route 130, and absolutely no expense was spared to get this establishment up and running. Upon walking in, the first thing you will notice is the swanky, elevated sushi bar “in the round.” This is the focal point up the restaurant, surrounded by lighting, that goes from about 10 feet above the bar to the floor. The lighting also has a water feature installed, where the water drips down the length of the lights. This is a gorgeous feature, and took careful planning to make this look incredible. The restaurant itself has so many gorgeous features other than the sushi bar, from the painted black ceilings, to the stainless steel features on the walls, to the multi colored lighting, to the back stone wall with built in cubbies, etc, etc. Absolutely no expense was spared on making this place look amazing! I actually stopped in on Tuesday evening for takeout, but ended up going to their first location as we were craving some dishes off of their original menu. I got a grand tour of the place then, and had to bring Zelda back to see it for herself. The hibachi tables occupy the entire left side of the restaurant, with 4 in a row down the wall, that is adorned with blue lighting and a nice stainless steel ripple effect. In the back left hand corner of there restaurant, there is a private room with yet another hibachi table for private parties. This would be a great location to do a nice offline wine tasting! The hibachi tables are gorgeous, with nice lighting and huge stainless steel fume hoods. The counters on the tables are a nice, dark, laminated wood, and look fabulous. One thing I really like about the tables is the fact that they are not close together, and you do not feel crowded with another table right at your back. The tables and chairs were very comfortable, and there is no overcrowding to say the least. You can probably fit 10-12 comfortably at these tables. The menu is very diverse, entrees ranging from French, to Brazilian with some Asian Fusion flair! Tonight, we opted to sit at the hibachi tables, to give their hibachi a whirl. Next time we will shoot for eating off of their menu, to give their talented chef a shot at wowing us! One of the things we obviously love about Fusion II, as well as the original Kenji’s Fusion is the fact that it is BYOB. In these economic times, BYO is such a great option, especially when you have a 500 bottle cellar that is bulging at the seams! As we usually due when dining on Asian cuisine, I grabbed a pinot noir, a 2005 Alma Rosa La Encantada pinot noir to be exact. Regardless, the menu would be very accommodating to a wide array of wines, especially a nice Riesling or sauvignon blanc. The owner spent much time with us when we first sat down, telling us all about the construction process and materials he used for the restaurant. He also gave us a history of his new chef, as well as his sushi chef with a very impressive resume, and oodles of creativity. He actually hired his sushi chef from Nobu New York, and he is coming up with some new and exciting dishes that we have never seen before. Tonight, Zelda opted for a staple, and ordered the chicken teriyaki. I on the other hand went out of my norm and went for the scallops and shrimp. We both opted for the mushroom soup, which is included with your dinner, and it was not to disappoint. The broth for this soup is wonderful, and the thinly shaved shallot and green onion compliment the paper thin mushroom nicely. The pinot noir really complimented the soup nicely as well. Next out was the typical Asian salad, but the ginger dressing here could be the best that I have ever had. The salad was the perfect size, the lettuce was cold, and the dressing was very cold. The salad was vibrant and full of flavor, and what a treat it was! From here, the owner sent over one of his sushi chefs new creations. This was a nice yellow tail tuna, garnished with a citrus sauce, thin sliced jalapeño peppers, and cilantro. He brought it over and presented it to us, and told us exactly how to eat, with a small piece of cilantro with every bite. All I can say is awesome! The fish was very fresh and delicious, and the flavors exploded in your mouth. I wish I knew where he was purchasing his fish from, because this is some of the best we have ever had. During this same time the hibachi chef was doing his show, and you can tell that they are well practiced. Zelda has actually seen them out in the back of their restaurant practicing their moves before shift, and they try to wow you just like anywhere else you will go. First off the grill was my fried rice, which had nice flavors of garlic and spice. At the same time he was preparing the vegetables and a few pieces of shrimp for the table. And of course, in true hibachi style, then were flipping veggies to you to try to catch in your mouth, all to be washed down by some sake. Is that such a bad thing? =) The hibachi cooking continued, and off came my shrimp and scallops. They looked nice, and had a nice caramelization to them. Zelda’s chicken came off shortly after, and this too was cooked very nicely. Some will say that hibachi is hibachi no matter where you go. To a point, I will agree with this, but this really hit the spot. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, and there was no toughness to them whatsoever. The scallops too were grilled up very nicely, and they were very nice and tender, and clean. There was no grittiness to them at all, and they were sweet and succulent. Hibachi definitely did not disappoint, and we were stuffed to the gills with all of the food. Yet, we still were not done yet as the sushi chef came over yet once again, with a final “mini boat” of sushi for each of us. Yikes! Do we really have any room left? Absolutely not, but you know this will not go to waste! First up was a tuna with a tofu sauce. At first, I wasn’t sure that I would be crazy about this, but it turned out to be amazing. The tuna was fresh, and the tofu sauce was delicious! I am not a big fan of tofu, but whatever he used to make this sauce was fabulous, and I would definitely eat it again. Next up was salmon and tomato, with yet another amazing piece of fish, and beautiful tomato. These complimented each other very nicely, and it was a treat. Next up was an eel with avocado. I wish I knew for sure what was in here, but there was some kind of chopped nuts perhaps, and a nice smokiness and sweetness to it. I am not a big fan of eel, but this opened my eyes to just how tasty eel can be. Gorgeous! Next was tuna with an onion sauce, and yet another amazing cut of fish, and a sauce that could be eaten by itself. This was my second favorite. My favorite however had to be the wagyu beef. This was shaved thing and lightly grilled with some awesome flavors. The dab of wasabi on top made this delectable! Finally, the last was a palate cleanser with a piece of cucumber, and a dab of a soy mixture that was very refreshing, and left our palates clean and refreshed. This was a nice touch. Next course should have been dessert, but at this point you couldn’t have shoved anything else down our throats, so we will have to take them up on dessert the next time. The dessert menu does however feature some good looking dishes, from bananas foster to tempura ice cream, and I for one am looking forward to it. All in all, I have nothing to say other than incredible! As Zelda stated, we were treated like the Rockefeller’s tonight with amazing service, great food, and a whole lot of comps for us to try. The place is gorgeous, swanky, and just what this area needs. I think that once word gets out on the talented sushi chef and modern atmosphere, people will be coming from all around to experience the real deal for themselves. Kudos to Fusion II on taking an over the top risk with this place. It will definitely pay off in the long run! Cheers!
553 Route 130, Suite 320
Hamilton, NJ 08691
Phone: 609.581.7888
Fax: 609.785.0010
Mon-Sat 11:00am - 3:00pm
Mon-Thurs 4:30pm - 10:00pm
Fri & Sat 4:30pm - 10:30pm
Sunday Noon - 9:30pm