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Monday, March 20, 2017

$35 bowl of pasta, loud group ruin dinner; plus, a tasty falafel sandwich close to home

PASTA WITH STICKER SHOCK: Pearl Restaurant in Ridgewood served a special menu on Sunday for the Feast of St. Joseph, but didn't list the price of the Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde or Pasta with Sardines. When I got the check, I gulped. An entree portion was $34.95 -- more than a large bowl of Italian fish stew.

-- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In an email from Pearl Restaurant, the lure was an authentic version of Pasta con le Sarde or Pasta with Sardines as it is made in Sicily.

The sauce of bread crumbs, sardines, fennel, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and other ingredients was to be served over bucatini, a thick, straw-like pasta, made by none other than Nona Carmella from the big Italian island itself.

I've been preparing a cruder version of pasta with sardines at home for years, using a bottled red sauce and canned fish, so was eager to try the Sicilian original at Pearl, where we ate once before, in February 2015.

When we got to the Italian-American restaurant in Ridgewood on Sunday afternoon, we were given the regular menu and the special Feast of St. Joseph menu, which listed the pasta, stuffed artichoke, zuppa di pesce and other dishes, but no prices.

I didn't think anything of that, and the waiter said he could split the entree portion of pasta between me and my wife without imposing the usual penalty of $6. 


My wife loved her entree of Broiled Florida Red Snapper Livornese with capers, Kalamata olives, tomato, garlic and shallots ($26.95).
Pearl's menu also lists red snapper as one of the ingredients in a large bowl of Zuppa di Pesce ($32.95), but I was upset to find my fish stew came with a wedge of tuna, which I usually try to avoid because of its high mercury content. Plus, the chef overcooked it, and when I mentioned that to our server, he took $3 off the price.

Noisy group

Everything we ate was delicious, but we were seated near a large group of about 14 who had washed down their food with plenty of wine, and were talking loudly between two tables, reminiscing about previous gatherings, renovations to their homes and other subjects.

One of them, a short, plump woman, got up from her seat and stood next to the second table for at least 20 minutes, saying at one point, "My kitchen table is so big ...."

I asked our server whether he had brought them the check, but he said they hadn't had dessert yet.

So, our agita or indigestion had two sources -- those inconsiderate noisemakers and the price of the Pasta con le Sarde.

After we got our check and I saw the price of the Pasta with Sardines ($34.95), a couple and their son were seated at the next table, and each of them ordered a bowl.

As they dug in, my wife sent me a text: "That's already $105 for them."

See Pearl's website: 

How much is that pasta in the window?


Pearl's House Salad was filled with a delicious variety of fresh greens and dressed in a mixed-herb vinaigrette ($8.95).
My wife liked her Caesar Salad, but complained she couldn't taste the anchovies in the dressing ($10.95).
Pearl is a BYO. A hummus of red pepper and white beans, above right, is served with small rolls, along with extra-virgin olive oil.
Just before we left, the noisy group lost the second table of kibitzers, and the short, plump woman returned to her seat after her loud stand-up performance.

Falafel in Hackensack

The world is divided between people who want their falafel sandwich made as a wrap, and an equally enthusiastic group who prefer the deep-fried, ground-chickpea balls in a pocket.

At Mazza Falafel in Hackensack, not far from where I live, the falafel, tomato, lettuce and cucumber in this meatless Mideast classic are wrapped in a whole pocket bread, forming a sturdy sandwich, with tahini and hot sauce on the side ($5.49).  

Although I've known about Mazza Falafel for a couple of years, we didn't try the food until Saturday night.

Me and my wife both loved the tasty and filling falafel sandwich, but I missed the pickles in the wrap served in the cafe at Fattal's on Main Street in Paterson, though that sandwich fell apart as I ate it.

The Moroccan owner at Mazza Falafel says he uses only ground chickpeas in his falafel, which he formed and fried after we ordered our sandwiches.

Fattal's uses both chickpeas and fava beans.


Mazza Falafel's sturdy wrap contains three ground-chickpea balls and is served on a plate, with squeeze bottles of tahini and hot sauce on the side. Delicious.
We also shared an order of cold Grape Leaves stuffed with vegetables and rice ($5.99). They were great, but I'll ask for them warm next time.
At Mazza Falafel, seating is at an inside counter, above, or at sheltered but unheated tables, below.
Mazza Falafel, at 365 Essex St. in Hackensack, has no parking lot, so customers usually park across the street in a large lot that serves a medical arts building and Starbucks Coffee.