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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Eating Out: Comforting birthday meals, and three good to great places for takeout

Last Saturday, I called Mohamed K. Jello, the congenial owner and cook at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, and asked him to prepare a Syrian birthday meal for me, including mujadara, a simple dish of rice, lentils and caramelized onions my Sephardic Jewish mother served when I was growing up in Brooklyn.
Earlier in the day, me and my wife had brunch at Patisserie Florentine in Englewood, where I demolished Benedict A La Florentine with poached eggs and mustard Hollandaise, smoked salmon, toasted brioche and a salad.

Aleppo Restaurant, Patisserie Florentine
 and in Closter, fresh fish from Iceland 



I kicked off the celebration of my birthday with a brisk, mid-morning walk in the woods with my wife at my side -- up to the Palisades for an expansive view of the Hudson River, and down to a pond that reflected fall colors.

Then, we drove to Englewood for our first big meal of the day -- I had poached eggs and silken smoked salmon on toasted brioche, and she ordered a fresh mozzarella-and-tomato omelet with potatoes and Israeli salad. 

We had my birthday dinner at Aleppo Restaurant, which serves many of the dishes my Sephardic Jewish mother, who was born in the Syrian city in the early 1900s, prepared when I was growing up in Brooklyn.

I called ahead to order mujadara, a simple dish of rice, lentils and caramelized onions eaten with yogurt, cucumber and dried mint; as well as a whole red snapper. 

Mujadara was the focus of the dairy meal my mother served on Saturday nights when I was growing up in a large Sephardic Jewish neighborhood of Syrian immigrants in Brooklyn.
With the mujadara, we ate yogurt, chopped cucumber and mint. The yogurt-cucumber sauce was $5, and a plate of rice, lentils and onions with salad was $10.
This beautifully grilled whole red snapper was juicy inside ($15).
Salad dressed in oil, lemon juice and mint was served with the mujadara.
A plate of muhammara, a spicy red-pepper dip with walnuts, and hummus was $5.
My wife and mother-in-law started with small bowls of addes or pureed lentil soup ($3 each).
To finish, I asked for a cup of Turkish coffee scented with cardamom, prepared medium sweet.
As we ate, we were serenaded by Umm Kulthum (also spelled Om Kalthoum), the legendary Egyptian singer, accompanied by a large string orchestra. My mother played records of Kulthum and other singers to entertain friends invited to our home for coffee and pastries.
Aleppo Restaurant is at 939 Main St. (Thomas Street) in Paterson's Middle Eastern and Turkish shopping district, also called South Paterson; 1-973-977-2244. The restaurant is halal, and customers aren't allowed to bring or consume alcohol there. Aleppo is open 7 days and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. See the restaurant's Facebook page.
At Patisserie Florentine in Englewood, my wife's Omelet Royale Brunch Special with freshly squeezed orange juice and English Breakfast Tea was $16.75. My Benedict A La Florentine Brunch Special with juice and Cafe Latte was $18.95.
Patisserie Florentine, 10 S. Dean St. in Englewood (1-201-408-4890), was packed when we arrived about 10 minutes to noon last Saturday, and we had to wait for a table and wait some more for our food. A better time for brunch would have been 1 p.m. I was able to charge my all-electric Tesla Model S for free in the nearby municipal garage, where I paid $1.50 for 2 hours of parking.

A takeout trio in Closter

Every month or so since I moved to Hackensack, I've driven nearly 10 miles to Closter for a great haircut at Dong Yang Barber Shop at 570 Piermont Road, in the Closter Commons shopping center.

And in the process, I've discovered good and great places for takeout.

(Driving local streets in northern New Jersey is such an ordeal, I sometimes refer to the town as "Farster.")

At the top of my list for takeout is The Fish Dock at 219A Closter Dock Road (1-201-564-7939), where street parking is free.

The fresh fillets and cod cheeks in the refrigerated case are from pristine North Atlantic waters surrounding the owners' native Iceland, supplemented with seafood from the Gulf of Mexico.

On Thursday, I stopped there to pick up a ready to cook Fish & Vegetable Medley of Cod and Salmon with sweet peppers, onion and asparagus in a citrus-lemon marinade ($18.99 a pound).

I asked for 1.5 pounds of the medley, which was placed in an aluminum pan that I popped into a preheated 400-degree oven at home, and the boneless-and-skinless fillets were ready in little over 10 minutes (thicker fillets take about 15 minutes).

Also on Thursday in Closter, I got Vietnamese takeout from Ma Mi Eatery, 543 Durie Ave. (1-201-660-7826), and Korean food from Myung Ga Tofu & BBQ, 570 Piermont Road (1-201-768-7400).

My fourth stop was at Whole Foods Market in the Closter Plaza shopping center for organic Opal and Golden Delicious Apples and Bosc Pears ($1.69 to $1.99 a pound).

At home, I paired cod, salmon and vegetables from The Fish Dock with Rice Noodles and Grilled Tofu from Ma Mi Eatery ($9.95).
The Fish Dock also prepares fully cooked lunches and dinners to go. On Friday, the market offered two lunch specials, Seafood Bisque and Red Fish Tacos with Icelandic Shrimp Salsa, Chipotle Mayo and Saffron Rice.
On Thursday, the fresh fish from Iceland included Lemon Sole, European Plaice and Wolffish.
The 1.5 pounds of Fish & Vegetable Medley I took home from The Fish Dock was enough for three meals supplemented with a side dish and salad.
At Ma Mi Eatery, the De-Constructed Banh Mi Salad ($7.50) with a topping of Grilled Vegetables ($3) included kale, sprouts, pickled vegetables, radish, jalapeno, cucumber, cilantro, crispy onions and a light sesame vinaigrette. Next time, I'd ask them to hold the tongue-searing sliced jalapeno with seeds.
At the fast-casual Ma Mi Eatery, you order at the counter and your food is delivered to your table.
My wife liked her takeout Tofu Soup with Pork ($9.99 at lunch) from Myung Ga Tofu & BBQ. You can choose the degree of heat, from "plain" to "danger." She chose "hot." The four free side dishes that came with the soup were just average in quality and quantity.
Myung Ga Tofu & BBQ is a small, full service restaurant in the Closter Commons shopping center, a few doors away from the Dong Yang Barber Shop.
I had a second meal of the Fish & Vegetable Medley from The Fish Dock along with greaseless pieces of a seafood-and-vegetable pancake or Haemul Pajeon from Myung Ga Tofu & BBQ ($8.99).
We love the pond at the Greenbrook Sanctuary, a 165-acre woodland preserve in Tenafly that is open to members only. Last Saturday, we enjoyed the fall colors. Anyone can join Greenbrook. Find membership information here.
At Greenbrook, we got to the top of the Palisades around 10:30 in the morning for this overcast view of the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge.

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