Finally A Wine Bar - Rosie's in Garwood

Before CoolVines in Westfield opened, there was some speculation if the place would actually become a Wine Bar. At the time I was very much in favor of this as a real good Wine Bar is dearly missing in the area.

Although CoolVines eventually turned out to be a wine store (with regular wine tastings twice a week nevertheless) I was still very excited about the new source for good and interesting wine in Westfield.

When I recently drove from Westfield to Cranford I was even more excited to see a store sign in the new development across from ShopRite that said "Rosie's Wine Bar". On our way back I stopped to check it out and fortunately got a chance to chat a bit with the owner "Josh Rosenberg" a.k.a. Rosie. He is a veteran in the wine business and finally decided instead of selling wine wholesale he wanted to open his own place. And a nice place it.

A comfortable bar (with coat hooks under the bar table, yes, finally somebody that thinks stuff through..) where you can enjoy 50 or so different wines by the glass, starting at $6.50 for generously poured glasses of good quality white and red wines. In addition, there is a retail section where you can purchase wine to go at regular retail prices or for an additional $15 corkage fee can drink them in the restaurant.

With us moving out of NJ, we wouldn't have much of an opportunity to enjoy the new place so we decided that our last dinner in an NJ restaurant should be at Rosie's. Together with three friends we went there Thursday night (without reservations). The place was pretty busy but we found a nice spot at the bar and began to study the very interesting wine list. With some consulting from Rosie and his team we settled on a variety of interesting whites and reds.

While sitting at the bar we also learned that they have installed a vacuum system that they use to evacuate open bottles at the end of the evening to ensure the wine is fresh and pristine for customers the next day. In addition to the wine they also served a complimentary bread basked which contained a variety of interesting, unusual breads.

Within 15 minutes or so a table was arranged and we set down. The menu is pretty extensive for a wine bar and certainly not limited to the typical bar fair. In addition to burgers and steaks there are also several seafood dishes on the menu. We ordered some appetizers for the group and then 5 entrees. Everybody was really happy with their food, good quality, well prepared, good seasoning. Considering the reasonable price level, the food is a pretty good deal. Not a Manhattan-style steak house, but definitely worth it.

Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement. Although attentive the service was not always refined and at times slightly chaotic. I assume after only a few days of operations this is not untypical and will be ironed out. Rosie was certainly very open to our feedback.

Overall, a great evening at a very promising new place. And lots of interesting wines still on the list that we won't unfortunately be able to try anytime soon.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Brunch at A Toute Heure

A Toute Heure - a small French Restaurant with superb food and outstanding service in Cranfords up and coming Centennial Village as been reviewed here before, however that was dinner, a pretty excellent dinner to be specific.

Recently we learned that they have now added a Sunday Brunch and as this was our last weekend in Westfield we took the opportunity to check it out. To summarize: This is how you want to start your Sunday. (I like to start my Sunday late...;-)).

The menu is a well balanced but innovative combination between traditional breakfast recipes and ingredients (predominantly egg, bread and "breakfast meats") and elements nouveau cuisine. I'm tempted to call this "french breakfast fusion".

Good food starts with great ingredients. So the bread, meats and the eggs are high quality sourced from local farms and shops. The preparation is excellent and the food is stylishly decorated on the plate. A party of three we had the Fritata, the Croque Madam and the Chili (Yes, this chili goes quite well with breakfast).

All three dished didn't not just look mouthwatering but had their own interesting and refined flavor profile. They give you what you expect from breakfast but go significantly beyond.

In addition to the food, there is fresh OJ, real good coffee, an interesting variety of teas and other breakfast drinks. And the coffe cup is always refilled fast by the attentive service.

When we were there, the sun came out and lit up the room nicely. Together with the smells of fresh coffee, bacon and other breakfast dishes, this creates a really pleasant Sunday morning atmosphere that invites you to hang out for a while.

This was a great start for our last Sunday in NJ.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Leaving Westfield - Leaving NJ

Sorry for the long hiatus. Lot's of people did complain about a lack of new posts over the last few months. And, no - I didn't ignore all the e-mails, we are just going through a few changes in our life that had a higher priority.

I'm actually changing jobs. I will start to work for a new company as of next week and we will be leaving NJ towards California. Today was my last day at my current company. After having worked there for 11 years, leaving is quite emotional. There is certainly a big sense of loyalty and gratefulness. But then there are new challenges on the horizon.

I will probably come to NJ once in a while but my opportunities to participate in this community and to write about it will be limited. If at all, there will be only a few more posts. I will decide in a few months, what I will be doing with the "Westfield Blog". If somebody is interested in taking it over, let me know.

I will certainly retain my e-mail address (westfieldblog@gmail.com) so feel free to stay in touch as before.

We enjoyed our seven years in Westfield quite a bit. You feel privileged having a chance to live here. We both think this is a very special please. Having made a lot of friends we really feel sad leaving.

Good luck to all of my readers, continue to enjoy Westfield, eat good food, drink good wine, listen to good music and enjoy the arts.

Signing Off

The Westfield Blogger


Northside Trattoria is now "16 Prospect"

Ok, ok, ok. I'm listening to my readers. Yes, I didn't post anything over the last few weeks and a few of my readers e-mailed me asking what is happening and some even complaining.

Unfortunately, blogging is not my day job and that day job was quite a bit more demanding recently and I had to travel a lot. But still, I'm planning to continue this blog, but maybe a bit less frequently going forward.

Also, my favorite photographer Andrea Ewald who is taken most of the pictures in previous posts is in India for a photo project for almost a months. So I won't have pictures for the next few weeks.

Northside Trattoria has been a reliable source of good Italian food for several years. They recently closed for renovations and a few weeks later re-emerged as "16 Prospect - Wine bar and bistro".

I felt "Northside Trattoria" was actually a pretty good and well established name so I'm not sure why the name needed to change. I'm not a particular fan of this very uncreative and impersonal naming style "Street Number - Street Name". Imagine what would happen if all the place at Elm Street would adopt that.

Interestingly enough their Web site is still operating as Northside Trattoria and "16 Prospect" is nowhere to be found on that side. A new web site does not yet exist.

So what is the difference between a Trattoria and Bistro. A trattoria is typically a somewhat less formal Italian restaurant, but still a full-fledged restaurant. Which was is a pretty good characterization of what Northside Trattoria offered. Now a bistro is in the first place a french concept: It is less than a full-fledged restaurant with a limited menu of rather straight forward food. And yes that is also true for 16 prospect: The current menu is a sub-set of what they had before, with classic Italian offerings. They still have pizza, but they don't seem to promote it much, no specialty pizze only the "basic plus select your toppings" approach. But they certainly are not a French place at all, thus "Bistro" is a bit misleading.

The restaurant in the back of the place has changed much with the remodeling. It is still fairly large with different areas that are more or less separated, each having a different atmosphere. It is not the most comfortable or stylish interior but it is pleasent. Service was efficient, fast and friendly but not particularly refined. Ok, that is what you expect from a bistro.

I had the "House Pasta" salad, which is not really a pasta salad (as in maccaroni salad) but a classic lettuce based salad with farfalle pasta and a pesto type vinaigrette. An intresting combination that could work well. But it doesn't here. There is nothing wrong with it but somehow the combination of ingredients doesn't get beyond the sum of its parts. It feels like what is in the salad doesn't want to work together.

As a main entree I have the maccaroni and cheese. I had these before at Northside Trattoria and was quite impressed. And fortunately they have lowered the price. At $16 for a huge portion (I ate only half of it) this is really a good deal. This "Mac&Cheese" comes with a flavorful combination of italian cheeses, bacon, herbs and few other ingredients. The texture, the mouthfeel and the very pronouced flavor make this a pleasant sensual experience. Yes, comfort food, but comfort food at a higher level.

The bar in the front of the establishment is now larger. In addition to the actual bar there is now a bar area with high tables and stools. (where there was previously some kitchen/operational space.) I didn't have a chance to check out the wine selection or the service at the bar area so not rating of the "wine bar".
Westfield isn't really saturated with bars so this is a welcome addition. Certainly more refined than Jolly Trolley and a bit larger and more "hang out" type than Jeffery's, it is still not the stylish cocktail lounge that I think is truly missing in Westfield. I believe there would be more than enough demand for such an outfit in Westfield.

From a food perspective the metamorphosis from Northside Trattoria to "16 Prospect" isn't that much of an event. Pretty much the same thing with a reduced menu. For the winebar, I need to check that out at one point later.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger.


Coolvines: A Stylish Competent Wine Source in Westfield

When I walked through Westfield this evening looking for something to eat, to my very pleasant surprise I realized that Coolvines (on Elm Street, former location of Planet Smoothie) has finally openend. Their web site still says that they will be opening in August and there is currently not much information there, but I'm sure that will change pretty soon.

I blogged about CoolVines before and at one point I stated that they would open end of July. Ok, I was wrong. It is now two months later. And I'm sure it was not their plan to dragg this out. If you invest serious money into building a store, every day you are not open to generate revenue cuts into your profits. So you are very interested in opening as soon as possible. The fact that our bureaucracy makes things difficult for business owners and delays store openings significantly, should make us think and act. It doesn't have to be that way.

As reported before, CoolVines is not planning to be just another wine store. They actually do have an interesting concept that I'm quite excited about. It is not about selection, they are not trying to offer all of the mainstream brands you can get in every liquor store in town. I would estimate they have "only" about 200 to 250 different bottles. That is not a lot compared to other stores. They focus on unusual wines that are a good value at their respective price points. They have bottles in the $10 space as well as up to $50 and beyond and they claim they have them specifically selected to represent something special at the given price.

I was quite impressed with the wines they picked. There were only a few that I had tasted before or where I at least knew the producer. And there is a huge selection outside of the typical Chardonnay, SB, Merlot, CS range, which makes this a very interesting place. For me, wine is all about exploring new tastes, new varietals and new wine makers and CoolVines is a great opportunity to do just this.

Not only is the selection very enticing to me, their staff is also very competent. I briefly chatted with owner Mark Censits and later spent some time talking to head sommelier Arnaud Devolder. He was not only very knowledge about wine but also quite fun to talk to. He has tasted all the wines on offer at CoolVines. So - no surprise - after I briefly explained to him what I liked (and what not) he developed a very good understanding of my taste and preferrence and recommended quite a few interesting bottles.

As I had walked into Westfield, I only got two bottles, one of them a Kerner from Alto Adige which I look forward to enjoying with my wife on the weekend. But I'm sure I will be back, in particular for the tastings they will have on a regular basis twice a week.

They are open till 10:00 pm, so they are also a good source for your BYOB bottle when visiting a place in Westfield's restaurant row. They even do have a special section for wine to match certain Westfield eateries.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Rock'n Roll Legend: Chuck Berry comes to Cranford

This year's Union County MusicFest was quite an experience. We had a legend on stage in Nomahegan Park: Chuck Berry made his way to Cranford. I think (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) that this is pretty cool. After having one of the all-time great rock bands - Cheap Trick - there last year, they were able to surpass themselves this year and present Chuck Berry!

I will certainly not try to add anything meaningful to the millions of paragraphs that have already been written about Chuck Berry. There is not much I could add. I can only say that I really enjoyed the concert. For me it was the first time to see Chuck Berry live. And even at an age of almost 81 he was pretty dynamic. Of course I would have been even happier had he played for more than the one hour but, hey, I'm not complaining! The rest of the band, which included Chuck's daughter Ingrid on harmonica and son Chuck jr. on guitar, was great too.

Overall, the Union County Music Festl is a pretty cool event. The caliber of bands playing is pretty outstanding. And this year the weather couldn't have been better, even so it sure hadn't looked good in the morning. While we were there it was sunny with a few clouds so it didn't get too hot.

They even sold beer this year, albeit you had to stay in a restricted fenced in area. I really don't understand what the harm would be if people brought some beer or wine and enjoyed it while listening to the music. I'm convinced the majority of people are very reasonable in their alcohol consumption.

Thanks once again to Westfield photographer Andrea Ewald for letting me use her images.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger


Breakfast at Lora's Tea Room in Cranford

I have blogged about "A Toute Heure" in Cranford recently. In addition to this place there are a couple of other restaurants in this neighborhood called "Centennial Village". So when we checked it out we also found "Lora's Tea Room". Originally we thought they were more like a British style tea place. But that evening they were closed and so we decided to come for breakfast.

So today, after our early morning workout at the Westfield Y we went back to the Centennial Village. It turns out Lora's is more a Russian style (or at least Eastern European) tea room and not a British one. Not that that's bad, just different. It starts with the decor. It is an interesting combination of somewhat tastefully arranged kitsch (including the obligatory samovars) with a rather sterile and sober overall atmosphere (industrial ceiling with fluorescent lighting and similar floor). But this is actually pretty authentic. ;-))

In addition to traditional breakfast dishes like omeletts and eggs Lora's also serves blini. Blini are an Eastern European version of crepes, thin pancakes that are rolled up and filled with fruit, jams or other fillings. The cheese blini at Lora's are filled with farmer's cheese. In Austria you would call this dish "Topfenpalatschinken". Our waitress specifically points out that they are using farmer's cheese and not cream cheese. In addition to being less fatty we really like farmer's cheese much better. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get here and quite expensive. In many European countries a product very similar to farmer's cheese (typically known as "Quark" or "Topfen") is a staple food that is used for a variety of dishes and is also quite cheap.

So without a lot of deliberation my wife decides on the cheese blini. I go for the vegetable omelette. The blini are really excellent, with a delicate and nice flavor profile. They come garnished with some fresh strawberries and the farmer's cheese tastes as expected. My omelette is a positive surprise. This is truly a vegetable omelette with carrots, mushroom, peas, corn and celery. All the vegetables seem to have been nicely sauteed and seasoned before being worked into the omelette. This adds a very pleasant flavor component. The omelette by itself is fluffy and light. The whole thing is done with a lot of attention to detail. The toast is pretty good also and the butter comes nicely presented in its own little vessel.

But what is really important is the tea. For a tea room a bit disappointing they only do have a limited selection of open tea leaves. We go for the Earl Grey for two. For $3 you get a large stylish china pot of tea, nice glass tea cups and and filter to pour the tea through. The tea was quite excellent. Open leaves and the china pot make a difference. You get a much more delicate but clearly pronounced taste and the bergamot which characterizes the Earl Grey can vigorously express itself.

Overall we were pretty happy with this breakfast and will certainly visit Lora's again to enjoy the tea service for a lunch or an afternoon snack.

They do have nice outdoor seating but only serve the lighter stuff (pastry) out there. You won't get entrees or the full tea service.

Another gripe I have: They put their coffee after it is brewed on a heating pad and it seems to sit there for a while. That is a total faux pas for me. It kills any interesting flavor in the coffee. Unless you have a huge turnover and brew coffee fresh every 5 minutes a thermos vessel is much more acceptable and retains the coffee's taste profile. But then it is a tea room and not a coffee place. So maybe that is acceptable there.

Signing Off - The Westfield Blogger