Restaurant Roundup: Aozora at Montclair Restaurant Week

It's Restaurant Week all over the place - from New York to Jersey City to Montclair, NJ, the latter of which I partook in this past Saturday evening with Shaun and four of our friends for a long-awaited group dinner. The place? Aozora, a restaurant of the Japanese-European variety. And there's no better way to enjoy a meal with friends at a sleek restaurant that offers a real prix fixe tasting menu. Up front, I will say that I really, really appreciated the Restaurant Week menu at Aozora. Unlike its Manhattan counterpart, Aozora used this opportunity to showcase the best that they've got on the menu by condensing it into a three course feast that really gave me a sense of what this restaurant is all about. This is quite unlike my experience at Fig & Olive (check back for that review soon) last week, in which we fell into the trap of ordering additional items beyond the Restaurant Week menu since it didn't feature the crostini-heard-round-the-world that everyone has raved about. That's where they get ya. Anyhow, let's get down to the deets, shall we?

First up, we ordered some sushi for the table. Since the one appetizer offered didn't include a piece of sushi (don't worry, the main course did), and we were at a sushi restaurant, we felt it only necessary to partake in the signature cuisine and what a mistake it would have been to overlook it. Eel and avocado roll, spicy tuna roll and rainbow roll graced the table, and my palette has never been so thrilled with the results (this assessment does not take into account dining at Nobu). Fresh, delicate and delicious:

Next up was "the appetizer" - yup, quotes are necessary since there was only one option, but a tasting plate at that. Uni with jalapeno, seared tuna with avocado, marinated filet mignon comprised this mini-tasting plate. And isn't it fun to have an appetizer all to yourself? This one was delicious and pretty to boot:

For the main course, there were three options: angus skirt steak, wild sea bass, and a chef's sushi tasting menu. I had angus skirt steak with kalbi sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. Though I had no idea what kalbi marinade was, I'm so happy I jumped right in with both feet, so to speak, as the sweet yet savory marinade (my favorite flavor combo) had all the right moves for my perfectly cooked, medium steak.

Who orders steak at a Japanese restaurant, you ask? This girl. What can I say? I'm just a meat and potatoes kind of gal. That's not to say, however, that I wasn't green with envy when this gorgeous plate of sushi came rolling over to the table...

I mean, really, isn't she pretty? And as I've mentioned previously, you can always find me stealing bits of deliciousness off the plates of my co-dinner goers, and this evening was no different. Luckily, my co-dinner goers were oh so generous, and I reaped the palette-pleasing benefits. From the sushi plate, with a closer look:

 

to the wild sea bass... 

...these dishes were all of equal fabulousness, in taste and presentation. Is there anything better than your food arriving, and you almost don't want to disturb it since it's so pretty? That was the feeling with all of the Aozora items. The only disappointment of the night? Dessert. Six plates of caramel cream, aka flan, that had little to no taste whatsoever let alone any sweetness that I so crave post-dinner. I only wish that the little rock sugar lattice-looking creation could have taken over the plate because that was the only part that I found to be enjoyable. I mean, really, where's the mochi?

The bottom line? The menu was overall fantastic, if you put dessert out of your mind, and inspired me to dine at Japanese restaurants more often. If you can get it, make a reservation at Aozora right now. Unfortunately, you'll have to go on my photos above as your RW menu guide since it was nowhere to be found online. Sadly, their website is a doozy. I'm sure it cost a fortune, and yes, it is sleek and chic and all of those things. But when I just wanted to find the menu, it took 10 minutes of searching through the super-Flashed site to find it, and they didn't even have the Restaurant Week menu up (a seriously un-ok practice in my book, and one that many Manhattan digs tend to follow). Even beyond Restaurant Week, Aozora is one that I will surely revisit - and that's the whole point of Restaurant Week, isn't it?

So what do you think? Have you ever dined at Aozora? Have you been trying any new restaurants with Restaurant Week menus?

Talk Back: How Do You Do Takeout?

Every Monday morning, I make a plan for the week to detox myself in order to make up for all of the weekend wrongdoings. Usually by Wednesday, however, I've just about had it with practically starving myself (at least that's what it feels like, anyway). And the thought of cooking by Wednesday night? Not so much. This is about the time of the week that Shaun and I decide to hit up our little take-out menu box (a sweet gift from my mom and sisters for my bridal shower) and pick out some delectable eats to be delivered right to our very own doorstep...er, apartment building.

I'm not going to lie...the takeout options in Jersey City are pretty limited. Although Hoboken is just a hop, skip and a jump away, many of their restaurants just don't deliver, are sub-par in delivery quality or have recently been closed down due to health issues (eek...Junior's Papaya, RIP). We do have a few staples in the repetoire, like sushi, Indian food, and pizza (though due to an unfortunate incident during the last takeout sesh, in which our pizza was two hours late and cold, they've been excommunicated...so yes, we are in fact looking for a good pizza recommendation in Hoboken or the JC!) Komegashi Too sushiOh, and while a new and fabulous Five Guys (burgers and fries!) recently opened in the Jerz, they don't deliver and getting to them would require a team effort of getting our car from the garage and driving over so one of us can run in while the other does the illegal parking/circling the block routine...not really ideal.

So what I want to know is, how do YOU do takeout? Do you go delivery style or pick up? What's your favorite takeout cuisine? Do you have a designated takeout night? 

Restaurant Roundup: Sushi Lounge - Hoboken

Just across the Hudson lies a little town you may have heard of called Hoboken (or as I like to refer to it, Hob), and in that town lies a small Japanese gem called Sushi Lounge, which I visited last Friday night. A small restaurant with minimal tables, a fancy sushi bar is front and center (along with a bar of the alcoholic variety), available for seating and admiring the hand-rolled creations. Though the inside was a bit loud for a date situation, Sushi Lounge offers a desirable outdoor seating section in which I happily had dinner. 

The Sushi Bar at Sushi Lounge
The Food
Sushi Lounge offers a vast array of Japanese cuisine and sushi rolls that can satisfy both a seasoned sushi vet (Uni with quail egg, Super Toro) or a newbie sushi virgin (edamame, shumai, California roll). Don’t skip the Hoboken roll, a motley assortment of fish and eel in a tempura roll with a delicious spicy mayo that may leave you reaching for water to put out the fire (but in a totally-worth-it kind of way). 
The Hoboken Roll
We also sampled the Chilean sea bass roll (bass cooked in soy glaze with avocado and wrapped in soy paper) and the Super Toro/Fatty Tuna roll (a delicate, superior cut of tuna). Both of these were light, yet deliciously full of flavor. Highly recommended.
Super Toro Roll & Chilean Sea Bass Roll
All 3 were outstanding, and my only concern is that when I return I won’t want to try anything new, but repeat the 3 aforementioned items since I have been dreaming about them for the last 4 days. Not a sushi lover? Not to worry, since their main dishes looked delicious as well, but alas I never made it to them as I filled up on straight up sushi. The question I always face with sushi is: How much to order? For husband and me, 3 rolls, an order of shumai, and a round of drinks were plenty. After all, Crumbs Bake Shop just opened up down the street…

Getting There
For Manhattanites and Jersey Citians alike, a quick trip on the PATH train will deliver you to Sushi Lounge. Just a quick walk from the Hoboken PATH station, Sushi Lounge is located just off the main drag on Hudson Street, a mere 5 minute walk from the train. Since they don’t take reservations for parties under 6 people, I recommend leaving extra time and planning a trip to the bar while you wait.
Sushi Lounge.200 Hudson Street.Hoboken, NJ
Why it Rocks
Delicious, reasonably priced sushi (total bill for 2: under $70) and fun atmosphere make this restaurant one I will definitely be visiting again. Sushi Lounge also offers a rockin' Happy Hour Monday-Friday from 3-6:30, featuring select half price drinks, appetizers, and sushi rolls.
Gripes
Just one - The food just came too darn quickly, making our dinner seem a bit short-lived.

We skipped dessert in favor of the aforementioned Crumbs Bake Shop...article coming up next...