Monday, January 19, 2009

Pithari: Little Greece

Pithari, a Greek restaurant, opened up in Highland Park a few years ago. It has been a popular place to eat ever since, and I completely understand why. 

When you walk in, the first thing you see is the design. It has two parts: an "indoor" area and an "outdoor" area. The indoor room is near the kitchen, while the outdoor room is a large room enclosed completely by glass windows. The cool thing about these windows is that they are designed so that in the summer you can remove the glass and have a semi-open space. The window room is also designed like a faux terrace. It has a fake roof over the doorway between the two rooms, with fake vines, and the ceiling is painted a sky blue (as in the picture). I felt like I was in a mini version of Greece!

Today when I went, I was just as excited as I always am. Lena, Eve, and I walked in at about one o'clock. I was pleased to see that there were only five or six other groups of people there, because I have had to wait for over and hour before (it is usually very packed). We were seated immediately and given menus. All of the dishes sounded really yummy, but there were only a few vegetarian options that would be filling. A lot of the appetizers, which ranged from $4.95 to $15.95, were a mix of different dips/sides, some veggie, others meaty. 
Out of the entrees, there were only a few choices: Spanakopita, Mousakas (a sort of greek version of lasagna), stuffed eggplant, and a veggie pita platter under the "Souvlaki and Gyro" section. 
The waitress came a few minutes later to take our order. She was really friendly, and offered to come back when we were ready. We finally decided, and I ordered the veggie pita platter, excited to get something healthy and yummy. Eve got a chicken gyro, and Lena got the Spanakopita (she loves spinach and feta..). 

A couple of minutes after we ordered, a waiter brought us a basket of pita and a plate of fresh olives to tide us over until our meals arrived. Not long after that, they brought our food as well. 
Lena's Spanakopita was delicious (see the picture to the left). The fillo dough was perfectly cooked (crispy, but not too crumbly), and the spinach and feta were balanced well too.
I was really excited when I saw our food coming, but when they put my plate in front of my, I was little confused. I had expected a plate of veggies with some pita. What I got, though, was a large plate with rice, pita, shredded lettuce, tzatziki (a Greek yogurt dip), and stuffed grape leaves. It looked delicious, and it did taste delicious, but I had been expecting something with more... vegetables. Eve's plate looked exactly like mine, except instead of grape leaves she had chicken. 
After our main courses, we decided to share some desserts. We ordered the baklava and the galaktomboureko (fillo dough with a Greek custard in the middle). They were both absolutely delectable; I couldn't have hoped for anything better. Once we had finished, we sat for a long time and let our stomachs digest all the food we had eaten. The staff were quite friendly, bringing us water periodically and not minding how long we were there. When we got up to leave, they even waved goodbye. 
All in all, the restaurant is really quite exceptional. The foods are delicious, even without much vegetarian variety. I could see myself getting sick of the choices rather quickly, but in the meanwhile I really enjoy it. If you've never had Greek food, I strongly recommend trying it! The flavors are wonderful and all the appetizers and dips really make one's mouth water.

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★★★★
Service: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★✫
Vegetarian Variety: ★★

28 Woodbridge Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904


Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Dish Cafe: Like a Second Home

I've been wanting to eat at (and review) the Dish Cafe for a long time, and I finally got there today. The Dish Cafe, formerly called the Bagel Dish Cafe, has been in Highland Park as far back as I can remember. Everyone in town goes there. 
I actually had not eaten there in quite a few months, but when I opened the door today, I knew it had no become any less popular: the place was packed with familiar faces. Designed like a diner, the Dish Cafe is brightly painted (orange). They always feature works by local artists on the walls. This time it was a series of floral paintings. The atmosphere is very homey: a really comfortable place to sit and eat. The bright lights and full tables are all very inviting.
Because of the large number of people, it took my friend and me a few minutes to get a table. Once we sat down, we received menus almost immediately. The menu consisted of a wide array of breakfast and lunch choices. In the breakfast section was everything from bagels and pancakes to eggs and oatmeal. Although on weekdays a lot of the breakfast foods are only served until 11 A.M., everything is available all day on the weekend. 
On the lunch menu there were quite a number of different wraps (mostly $6.95 and up) and sandwiches, all v
ery tasty-sounding. Although a majority of them were chicken or other meat wraps, there were also veggie souvlaki and other vegetarian options. The good thing about this place is that anything with meat can be ordered with a replacement. Aside from the wraps were pot pies, soups, salads, and all sorts of other dishes. 
The prices varied for most of the menu. Obviously some of the breakfast choices were cheaper, such as a simple bagel or scrambled eggs, while the pancakes or french toast were more expensive. On the lunch menu, most of the entrees are between $5.00 and $10.00. 
Once my friend and I ordered our food (I ordered the Honey mustard chicken wrap with veggie burger instead of meat, and Eve ordered the Chicken BLT wrap), we sat back to enjoy the lively room. However, almost 30 minute later we were still sitting and waiting for our food. At first I thought it was understandable, because the place was so busy. But the
n I saw that a few people who had arrived after us had already gotten their dishes. A few minutes later, they did bring our food, and we forgot how late it was and started eating.

The food taste pretty good.. It was nothing really spectacular, though. My wrap had veggie burger, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard sauce in it. It fell apart pretty easily, but the flavors mixed well together. "It's really yummy," said Eve, though I didn't try her wrap. They were both served with fries, which were just a little too hot. Once they cooled down, though, they tasted pretty good too. 

After finishing our food, we finished our conversation and waited for someone to come with the check. While most of the waitstaff were pretty friendly, there were a few t
hat seemed to just be hanging out behind the counter when there certainly looked like there were people waiting to get attention. Aside from that, the environment was ideal for eating.

  While the food tasted good, I could tell that was not the only reason so many people were there. The Dish Cafe has been that comfortable, easy kind of place to just plop down in a booth and enjoy  a casual meal with friends for a long time. It's almost like sitting in a really familiar place that you're used to and being able to just relax and enjoy yourself.

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★★✫
Service: ★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★✫
Vegetarian Variety: ★★★★

The Dish Cafe
327 Raritan Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904


Friday, January 16, 2009

Midori Sushi: Green, Clean, the Perfect Scene

After a terrible meal at Charlie Brown's last week, and a not-so-stunning meal at Aposto, I was craving something new and preferably not so expensive. As my friend Eve and I walked along Raritan, we spotted Midori Sushi down the block and decided to go there. People all across town and even outside of Highland Park have raved about this restaurant to me. 
Walking inside, I was immediately impressed with the atmosphere. While some restaurants choose to have extremely bright or extremely dark colors, with TVs on, and bright lights, Midori was quite different. The relatively small place was painted different shades of green and white, all very soothing. Everything from the pieces of art to the lights to the real palm tree in the corner was calming, clean, and aesthetically pleasing. The music followed in the same fashion. Instead of a radio or TV, there was simply a CD with a piano playing in the background, adding an extra touch to the rest of the room. 
We were seated in the smaller room with only three tables directly off the main room. While I usually get really claustrophobic in small rooms, the large window to our right and the bright, colorful lights about us helped make the space seem bigger. When we were handed our menus, we decided we wanted to share dishes so as to each be able to try more. 
The menu looked quite delicious. The dishes ranged from soups and appetizers to sushi rolls, larger dishes, and desserts. Along with the book menu was another sheet with the specials, all of which, unfortunately, contained meat. We looked around in the menu to see what vegetarian options there were. We found a number of veggie appetizers, such as dumplings, spring rolls, soups and a salad. Even though most of the main dinner sections were meat or fish oriented, t
here was usually a vegetarian option under each one. 
We decided to order one vegetarian Teriyaki and one order of avocado sushi rolls. With these two selections they brought a bowl of miso soup as well as a small salad (with a great ginger dressing). When they brought our dishes, our mouths began to water. The Teriyaki looked so delicious and flavorful, we couldn't wait to dig in, though I did manage to snap a picture before starting.

It contained mushrooms, zucchini, onions, broccoli, and peppers, accompanied by two slices of orange, carrot, and parsley. We decided a few bites in that the onions and broccoli were definitely our favorite part. Both were perfectly succulent, but the onions in particular were amazing. You know how often when you cook raw onions, they still sting your eyes a little or give your mouth that sour-onion taste? Well these onions didn't. They were perfect. They were crunchy but not too spicy, and they didn't make me feel like I would just smell like onions afterwards. 

The avocado rolls were great, too. They were a simple platter of six pieces of sushi, each with rice and avocado wrapped in nori. They were served with soy sauce and wasabi, both of which complimented the sushi nicely. After finishing two delightful dishes, we decided we couldn't just stop eating. We proceeded to order Midori's fried ice cream, because Eve had never tried it before.
When they brought it, we were just as excited as before we had eaten anything. It looked yummy, cut in half on a plate with a delicate portion of whipped cream between the halves. We pretty much scarfed it down in less than five minutes, unable to pace ourselves with this delight. 
We got the check a few minutes later, and we shocked to find that our three order added up to a total of only $19.20. It was a miracle! Finally some really tasty food that didn't force me to scrape up every penny I had! Eve and I stared at each other in our moment of disbelief before paying and leaving, happy to know another restaurant to return to. 

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★★★★✫
Atmosphere: ★★★★★
Vegetarian Variety: ★★

Midori Sushi
237 Raritan Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Charlie Brown's: Worth the Money?

I usually visit and review more independent and original restaurants. However, last week I went to eat at Charlie Brown's with my sister and a friend, and I just couldn't help but write about it. 
Over the years I've been in Highland Park, I have eaten at Charlie Brown's quite a few times. I've seen them change their booths, get rid of their old "library," and see the new decor on the walls. The atmosphere used to be homey, with nice vibrant colors and people eating and laughing. Now, however, it was nearly empty. The walls were repainted a dark maroon color with weird pictures and objects hanging on the walls (like half a bicycle). To be honest, it just wasn't a pleasant place to be. 
Their food has, for the most part, stayed the same. At least on the menu. This last time when I went there, Anna, Becca, and I were seated at a book in the front room. We sat down and immediately noticed a rather unpleasant smell which surrounded us. I usually try not to make a fuss at restaurants, because I know it must annoy the staff, but we really could not eat in that atmosphere. We asked to be seated in another section, and although I could see the look of annoyance in the waiter's eye, he smiled and seated us in the back.
Happy to breathe some fresh(er) air, we looked at the menu. Anna, who had not been there in a year or two, was shocked at the numbers. I hadn't realized it myself until she pointed it out: the prices had risen enormously in the past few years alone. The salad bar, which used to cost between six and eight dollars, was no $10.79! The mozzarella sticks were now $7.49, and those are both appetizers. Unprepared for these costs, my sister and I literally had to spill out all our money to see what we could afford. 
The other issue was the options. Seeing as my sister and I are both vegetarians, that was an important factor. Unfortunately, the only vegetarian choices were a few appetizers, salads, soups, and one or two entrees. Now even though Charlie Brown's is known as a "steakhouse," it is important for any restaurant to offer foods for all people. Finally deciding to share the salad bar and an order of onion rings, plus drinks. 
I left Anna and Becca to wait for the appetizers while I went to get food from the salad bar. I was impressed by the selections, including not only traditional lettuce, but onion salads, egg salad, noodle salads, and various olives and such. It looked tasty, and my hopes were high.
When I returned to the table, we dug into the salad, excited to eat. When I ate the first bite, however, I was disappointed. The salads were full of oils and ingredients that made me feel dirty and greasy. It this was their "healthy," "vegetarian" option, I could not believe it. Even as we were leaving, Anna commented "I always feel sick after eating that kind of food."
When the onion rings arrived, it was clear that they were not meant to be shared. There were only four of them, and they were huge. One alone was two inches in width with a circumference of maybe eight inches. Just looking at them kind of scared me! 
When the check came, we were all glad to get up and leave. But when I looked at the check, I was shocked at the amount written. For just the few things we had ordered, the check was over twenty dollars, not counting the tip. We paid and walked back to the front, noticing again that awful smell. It's never a good thing when you leave a restaurant wishing you hadn't eaten.

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★
Service: ★★✫
Atmosphere: ★✫
Vegetarian variety: ★

Charlie Brown's
247 Raritan Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aposto Pizzeria: Plain, Veggie, and Vodka Pizza

On Friday night, when one would hope to find a happy and lively place to eat, I sat down with my friends Lena, Eve, and Anna at Aposto, a pizzeria and restaurant. I had heard a lot about this place from people in town, and it was strange to go somewhere I had never eaten before. 
The first thing I noticed was the decor: red and white checkered table clothes, lights strung around the windows, and a giant pear next to the door. "I like the lights," was the first thing my friend sad. It was charming, I thought. Outside the door was a little patio. I remember seeing people sitting there in the summer; it always seemed like a lively place to eat.
Unfortunately, the next thing I noticed was that it was just the three of us and the staff.  Now it's fine for there to be lulls in customers, but it was a little bit strange to be the only three people for almost the entire meal. 
The menu included a good choice of appetizers, pizzas, sandwiches, and entrees. Like most pizzerias, the pizza and salads were vegetarian, while most of the entrees had meat. I have to admit, it was really tempting to order one of the fettucini dishes and ask for them to remove the meat. There were a few standout items on the menu, however. The first thing I noticed was the Spanakopitakia , a spinach and feta cheese appetizer. The next were the rather unique pizza types such as the "Vodka" pizza or the "Napoli" pizza.
I eventually decided on a simple slice of vegetable pizza. Eve and Anna both also got slices, and Lena ordered the Spanakopitakia, and we all shared mozzarella sticks. Since I was so hungry, I was happy to see them bringing our food just a few minutes later. 
The pizza was actually quite tasty, and I was especially pleased that it was hot. I'm always disappointed when I order pizza and get it cold. The mozzarella sticks were the absolute perfect texture. The crunch from the first bite is always an important factor. Lena's Spanakopitakia was delicious, too. I don't usually like feta cheese with spinach, but the flaky layers of dough balanced them well. Lena commented, "I thought at first they had too much spinach, but once I ate more of it I tasted more cheese. It was really good." 
After finishing our meals, we went to the register to pay. I was last in line. When the woman behind the counter just started ringing up my check, the phone rang. I expected her to maybe talk and let me pay at the same time, but she turned aside instead and began to talk. A few minutes later she hung up, apologized, and typed in a few more numbers as my friends stood by, waiting impatiently. Just then, her cell phone rang, and she that up as well. Finally, five minutes later, she told me how much I needed to pay, and I left. I laughed about the wait at the register, but I realized that I had actually enjoyed most of the experience.

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★★★✫
Service: ★★★
Atmosphere: ★★
Vegetarian variety: ★★✫

76 Raritan Ave
Highland Park, NJ 08904


A menu can be viewed at:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pad Thai: Lively, Tasty, and Full of Options

As the rain beat down on the rather dimly lit Raritan Avenue, nothing looked more inviting than the bright lights and glowing faces inside Pad Thai, the authentic Thai cuisine.
Anxious to eat,  my friends and I went into the restaurant. I had heard a lot about their expansive menu from people in town, and they did not disappoint me. As soon as we stepped inside, a waitress seated us and gave us menus. Opening it, I was surprised at the pages of choices and what looked like over 150 possibilities, ranging from $5.95 to $18.95. In the first few pages they also provided an extremely helpful guide explaining how hot each level of spiciness was (to see the menu, visit their website at
As a vegetarian, it's often hard to find good variety and healthy choices when I eat out. 
Although about 75 percent of the meals had meat, there were meat-free options  from Thai noodles and rice dishes to and curries; I couldn't wait to start eating. 
Once we placed our orders, we enjoyed looking around the restaurant at the Thai artwork and at other people's food being carried past our table. The aromas and steaming plates made us even hungrier. The atmosphere was one of content and happy stomachs, not to mention excitement to taste the spices lingering in the air.
Our dishes arrived quickly, only about 15 minutes later. Anna ordered the Pad Kee Moa Puck, I ordered the Pad Puck Ruam Mit Nam Daeng, and my friend Carolyn ordered the tradition Pad Thai. Unfortunately, when our dishes arrived at the table, mine did not quite fit the description I read on the menu. As I sat in my chair, puzzling at the rather unexpected plate in front of me, our waitress walked by and, noticing the wrong dish, apologized kindly for the mistake.
When we all had the right foods, we could finally enjoy how it tasted. The spicy vegetables and basil chili sauce of the Pad Kee Moa Puck were full of flavors and spices that made my mouth water. The thick rice noodles in the dish had the perfect texture and blended well with the vegetables. The tofu, some fried and some steamed, soaked up the sauce and flavors of all the other components of the dish. I'm warning you, though: they're not lying when they say medium is spicy! When my friend tried it, her eyes immediately began water, and she had to chug two glasses of water. And that's just medium!
The Pad Puck Ruam Mit Nam Daeng, a vegetable dish with wine chili sauce and tofu, was also a fascinating and delicious mix of textures and tang. Although I didn't try the Pad Thai, because it had meat, it did look and smell simply scrumptious as I watched my friend devour the entire plate and exclaim "Man, this is delicious!"
Satisfied and satiated, I was sorry to leave the lively and fragrant restaurant, my mouth still savoring the flavors I had eaten. I left just thinking about the next time I could come back and eat more: a sign of a meal well cooked!

Rating: out of ★★★★★ (✫=1/2)
Food: ★★★★✫
Service: ★★★★
Atmosphere: ★★★★
Vegetarian variety: ★★★★✫

Pad Thai:
217 Raritan Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904