Over the past 50 years, I have had the good fortune to frequent some of the world’s finest restaurants, ranging from the great gastronomic temples of Paris and New York, to more modest cafes, taverns and brasseries in those and other cities. The standards that I have always used for judging the quality of these establishments were set by France’s ‘Guide Michelin’ (the red book), the bible in the world of gastronomy and still a constant companion when I travel or dine locally or internationally.
My taste in food is similar to my taste in cocktails – eclectic. I love everything that is good – from caviar, hamburgers, sushi and bacon, to fried chicken, Beef Wellington, scrambled eggs, jerk chicken and lobster – and by reading this section of The Cocktail Guru regularly, the reader will begin to understand how I define the term ‘good.’
I have been eating my way through Manhattan ever since my mother took me to Le Veau d’ Or, a traditional French restaurant that was considered one of New York’s finest establishments at the time. I was twelve years old and it was my initiation into the world of ‘haute cuisine’. This was followed by a trip to the original ‘La Fonda del Sol’ where I learned to appreciate the Americanized versions of Central and South American cuisines, thanks to the brilliant restaurateur Joe Baum, who was responsible for the creation of Quo Vadis, Forum of The Twelve Caesars, The Four Season’s, Window’s On The World and The Rainbow Room among other legendary “themed” properties. My mother did a great job introducing me to a variety of foods, as our dining experiences included the Horn and Hardart cafeteria and the lunchrooms at Schrafft’s and Woolworth’s. Since I grew up in northern New Jersey in the 1950’s and 60’s, I had the distinct advantage of dining on some of the best hamburgers and hot dogs of the era, at Don’s Drive-In (created in 1954) and Pal’s Cabin (created in 1932) both of which were very close to home. Unfortunately, both are now closed, Pal’s Cabin having shut its doors just a few weeks ago after a stellar run of 81 years. Pal’s Cabin and another local West Orange, N. J. restaurant, The Westwood, were probably my very first ‘fine dining’ experiences. They were white table cloth
restaurants, with The Westwood having . Tuxedo-clad waiters and a pianist banging out tunes made famous by crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf. I firmly believe that my appreciation of Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer came from my many experiences here beginning at age seven. I clearly remember the details of the tableside Caesar Salad, as well as the great steaks and lobsters. My first taste of lobster was at The Westwood, though my preferred dish was the ‘chopped Steak’, served with a mushroom gravy and French fried onion rings. Pal’s Cabin served the same dish.
This is how my palate was formed, for better or for worse, so please take my judgments with the proverbial ‘grain of salt.’ I have never been nor aspire to be, a restaurant critic. I will not give numerical ratings or stars in my assessments, since my goal is to give a qualitative and fairly detailed run down on restaurants and allow you, dear reader, to decide whether or not to patronize them.