From Viet Nam to Jersey in a single weekend.
By Judi Gallagher
On the eve of the Vietnamese New Year, we were honored to attend the wedding banquet of two Vietnamese friends, and the event turned out to be a culinary highlight. With Vietnamese “soft rock” playing in the background, guests dined on a traditional banquet. Tables were set with large lazy Susans in the center to provide a spinning circle of ongoing platters loaded with fried soft shell crabs, abalone with black mushrooms, seafood bird nests, whole Peking ducks, sharks fin soup and mounds of tender, sweet lobsters, stir-fried with a luscious ginger sauce.
Scenes from a wedding: lobster with ginger sauce and the Vietnamese wedding cake.
The experience was delightful and heartwarming, enhanced by the cultural tradition of the bride, groom, best man, maid of honor and both sides of the family coming to each table to toast their invited guests. It is no wonder that we spend so much time at Vietnamese restaurants. You are enveloped into the spirit of friendship and family that are even more warming than a bowl of steaming pho.
I had heard the buzz about Valentino Pizzeria and Trattoria from several Riverview High School students who work there, along with some e-mails from a few readers. All I have to say now is, “What took me so long to find this little spot?” Located on Clark Road, next to Moe’s Southwest Grill (not a bad burrito, I might add), Valentino’s has become a neighborhood hot spot since opening about six months ago. It is fast, inexpensive and “just like Jersey,” from the accents behind the counter and metal pizza pan holders to the wonderful baked stuffed whole artichokes just like my grandmother used to make on Sundays.
On the job: Owner Mike oversees the pizzas at Valentino's.
How nice to have a fresh arugula and Belgian endive salad for $6 and a delicious bowl of rich Gorgonzola penne pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh sautéed spinach for only $10. The take-out line was literally out the door (and to the gentleman who was on his cell phone waiting for his pizza, yakking away while tables all around him were trying to dine—turn it off for 10 minutes pal, other people are eating and don’t care about your one-way conversation). Although I prefer the veal Parmesan at Café Italia, Valentino’s menu is so large that I will never be at a loss for great Italian food and friendly service.
Deal of the century: At lunchtime, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., you can order any pasta as a half order for four dollars less. The slices of pizza and knotted rolls tempting you as you approach the counter are as good as they look; but not to worry—the prices are so low that you can afford to splurge on a few extra goodies, including a creamy ricotta-filled cannoli—for the ride home, of course.
Do you have a new dining discovery to share? Tell us about it by posting below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.