I loved these places, with their bowls of crusty bread just perfect for mopping up sauce and the ever present sounds of Dean and Frank flowing in from the loudspeakers. Whenever my father would ask us where we wanted to go, I would invariably shout out the name of one of the Italian places, my mouth already drooling at the thought of a garlicky clam sauce or perhaps even my favorite--veal Milanese.
I didn't always get my way, however (the nerve!), and so we occasionally ended up going to my mother's favorite: Park & Orchard.
Located in an old renovated factory, Park & Orchard is a cavernous beast of a restaurant with black and white chess board floors and exposed pipes overhead. The place is always packed and the bar overflows with North Jersey-ites sipping cocktails or watching the game while waiting for a table. The wait for a table was usually long, but as regulars, we often were slipped in just a couple minutes after our arrival. The coolest thing about this place is that, despite the fact that it's located in East Rutherford, NJ (home to Giants Stadium and the kind of establishments that feature such shady [and grammatically questionable] lunch specials as: "Pasta, Boobs, Breadsticks--All You Can Eat!" or "Nude Soup!"), the restaurant has the same cool, urban feel as many of my favorite spots here in New York.
I love that they take pride in their ingredients. They serve only fresh, whole foods--no white sugar, bleached flours, food coloring, or preservatives of any kind, and even feature a Celiac menu for those who suffer from wheat or gluten allergies. All their food is prepared in stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans (no Teflon) and they only bake in glass or tin. The fresh-baked loaves of whole wheat bread they serve with dishes of organic olive oil are a far cry from those light-as-air rolls from the Italian joints, but just as good--if not better!
The funny thing is that, though I've accompanied my family there dozens of times over the past 15 years (and even a couple times on dates or with friends), I have only ever ordered the exact same meal. The only thing that has changed over the years is the beverage. When I was young it was a Knudson's Black Cherry Spritzer; around age 16 or 17 it became wine, served without questions and with my father's blessing.
This perfect meal which I have consumed on so many occasions is this: A mixed green salad served with the house Oriental Ginger dressing, followed by an entree called JK's Pasta: a spicy linguine dish tossed with chunks of salmon sauteed in olive oil, with garlic, tomatoes, herbs, crushed red pepper, and scallions. Dessert was a rich chocolate torte with a graham cracker crust served in a butterscotch puddle. It was heavenly and I always ordered it even if I felt like I couldn't swallow another bite. I occasionally accompanied this with a little sifter of Amaretto (I was kind of a boozy teen).
My only complaint, one which to the chagrin of my parents and annoyance of my brother I voiced on multiple occasions to the waiters and chef when they came by to ask if "everything is all right?" is that the dessert that they called a "torte," was in actuality a "tart." The difference of course being that a tart is a pie-like crust or shell filled with a prepared filling such as pastry cream or chocolate ganache (as was the case here). A "torte" is a really a variation of a cake, often made with thin dense layers made with ground nut meals and eggs, and alternated with layers of ganache or buttercream icing. As this was very obviously a ganache in a pie-like crust (therefore a tart), I was quite frustrated that the error was never acknowledged. I would usually go on about this for several minutes while I swirled my fork around my butterscotch puddle, only stopping when my brother (who openly finds me nerdy and insufferable) would finally have enough of my babbling about the Italian origins of the word "torte" and would shout at me: "Nanda! Shut up! No one cares!"*
It's actually been quite a while since I've had that meal, but I often try to recreate those flavors here at home. Tonight, while leaning against my open refrigerator door contemplating my dinner options, I remembered that I still had a rather large piece of grilled salmon left over from Saturday. Not really in the mood for a heavy pasta dish, I decided to create a salmon salad that uses the same ingredients in JK's Pasta (well, plus the addition of an avocado that absolutely had to be eaten today). The results were so good that I had to stop myself from eating it all straight from the pan so that I could plate and photograph it mediocrely for you.
As I write this today I realized that having been so fixated with the torte vs. tart debacle, I never really quite got around to asking just who JK is. I'd like to think that he'd be pleased with my salmon salad, though, and so I'm going to name it after him.
*Many years later, in culinary school, I shared this story with my chef in my Chocolate & Confections course and was relieved that he was just as horrified as I at such a blatant error in pastry-naming. It took me ten years and a trip across the Atlantic, but I finally found a sympathetic ear.
JK's Salmon and Avocado Salad
I had a good piece of leftover grilled salmon in the fridge when I came up with this recipe, but you're welcome to use whatever you have in your fridge or pantry. This could work just as well with smoked salmon fillets (not lox) or canned salmon or tuna (drained). You could even use chicken or tofu, if you're so inclined. The key is really in the combination of fresh flavors...
Ingredients (for one, multiply if serving more)
4 to 5 ounces of grilled salmon
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 ripe avocado
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or hot chili oil
1 handful chopped Italian parsley
3 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (optional)
Course sea salt
Crushed black pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
1. Flake the salmon and drizzle with a 1-2 count* of olive oil. Toss with a pinch of sea salt and a dash of black pepper, then set aside.
2. Preheat a large skillet over low heat then add three counts of olive oil. Raise to medium-high and toss in the garlic cloves, shaking around in the pan and cooking until just golden.
3. When the garlic is ready, add the crushed red pepper and cook for another 15 seconds.
4. Add the seasoned salmon to the pan. Squeeze about half the lime juice in and add the tomatoes and scallions. Saute for one or two minutes, just enough to let all the flavors meld (as the fish should already be cooked).
5. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Transfer everything
into a large bowl and add the sour cream, blending until just combined. Add the
paprika if using, and test for seasoning. Adjust accordingly with sea salt and pepper.
6. Mix in the diced avocado cubes and your done! Serve on crackers or over
a bed of mixed greens with a few extra tomatoes and a wedge of lime on the side.
*A 1-2 count is literally that: Count while you drizzle the oil. So for two
counts, you count to two, for four counts, you count to four, etc. It's not
exact, nor should it be. Try not to rely too much on measurements and instead
work on getting comfortable with the ingredients, judging for yourself what
seems about right. Trust your instincts.