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Does anyone else feel like they always overlook the places that are closest to them when it comes to eating out?  Jared and I are definitely guilty of that, searching wide and far for places when there are plenty of nice options less than 10 minutes away.

After passing Bolu for the hundreth time last weekend, I mentioned that I wanted to try it.  Jared’s mom came to help him with the garden on Monday, so that seemed like the perfect time to check it out.  Billed as a Trattoria with traditional brick oven pizza and antipasta, we figured we couldn’t go wrong.

Bolu is located right off Route 78  in Basking Ridge.  Located in a shopping center that also includes another restaurant we’ve checked out, the location is pretty convenient for us.  The inside of Bolu is cozy and welcoming.  While it wasn’t very busy the day we went, the atmosphere was relaxing and inviting.

Bolu prides itself on using organic, fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.  While I’m certainly not fanatical about things being organic, I think it’s nice to be able to take people somewhere where everything is made fresh and not just taken out of a box.  The menu at Bolu has a lot to offer-from salads to individual pizzas to an antipasto bar, it’s a great compromise for families or groups with different tastes and dietary needs.

It took me awhile to figure out what to get.  None of the salads were really grabbing my attention, so after painfully looking away from the pasta dishes, I decided on the Arugula Pizza with a multi-grain crust.  Jared’s mom chose the same pizza, both of us getting an individual size, and Jared chose the Rustica individual pizza.

The individual pizzas come with about 6 small slices.  I’m rocking the other half for leftovers this week

Bolu Arugula Pizza

Behold the glory of fresh leftovers!

, so I definitely think these can be shared among 2 people for a small meal.  Although I will admit that in  my former non-Weight Watchers hey day, I could have polished off the entire thing.  The pizza was beautiful, with fresh arugula and tomatoes with a generous coating of cheese, making it light, yet satisfying.  The crust was delicious as well and not too dry like some multi-grain options can be!

Dessert options were a bit slim here, with some traditional items as well as gelato.  We opted not to go for dessert, since nothing really caught or eye.

Service was attentive, yet definitely relaxed in pace.  As I mentioned, there were not a lot of people there, but things definitely moved slow.  I’m guessing that’s because they make everything to order.  From the looks of the open kitchen, they do a great take-out business, which is definitely something to keep in mind for great-tasting pizza.  Although the options are a bit more expensive than traditional pizzerias, you know you’re getting something fresh.

Bolu is BYO, however, if you forget, there is a wine store in the same complex.  With plenty of parking and a lovely looking outdoor seating area, Bolu is definitely a great option for antipasto, pizza, or homemade pasta.

Trattoria Bolu
25 Mountainview Blvd.
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
908-647-0033

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I remember standing in a Crumbs bakery a few months ago, staring down the delicious rows of icing and cake.  Along with the cheerful decorations and fluffy icing mounds also came the “sticker shock”-and I’m not talking about price.  That’s right, friends.  Right there, next to my mounds of joy, was listed the calorie count for each cupcake.

My immediate reaction was “I don’t want to know.”  And I’ll be honest-there are still times when I don’t want to know.  Sometimes, when you’re celebrating something special or just want to treat yourself, I don’t really think it’s bad to eat something with abandon and not care about its fat or calorie content.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that denying yourself all the time has negative effects on your weight loss.  But that’s another story!

However, living with the Weight Watchers plan has taught me to be a lot more aware of what I choose to eat when we eat out.  When I first started this blog, we were eating out up to 2-3 nights a week, sometimes more depending on where we went over the weekend.  We started cutting back on that as I started counting calories again, and since I started Weight Watchers, we’ve cut down to only eating out once a week.

Some restaurant chains have nutrition information available on their Web sites.  Sometimes, you have to dig for it, and with places like  Rita’s that give ranges, it can be hard to figure out what fits into my plan.  That’s why I was excited to see that the FDA recently announced its latest proposal regarding menu nutrition labeling.

To summarize:  “The proposed rules would apply to restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, and vending machine operators with 20 or more machines. Consumers would see calories listed in restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu items. Movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food would not be subject to these proposed regulations.”
I’m psyched about this, and think that more places, particularly local establishments, should be required to provide this information on their Web sites or elsewhere.  Since we don’t frequent any chain restaurants, this won’t really help me too much, but I do hope it’s a step in the right direction for food establishments as a whole.  In fact, knowing I could find out nutritional information about menu items before I eat somewhere would encourage me to choose one restaurant over another one with no information.
What do you think about menu nutrition labeling requirements?  Do you just not want to know, or do you think it would help you make better choices?  While I can’t say that I’ll always pay strict attention to it while eating out, it’s certainly helpful for vacations and other times when eating out is the only option!

I don’t know how many other people do this, but every time we visit a new area, we always think we’ll just find restaurants as we’re walking around to wander in to and enjoy.  Sometimes, that’s easy.  However, during off season in Cape May, it’s not!  I had done a bit of research before our trip, and written down a few restaurants, however, many of them ended up still being closed for the season.   After asking around at the Cape May Winery, we decided to have dinner at Axelsson’s Blue Claw Restaurant.

Funny enough, Jared had actually also been here with his parents when he visited Cape May years ago.  To be honest, in my research I had been avoiding strict seafood restaurants, as I’m not a huge seafood fan.  Not easy to do when you’re visiting a shore town.  I was a bit nervous that Axelsson’s wouldn’t have anything that would not only fit with my Weight Watchers plan, but that would also leave me feeling satisfied.  I was happy to find that the menu was diverse enough to include seafood options that weren’t too over the top “fishy” so to speak.  We settled on the Fromage as an appetizer (because who can resist brie??).   For an entree, I had the crabcakes and Jared had the seafood kabob, a totally new pick for him!

The food was fantastic at Axelsson’s.  The man we talked to at the winery had told us that “you can’t go wrong with anything you get there” and he was right.  The service was friendly and attentive without rushing you through, although it was a busy night.  They did seat us right by the piano, which I thought would annoy Jared, but the music blended in nicely and wasn’t overpowering to the point where you can’t talk.  While we did skip dessert, we had a full view of the station where these were being made, and they looked wonderful!  Although Axelsson’s is about a 5-10 minute drive from where we were staying, it was definitely worth the trip (however, if we had to give up parking, I might change my mind about that!!).

After our fabulous dinner, we returned to the Carroll Villa and hit up The Mad Batter for dessert.  Jared had been talking about a white chocolate mousse for days that he remembered having as a kid, and lucky him, it was still on the menu.  The Mad Batter bar was alive with groups of people hanging out, listening to the live music, so we ended up sitting at an actual table.  Jared was correct about the White Chocolate Mousse-it was worth the points.  Topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and a light strawberry sauce, the mousse was creamy, with bits of white chocolate in it, and so rich I almost couldn’t finish it (and I never say that!).  Definitely worth it!

Our trip included a voucher for brunch at The Mad Batter, so we returned the next morning to sit in the “sun room” type portion of the restaurant.  The Mad Batter had a great assortment of brunch-type libations, such as mimosas and bellinis, along with a pretty extensive menu.  The food was your typical brunch fare, but I’d certainly go back to check out the dinner options.  All around, a great experience with The Carroll Villa and The Mad Batter!

While The Mad Batter did not take reservations while we were there for brunch, it’s worth an ask in the summer if they do.  The restaurant was pretty busy for off-season, so I’d call ahead if you’re visiting during a busy time.

Looking for more options?  Find more Cape May restaurants here.    Happy eating, travelers!

 

I’ve written in the past about our visits to some Somerville, NJ restaurants.  For those of you not in the area, Somerville is the county seat of Somerset County, and isn’t too far from our house in Martinsville.  Every time we drive through Somerville, I’m always charmed a bit by the old-school downtown feel.  However, as Main Street America as we know it is quickly fading away, and I love when towns do all they can to help draw people into the local feel of our downtowns.

Find Somerville is a great Web site that takes you through everything Somerville has to offer, from restaurants to shopping to nearby attractions.  The restaurant search is pretty thorough, listing everything from Pizza Hut to their upscale restaurants like Il Pomodoro.  Jared and I are looking for someplace to go tonight, and this list will certainly make that choice easy!

The Find Shopping search works the same way, listing the many shopping options Somerville offers.  Somerville is a great spot to try if you like antiques, as each street seems to offer a plethora of stores that deal in antiques.  A small savings section clues you in to ways you can save at restaurants and stores alike.

While Somerville seems to have a bit of a ways to go as they revitalize their downtown and try to fill empty lots, I applaud the efforts they are making through this Web site.  A great resource for those in Somerset County and beyond!

If you hadn’t figured it out already, most of our restaurant choices come from NJ Monthly or from Jared’s tireless searches for breweries or restaurants with a great beer selection.  Our selection of Egan & Sons was a blend of both.  Jared recently found a Web site that lets you type in your zip code for a listing of breweries, beer bars, and other quality beer venues near you.  Egan & Sons came up on the list in Montclair, and was one we hadn’t tried yet.  Couple that with the fact that I remembered it from NJ Monthly, and we were set to meet some friends out for a great meal.

I was expecting Egan & Sons to be crowded to the point of hatred.  After all, it was Saturday night, it’s a bar/restaurant with quality beer, and the Jets were on.  The parking lot in the back off Label Street was full, but we got lucky when someone pulled out just as we were coming in.  The train station isn’t too far down the street, so perhaps parking wouldn’t be too much of an issue.  We only had to wait about 20 minutes for a table for 4, and there was a decent amount of room at the bar to wait and have a drink without feeling like you’re standing around awkwardly.  Egan & Sons had a very decent selection of beers on tap, as well as a great selection of bottled beers and their own craft beers.

While I wasn’t really feeling like trying the craft beers, Jared of course tried a sample of their beers, which included a lager, an amber, a pale ale and a stout for only $4 (which is great).  He decided to have a larger glass of the lager and stout since he thought that these had the most flavor and had a bit of character.  He thought the pale and the amber were lacking in flavor, making them taste the same. I had a small sip of the lager, which I didn’t find to be too heavily flavored, but I’ll defer to him on that one.  Overall, not our favorite place for beer, but the fact that they feature so many other great selections makes up for it.

The food at Egan & Sons, however, did not disappoint.  A mix of Irish pub/Americanized food choices, the menu had everything from simple bar food to fancy steaks.  Since I had been dieting all week, I went straight for the sliders with fries.  My only complaint was that they came with ketchup on them, which I hate.  No restaurant should just put the condiments on for you.  I was able to scrape it off, and I’m sure I ended up saving some calories on the bread, but still.  Jared had the Falafel burger, which was delicious.  Our friends had Fish and Chips, as well as a fabulous looking steak in a wonderful sauce that was on the specials menu.  One of our friends that joined us is a chef with extensive culinary training, so I was hoping the food would be up to par.  She thought everything was very delicious, with the exception of something the waiter referred to as “mushy peas.”  Not sure why anyone would order those, but avoid them as a side.  🙂

Recently I’ve been let down by the dessert choices in the restaurants we’ve been to.  Egan & Sons did me proud with their Sticky Toffee Pudding, which is absolutely my most favorite dessert.  While it certainly didn’t compare to the time I had it in London, it was still a very authentic replica, all warm and spongy and doused in caramel.  The NY Cheesecake our friends shared was very creamy and huge, a dessert I don’t even think I could have tackled.  Maybe it bordered on being too sweet, but apparently still delicious.

The overall atmosphere and experience at Egan & Sons really won me over.  While I came in expecting something a bit more like what we frequented in Ireland with sticky floors and rowdy college kids, the dining room made the experience very upscale without taking out the fun.  Egan & Sons food and beer selection certainly makes us wish we lived within walking distance, as I could see this quickly becoming a favorite!

My rating:  8/10

Egan & Sons
118 Walnut Street
Montclair, NJ 07042
973-744-1413
http://www.egannsons.com/

Maestro 206 is located in Hillsborough on, you guessed it, 206.  There used to be a restaurant there when we first moved to this area that looked great, however, it closed before we had the chance to try it.  We tried Maestro 206 out a few weeks ago to break up the boredom of a long week, and it ended up being a lot different than I was expecting.

From the Web site and Twitter, I was expecting  a bit more of a pub type atmosphere, however, the dining room is actually comparable to restaurants that cost twice as much without being too stuffy or over the top.  Of course I picked this restaurant because we had a coupon, but it also boasts a pretty thorough beer list for my beer brewing husband, with some very nice seasonals.  (And if you hadn’t figured it out yet,  we love a place that appreciates high quality beer as much as we do!

Service was honestly a bit slow, which was strange to me since it wasn’t that crowded.  It seemed to take longer than usual for our drinks to arrive and for our server to notice we were there.  However, the wait staff was very pleasant and friendly, and our food came out in a timely fashion.  To start, they bring out warm rolls that can be dipped in what we think was a pesto sauce or a roasted red pepper sauce.  Totally worth the extra calories.

The dinner menu was a pleasant surprise, with everything from duck to steak to a chicken salad wrap.  From the looks of the dining room, I was afraid that maybe there was a separate bar menu, and the choices in the dining room would be limited to the usual entrees, but the menu did not dissapoint, and certainly provides enough variety for groups with different tastes or moods.  I started with the soup of the day, which happened to be a carrot soup (*editors note-I can’t remember if it was carrot or not, but it was some vegetable that I don’t usually eat in a soup).  Although I’m not a huge fan of carrots (or insert other vegetable here), it was seriously delicious.  For my meal, I had the Chicken Waldorf Salad Wrap, which was very good.  Sometimes I’ve found that restaurants are too heavy on the mayo, but this was just the right mix.

We’re not ones to balk over paying good money for food.  At Maestro 206, Jared actually laughed when we got the check.  Our dinner total was more “lunch” total than dinner for a place that was so great, even though I forgot to use the coupon.  Maestro 206 seems like a great place to have a private party, or even just stop in for a drink.  And if you get the Clipper Magazine, you’re sure to find at least $5 off for your next visit!

My rating:  8/10

Maestro 206
150 U.S. 206
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
732-301-2555
http://www.maestro206.com/

Before we moved to Martinsville, my manicurist told me that her boyfriend’s family owned a restaurant and ice cream shop there called Gabriel’s Fountain.  I of course forgot about it until we moved there, and drove right past it while exploring.  While Martinsville doesn’t really have what I would consider a “Main Street”, Gabriel’s Fountain is located in the heart of the shops that make up the majority of the main center of town.

Jared and I went for ice cream once at Gabriel’s Fountain, and found the selection to be fabulous.  When my sister came a few weeks ago, we decided to check out dinner.  Gabriel’s Fountain was also kind enough to send us a multitude of coupons when we moved in, and who can resist a cheaper meal?

The atmosphere of Gabriel’s Fountain is interesting.  Frank Sinatra music is on repeat, and the decor is very homey.  The menu is pretty extensive for what I always thought was a small place.  From burgers to pizza to chicken and seafood, there really is something there for everyone.

My sister and I went for the burgers.  Each burger gives you a choice of beef, chicken or garden, making it vegetarian friendly for sure.  In addition to the delicious, seemingly homemade chips we got upon sitting down, I went for the sweet potato fries as an addition.  Totally worth it.  Jared got a pizza, which was a great size and made exactly the way he wanted it with toppings of his choice.

Dessert is really the main event here. The ice cream and topping lists are endless, and the sundaes are too tempting. Jared and I split a Peanut Butter Slam Jam, which I have subsequently dreamed of for nights on end.  This was a dessert that even I couldn’t finish with Jared’s help.  Kelly got a cup of ice cream with a topping, a much more reasonable option.  They have a whole list of cakes and cookies as well, which is really just too much!  But definitely worth it.

Gabriel’s Fountain is an excellent, local restaurant choice for families and couples alike.  While they do not have a liquor license, it is BYO so you can’t even complain about that (except that we didn’t know on our first trip!).  I can see this being a dangerous stopping place in the summer for ice cream, but hey, it supports the local economy, right?

My rating:  10/10

Gabriel’s Fountain
1948 Washington Valley Road
Martinsville, NJ 08836
732-469-5800
http://www.gabrielsfountain.com

*Writers Note:  Due to a handful of complaints that I have not written in awhile, I’ve decided to commit again to trying to post a few times a week. Yet again, I have no excuse for not writing, just been busy!

Jared and I love getting out for the weekend and creating new experiences.  There’s just something about a full weekend ahead of you to explore that really excites us.  Since I don’t really have long stretches of vacation to take, lately we’ve been looking for shorter trips we can take in and around the state to ensure we still get our fix without spending a lot or driving too much.

I wrote awhile ago about Groupon, the social buying site.  At the same time I signed up for Groupon, I signed up for Living Social, which is extremely similar, just with different deals.  I soon started getting emails about “Living Social Escapes“, which were vacation packages at a discounted rate.  The one that caught our eye was a Cape May Weekend.

I’ve always wanted to take a trip down to Cape May. New Jersey Monthly always writes about great restaurants and places to stay.  The deal that we found gave us one night (Friday or Saturday) at the Carroll Villa B&B Hotel that included a bottle of champagne, a gift basket of “goodies” and a complimentary breakfast at The Mad Batter.  All for $150.

The deal was that you had to book a night between now and May 7th.  Let me break down for you what a trip like this would cost normally for the weekend we chose:

1.)  Overnight accommodations at the Carroll Villa B&B typically cost anywhere from $99 per night to $239 per night.  The catch is that many rooms require a two night reservation.  For the room we are staying in, we would have had to pay about $238 for the weekend.  By the time we got there on a Friday night, it would have been so late we hardly would have had time to take advantage of our surroundings.  Major savings right there, allowing us through the site to only have to book one night.

2.)  Breakfast at The Mad Batter looks like it would cost about $15-$20 per person.

Couple this with the gift bag of goodies, and I’d say we’re looking at a low-cost weekend away just as Spring is about to arrive in NJ.

Booking the trip was easy.  All I had to do was buy the deal, and call the hotel to redeem.  The hotel has a specific person that handled the Living Social bookings, which I thought was fabulous.  I’ve worked with places before that have had no idea what you’re talking about when you try to redeem something you found online.  The process was seamless, easy, and stress-free.  And let’s face it, for two of us to go away for a weekend in Cape May for only $150, I’d stay it was totally worth it.

*Note:  Someone asked me recently if we had to “meet up” with the other people that purchased the deal.  Living Social is a social buying site, not a social meet up site.  The only social part is the buying element.  No other interaction required.  🙂

Looking forward to sharing our review of our Cape May Weekend come March.  Stay tuned!

Oh, and sign up for Living Social today.  Even though a lot of the deals may not be relevant to you, you never know when something great is going to come along.

This is for all you Jersey kids out there.  I feel like most people don’t spend enough time exploring the place they actually live, so I’ve spent a lot of time this past year reading up about local events, restaurants, festivals, etc. to make sure Jared and I are always on the go with no down time.  😉  NJ My Way is another great site to help me achieve that goal.

From a frequently updated blog to event listings, it’s super easy to find a round up of everything going on in the fabulous Garden State.  Also, if you’re looking for jobs, the site integrates with a local job finder tool, putting everything you need right in one place.

Enjoy!

3 West in Basking Ridge has been on our list of restaurants to try for awhile now.  We finally got around to trying it last Friday and certainly weren’t dissapointed.

As per usual, we checked out the reviews on Yelp to get a sense for dress and what to expect.  It’s actually amusing, but there was one review by Dominic F. that made us want to try it.  Although he only gave the restaurant one star, he said, “Another thing that i thought was funny is i ordered a miller lite and was told “we don’t serve that here”…a VERY snooty place.”  Sounded perfect for those of us that actually enjoy the taste of beer and aren’t just drinking for the sake of drinking.

3 West is part of the same restaurant group as Trap Rock, a local restaurant and brewery in Berkeley Heights we’ve been to before.  3 West serves beer from Trap Rock, as well as a seasonal Magic Hat Jared had never tried.  Hence why they don’t serve watered down sorry excuses for beer.

The atmosphere of 3 West is lovely.  With a fireplace in the center of the restaurant that all patrons could see as well as a kitchen that can be viewed through lovely farm house style windows, the ambience is up scale without being untouchable.

The manager seated us, and we were immediately taken care of by part 1 of our serving team.  I believe his name was Mike.  He took our drink orders.  The second half of our serving team, Laura, I believe, was super dynamic and a real pleasure.  I decided to be bold and order the Pumpkintini.  However, upon first sip, I knew it was not going to be very fun to drink for someone like me that’s not a huge liquor fan.  Laura asked me how it was, and when I admitted I was sure it was a good drink, it just wasn’t for me, she offered to take it back.  Let me just preface this by saying I would NEVER return something to the kitchen or bar, no matter how wrong it is.  I usually just chalk it up to being my fault.  I told her it was ok, but she very politely insisted, telling me a lot of people weren’t into that drink.  She totally saved the evening for me, and handled it in a way that didn’t embarrass me!

The food at 3 West was as delightful as the wait staff.  Usually the specials menus aren’t that interesting to me, but this specials menu was so fabulous, I ended up ordering my entire meal from it.  Jared and I both started with a soup from the specials menu.  I had the butternut squash, which is my favorite soup, and it did not disappoint.  Laura pointed out some great dinner choices from the specials menu and regular menu. She was so knowledgeable, she actually caused Jared to switch his choice to one of her recommendations!  We both got a steak dish featured on the specials menu.  Steak is not my usual, but she talked it up as being a thinner variety, which sometimes I’m in the mood for.  And the sides certainly made the meal for both of us.  Mine came with a side of mashed sweet potatoes with caramelized brown sugar that was to die for. Jared’s came with an herbed polenta cake that was absolutely fantastic.  Overall, Jared’s steak had a bit more flavor than mine, but it was cooked to my liking, and definitely a treat.

Dessert was probably the best I’ve ever had.  We weren’t super hungry for it, but decided to split the Caramel Brownie Sundae.  Usually, brownie sundaes are pretty blah to me, but it’s always something Jared and I can agree on, since he’s not a chocolate fan.  This was literally a sundae, served in a sundae dish, with pieces of brownie mixed in with vanilla ice cream and delicious, legitimate caramel.  Simply stunning.

After our meal, the manager came back over to see how we had enjoyed it, and we actually told him about the review and that that was the reason we came.  We also took the time to complement him on his staff.  Although the restaurant got very busy by the time our meal was wrapping up and things were a bit slower, I never felt as if the attention lagged.  Great service makes a difference at a place like this, and 3 West certainly has it down to a science.

While the food at Trap Rock is not really that fantastic, I was pleased to see that 3 West did not disappoint in any area from the food to the drinks.  Thanks for a great experience!

My rating:  10/10

3 West
665 Martinsville Road
Basking Ridge, NJ 07920
908-647-3000
http://www.3westrest.com/

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