Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
exceptional dining in Englewood, NJ
After all our years of eating in many top restaurants both in the US and Europe and a few in Asia, we have to admit that we’re not easily impressed… but impressed we were during this dinner a few days ago!
A new restaurant opened in a town nearby, in Englewood, New Jersey to be exact. The original sister restaurant is located in Brooklyn, New York and, if I understood correctly, there is at least one more operating in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under a different name.
CZEN (pronounced seaZon) is located next to the Bergen Performing Arts Center Theater on one of the town’s main thoroughfares. Entering into this bespoke eatery is like being transported instantly from New Jersey to the Caribbean… but with a very pronounced Asian accent. You are greeted by a festival of colors, music to grove to, and a menu of delectable selections of fusion dishes.
There are a few tables under market umbrellas on the pavement, in front of the restaurant in keeping with the current trend towards alfresco dining.
The restaurant’s physical plant is separated into two rooms; the first containing an extended bar and a grouping of small tables, while the main dining room has turquoise leather banquets lining the walls and comfortable coral-colored chairs – reminiscent of the azure Caribbean Sea and sparkling sands.
A massive chandelier with turquoise droplets provides the lighting while the walls pay homage to the Asian menu selections by displaying abstract art pieces and colorful sun umbrellas color coordinated to the turquoise and coral seating. The far wall of the main dinning room has a large Caribbean/Asian scene with the restaurant’s logo. Simple black slate tables and black plates are perfect for showcasing the food.
We were warmly greeted and shown to our table under the chandelier and handed the menu and drinks selections. I chose a Pineapple Crush (Pineapple Ciroc, Pineapple Rum, Peach Schnapps and Pineapple juice served in a hollowed fresh pineapple filled with succulent pineapple slivers) and Barbara selected Jammin (Jameson, Lime Juice, Ginger Beer, Ginger Ale). A bowl of deep fried, highly seasoned chow fun noodles and signature dipping sauce kept us occupied while we perused the menu.
We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Jonathan Broadwater and we remarked at the unusual combination of ingredients detailed in the appetizer section of the menu and asked for a selection of items creating what I would consider a tasting menu, instead of the more normal, one appetizer and one entrée dinner.
Chef Jonathan was only too happy to oblige and started us off with one of the very best corn and crab chowders we have ever tasted. Chock full of corn, crab, carrots, celery, onions, in a savory broth and topped with a perfectly fried slice of lotus root that added a bit of crunch to the just-right spiced soup. Even if, like Barbara, you are not a fan of soup you will love this one just as she did… and she practically licked the bowl clean.
We moved on to fried wings, tender and with a slight kick accompanied by a berry jerk dip, then to Asian style dumplings, some filled with oxtail and others with veggies.
Another popular appetizer we tried was Bang Bang Cauliflower, lightly fried and tossed in one of CZEN’s signature sauces.
Chef Broadwater surprised us by sending out one course that was not on the current menu. That dish was just introduced and will appear on future menus, as the ingredients in most dishes are seasonal and the menu changes practically on a quarterly basis. It was lobster and shredded pineapple meat in fried jerk rice, containing large pieces of lobster and a variety of veggies served in a fresh pineapple shell… oh so good!
We ended the meal with fried frozen vanilla ice cream in a crispy crust with Schlag (unsweetened whipped cream) with a side of blueberry compote.
Music is very much a part of CZEN’s ambiance and it offers live entertainment several evenings and on weekends; check the website for details.
CZEN is now serving both lunch and dinner and if you like good and rather unusual food, you have to try this restaurant.
36 Van Brant Avenue
Englewood, New Jersey
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