For 16 years, restaurateur Charles Hamade searched for an often-elusive prize in Bergen County: a liquor license. His Wild Ginger restaurant in Englewood was very popular, but he felt something was lacking, namely, the marriage of good food and good spirits.
When a liquor license came up for sale in Cliffside Park, Hamade eagerly bought it and opened Bushido Bar and Restaurant in that community. And many former Wild Ginger customers have loyally followed Hamade to his new restaurant.
"It has opened up a new world for me. What could I do to enhance the customer experience? Pairing my food with wine, which enhances the palate," he says.
The Bushido menu is served "izakaya style" which Hamade says is like "Japanese tapas." Customers can snack on a few small plates, or create a complete meal.
"We have no entrées," Hamade says. "You can sit down and have lots of different small plates, all different bites to eat."
Customers "love the idea" he says. "They get to choose different things to eat, sit and chat over drinks, have a bottle of wine."
The décor is eclectic, yet warm and relaxing. Hamade says the interior is designed "Soho style, almost like having a Tokyo bistro in your neighborhood, it’s a mixture of the old and the new" with restored tin ceilings and a fleur-de-lis design on the walls. The focal point of the dining room is a magnificent blown-glass chandelier in many colors.
Leading the kitchen is chef Yoshiharu Suzuki, who has worked with Hamade for 17 years. The menu offers sushi and sashimi that were popular at Wild Ginger, a wide variety of seafood specialties, as well as several steak, chicken and vegetable dishes.
"People especially love the broiled eggplant with walnut miso (yaki nasu), the black cod and Chilean sea bass, the soft shell crabs and lobster sashimi," Hamade says.
As much as Hamade eagerly describes the menu, he is like a new father when describing the restaurant’s drinks. He touts the boutique wines "offered at very reasonable prices," a microbrew beer selection that includes "Purple Haze, which is phenomenal, and three or four Indian pale ales. I also have a great lager by Dogfish Head – it’s like drinking a sauvignon blanc in a beer."
Among the drink specialties are shochu cocktails; the "Emperor’s Martini," made with Tanqueray gin, sake, strawberry purée, lychee and lime juice; and "delicious mojitos," Hamade says.
Hamade still owns the Englewood restaurant that once was Wild Ginger. Initially, he changed the name to Papa Mole and the cuisine to "authentic Mexican," but recently announced he is converting the restaurant once more and giving it a new name and menu: My Pie will feature gourmet pizzas, salads and daily specials.
At Bushido Bar and Restaurant, however, the name has a more serious tone.
"Bushido represents everything that Japan stands for … it is the pride of Japan," Hamade says, including virtues such as respect, honesty, loyalty and courage.
"My vision is to stay the course with what I have been doing," he says, "but I also want to focus on new things."
Starters is a first look at recently opened restaurants. It is meant to be a descriptive glimpse, not a critical review. Send suggestions for Starters to email@example.com.