Located on a side street several blocks from the Ridgewood train station and the heart of downtown, Café 37 isn’t somewhere you’re likely to drive or walk past. But there’s plenty of parking in front of the restaurant, whose simple, glass-paneled facade glows at night.
Step inside on a typical evening, and the banter and banter between staff and guests sets the tone. Beginners fit in perfectly. After all, you found the place. And if you forgot to bring a bottle to this BYO, there’s a liquor store just across the narrow street, so close you can almost guess the prices from your table.
Above dark wood flooring, abstract paintings (not prints) on light walls brighten the atmosphere. The ambiance of the menu is pleasantly French, with peregrinations. On our first visit, the plump shrimp tempura over flaked zucchini noodles was fresh, flavorful, and fun, even without hints of sweet/tangy orange sauce. On our second visit, a generous portion of very fresh beef carpaccio won a happy nod.
A plate of four fresh and thick scallops, attractively seared, was accompanied by fresh asparagus tips and a suave smoked gouda fondue. Medallions of pastured filet mignon, tender under an appetizing Arctic char, were prepared with sautéed vegetables and a red wine reduction to mop up.
The crispy skin bronzino was excellent, but the thinly sliced white chicken meat pieces were dull and chewy, leaving very good fresh sautéed spinach and asparagus in the mess.
The four-course fixed price of $54 is a very solid offer. Desserts, like a somewhat heavy bread pudding, may not be as reliable as an ice cream dish, which was very good.
Café 37, like so many small restaurants, is a chef’s American dream. The chef is César Sotomayor, 46 years old. Ten years ago, finding myself in a rut, “I realized that I had to move”. He was one of the chefs at the famous Ridgewood Latour restaurant. “I was like a sponge and I had learned a lot there,” he says. “Michael Latour supported me a lot. He was an excellent mentor and friend. »
At 35, Sotomayor felt it was time to take a risk. It wouldn’t be his first. He had grown up in Venezuela in a family whose matriarch was a superb cook. The family has produced seven chefs, “all with different types of hospitality businesses”. In 1999, he himself moved to Ridgewood. Studying English at Bergen Community College, he went on to earn a degree in hotel and restaurant management.
“The guy I rented an apartment from in Midland Park really liked my food at Latour and also at Village Green in Ridgewood,” Sotomayor says. “He offered to do business with me and I said yes. First I had to cook for about 20 members of his family. The feedback has been very positive. We opened Café 37 as partners ten years ago. I bought it back in 2019. »
Sotomayor and Michael Latour are still friends. “We go fishing for stripes in Raritan Bay together,” says Sotomayor.
If you’re looking for a good, reasonably priced or even bargain meal, the storefront on Sotomayor’s side street is worth a visit.
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