Welcome back to Stern Eats, in this inaugural edition of the new online newspaper, The Alternative Press. In this issue, join me for some Portuguese fare, and lots of it. I recently entertained some old friends and colleagues, who were visiting from Taiwan. After a few days of touring the sights of New York City and enjoying the outdoors of northwest New Jersey, my guests asked me to take them out for a meal that they would never forget, as they prepared for their 18 hour flight home. I immediately thought of Iberia Peninsula, in the heart of Newark's sprawling Ironbound Section, which is alive with Latin and South American cuisine and culture. As with all of my previous dozen (plus) dinners at Iberia Peninsula, my overall experience was very good.
I have always made reservations for my dinners at Iberia Peninsula, and this Sunday evening was no different. When we arrived, the place was packed, from the huge barbeque pit in the front of the restaurant to the back of the bowling alley-length restaurant. My party of 12 was seated immediately. The bar side of the restaurant, where I usually sit, is always lively and has a party-like atmosphere. The crowded (but not cramped) dining area, with expansive brick walls and huge wooden doors on one side and the tremendous bar with terra cotta roof on the other, make you feel like you are in an outdoor Mediterranean street fair. For dress, anything goes. I wore a sport coat, and others wore summer attire. The feeling is "fun" and the food is plentiful.
We were seated at a long table and our servers presented two family-style servings of a simple salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, peppers and olives. Baskets of bread were also served. Our servers then offered, and we accepted, several pitchers of both white and red sangria. It is always a big hit with me, but our out-of-town guests were especially delighted. Let me just tell you that this stuff is good, especially after multiple pitchers. And the party continued.
We ordered a number of appetizers for the table: Lulus Fritas (Fried Calamari $9.50), Chourico na Brasa (Broiled Portuguese Sausage $9.50), Ameijoas a Guilho (Clams in Garlic $10.50) and Mexilhoes a Guilho (Mussels in Garlic $9.50). Every appetizer was delicious. The Calamari was tender, the Chourico was crispy and mildly spicy and the Clams and Mussels were tender and beautifully garlicky, with no grit or sand. The servings were generous enough for all of us to enjoy some of each.
Several pitchers of Sangria and a few extra-baskets-of-bread-to-dunk-in-the-garlic-sauce later, came our entrees. The other three men in the group and I ordered the Rodizio ($20.95), which is an assortment of filet mignon, pork, chicken, sausage, ribs and other select pieces of masterfully cooked meats that are slowly grilled over an open barbeque pit. Beautifully seared on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside, with a mild smokiness that tells you this was cooked over a true barbeque pit, these unmistakably savory salty barbequed masterpieces keep coming until you throw in the towel. For someone who has not been to such a place before, the service of the Rodizio is somewhat of a spectacle. Servers, each carrying two or three sword-length skewers of meat, carve your meal directly onto your plate, with a razor sharp knife. Iberia Peninsula touts this as their trademark, and let me say that they do it well. The Rodizio comes with a family-style serving of rice and black beans. When you've had enough, your server will carve you a piece of cinnamon- dusted grilled pineapple.
For the rest of the table, we ordered Parrilhada de Mariscos (Seafood Combination Parrilhada for two, $39.95) and Paella a Valenciana (Seafood Combination Valenciana $20.95). Amazingly, these two additional dishes were enough to feed all of the ladies and children in our party (eight of them). The Parrilhada, a cornucopia of seafood, was piled high with lobster, grilled jumbo shrimp, clams, mussels, garlic shrimp, calamari, battered and fried flounder and saffron rice. The mere presentation of this plate was impressive, and the taste was a match. The lobster was tender and moist and the jumbo shrimp were perfectly grilled with a lightly charred shell and sweet meat. Everything on this platter was well-done (and I don't mean overcooked). The Paella also lived up to my expectations. This large cast iron pot, filled with all things from the sea, was as good as I have ever had.
With our belts about to burst, we moved on to dessert. Here, we kept it kind of simple, and we ordered an assortment of sorbets: pineapple, coconut and lemon ($4.50, $4.50 and $4.00). These were served in the shell or peel of the fruit that they represented and were a perfect refreshing finish to an indulgent meal.
Here is my summary: This is a great place. The atmosphere is fun. The service is good to very good, with well-dressed and attentive wait staff. In addition to my parties' selections, the menu offers a wide variety of other seafood, meat and poultry dishes. In over a decade of dining there, I have never had a bad meal at Iberia Peninsula. All portions are very generous in size. When the serving sizes are considered, the prices are very reasonable (and if you park in their lot, you get your $5.00 parking fee back by presenting your parking stub to your server). Iberia Peninsula also has a separate dining room for quieter ambiance, and banquet facilities are also available.
I am going to rate Iberia Peninsula as very good. The food is tremendous in preparation, flavor and size. This night, I was going for big, impressive and tasty, and as always, Iberia Peninsula hit the mark. I have no doubt that my friends from the Far East will always remember this feast.
It is time for me to move onward, in my search for the perfect meal. Check back soon and join me again, as Stern Eats.
Iberia Peninsula is located at 63-69 Ferry Street, Newark, New Jersey 07105, (973) 344-5611/1657. You can visit them on the internet at http://www.iberiarestaurants.com/home_IP/homepg.htm