Tony Da Caneca is that restaurant that's been in the neighborhood for 30 years, everyone's parents go there for special occassions and has remained true to itself the entire time. That's a massive generalization, but it's a good place to start. Located down Houston Street, off Wilson, Tony Da Caneca is hidden in a quiet tree-lined section of the Ironbound neighborhood. The building itself does not standout, but once you step inside you feel like you've entered a secret place. Dark wood all around, lighting is soft, fado playing softly in the background, - there's a sort of mini - local - budget Frank Sinatra / University Club feel - which I suppose I would translate as just old fashioned.
I was offered a table in the far corner of the main room, sat down and took a look through the long menu. There's a lot there as if they have tons of picky eaters coming in all the time and have to list 50 things in the hopes that they'll find something they like. Some of the items on the menu are not exactly intuitive or described - with lots of things done à la Tony Da Caneca. While I looked, my server offered a complimentary Portuguese soup - sure! It was a simple chicken broth with puréed potato, carrot kale and elbow macaroni. It was OK. Then came bread which was also OK, but the olive oil flavored with thyme, onion and balsamic vinegar was great. Soon after ordered.
Stuffed dungeness crab was one of the specials and my server sold me on it. He said it was outstanding. OK. The crab showed up looking like it was hit by a truck with parts scattered randomly across my plate. I'm not a stickler for pretty or fancy presentations, but the plate should look organized and intentional. No matter, I got over it. The crab was good, fresh, sweet - exactly what I would expect. The stuffing was not was I expected - it was better. Instead of butter-loaded bread stuffing, there was a light mix of hoard-boiled egg, what seemed like a little mayo, crab meat, tomalley, some chopped garnish, served cold. I added a little lemon juice and it was a perfect summer appetizer. Was it outstanding? Well, it stood out I suppose.
BROILED BRONZINO (MEDITERRANEAN SEA BASS)
This was another special that my server strongly recommended. Whole grilled fish is one of my favorites, and Mediterranean sea bass is a manageable fish at the dinner table. There's not much to do in terms of preparing a dish like this. Basically, you just don't mess it up by over- or under-cooking the fish. Served with some boiled potatoes and broccoli rabe, the fish was perfect. A little olive oil and lemon, and I just took my time and enjoyed the fish. Back in Fall River, my mother would make a sauce for fish like this, with lots of garlic, crushed pepper (the jarred with olive oil Azorean kind, not the dry Italian flame kind) and maybe some white wine - or a tomato and onion sauté to put over it. Though it may not be the best chance for a cook or chef to display his/her skills, there's no sauce that's going to make a well-grilled fish taste better than I does already.
72 Elm Road
Newark NJ 07105