By LINDA G. RASTELLI
With Asian, Italian and vegetarian (to name a few) influences, the Eurasian Eatery has long managed to defy categorization.
It’s not vegetarian, exactly, though vegetarian dishes account for 70 percent of the menu, making it a favorite among meat avoiders. Yet theres no shortage of carnivores who patronize the Monmouth Street restaurant.
“Couples come in, and only one is vegetarian, but everyone finds something on the menu,” says Joe Kriete, who with his wife Tara, took over the restaurant one year ago.
“I’d love for it to be all vegetarian, but it wouldn’t be fair to people who come for our meat dishes,” says Joe, himself an omnivore.
As its name suggests, the Eurasian embraces both Asian and European cuisine. Joe describes the menu as “a broad mix between European and Asian cultures, and everything in between.”
Where else, for example, can you find a pairing like Neapolitan dumplings with homemade marinara sauce and a parmesan cream, wrapped in Asian rice paper? Or black bean moussaka sharing menu space with Hungarian chicken paprikash and Thai sautés?
“Italian and Thai dishes those are a lot of fun.” says Joe.
Tara, whose favorite dish is cassoulet St. Moritz, teaches sixth-grade science during the day, but her enthusiasm for the restaurant is evident even when shes talking about the work involved in juggling her business, a year-old baby and her teaching.
After buying the eatery from Doris and Richard Chan, the Krietes knew they had a winning hand. The eclectic cuisine had attracted loyal followers who appreciated things the way they were. So much so that Joe says he realized quickly that “people were afraid it was going to change” when they came in.
Still, he and Tara couldnt resist tweaking the menu. “In the afternoons, we fool around with ingredients, while we’re doing prep,” says Joe, a former high school history teacher who speaks animatedly. And fortunately, “people seem to like anything we add.”
Not that they went nuts with the changes. Some staff members have worked there more than 20 years, and “they keep me in line,” says Joe. “They’re like the consumer generals in here, pointing things out, asking if Im doing something different. They give us feedback on how people like certain changes.”
A raw vegan carrot cake sold out the first time they offered it. “The base is a pulp of juiced carrots,” Tara describes, “with a date crust and a cashew butter topping.”
A full one-third of the menu is devoted to dumplings, a big seller dumplings with cheese, dumplings with broccoli, dumplings with eggplant, dumplings with carrots, dumplings with chicken cordon bleu.
Some new creations, such as Thai dumplings, Malaysian Satay tofu, and vegetarian (Neapolitan) dumplings, have been added to the ongoing specials menu. Longtime customers would request old favorites, such as Buddhist pancakes, so they were gladly resurrected, although “labor-intensive,” says Joe.
“It’s a funny business like that, you can never gauge it,” says Joe, shaking his head. “We took stuffed cabbage off, then people started requesting it and it’s been hard to take it off since. I think people taste the labor that goes into the food.”
Joe is from Red Bank and working toward a masters degree in history. Tara teaches in Freehold, where she grew up.
The Krietes bought the restaurant in June 2006, and their lives got even more complicated a month later with the birth of their daughter, Ella. But they knew what they were getting into, because they had worked at the Eurasian for more than a decade before buying it. Tara waitressed there while attending Brookdale Community College, and after she and Joe both began attending Rutgers University, he came on, too, as a waiter and cook.
“We knew owning a restaurant would be hard work,” says Tara.
But “we’ve always loved this place, and dreamed of owning a restaurant,” adds Joe.