Located on a side street several long blocks from the Ridgewood railroad station and the heart of downtown, Café 37 is not a place you’re likely to happen by in a car or on foot. But there’s plenty of parking across the street from the restaurant, whose simple, glass-paneled façade glows beckoningly at night.
Step inside on a typical evening, and the pleasantries and badinage between staff and guests set the tone. First-timers fit right in. After all, you found the place. And if you forgot to bring a bottle to this BYO, there’s a liquor store right across the narrow street, so close you can almost make out the prices from your table.
Above a dark wood floor, abstract paintings (not prints) on pale walls brighten the atmosphere. The menu vibe is pleasantly French, with peregrinations. On our first visit, plump shrimp tempura over noodles of slivered zucchini were fresh, tasty and fun even without hits of the sweet/tart orange dipping sauce. On our second visit, a generous portion of very fresh beef carpaccio won happy nods.
A plate of four fresh, thick scallops, appealingly seared, came with spears of fresh asparagus and a suave smoked gouda fondue. Medallions of grass-fed filet mignon, tender under a craveable char, were elaborated with sauteed vegetables and a red wine reduction worth mopping up.
Crisp-skinned bronzino was excellent, but coins of thin-sliced white chicken meat were dull and chewy, leaving very good fresh sauteed spinach and asparagus in the lurch.
The $54, four-course prix fixe is a very solid deal. Desserts, like a bread pudding a bit on the heavy side, are maybe not as reliable as a dish of ice cream, which was very good.
Café 37, like so many small restaurants, is one chef’s American dream. The chef is César Sotomayor, 46. Ten years ago, finding himself in a rut, “I realized I needed to make a move.” He was one of the chefs at the well regarded Ridgewood restaurant Latour. “I was like a sponge, and I had learned a lot there,” he says. “Michael Latour had given me a great deal of support. He was a great mentor and friend.”
At 35, Sotomayor felt it was time to take a risk. It would not be his first. He had grown up in Venezuela in a family whose matriarch was a superb cook. The family produced seven chefs, “all with different kinds of hospitality businesses.” In 1999, he himself had settled in Ridgewood. Studying English at Bergen Community College, he later earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management there.
“The guy I rented an apartment from in Midland Park liked my food at Latour a lot and also at the Village Green in Ridgewood,” Sotomayor says. “He offered to go into business with me, and I said yes. First I had to cook for like 20 members of his family. The feedback was very positive. We opened Café 37 as partners ten years ago. I bought him out in 2019.”
Sotomayor and Michael Latour are still friends. “We go out fishing for stripers together in Raritan Bay,” Sotomayor says.
If you’re fishing for a good meal, at a fair if not bargain price, Sotomayor’s side-street storefront is worth a visit.
37 S Broad Street, Ridgewood, 201-857-0437; cafe-37.com.Click here to leave a comment