One of the first things we noticed when we walked into Sesame, a Chinese restaurant on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, is how much it is a study in contrasts.
The restaurant, at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Seymour Street, has green awnings and big glass-paned front window and feels welcoming to customers. It is an unassuming establishment with plywood floors and brick walls. An exposed heating/air conditioning duct ran through part of the dining room. The restaurant was spread out over several rooms and contains two dining rooms and a party room.
The first contrast we experienced were the different styles of music piped in softly over the speakers in the dining room. First we heard soft jazz piano with a stray saxophone, but before the night was through, we also heard a version of Carlos Santana's Black Magic Woman, I Left My Heart in San Francisco and finally Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend. I couldn't help but be amused by this.
After being seated, our waiter brought our menus and offered us drinks. The tablecloths were set in layers, with a thick blue tablecloth on the bottom, another intermediary layer in between and then paper tablecloth sheets on top.
Since it was a Chinese restaurant, my wife, my 14-year-old daughter and I ordered tea. We were surprised the tea came in free refill mugs and not the standard pot. It was served piping-hot and unsweetened. My 12-year-old daughter went for her old standby, a can of Sprite.
The menu included much of the traditional fare families enjoy at Chinese restaurants, but it was the daily specials that caught our eye. Not being Chinese food novices, we kicked off the meal with a few comfort appetizers that whetted our appetites for the main courses.
No Chinese meal is complete in our family without soup and Sesame offers some standard fare – wonton, egg drop, egg drop with wonton, etc. But if you look a bit closer, you see Mandarin Noodle soups, a clear brothed soup with thin (Mai Fun), wide (Chow Fun) and egg (lo mein) type rice noodles.
If you're a bit more adventurous, try the Seafood Noodle Soup ($9.45), the House Noodle Soup ($9.45) or the Pickled Cabbage & Shredded Pork Noodle Soup ($8.75). My wife and I sampled the Chicken and Corn Soup for Two ($5.95). While the soup was very hot, it appeared the broth was the same as the broth for my daughter's Egg Drop Soup. While our soup contained an abundance of chicken, the corn was a scarcity. The waiter brought over this soup in a tureen and ladled out an equal portion to both my wife and myself. Even then, I realized there was almost another full portion left in the tureen, which we quickly split and gobbled up just prior to our waiter returning with the next course.
Our next appetizer was egg rolls ($1.75). My wife and I constantly politely disagree about this item – I'm of the opinion a good egg roll should be stuffed with equal parts meat, cabbage and vegetables. She doesn't mind an egg roll just the opposite – so long as the crust is crunchy and thick.
She got her wish this time as the egg rolls made the mandatory crunching sound with each bite we took. She asked our waiter if the egg rolls were made in the restaurant or imported and just warmed up when ordered. Our waiter said the appetizer was made in-house and that got extra kudos from my wife.
Our last appetizer was a small portion (five-pieces) of barbecued spare ribs ($9.55). These were our favorite appetizer since the ribs were both meaty and slid off the bone quite easily. Although our waiter provided us with extra sweet & sour sauce, the ribs were seasoned just right and there was no need for it.
With the appetizers now completed, it was on to the main course. We each ordered an entrée and were not disappointed.
The entrées themselves were also a study in contrasts. Our large-portioned entrées were served in oversized plates, though we were given small appetizer-sized plates to use. There was no way all that food was going to fit on 6-inch-wide appetizer plates, but we were determined to make it work and we did.
We ate family style and shared our favorites. My youngest daughter ordered chicken and broccoli in white sauce ($11.95) but found herself overwhelmed by the size of the portion.
My 14-year-old daughter ordered her standby — vegetable lo mein — but eagerly watched wide-eyed as our waiter brought over the last two entrées — my special of the day, three-nut chicken with walnuts, honey peanuts and cashews ($17.95) and my wife's shrimp with scallions and ginger ($19.55).
I have to admit at this point my children weren't the only ones overwhelmed. The portions arrived with bowls of brown and white rice. When our waiter finally set down the last of our dishes and stepped back from the table, the abundance of food, china, glasses and mugs of tea took up practically every square inch of the table. Every move we made had to be carefully orchestrated so some type of item on the table didn't fall off.
Somehow, we managed to finish a good portion of the meal. The food was tasty, fresh, piping hot and delicious. We were so overwhelmed by the large portions, we ended up bringing home our leftovers. After tasting the food, it made me want to come back again and again to try some of the other items we didn't get a chance to try this time.
The restaurant itself was starting to get busy as we completed our meal. It is in a good location with plenty of parking.
We made note of the unisex bathrooms and how dark the lighting was inside. A noisy recirculation fan exchanged air in the bathrooms. Though the two bathrooms we visited were handicap accessible, the path to the bathrooms required patrons to walk down some steps and then down a short hallway to reach their destination.
It is a BYOB establishment. A liquor store next door, also run by the restaurant, was open and the waiter suggested we go there next time to pick out a bottle of wine.
400 Bloomfield Ave. (corner of Seymour St., Montclair)
Phone: (973) 746-2553
Hours: Weekdays: Noon-9:30 p.m., Friday/Saturday: Noon-10:30 p.m.
Reservations recommended, BYOB