Here’s the scoop: The new executive chef at the Ryland Inn, which is expected to come back online this summer, will be Anthony Bucco. Bucco, formerly of Uproot in Warren and for many years before that Stage Left in New Brunswick, happens to be one of my favorites, so I could not be more pleased.
Here is a reprint of what I wrote about my first visit to Uproot early in 2010, when it was still new and he was still in charge of the kitchen. (It may still be just as good, but since I haven’t been there since he departed, I can’t say.) Anyway, congrats to everyone involved. Those are big shoes to fill (those of Craig Shelton, of course), but I am very hopeful.
When I learned that Anthony Bucco, longtime chef at Stage Left in New Brunswick, is the executive chef at Uproot, a new restaurant in Warren, I wanted to check it out pronto. This meant not waiting to dine there in my official capacity as restaurant critic, but rather as a civilian – one of a group of six friends out for an evening on the town. What follows is a report on my experience, which differs from the norm because the folks there knew I was coming, there was no need for me to don the disguise I have used in the past, and I dined there on my own dime.
The name of the restaurant has both literal and symbolic meaning. Uprooting himself is exactly what Bucco has done. And the exciting design of the restaurant includes a whimsical take on an inverted tree suspended overhead. Amazingly, the tree isn’t the most dramatic element in this sleek, sophisticated space that manages to be inviting and comfortable as well as ultramodern.
Service is pretty sleek, too. I sometimes forget what it feels like to have your every want and need anticipated, but was reminded of that here. As, too, when a restaurant pays attention to every last detail, including good, crusty rolls, an intelligent cheese plate, and excellent coffee.
Other pluses here: adult cocktails and an interesting wine list. Sommelier/general manager Jonathan Ross (formerly of Anthos in New York) found some impressive vintages within our $60 cap, including a 2000 Chateauneuf du Pape and a 2002 Alsace Riesling.
Every dish on Uproot’s modern American menu peaked my interest. Even the amuse bouche provided excitement: crostini topped with elk tartare. Chef Bucco has a very special way with fish, so I ordered the special appetizer of local fluke with onion marmalade followed by black cod poached in grapefruit-accented broth and, in between, my tablemates and I shared a portion of lightly seared tuna. I smiled contentedly through all three courses while the meat-lovers in my group extolled the venison with rutabaga gratin and huckleberries.
Other dishes, while still good, didn’t quite match the ‘wow’ factor of the above. Pear and bitter greens salad, gnocchi with Surryano ham, and roast chicken with root vegetables, for example.
These days, it is heartening to see a restaurant open that doesn’t stint on style or dumb down its menu in deference to today’s economic conditions. With seven out of ten entrees under $30, the folks at Uproot “get” the economy while providing a welcome respite from the currently ubiquitous “upscale” burgers, mac and cheese, and short ribs.