Tag Archives: Anthony Bucco

Holiday Edition: Lunch at the Ryland Inn, Coolest Gingerbread House Ever, Giving Back

Ryland Inn Now Offering Lunch – Including a Fixed-Price Bargain

When this legendary Whitehouse restaurant reopened in 2012 I praised the new incarnation for capturing the essence of what it had felt like to dine there – what I termed “a sense of easy grace” in a refined-rustic setting – while allowing the fare to move headlong into the 21st century under its talented opening chef, Anthony Bucco.

Ryland Inn Opening Event 2012

Ryland Inn Opening Event 2012

In mid-2014 Bucco moved on (he’s now at Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs) and the Ryland kitchen was turned over to his sous chef and longtime collaborator, Craig Polignano. I hadn’t been back, so I jumped at the restaurant’s offer to have me sample the recently added lunch menu.

Ryland Inn lunch PolignanoOne reason I was keen to do this is because the current menus – dinner, brunch, and now lunch – appeared, at least to me, to be less cutting-edge, less exciting than previously. Gone, for example, was the tuna crudo I had adored, an appetizer with pickled watermelon, Asian pear, miso vinaigrette, and truffle, garnished with black sesame seeds and sesame powder. The current dinner menu sports an entree of seared tuna with sweet potato, trumpet mushrooms, bok choy, and spiced granola. It sounds perfectly fine, but see what I mean?

Well, you shouldn’t! Because, as my lunch progressed I learned that mere descriptions on a menu can be misleading. I purposely chose what sounded like the most mundane offering: the 3-course prix fixe lunch for $36. Even within that, I made choices that sounded boring. I started with Roasted Pumpkin Soup (the other option was Mixed Market Greens) and followed up that with Grilled Organic Salmon (instead of Griggstown Chicken Paillard “Nicoise”). The prix-fixe mandated dessert is Peanut Butter Mousse. Well, it takes an awful lot to make me relish a peanut butter dessert.

Ryland Inn pumpkin soupOver the years I have eaten more than my share of boring squash and pumpkin soups. Chef Polignano’s resembles them in no way. For one thing, he uses kabocha squash (my favorite member of the family), whipped into the silkiest puree. Vaduvan spices provide a subtle hint of curry, mascarpone adds richness, and diced Granny Smith apple and toasted pumpkin seeds, crunch. A jolt of salinity comes courtesy of capers.

Ryland Inn Grilled Organic Salmon

Ryland Inn Grilled Organic Salmon

The interest level of the salmon dish – a portion generous enough to be dinner – is sparked by freekeh, which adds a smoky nuttiness, and by freekeh’s perfect foil: tart, snappy pomegranate seeds. Nicely executed beets and Brussels sprouts alongside the buttery, full-flavored fish make this an ideal cold-weather choice.

Ryland Inn Reuben

Ryland Inn Reuben

I soon learned that I was wrong about even the most plebian offerings on the menu, like the Reuben. Instead of using brisket, Polignano sous vides beef short ribs with signature corned beef spices. The result is as flavorful as the original but without the grease or fattiness. The tender meat gets piled on slices of excellent house-made dark rye that’s slathered with “Route 28” dressing (the Ryland’s own take on Thousand Island dressing, named for its location) and topped with sauerkraut and melted cheddar.

Ryland Inn Peanut Butter Mousse

Ryland Inn Peanut Butter Mousse

Modernist technique applied to modest-sounding dishes is, in fact, the calling card here. The Ryland burger features house-smoked bacon jam and the Wagyu beef tartare includes puffed beef tendon. And that peanut butter mousse that I had little hope for? Under its chocolate cloak is a fluffy, sophisticated mousse with a touch of tamarind. As you can see from the photo, it comes with bruleed bananas and banana ice cream. (What you can’t see that the ice cream is extraordinary.) Nestled under the quenelle is a bed of peanut powder – the direct descendant of that high-tech sesame powder I so enjoyed in the Ryland’s early days.

These dishes and more represent the refined-rustic style that Polignano says is his aim. In some ways, it is better suited to the setting than what came before. In addition, several of the more precious or pretentious aspects that the Ryland sported upon opening have been eliminated. Gone, for example, is the selection of 7 (!) French-press coffees. Instead, guests can simply enjoy the excellent house blend from Coffee Afficionado in Morganville.

Ryland Inn rose

Ryland Inn rose

I’m told that lunch is now a permanent offering, but that the 3-course fixed-price option may or may not be continued beyond the holiday season. My advice: get this $36 steal before its gone. If that’s not in the cards, be sure schedule a visit early in the new year to check out Polignano’s handiwork at what can be called the new, new Ryland Inn.

And Now for Your Moment of Christmas Zen

…I offer up this gingerbread version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water, the creation of culinary artist Melodie Dearden.

Melodie Dearden's Falling Water Gingerbread House

Melodie Dearden’s Falling Water Gingerbread House

Tis the Season for Giving Back

Yes We CAN volunteers mercerspace.com

Yes We CAN volunteers
mercerspace.com

I believe in eating local and shopping local not only when it comes to food, but also in donating to charitable organizations. Which is why I was delighted to feature here in the December issue of the Princeton Echo the story behind Yes We CAN! which collects funds and food – both canned and, importantly, farm fresh – for clients of the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County.

If that’s too local for you, I have another suggestion. Uncharacteristically for me this Lawrenceville-based organization, the United Front Against Riverblindness, doesn’t have anything to do with food or combating hunger and yet I consider it one of the most effective and satisfying contributions I make.

A donation of $10 keeps 6 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo from going blind for one year. A $250 donation provides medication for an entire village! Here’s a previous post I wrote about their work.

2 Must See’s: My Interview with Judy Wicks & “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” @ George St. Playhouse

Judy Wicks of the Legendary White Dog Cafe to Speak at Duke Farms This Sunday

GoodMorning Beautiful Business

Wicks, local foods pioneer and a nationally recognized leader in the socially responsible business movement, is the keynote speaker at Slow Food Northern NJ’s event this Sunday, March 23rd, from 1 to 3:30 pm. Last week I spoke with Wicks about her upcoming appearance and her memoir, Good Morning, Beautiful Business. Read the conversation at www.njmonthly.com, then click the link at the end for tickets to the event, which cost $18 and include a lunch of local foods prepared by two of NJ’s finest chefs: Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn and Dan Richer of Razza and Arturo’s. The barn at Duke Farms in Hillsborough is the location.

Eat Your Heart Out at Charming, Hilarious One-Woman Tour de Force @ George St. Playhouse

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

I must admit it was with some trepidation that I attended the opening night in New Brunswick of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti, the adaptation of Giulia Melucci’s best-selling memoir about her romantic misadventures and how she cooked her way through them.

First off, like both Ms. Melucci and the actress who plays her onstage, Antoinette LaVecchia, I am an Italian-American girl with an East Coast accent who grew up eating my way through joys and sorrows while making Sunday gravy. Usually, this means my radar for authenticity gets in the way of my enjoyment of artistic representations of such. (Sorry, Cher, but this includes your performance in Moonstruck.)

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Second, the action involves Ms. LaVecchia preparing a 3-course meal onstage and serving it to a small number of audience members over the course of the performance. Antipasto, salad, and fresh pasta with Bolognese. So even my radar for authentic cooking would be on overdrive.

Third, the play itself or the acting could have fallen short, especially since it is a one-character play, and that character speaks directly to the audience. (High potential squirm factor.)

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Obviously, I Loved, I Lost… cleared all these hurdles. And then some. The set, simple but effective, is a working kitchen island and Ms. LaVecchia really does use it to make from-scratch Bolognese sauce (a can of Cento tomatoes included) and fresh pasta dough that she runs through a pasta maker and boils before our eyes. I had my doubts as to whether the results would taste good, until aromas began to waft over the theater in the third act. (For insurance, afterwards I approached some of the 10 diners who were perched at bistro tables on stage during the play, and who ate and drank wine – poured by Ms. LaVecchia – throughout. They confirmed that the sauce was terrific and the pasta perfetto.)

Lest you think this play is all gimmick, let me clarify. The character, Giulia, is smart, funny, earthy, real, and heartbreaking. (Someone characterized the book, correctly, as “Sex and the City meets Big Night.”) Ms. LaVecchia engages the audience from beginning to end. She’s so good at it and so relatable that when she asked, “Now where was I, what was I saying?” after a snafu with sound equipment had temporarily halted the performance, someone in the front row blurted out, “You were telling us why you broke up with Ethan.” Just as if a friend had asked during a tete-a-tete.

One cool side note: Catherine Lombardi restaurant, next door to the playhouse, is donating the ingredients needed for the production.

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti runs through April 11. Tickets and info at www.georgestreetplayhouse.org or call the box office at 732.246.7717.

Too Many Fall Events; Dining in San Francisco (part ii)

I know summer is really and truly over when…

…my inbox overflows with food & wine events. Here are some that captured my attention for one reason or another – like for being good deals; having big-time names associated with them; generously aiding important non-profits; or all of the above. See if you agree. btw: My good buddy Rosie Saferstein maintains a complete, definitive list of upcoming statewide events on Table Hopping with Rosie at www.njmonthly.com.

champagne wikipediaStarting Wednesday, 9/18 Elements in Princeton is featuring Sparkling Wednesdays. Ladies will be offered a different complimentary sparkling wine or sparkling cocktail. I am so there!

Sunday, 9/20, 7:30 pm: Slow Food Northern NJ is screening “La Cosecha” (“The Harvest”), a documentary about the estimated 300,000 children who work in American fields harvesting 20% of the foods you and I eat. Shameful and important. At the Ethical Culture Society, Maplewood. Suggested donation is $5. RSVP (by 9/18?!) to slowfoodnnj@yahoo.com.

Grape ExpectationsSaturday, 9/28, 6:30 to 11 pm: NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov will headline “Great Expectations,” a fundraiser for the Montclair Public Library Foundation, along with Montclair’s leading chefs and Sharon Sevrens of Amanti Vino Wines. There are 2 events and 2 prices. Details here.

Sunday, 9/29, 1 to 4 pm: The 13th annual Epicurean Palette at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton. VIP tickets have already sold out, but you can still sample the 40 restaurants (from NJ & PA) and 25 wine, beer, and spirits wineries/vendors/importers on the stunning grounds of this 42-acre sculpture park.  Details here.

Shane Cash of Rat's, Epicurean Palette 2012

Shane Cash of Rat’s, Epicurean Palette 2012

Monday, 10/7, 7 pm and/or Friday, 10/13, 6 pm: How fun is this? On 10/7, chef Anthony Bucco of the Ryland Inn will take over the reins of Fascino in Montclair from Ryan DePersio for 1 night. Then, on the 13th, the tables (and stoves) will turn, when chef DePersio takes over the Ryland for the night. Each will offer a prix fixe 5-course meal for $75. Call Fascino at 973.233.0350 for reservations for the 10/7 dinner and the Ryland Inn at 908.534.4011 for reservations for 10/13.

Shoot It Eat ItTuesday, 10/8, 6:3o to 9:30 pm: Admit it: like me, you’d jump at the chance to get professional help with taking food pics. Here’s your chance – while enjoying a terrific 3-course meal. Eno Terra in Kingston and professional photog Frank Veronsky of Princeton Photo Workshop are teaming up for “Shoot It, Eat It.” Each course will be specially plated and lighted so you can learn the tricks of the trade before devouring your salad, 3 main dishes (served family style), glass of wine, and dessert. Cost: $159 includes photography lesson, shooting, dining, tax and gratuity. $75 for your dining-only guest(s). To register click here.

Nopa: Restaurant Envy in San Francisco

NopaHere are just a few of the thoughts running through my head as I enjoyed dinner at Nopa (shorthand for NOrth of the PAnhandle), which last year the New York Times termed “a cult favorite” in a city full of cult restaurants:

“Any restaurant in New Jersey would kill for Monday night business like this!”
All of its 110 seats were filled early on – and people were lined 2-deep at the very long bar.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer food of this caliber at these prices?”
Nopa’s contemporary “rustic California” cuisine embraces organic, farm-to-table, wood-fired and Mediterranean elements. The food, drink, and setting are exciting but not stuffy; painstaking but not precious. Here are some of the “bargains:” $14 for the best hamburger of my life. And it was grass-fed and came with pickled onions and fries. $9 for a starter of baked duck egg, romesco sauce, summer squash, and shaved pantaleo (a hard goat cheese from Sardinia by way of Cowgirl Creamery). Likewise, wood-baked butter beans, feta, oregano pesto, and breadcrumbs.

“Why can’t restaurants back home offer cocktails and wines of this caliber at these prices?”
Interesting, well-concocted cocktails made from premium and housemade ingredients, all at $9 and $10, like the Summit: St. George Terroir gin, grapefruit, lime, and honey. And a nicely curated international wine list plus reasonably priced by-the-glass options like Daniele Ricci “El Matt” 2010 Bonarda, $9.

“How can I get NJ restaurants to adopt Nopa’s “Monday Magnums” program?”
Every Monday they crack open a different magnum-format wine and offer it by the glass. On my visit it was a 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Monpertuis for $16.

“How lucky am I to have found myself here?”
It wasn’t by virtue of my own research, or the recommendation of any of my food-world friends, or serendipity. It was through my brilliant future son-in-law, Ryan, who lived in NoPa when the restaurant opened, knew a good thing when he saw it, and watched it bring about the transformation of this neighborhood.

Reservations are hard to come by at Nopa, which currently has 3,291 reviews on Yelp, but if you find yourself without one, know that the bar (and communal table) open at 5 pm and serve snacks til 6.
Nopa on Urbanspoon

Ryland Inn in Edible Jersey; 5 NYTimes Restaurant Critics Discuss the Process; You (and Your Kid) Can Be an Archaeologist for a Day; Judy Wicks in Stockton

My Interview with Chef Anthony Bucco & Owner Jeanne Cretella of the Ryland Inn

In the just-out Fall 2013 issue of Edible Jersey I ask these key players: Can this legendary restaurant really be reborn and, if so, what’s their strategy and how’s it going. Here’s the link to the digital edition. The story starts on page 66.

Edible jersey cover fall 13

Times’ Reviewers Dish on the Art of Restaurant Reviewing

In case this somehow got by you, here’s a terrific video featuring Pete Wells, Ruth Reichl, et al on subjects close to my heart, such as assigning stars, going incognito, overused adjectives, what they won’t eat, etc. Someday, when I’m done reviewing NJ restaurants, I promise to spill my own beans on all of the above subjects – and more.

The Following has Nothing to do with Food or Dining but…

Morven archaeology

… at one time I worked for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and have always been fascinated by archeology. If you have, too, this Saturday (9/14) you – and a child, if you so choose – can participate in a dig at Morven, the 18th century former NJ Governor’s mansion in Princeton. Click here for details. It’s free and open to the public. Oddly, the Morven website doesn’t give enrollment info. To reserve a spot, phone (609) 924-8144 x106 or email Michelle Sheridan at msheridan@morven.org.

Legendary White Dog Cafe Restaurateur @ Stockton Farm Market

Judy Wicks book

Interesting slate of events for September at the Stockton Farmers Market, beginning this Sunday (9/15) with legendary restaurateur Judy Wicks:

Sunday, September 15 Judy Wicks will be signing her recently published memoir Good Morning, Beautiful Business at the market on Sunday September 15th for a discussion of her book which is about her life as a girl coming of age in the sixties, living a year in an Eskimo village, co-founding the Free People’s store, her accidental entry into the restaurant business, the creation of the White Dog Cafe in Philly and her eventual role as a pioneer in the localization movement. She’ll talk about how entrepreneurs, as well as consumers, can follow both mind and heart to build a more compassionate economy that will bring us greater security, and happiness. Join her Sunday, September 15th from 10am-1pm.

Ryland Inn Preview Dinner

New Jersey’s most well known restaurant is back up and running – well, almost – with a series of preview dinners. Does Ryland Inn 2.0 measure up? Here’s a sneak peak.

English: women in masquerade

English: women in masquerade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I get down to specifics, clarifications are in order. In my capacity as restaurant critic I do my utmost to dine anonymously. If there’s even a slight chance that I may be recognized, I don a disguise. (During my days as radio talk show host I interviewed many chefs and restaurateurs face to face.) My disguise is so effective that even my brother-in-law who has known me for decades did not recognize me in it. (I sought out professional advice. It’s a great story that I’ll relate when my reviewing days are over.)

That said, I did not go to the new Ryland Inn in disguise. It wasn’t necessary – not because owners Jeanne & Frank Cretella and executive chef Anthony Bucco don’t know me. They do. I went in plain sight for the simple reason that there is no way I can officially review this restaurant. I am totally compromised because my husband, Bill, is the site engineer for the project through his employer, Van Cleef Engineering.

And that said, here’s my report on my preview dinner – as objective as I can make it.

Overall Impressions

In short, the Ryland Inn is poised to reclaim its rightful place among the Garden State’s best. Not because it recreates the old days – that would be a losing proposition. On the contrary, Bucco’s food is totally 21st century, totally his own, and totally exciting.

Yet the team has recaptured one important aspect from back in the day: the essence of what it felt like to dine at the Ryland. The place has been renovated inside and out – including the addition attractive new fittings and fixtures that mix traditional and au courant elements – but is still recognizable, and that sense of easy grace remains. This applies to the service, too, which is polished, informed, and correct, but also warm, natural, and as interactive as you want it to be – which is also reminiscent of the glory days.

The Meal

We started with a drink at the bar, where mixologist Chris made this beautiful cocktail of pomegranate juice and reposado tequila topped with Champagne and garnished with a grapefruit twist.
The amuse – coins of spanking fresh, rose-red tuna and coral-pink salmon crudo in broth – was simultaneously bracing and luxurious. We downed it so quickly (as we did the Asiago sourdough bread) that we neglected to snap a photo.

A situation we did not repeat with this bowl of potato gnocchi with duck prosciutto and chanterelles in Pecorino broth:

All pistons are firing in this dish, the toothsome pillows the perfect the canvas for slivers of rich, salty duck and earthy mushrooms. Ditto for the pistons in this

creamy chilled celeriac and potato soup with smoked trout, Swiss chard, and horseradish creme fraiche. The textures and flavors of both dishes have nothing in common except that the elements of each are exquisitely attuned and harmonious.

This seared tuna blew us away: It arrived in one piece, looking for all the world like a block of pork belly. But a gentle nudge with my fork revealed these pre-cut slices. Among its elements are pickled watermelon, Asian pear, miso vinaigrette, and truffle. Sesame shows up in the form of black seeds, toasted oil, and – see the white stuff by the fork tines? – sesame powder. Yes, Chef Bucco plays with chemistry (maltodextrin in this case) and the latest technologies, but never just for effect. If you have never grasped the concept of umami, this dish will enlighten you. If it were an IPO, I’d invest in it.

About this horseradish-crusted organic Irish salmon:

my husband declared it the best textured salmon he has ever had. It’s encrusted with horseradish crumbs (not as dark as it appears here) and that’s horseradish creme anchoring it. Pickled fennel adds a note of anise; arugula one of pepper. It’s hard to see, but resting in the cream sauce are red quinoa, cucumber balls the size of peas, and mushroom balls even smaller. All intensely flavorful. How is this accomplished?

This photo doesn’t do justice to the tasting of lamb with smoked polenta, braised endive, and romesco sauce.  In addition to the rosy seared loin medallions shown, it includes meltingly tender chunks of braised shank, a rib bone (which, I’m embarrassed to say I picked up with my hands and gnawed), and – wait for it – sweetbreads.

Here are before and after shots of the cheesecake “truffle” with Graham cracker sponge and strawberries (they looked like wild ones):

“Truffle” cracked open

Before I cracked open the lemony cheesecake “truffles” that look like eggs

Our photography skills lapsed again as we dug into a moist cake made with Terhune Orchards apples accompanied by fig-balsamic puree, raisin chutney, and creme fraiche ice cream, as well as fresh figs and nasturtium leaves. Another showstopper is panna cotta made with Valley Shepherd sheep’s milk yogurt with a puree of local basil seeds and bits of tropical fruits – fresh and manipulated – including star fruit, kiwi, and pineapple.

The coffee service shown reminds me of other elegant appointments, which included a Laguiole steak knife for my lamb course, world-class wine glasses, and ultra-luxuriant napkins. You can end your meal with one of 7 French press coffees. If tea is your thing, among the loose leaf choices are a biodynamic one and City Harvest Green, for which 20% goes to that worthy organization.

Snagging a Reservation

There will be at least another week of preview dinners at the Ryland, with reservations now being accepted on OpenTable for October 1 and beyond. Keep in mind that the menu and much else are being tweaked, so the dishes I enjoyed may or may not be what you encounter. Rest assured, though, that they will be of that caliber.

The Tab

Wondering about prices? Well, these also may fluctuate, but here’s some idea of what to expect: a la carte starters range from $10 (that celeric soup, for instance) to $16 (grilled Spanish octopus with cranberry beans, feta, pine nuts, salsa verde). Entrees, $27 for Amish chicken breast with roasted root vegetables, hazelnut puree, and tarragon jus, to $36 for the tasting of lamb. Desserts, $9 to $12. During previews a 7-course chef’s degustation is $85.

Wines are, to my mind, similarly reasonable. We ordered two reds by the glass, to go with the salmon and lamb respectively. Our lead server, Marc, made excellent, knowing choices for us after asking about our wine predilections.

In conclusion, welcome back Ryland Inn

Restaurants Galore: Brian’s Review, Bernards Inn, Nicholas, Ryland Inn; Plus Win a Trip to Portugal

My 3-star review of Brian’s – chef/owner Brian Held‘s French/Italian bistro in Lambertville that opened earlier this year in the space on Kline’s Court that had been No. 9 – is in the August issue of New Jersey Monthly. Check out the online version here.

NJ Seafood is Having Its Moment

seafood

seafood (Photo credit: kiszka king)

I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or what, but this summer the state’s top-tier chefs are showcasing fish and seafood from local waters like never before. Just a few of the most exciting examples:

The Bernards Inn: For the Garden State Bounty dinner he’ll be cooking at the Beard House on August 9, executive chef Corey Heyer will combine NJ seafood with ingredients from the Inn’s own garden. In a nutshell (or perhaps sea shell):

Hors d’oeuvre of smoked blue fish, Cape May salt oysters, clams (in the form of a shooter), blue crab, and lobster (in the form of a summer roll).

Four courses featuring fluke, Barnegat Inlet scallops, skate, and striped bass.

Dessert is fish-less, and rightly so: Jersey peach tart Tatin with local honey and lavender ice cream.

Bernards Inn wine director Terri Baldwin has selected wines for each course. For the full menu and to make reservations for the Beard House ($130 -$170) click here.

Nicholas: On August 23, Nicholas Harary will feature a one-night-only Tastes of the Sea menu at his top-rated Red Bank restaurant. Cape May salts, NJ Canyon bluefin tuna, Jersey blue crab (joined by sea urchin – not a NJ creature, but oh my!), Barnegat Light scallops, and lobster. $125, or $175 with wine pairings. For the full menu, details, and reservations, click here.

Ryland Inn: No, Ryland 2.0 in Whitehouse is not open yet, but I hear tell it will be soon. Meanwhile, I had a chance to preview the kinds of things executive chef Anthony Bucco has up his chef-jacket sleeve when he guest cheffed at the Stone House in Warren one evening in June. NJ seafood starred in several courses of a memorable meal, among them a perfectly nuanced crudo of yellowfin and yellowtail with baby herbs and Jersey strawberries, and steamed black bass with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a puree of English peas and mint that was the embodiment of spring in a bowl.

btw: If you haven’t read Tammy La Gorce’s excellent story in the August issue of  NJ Monthly about the Ryland’s new owners, Jeanne & Frank Cretella of Landmark Hospitality, read it here.

Win a Trip to Portugal!

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Dou...

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Douro river. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trade association ViniPortugal has launched a U.S. Facebook contest with a grand prize of a five-day trip to Portugal.  The contest runs between now and September 25th, with the winner announced on September 28. I have to admit I haven’t read the rules, but you might want to. Just click here.

Two Posts in One Day? Must Be Important News!!

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.

UPROOT YOURSELF

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.