You Know Speed Dating? Here are 9 Speed Reviews
In the closing months of 2014 I had several dining experiences that I never got a chance to write up, including at 2 new Princeton eateries. At this point you’ve likely heard and read about the major new places, such as Jockey Hollow. Nonetheless, allow me to weigh in with these quick hits:
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen Morristown’s Vail Mansion is the gorgeous Italianate-meets-the-21st century setting for acclaimed restaurateur Chris Cannon’s return to the dining scene. I was a huge fan of one of his first NYC restaurants, L’Impero, and the press dinner I attended at Jockey Hollow last fall was of the same caliber. I am skeptical of press dinners because they can exceed what paying customers will get to experience, so was delighted to read the raves about the food and drink in this New York Times review of February 7, 2015.
SweetGrass Last October chef/owner Sarah Gresko took over the space in Hopewell that had been Bell & Whistle, and the NY Times rewarded her with this glowing report. She kept the attractive setting featuring natural stones and woods, but brought her modern sensibility of Southern fare. I really enjoy her shrimp & grits (with a hush puppy and pickled okra) and textbook-perfect creme brulee, but I wish the menu displayed a little more excitement and that the prices were a tad gentler. Also, am I the only one who finds the room beautiful but cold (visually and temperature-wise)?
Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue I loved the barbecue when Mighty Quinn’s was at the Stockton Farm Market, touting it to everyone I encountered. I was devastated when it up and moved to NY, then delighted when it opened an outpost in Clifton. So imagine my shock when I and the five discriminating diners I dragged here were disappointed with everything we ordered, which encompassed pretty much the entire menu. This place is still garnering rave reviews, which baffles me.
Under the Moon Cafe This Bordentown restaurant isn’t new, but I hadn’t visited it since it moved several doors down to a larger space (in 2011) and expanded its Argentinean menu. OMG. The best empanadas ever, plus arborio rice balls stuffed with manchego, patatas bravas, albondigas in tomato sauce, etc. Every dish a winner.
La Costenita This authentic Mexican market, takeout shop, and casual eatery has flourished because of the from-scratch, homestyle cooking mandated by its cheerful owner, Alicia Arango, who hails from Oaxaca. Her tacos, tamales, flautas, and other specialties are special enough to have overcome a location in a set-back strip mall in Hillsborough and having debuted during the lowest point of the recent economic downturn. Pictured below, from front to back, are sopes (including one with beef tongue) on homemade tortillas, plantanos, and tacos.
Washington Crossing Inn Fans of the erstwhile Za in Pennington take note: chef Mark Valenza is plying his trade at this lovely historic property just across the river in Bucks County. He’s bringing some spark to the tradition-bound menu with signatures like Navajo fry bread and Tsukiji tuna & shrimp with bok choy & fermented black beans.
Mamoun’s Falafel, Princeton Given its wide and devoted following in NYC and elsewhere in NJ, I waited with bated breath for this one to open on my home turf. You know what? The falafel IS really good. Everything else? Meh.
30 Burgers, Princeton As much as I like to support Jersey-based businesses, I have little positive to say about this place, a branch of the smallish 25 Burgers chain with locations throughout the state. I’m happy to see it succeed, but my notes about its bacon cheeseburger include “flat, foodservice-grade pattie” (for the record, they use 100% Angus beef) and “gummy, salty orange-yellow cheese.”
Mistral There’s nothing really new or changed at this Princeton sibling to Elements – if you don’t count the gorgeous, recently enclosed patio or that it now has has a liquor license – but I include it because (a) I want to end on a positive note and (b) chef Ben Nerenhausen’s eclectic small plates just get better with every visit. The menu changes frequently, but let me share two wows from this past fall: Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms roasted in chicken fat with prunes, cockscomb jus, polenta and shaved black truffle; and roasted duck ramen with duck confit, autumn pumpkin, and scallions.
Whew! Speed reviewing is exhausting. As is speed dating, or so I imagine.