If you enjoy dinner-as-theater, you’ll relish what chef/owner Tre Ghoshal terms “postmodern dining” at “the first restaurant of its kind in New Jersey…specializing in molecular gastronomy.” Expect clouds of hickory smoke, smoldering dehydrated vanilla beans, sea-wind foam, porcini soil, neon-hued gels and savory liquid-nitrogen ice creams at his 52-seat BYO, which opened in October. While it’s true that Adara is the first to rely almost exclusively on chemical texturizers and high-tech equipment like centrifuges, immersion circulators, the Anti-Griddle and the Smoking Gun, other New Jersey restaurants have been using these for a while (Elements in Princeton comes to mind).
Having been a chef at two Montclair restaurants, Market and Nouveau Sushi (both gone), Ghoshal sees Adara (which loosely translates as “love” in Sanskrit) as his inevitable next step. “Our numbers make sense,” he says. “People may want or expect us to close within months, but we’re in this for the long run.”
Ghoshal, 31, has been working in kitchens since he was 14, including in Northern California. “After that, I discovered Paris and Japan, so French fusion provides the foundation for what I do,” he begins. “At the same time, food trends were developing very fast, and although I did not come from molecular gastronomy kitchens, I was learning avant-garde food.” Ghoshal has said repeatedly that he hopes to burst onto the New York restaurant scene and that he’s aiming for Michelin stars.
He is betting on dishes like the Smoking Crudo starter to take him there. It is dramatically presented under a clear glass contraption that, when lifted, emits clouds of smoke that conjure autumn leaves burning. The smoke disappears almost immediately, revealing its central ingredients: a winning combo of wagyu beef carpaccio fanned around a mound of pristine yellowtail hamachi, the beef subdued enough in flavor not to overwhelm the delicate fish. But wait, there’s more! Arrayed around the rim of the plate are four dots of glowing green apple gel. And there’s foam made with peppercorn. We ordered this dish on two occasions, and on one the foam was all bitterness, no flavor. The second time around the bitterness seemed to have been tamed, but still no discernible flavor.
This dish represents a pattern here. The proteins that form the centerpiece are exquisite. Fish and meat are cooked sous vide, resulting in silky textures and enhanced flavor. Thus, black cod in a black lime gastrique and ginger broth is a winner, as is lamb epices, which features a succulent, thick lamb chop on the bone, a decadent goat-cheese fritter and smoky (without actual smoke) baba ganoush. But the lamb dish comes with an affected precursor. Several minutes before the plate arrives, the diner is presented with a pale-gold translucent sheet suspended on an alligator clip and told to let it melt on the tongue. My tablemate who ordered it detected pleasant smoky spices, but any effect disappeared long before the dish materialized.
I have personally enjoyed modernist cuisine (yet another term) in restaurants from New York and New Jersey to California and Madrid. When done well, it leaves me marveling at how nature’s flavors can be so absurdly intensified, and at unexpected textures that offer new insight into an ingredient or flavor juxtaposition. It can and should be witty, provocative sleight of hand, every bit as enjoyable as, say, watching a master magician at work. That sometimes happens at Adara—where the food is at least gorgeous to behold—but not often enough. Ghoshal himself reports that he has received mixed reviews from customers.
The three-course pre-fixe for $59 is the best deal here, as you get choices among two apps, two desserts and three entrées, as well as a complimentary amuse and intermezzo. If you want to experience the 5-, 7-, or 12-course chef’s “tours,” you must let the restaurant know at least 24 hours in advance, and the whole table must participate.
Two months after the opening, I detected improvements. But there are no nightly specials. Once you’ve worked your way through the six starters, seven entrées and five desserts, will the novelty wear off? I have to wonder about the restaurant’s long-term viability.