Flemington has needed a good restaurant for a long time, and in Matt’s Red Rooster Grill, it finally has one. The old house is in a great location, just opposite Flemington Fur’s resale shop. You’ll recognize it by the sign with a red rooster and by the stainless-steel knife and fork embedded in the concrete below the steps leading into the building.
This touch of whimsy bodes well for shoppers looking for a fun place to eat. The first floor has been gutted and the walls removed, exposing the staircase that leads to the upstairs dining rooms. The colors in this modern setting are almost Colonial—gray, cinnamon, burgundy, yellow, and nut brown—and the effect is pleasing. An open kitchen along the rear wall features the usual stainless-steel chef’s equipment as well as a wood-burning grill.
Service is pleasant one time but strange another, primarily because of an overly dramatic waiter who accomplishes everything with an exaggerated flourish. The final straw comes when I comment that my roast duck is limp and soggy; his reply, delivered with a shrug of his shoulders, “I don’t cook it, I just serve it,” leaves us open-mouthed.
Yet I like the restaurant and its charming owners, Matt McPherson and Matt Green, who seem to alternate duties in front of the stove and in the front of the house. We’re fortunate to visit when each is cooking, because there is a difference. On the evening that Green cooks, everything is very highly spiced, even something we wouldn’t expect to be, like the hearty and well-flavored New England clam soup, which could do without the punch of spice.
The presentations are homey and copious rather than elegant, and the menu changes every couple of months. A dip of baked crab, spinach, and artichoke topped with a heavy layer of melted cheese and served with toast points would be more at home at a cocktail party, although it’s tasty and enjoyed by all at my table.
A wild-mushroom tart topped with blue cheese and a sweet port wine reduction would be better without the cheese and sauce. But two small crab cakes, served with a spicy, chunky red-pepper sauce and carrot/apple slaw, are good, as are the roasted butternut squash soup and the pumpkin ravioli coated with sage butter and chopped nuts.
The Tuna Tower is very spicy and a bit mushy, while a foie gras special grilled with slivered apple, jícama, and chopped nuts is excellent. A tasting of three soups—curried butternut squash, clam, and onion—is forgettable. Nor am I a fan of the grilled romaine lettuce wedge topped with a creamy Parmesan dressing, although my guests like it.
Entrées outshine the other courses. The macadamia-crusted Hawaiian butterfish, enhanced by a Chardonnay cream sauce, is buttery and fresh-tasting. A spiny lobster tail with couscous is also very good, as are the grilled scallops with sweet salsa, grilled salmon with chunky roasted-shallot cream, and a spicy, crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken. A rack of lamb dusted with pistachio powder is somewhat charred but good, and the grilled filet mignon is excellent.
Desserts are unappealing by and large, except for a dome-shaped peanut butter mousse on a crisp chocolate-coated crust.
Reviewed in: February, 2006