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New Jersey Monthly Magazine
Restaurant Review
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Serenäde

Reviewed by Valerie Sinclair   
Posted January 28, 2008

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Serenäde is a restaurant enjoyed in no small part because of the charming welcome everyone receives from Nancy Laird, who has owned it along with her husband, James, the chef, since 1996. They met in 1991 while working together at the Ryland Inn. The rest, as they say, is history—and a very successful one at that. Serenäde is now a fixture in the area and one of Chatham’s two world-class restaurants (Scalini Fedeli is the other).
The dining rooms at Serenäde are calm and serene, and the sophisticated bar, complete with an almost life-size portrait of Chef Laird, wouldn’t be out of place in London’s St. James. There are lovely flowers on the tables year-round, and in winter the fireplaces blaze away.

It’s always interesting to return to a restaurant and taste some of the same items a few years later. The fried oyster appetizer—oysters coated with panko crumbs, deep fried and served on a bed of seaweed with a soy ginger and shallot dipping sauce—used to be sensational, but now, while still good, seems a little heavier and drier. The shells are also sitting on a bed of salt which can render the oysters inedible if it gets inside. Seared foie gras on a crisp croute with a berry sauce is as delicious as ever, and a wild salmon special with roasted asparagus is as comforting as a warm blanket. Grilled octopus chunks with new potatoes are tender and a bit salty, but good. So are the warm scallops with bitter arugula, soft, sweet peaches and crunchy pine nuts making a perfect contrast in textures and flavors. Miniature crab cakes have little crab flavor and are pasty, but the hearty, creamless corn soup with cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and chives, and the rather frothy lobster bisque spiked with lemon grass and chunks of lobster, are fine. The bread, rolls, and biscuits are terrific.

Chef Laird’s slow-roasted duck is not especially crisp, but the full-bodied flavor of the breast and leg served with apple slices and Brussels-sprout leaves is sparked with cumin for a delightfully different taste. Opah, a Hawaiian fish, is perfectly cooked and served with a bouillabaisse broth; pristine sea bass with spinach, apple slices, cucumber pieces, and tomato chunks is sharpened with capers. Roasted lobster is removed from the shell and served with two herbed crêpes with fennel and lobster sauce with butter and squash purée—it’s rich but delicious.

Chicken breast stuffed with mushroom duxelle and collard greens also has a touch of heat from a chili pepper, which lifts this bland cut of fowl to another level. Rack of lamb with lemon-scented couscous, mint and a tomato broth flavored with the spicy North African condiment harissa is positively addictive; the perfectly cooked filet is given a peppercorn sauce, then soothed with potato purée and spinach. But a venison special served one evening is the winner. It’s served as two steaks, and the intense flavor is enhanced with a dark, winey sauce, chestnut purée, and leaves of Brussels sprouts tossed in butter.

There is a limited cheese selection, but the quality and temperature are very good.
The desserts are terrific. The individual open apple tart with vanilla ice-cream, crisp baked apple slices, and caramel sauce stands out. Flourless chocolate tart with chocolate sauce and ice cream is also recommended, and so is the individual berry cobbler with fresh peaches and the excellent crème brûlée.

 

Reviewed in: December 2006

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