Best Restaurants in NJ
Now in its 19th year of embracing the often-shunned title of special occasion restaurant, Nicholas remains vital and rewarding. Owners Nicholas and Melissa Harary are consummate hosts. Behind the scenes, there’s continuity. Nicholas, who retains the title of chef, recently promoted Kevin Koller, 30, to executive chef after a seven-year rise through the ranks. Koller was groomed by his predecessor, Michael Metzner, who Nicholas is backing in a casual venture called Red Store in downtown Red Bank. What’s it to you? A kitchen where talent and hard work are rewarded is one that knocks itself out to please the boss. And when the boss’s goal is to make customers cherish every moment of their visit, you get a restaurant that is young at 19.
160 Route 35 South, 732-345-9977
The long, winding drive through Natirar Park, up the forested hill to the former carriage house, heightens expectations. For eight years now, executive chef David Felton and his team have been fulfilling the promise of their unique location. The left side of the menu is nominally casual (wood-fired pizzas, fried chicken, pastas, soup, salads, snacks); the right side, sophisticated New American available à la carte or as a $75, three-course prix fixe. As remarkable as the variety is the consistent high quality on both sides. The desserts of pastry chef Lindsay Stewart are choice. So are the cocktails. Enjoying them around the outdoor fire pits makes for another peak experience.
2 Main Street, 908-901-9500
NOTE: OSTERIA RADICI CLOSED PERMANENTLY IN 2019
Randy Forrester says he “started to daydream, sketching out restaurants, when I was 15.” Now twice that age, he and his wife, Ally, 28, are living their dream, nearing the first anniversary of their 24-seat restaurant devoted to “carrying the torch for what modern Italian cooking is right now in Italy.” Osteria Radici was one of 28 restaurants across the country to be named semifinalists this year for the James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Award. The market-driven menu keeps pace with the seasons and features many original dishes. Fueled by the couple’s travels in Italy, Radici (Italian for roots) locks into not just the iconic localness of Italian cooking, but its speed and intensity, making it, in Forrester’s opinion, “a closer brother to Chinese than Japanese. To our guest, a pasta might look like just one thing. But for us, it’s a series of 11 or 12 actions that add flavor, complexity, and bring the sauce to completion.” BYO
4 S. Main Street, 609-223-2395
Since joining the inn in 2010 as a 22-year-old line cook, Readington native and CIA grad Kevin La Femina has worked under several noted chefs and learned from each of them. He rose through the ranks. This year, following the departure of Kevin Takafuji, owner Gloria LaGrassa, who has previously promoted from within, did so again, elevating La Femina to executive chef. Good move? The answer is on the plate. In recent dishes—like Colorado lamb (roasted loin and braised belly) with farro and a stunningly deep vegetable sauce, or a peekytoe crab salad with sea beans, macadamias and avocado gazpacho—the soft-spoken chef shows he is ready to lead this top-tier kitchen. Tanya Newell, completing her first year as pastry chef, is equally deft. Years ago she interned here under the celebrated Joe Gabriel. Lo and behold, she came back.
359 Route 206 South, 908-658-9292
When you think of Shore dining, fun eats come to mind, much of it deep-fried. But sumptuous food in an elegant setting? Not so much. That, however, is Scott Giordano’s sweet spot. As refined as his dishes are, their basic mission is to push one pleasure button after another. Start anywhere: duck confit ravioli, or pear pizzetta with Gorgonzola and walnuts. Move on to his veal tenderloin in puff pastry with cognac wild-mushroom sauce, or pistachio-and-almond-crusted halibut. Teah Evans makes it hard to skip dessert. The service staff is unchanged since the Pear opened in 2014. Bottom line? “Our return business,” Giordano says, “is tremendous.” BYO
816 Arnold Avenue, 732-701-1700
Chris Albrecht sounds giddy as he walks through his half-acre organic garden behind the inn, remarking that “the strawberries are just glowing!” The same can be said of the restaurant itself. A year ago, about six months into the job of executive chef, Albrecht was still getting a grip on “all the moving parts of this property,” which is also a leading wedding venue. But having improved his kitchen team and done little things like letting cooks deliver dishes to the tables and talk about them with guests, Albrecht has the Ryland rocking. Yes, the wine list is still short on reasonably priced bottles, but the seasonal New American menu is again confident and, like those strawberries, glowing.
115 Old Highway 28, 908-534-4011