Jim Nawn, who transformed the vacant Lahiere’s into the lively Agricola in downtown Princeton in 2013, has done even better turning the 100-year-old train-station storage depot across from the McCarter Theatre into a modern French brasserie. The expanded building brilliantly melds new and old, and the contemporary French menu does the same. With a terrific cocktail list, reasonably priced wines and gratifying dishes, from a terrific apple fennel soup with hazelnuts to sumptuous lamb shoulder, Cargot is right on track.
98 University Place, 609-772-4934
Finding good food in Maplewood has never been a problem, but the Cassidy offers something downtown has not had: a large, stylish, contemporary space with a liquor license and cocktail program in sync with a kitchen turning out fresh, engaging, New American food. Maplewood residents Tom and Jennifer Carlin, who own Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone, set out to create a community magnet, but the pull will likely reach wider.
160 Maplewood Avenue, 973-762-5433
Where shopper’s wharf was swept away by Sandy, this handsome restaurant with stunning views of Twilight Lake has risen in its place. Though Charlie’s hasn’t fully reached its potential, its cocktail program and chef Stephen T. Johnson’s wide-ranging New American menu (great crab cake, clam chowder, hot mini-doughnuts) have quickly found a following.
72 Bridge Avenue, 732-295-1110
Two years after closing his beloved and acclaimed Montclair byos, Blu and Next Door, chef Zod Arifai has returned, now with a liquor license and a menu more like Next Door’s—everyday food elevated, except in price. Next Door’s famous burger is back, along with reliable pastas, salads and novel sides. Entrées may remind fans of Arifai’s deft handling of proteins, especially seafood, at both earlier restaurants.
1979 Washington Valley Road, 732-563-1717
The Korean word gayeon can be translated two ways, says the restaurant’s owner and designer, architect Andy Sung. The primary meaning is “beautiful encounter,” which aptly describes not only the artful look of this large, modern, very comfortable space, but also its compelling and elegantly presented Korean food, bar and helpful service. The other meaning, he says, is “family party.” Yes, there’s a kids’ menu, and no, the place, for all its sophistication, isn’t stuffy.
2020 Hudson Street, 201-944-2056