Stockton Inn, Stockton
Can you call a restaurant new if its tavern license dates to 1796, Rodgers and Hart wrote a song about it (“There’s a Small Hotel”), and Margaret Mitchell is said to have written part of Gone with the Wind there? You can if you’re entrepreneur Mitch Millett. He bought the 300-year-old stone inn in 2012, shut it down for renovation in 2014, and reopened it early in 2015 as a fine-dining destination.
The Stockton Inn lives up to that billing thanks to new executive chef Alan Heckman, 30. A CIA grad who worked under Tom Colicchio at Craftsteak, Heckman draws on the building’s Colonial past while adding modern touches. He serves grilled filet of bison with caramelized shallots and bordelaise sauce, and roasted pheasant with pickled cherries and dark chocolate sauce. There are also poached oysters with caviar, a boutique wine list, cocktails and local beers.
“Everything was changed, from décor to staff,” Heckman says. “We’re looking to give people a true high-end experience.” 1 Main Street; 609-397-1250.—TN
Talde, Jersey City
The first Jersey outpost of Dale Talde’s Brooklyn (and now Miami) sensation has been criticized for excessive noise and spotty service since opening in February 2015. But the key to the Top Chef alum’s food—a giddy mash-up of Asian flavors and American fast food that Talde, a Filipino-American, grew up with in Chicago—is that the best dishes are flat-out fun to eat. Take the Korean fried chicken. Marinated overnight in a zippy house-fermented kimchi-yogurt sauce, it is fried, then coated in rice flour and fried again for a super-crispy (and gluten-free) crust. A side of blue-crab fried rice, boasting huge lumps of crabmeat and jalapeño aioli, gets a salty, crackly finish of red and black Tobiko roe. Kare Kare—a Filipino take on meatloaf—is upgraded to giggly goodness with braised short rib blended with peanuts and Thai chili relish.
Vegetarians do fine, too. The Everything Roti bread is pan-fried with a happy coating of sea salt and poppy, sesame and flax seeds. Yuzu guacamole with pan-seared sticky rice, soy, butter, chili and nori delivers heat and crunch with or without the optional ham.
As for the noise, Talde has moved the resident deejay, formerly in the dining room, to the downstairs bar, Miss Wong’s. And the service has gotten a better grip on things. 8 Erie Street; 201-630-0077.—LB
Tenderhill, Whitehouse Station
A graphic designer who “got tired of sitting in front of a computer for 14 hours a day,” Ethan Oh discovered his joy was standing in front of a prep station and stove for 14 hours a day. After a year at the CIA, he volunteered or landed jobs at Per Se, Daniel, Le Bernardin and Morimoto in New York, Alinea in Chicago, and Noma in Copenhagen before opening Tenderhill, a BYO, last May in Hunterdon County. “It’s one of the wealthiest counties in New Jersey, but most of its restaurants are pizzerias and diners,” he says. While giving the Ryland and Tewksbury Inns their props, Oh, 36, says, “I felt there was a need for a place that puts more effort into its food.”
He puts in plenty, at lunch and dinner, with excellent results and at reasonable prices. A crisp, cast-iron pan pizza is $11, a meaty chicken pot pie with green salad, $14. The best night to visit Tenderhill, though, is Wednesday, when Oh does what he calls 8×10—eight courses for a maximum of 10 people. Reservations can be made by individuals, couples or groups. The price is $85, and there are two seatings, so 20 people get to see just how much Oh learned at all those great restaurants. One recent 8×10 included a luscious squash custard with bacon; a curried potato dosa with poached egg yolk; a roasted quail stuffed with spinach, sausage and dates; plus six other savory courses, an amuse, an extra course (hot, thick beet soup with orange segments) and dessert—all first-rate. 405 US Highway 22 East; 908-823-0234.—EL
Turtle and the Wolf, Montclair
In a 13-year career with Tom Colicchio, Lauren Hirschberg rose from line cook at Craft to culinary director of all Colicchio’s restaurants. That journey more than equipped him to fulfill a dream he and fellow Montclair native Matthew Trevenen had harbored long before they backpacked through Italy after high school: to open their own restaurant. In November, they did just that, turning a one-time Five Guys into a hip, handsome BYO with an exciting, well-executed and ever-evolving menu ranging from hot wings with “secret sauce” and pickled celery ($10) to sweet potato agnolotti with radicchio, gorgonzola and saba ($20), and braised rabbit with polenta, nicoise olives and gremolata ($24).
Hirschberg, 36, and Trevenen, 35, named the restaurant for two of the animal symbols of the Lenape clans that once inhabited the area. Unpacking the symbolism, “the turtle stays grounded at moments of chaos, and kitchens can be frenetic places,” Hirschberg explains. “The wolf represents the appetite for freedom.” Free your appetite, stay grounded. Sounds like a plan. 622 Valley Road; 973-783-9800.—EL
Veganized, New Brunswick
Ron Biton has taken the scare out of the V word. It’s not just the eclectic rock-rap soundtrack, the vibrant graphics, the Victorian portraits on the wall and the friendly young crew that has won Veganized a following since the BYO opened in April 2015. It’s the food, dude.
“The hippies had their hearts in it,” says Biton, 45, “but vegan has come a long way. It’s no longer just puréeing a bunch of stuff and putting it on rice. Now we roast, sear, grill ingredients separately to bring out their beautiful individual flavors and textures and assemble them into great dishes.”
Biton, who was born in Israel and came to America at 9, never cared for meat. He turned vegetarian at 17 and, pardon the expression, went whole hog for vegan 20 years ago. Now, he says, people are coming from all over Middlesex County and beyond for Rawzagna (raw zucchini pasta, marinated mushrooms, tomato, nut cheese, sundried tomato purée and pesto, $16); an amazingly meaty lentil mushroom burger with smoked eggplant and charred onion ($16); sweet potato wedges with cashew cheese ($6); and a chocolate peanut butter torte with oat coconut crust ($9). 9 Spring Street; 732-342-7412.—ELClick here to leave a comment