Best Restaurants in NJ
Whichever multicourse option you choose, executive chef/co-owner Scott Anderson and chef de cuisine Mike Ryan give you the frisson of encountering the deep history of cooking and the state of the art at the same time. This edifying sensation stems from a combination of things: the zen-like serenity of the dining room; each course being brought to you and described by the chef who prepared it (questions welcome); and the kitchen’s marriage of modernist technique and technology with the patient, ancient arts of foraging, fermenting and aging. Fortunately, none of this feels academic. Each bite is as earthy as it is esoteric, be it thin-sliced venison, tender and lean as bresaola, with a soft-cooked egg and morels; or Jersey surf clam served two ways: coddled in shallot butter, and as spicy sashimi. Desserts are exquisite. For that matter, so is the entire experience. At prices ranging from $85 to $185 per person (among the highest on this list), Elements isn’t a regular stop, but it’s an essential one.
66 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-0078
In Fascino’s 15th year, chef Ryan DePersio and his team continue to keep their flagship restaurant rewarding and relevant, a go-to for modern Italian food. Count on the menu for seasonal treats, such as this summer’s scallion-and-crab-stuffed zucchini flowers with yellow pepper-almond romesco. Fresh pastas are a strength, such as the hearty pappardelle with braised lamb sugo. For attacking with knife and fork, substantial mains like the buttermilk baked chicken and pork chop saltimbocca are elaborated with fetching accompaniments. And you don’t have to be a vegetarian to find the three-course vegetarian menu sensuous and satisfying. BYO
331 Bloomfield Avenue, 973-233-0350
Over the last year, chef/owner Bruce Lefebvre has reshaped his menu, expanding the small plates, sides and charcuterie sections. The change has had the desired effect. “Younger people have really taken to it,” he says. “Groups will come in and try a lot of different things, which is exciting for us.” What makes it work is that Lefebvre and his veteran team have lavished the same level of care and creativity on each new dish as on the larger plates. (“Flavor, contrast, technique”—his words—is, in effect, their mantra.) Recent wows include veal tartare, bright and lush, with crispy frizzled shallots; sumptuous cavatelli with tender rabbit and artichokes in a vivid pinot grigio sauce; and a sticky toffee pudding—dark, intense and warm against a unique cashew ice cream and sprinkle of candied cashews.
29 Dennis Street, 732-846-3216
Dominic Piperno fell in love with cooking over wood at culinary school in Chianti, Italy. After working for fine chefs on both sides of the Delaware River, he and his wife, Lindsay, opened their dream restaurant last fall in their hometown. Starting with a vacant lot, they and their backers erected a three-story stone-and-glass building designed by a Philadelphia firm. The open kitchen with wood-burning grill and oven provide, as Piperno says, “dinner and a show.” Behind the spectacle lie culinary skill and passion, as well as a message to guests: “We want to let them know we’re so grateful that, of all the restaurants they could have chosen, they chose us,” Piperno says. Guests will be grateful for the beauty and comfort of the dining room, the eager service, and the exquisite pastas and magnificent meats and roasted vegetables that come from the flaming hearth. BYO
801 Haddon Avenue, 856-240-1164
When his opening chef moved home to Buffalo last year, owner Chris Cannon made one of the great hires of his distinguished career, retrieving Jersey native Craig Polignano from Pennsylvania. CIA grad Polignano, 37, began his career under the legendary Craig Shelton at the Ryland Inn and later became executive chef there. But in addition to invigorating JHBK’s ground-floor menus, Polignano more than fulfilled Cannon’s vision of transforming the formal upstairs into a seafood concept with an Italian accent. In fact, Da Pesca, as it’s called, expands one’s sense of how revelatory seafood can be. Polignano’s skate dish is one of the best anywhere. Rolled into a cylinder resembling a giant scallop, the seared skate is crisp on top and tender inside. In a brown butter sauce with capers, sautéed grapes and crumbled hazelnuts, it’s positively eye rolling, yet hardly an outlier on this exceptional menu, which includes a few far-from-token meat options. As for Cannon, his genius for finding bountiful unsung wines at reasonable prices and pairing them course by course may be unmatched.
110 South Street, 973-644-3180
When Anthony Bucco, one of New Jersey’s best chefs, left Crystal Springs Resort this year to open his own restaurant, Robby Younes, the resort’s chief operating officer and wine director, interviewed 13 possible replacements, five of whom had won Michelin stars. In the end, he promoted Bucco’s deputy, Aishling Stevens, 39, to succeed him as executive chef of the resort and overseer of its crown jewel, Restaurant Latour. “I don’t have the technique Anthony did,” she admits, “but I’m always thinking, and I have really good instincts for ingredients and how things will present on a plate.” Recent visits to Latour show Younes chose well. Under Stevens and her chef de cuisine, Matt Laurich, Latour has actually upped its game in every area except wine, where it was already in a league of its own. (It’s the only Jersey wine list in Wine Enthusiast’s new Hall of Fame.) The bread course alone is extraordinary, if you can imagine such a thing. It’s a virtual tasting menu as delicious as it is daring (Charcoal brioche? Spruce and blackberry rye stick? One of each is not enough.) Equally out there and irresistible are the platters of nougats, fruit-and-nut treats and handmade chocolates from which you choose at the end of the meal, following sophisticated desserts. In between come stunning savory courses to unpack in bite-by-bite discoveries. At $115 for a five-course menu, with little treats along the way, Latour is a splurge, but at the same time, unsurpassed bang for the buck.
1 Wild Turkey Way, 973-827-5996 ext 3