Best Restaurants in NJ
As it happens, Shawn Dalziel’s pad Thai noodles with corn sauce have no gluten, dairy or animal protein (though you can add the latter). About a quarter of his customers, he says, want to avoid those things, and he happily obliges, creating dishes that sacrifice nothing in pleasure. In his cooking, the aim is flavor and texture, heightened and balanced. For riotous richness, it’s hard to beat his shrimp and chorizo risotto, pomegranate-molasses braised short rib, or Moroccan orange tagine with eggplant relish—which, by the way, surrenders nothing for being vegetarian. BYO
33 Walnut Street, 973-783-1133
An excellent and unexpected value at lunch, with substantial selections, Lorena’s at dinner becomes a luxurious fine-dining destination. Chef Humberto Campos Jr. and his wife, Lorena, specialize in elevating the standard repertoire, and do so in an especially comfortable and intimate-feeling pair of dining rooms. Aside from his signature creation—the lump crab and mushroom crêpe in beurre blanc, dubbed “orgasmic” by some female customers—Campos mostly delivers contemporary takes on favorites such as duck breast, rack of lamb, filet mignon, halibut, Arctic char and molten chocolate cake. That his renditions are intensely gratifying is why, in its 14th year, Lorena’s is still going strong. BYO
168 Maplewood Avenue, 973-763-4460
As co-owner of 33 restaurants around the world, Marcus Samuelsson is certainly one of the food world’s most successful brands. But sitting in Marcus B&P, you feel the imprint of an actual person, one with a verve for connecting people over food, drink and art that reflect his own unique background (Ethiopia/Sweden/the Big Apple), as well as that of the local community. The enthused staff are largely local; the menu and decor include fetching local winks. Yet none of it feels patronizing. Every bite, sip and glance around the place pulls you into an encouraging urban conviviality when we need it most.
56 Halsey Street, 973-645-0004
Eating chef Chris Siversen’s food, especially the seafood supporting the restaurant’s name, you sense his attraction to Asian flavors. The terrific softshell crab, for example, tempers the punch of Chinese sausage and red curry with soothing coconut sticky rice. But backing up his statement that “I’m not looking to pigeonhole my menu,” there’s French-influenced, bacon-wrapped halibut with braised fennel, capers and Riesling sauce. The best-selling starter right now is spiced lamb meatballs with kale pesto, yogurt and a golden raisin-pine nut relish. Then you have the desserts of John Sauchelli, a star in his own right. Maritime Parc is hard to pin down, except in quality, variety, and its waterside perch on the Morris Canal basin at Liberty State Park.
84 Audrey Zapp Drive, 201-413-0050
The departure of a brilliant founding chef, such as Mistral’s Ben Nerenhausen, ordinarily causes alarm. But when Nerenhausen returned to his native Wisconsin this spring, Scott Anderson, the chef who co-owns and oversees Mistral and its upstairs neighbor, Elements, simply promoted Joe Mooney, 30, Nerenhausen’s deputy the last three years. Earlier in his career, Mooney cooked directly under Anderson at the original location of Elements. He brings an extravagant creativity to Mistral’s mission, which he aptly describes as “using global flavors to make fun, interesting food, getting people to be adventurous, but at the same time making food people want to eat every day.” There are many examples, all reasonably priced, but two will do. The new $15 chicken and garlic chive wontons, served cool in black bean sauce and topped with pea leaves, are slippery, sensuous joys. The $15 massaman shrimp wrap, an extravaganza of goodness bursting with shrimp, chopped vegetables, peanut curry, lemongrass and chili, is big enough for two. It even comes with a superb side salad.
66 Witherspoon Street, 609-688-8808
Asbury Park’s dining scene—along with Jersey City’s, the most dynamic in the state—didn’t know it was missing something until husband and wife chefs Chris Davin and Jill Meerpohl opened Modine in January. They have brought an irresistible Southern accent to town. Their head-on shrimp and grits, fried chicken with fixings, sausage gravy over biscuits, and wedge salad, to name just a few, possess something beyond authenticity. It’s a kind of joy, born of travels through the South and a conviction that you can both honor and update tradition by unstinting attention to detail, making everything from scratch using great ingredients, and serving it with grace and a bit of a giggle. Meerpohl happens to be a dangerously good baker (chicory coffee provides the magic in her amazing chocolate layer cake), and Paul Check is one devilishly good cocktail creator.
601 Mattison Avenue, 732-893-5300