5 Beautiful Dishes to Try Right Now

Go ahead, eat with your eyes. These perfectly plated dishes make it easy to do.

We dine out because we’re hungry. Or bored. Or because that Groupon is about to expire. But—whether we realize it or not—some of the pleasure we get from food is actually visual. And that isn’t just when we’re dining out. Imagine biting into a juicy Red Delicious, watching golden-orange egg yolk pool around your toast, or twirling pesto-stained pasta on the tines of a silver fork. We eat with our eyes. Chefs know it. And some chefs feed our eyes really, really well, plating dishes with almost as much care and attention as what goes into the food itself. To honor that kind of visual artistry around the Garden State, we’re rounding up some of the loveliest, prettiest, most beautiful dishes out there right now (give or take a few weeks*) and examining the unique appeal and reasoning behind their distinctive plating styles.

*All effort is made to feature dishes currently available, although chefs with highly seasonal menus might outpace us!

Abstract Edibles

Guava Lassi at Heirloom Kitchen – Pastry Chef Sean Yan (8/15)

 

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There’s plenty of gorgeous savory food to admire at Heirloom Kitchen: witness the stark beauty of chef David Viana’s Feta Sformato. But desserts from pastry chef Sean Yan are making us rethink accepting just “pretty” for the last course. Yan’s Guava Lassi is nothing short of stunning—naturalistic (like a find on a moonlit beach walk) without groaning under the heavy hand of “chef-as-landscape-artist.” The plating is elemental, with dessert elements arranged along the curve of the dish allowing the diner to participate in the construction of flavors (here, that’s guava, macadamia nut, passion fruit, golden raisins, cardamom). (Bonus Points: Both Vianna and Yan do high-concept plating that also integrates dish shapes and concepts themselves.)

Primal-Pretty

Beet Gnocchi at Porch & Proper – Chef Anthony Marini (9/9)

 

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Beets are visually dramatic by nature (ever wipe beet juice on a white apron and suddenly feel like the main suspect in a kitchen crime spree?). For chefs who plate creatively, beets are a powerful tool: with inky juices that fall on the color wheel somewhere between blood and Zinfandel, they can give a dish a look approaching something primal (and primally indulgent). Case in point: the Beet Gnocchi with Smoked Ricotta, Asparagus Tips, Pistachio Crumble, and Tuile at Porch & Proper, where chef Anthony Marini indulges the chaotic implications of “beet red” with a pool of sweet, earthy red beet juice staining the base of the plate, surrounding tender gnocchi topped with rock-like crumbles of pistachio and old snow piles of soft smoked ricotta. It’s dramatic plating with a cautious restraint—kind of like the hush at a crime scene.

Quiet Beauty

Black Sesame Mousse at Common Lot – Chef Ehren Ryan (9/6)

 

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With this seemingly simple (but stunning) dessert, Ehren Ryan proves that minimalism doesn’t mean lack of depth—or flavor. The Black Sesame Mousse with Mandarin, Mandarin Gel, and Sesame Cracker the chef posted on September 6 is the perfect example of restraint in the elements of plating (keeping separate items to a minimum and indulging fewer finishing touches, i.e. no gratuitous petals or herbs or angry streaks of sticky sauce). The result is a dish that’s as quietly stunning as it is intriguing—and with food, intrigue is a sensory invitation. Not only that, the restraint here echoes the restraint of the Japanese and Asian food cultures the dish actually draws inspiration from, adding another layer of meaning to the plating itself.

Pointing to Product

Insalata Caprese at Osteria Crescendo – Chef Robbie Felice (8/3)

 

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Plating can look beautiful to please, but it can also look beautiful in ways that focus or guide diner attention—e.g. chef Ehren Ryan’s the Black Sesame Mousse had an Asian aesthetic of restraint, giving a hint at flavors to come. This Insalata Caprese from Robbie Felice at Osteria Crescendo calls all diner attention to the two marquee ingredients through simple contrast: a rhythmic, almost kaleidoscope arrangement of rich red, gold, and green summer tomatoes surrounds the supple, untouched creamy-white burrata from DiStefano Cheese. Granted, the dish is on its way out—but given the generous Jersey tomato harvest and Chef Felice’s obvious joy in celebrating the product, you may have a few days left to try it.

Bar Snack Babe

Drunken Chicken Noodle at Cellar 335 – Chef Jamie Knott (9/11)

 

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Cellar 335 is the laid back, let-your-hair-down-and-dye-it creative venue for Saddle River Inn Chef Jamie Knott, so we’re not expecting hyper-modern/artistic plating. But (no surprise) the playfully creative chef Knott proves beauty in food plating isn’t necessarily sleek or tightly contoured: his Drunken Chicken Noodle visually shouts “Flavor!” (over loud bar music), with fresh, bright colors, textural contrasts, and even sort of kinetic energy threaded in there with the movement of strewn fire engine-red chilies and threaded petit fresh herbs. (Bonus Points: Traditional or casual dishes are often overlooked in creative plating, but Knott separates his dish from any others and (whether you realize it or not) subconsciously alerts the diner to expect more sophistication in flavor.)

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