Dining at the Ryland Inn is always special. The venue is gorgeous throughout the year, however at Christmas it seems a bit more glamorous and distinctive with the blazing fireplace flanked by poinsettias, Christmas decorations that dazzle both inside and outside, a lovely red rose on each table, as well as in the bar area and of course the exceptional cuisine of executive chef Craig Polignano. This was the BEST outing for the “ladies that lunch” this year.
Polignano, began his career at The Ryland Inn in 2002 at the age of 21 interning for Craig Shelton. After graduating from the CIA, he spent five years there before moving on to Copeland (Morristown), Bernards Inn (Bernardsville) and the Michael Mina group in California where, he worked at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point. He returned to The Ryland Inn when it reopened in 2012.
We were at the Ryland Inn for a press lunch. When we were seated, warm house-made rolls and rosemary-salted butter were placed on the table. Grilled flatbread, presented on a wooden board was perfect for sharing and was topped with porcini mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, Black Mission figs and arugula; a wonderful combination of ingredients. Roasted kabocha squash (one of my favorite vegetables) was the base for a soup with Granny Smith apples, pumpkin seeds, capers and orange mascarpone, all creating lovely layers of flavors. Squash found its way into another recommended appetizer of beautifully plated autumn-squash salad with house-made ricotta serving as a base for the spaghetti, roasted kochaba and acorn squashes; a vegetarian dream plate. The base of the plate was sprinkled with bitter chocolate creating a garden setting as well as some whimsy. One entrée was a rich and tender short rib “Reuben” (the chef told us that he sous vides the meat) with sauerkraut and cheddar cheese on house-made rye bread with the Ryland’s Route 28 dressing. It is a must-try dish accompanied by freshly made BBQ potato chips and a jar of pickled vegetables. If you seek something lighter, try the grouper with an unusual “cous cous” made from cauliflower; a creative use of this vegetable. Grilled organic salmon was a colorful presentation with red beets, Brussels sprouts, freekeh (a grain made from green wheat that has been roasted) and pomegranate seeds. Of course, we had dessert, and like all of the dishes we ordered, the finishing course was sublime. Graham sponge cake crumbles served as a base and huckleberries added an additional interest to the lime cheesecake “truffles.” Caramelized bananas and banana ice cream on a bed of powdered peanuts took center stage to the peanut butter mousse lathered in chocolate; both were luscious, decadent and wonderful to experience.
The ladies stopped at the bar for a pre-lunch drink and our eyes spotted an urn filled with ice. We asked head bartender Andrew Johnston what it was and he explained that we were looking at an absinthe fountain and proceeded to give us a lesson on this spirit. Johnston placed a cube of sugar on a special slotted spoon, and then opened a spout allowing the liquor to drip into a glass. Absinthe tasted like a sweet licorice/anise and may or may not be to your liking. In any case, watching the drink being made was fascinating.
Chef Polignano is producing food that is so special and so exquisite that everyone should have this restaurant on their must-go list for lunch, dinner or both.
The Ryland Inn
115 Old Highway 28 Whitehouse Station
Gianluca Deiana is the chef at Buona Sera, 50 Maple Avenue, Red Bank (732-530-5858). A native of Sardinia, Deiana attended the Istituto Alberhiero di Arzachena and trained at Michelin-starred and five-star hotel restaurants in Italy and England.
Maxwell Mraz is the executive chef at Taphouse 15, 75 Rt 15 S, Jefferson (862-437-1300). Chopped Champion chef Eric Levine created the menu.
David Viana is no longer at the The Kitchen at Grove Station, Jersey City. The restaurant is temporarily closed and will be reopening in 2016 under the same name and management with a new executive chef and kitchen staff.
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