After 19 and a half years, chef Charles Tutino and his wife, Jane Witkin, are shutting down their contemporary French restaurant, Verjus, on Springfield Avenue in Maplewood. Verjus has earned a place on NJM’s annual Best Restaurants list every year since the list was established in 2007 as a Top 25 (expanded to a Top 30 in 2018).
Service will continue through the end of October, said Witkin, the hostess whose warmth and sincerity have been as important to the experience of dining at Verjus as the authenticity of Tutino’s French cooking. The building is scheduled to be sold in November, she added. Before Verjus came along, the simple one-story structure had an even longer run—from 1960 to 1999, she said—as a casual place called Gary’s.
Tutino turns 69 in December. Trained as an economist, he was employed decades ago at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York but not enjoying it at all. His dream was to learn French cooking. One day in 1980, he ventured uptown to La Cote Basque, the classic French restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, and begged chef Jean-Jacques Rachou for a job, any job. He got one, peeling shrimp. Within a year, he was running the fish station and on his way to becoming a chef himself.
Tutino and Witkin opened Verjus in 2001 with a modern French menu. Over the years, Tutino showed the range of his talents and interests, creating compelling specialty nights delving into Italian, German, Spanish, Irish and various American cuisines, including a popular Jersey Shore night. For a while he and Witkin put on what they called Sour Grapes Cinema nights—a personal favorite movie screened in the restaurant with a menu to match.
Witkin said they have decided to retire. “After the closing, we will relax slightly,” she said, “then determine the next phase of our lives. Each of us does plan to work at least part-time. We would certainly love to travel. As for me, I plan to read, knit and,” she added with a laugh, “correct people’s grammar.”Click here to leave a comment