The Best New Restaurants of 2017

With their forward flavors, diverse cuisines and down-home to upscale vibes, these winners will put a smile on your face.

Fromagerie
Rumson

While casual reigns even at cooking’s highest levels, classic fine dining is rising phoenix-like. The premier example in New Jersey may be the renovation and reopening of onetime Rumson hot spot, the Fromagerie. New owners Paul and Enilda Sansone leapfrogged backwards over the irreverent style of chef David Burke (2006-2015) to update the elegance and Continental cuisine of the Fromagerie’s late-20th-century heyday. Executive chef Steve Botta’s home runs include a whole bronzino stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat and a tournedos Rossini (filet mignon topped with foie gras and black truffles, in Madeira sauce) that is luxury incarnate. Which pretty much describes the clubby yet welcoming experience the new Fromagerie delivers.—JPC
26 Ridge Road, 732-852-2650.

Hamilton Pork: Sides, clockwise from top right, Brussels sprouts, jalapeno-cheddar cornbread, sweet potato mashed, burnt-end beans and Mexican street corn.

Hamilton Pork: Sides, clockwise from top right, Brussels sprouts, jalapeno-cheddar cornbread, sweet potato mashed, burnt-end beans and Mexican street corn. Photo by Brent Herrig.

Hamilton Pork
Jersey City

Located a block from downtown’s renovated Hamilton Park, Hamilton Pork ignites an immediate smile with its wink of a name. But the smiles broaden when you dig into the slow-smoked Texas-style brisket, pulled chicken and luscious smoked lamb belly, a touch of cumin in the rub. The barbecue joint from brothers Michael and John Gondevas and chef Nivardo Sanchez abounds in must-haves: the aptly named Gigantic Beef Rib, spicy Kung Pow wings, burnt-end beans with bits of Italian sausage, jalapeño-cheddar cornbread and a bevy of tacos, to name a few. Just say yes to all.—KTH
247 10th Street, 201-957-7245.

Hontei
Palisades Park

Alex Kin, formerly a tech consultant, has lived in Bergen County for 30 years. He used to own five restaurants east of the Hudson River, but had enough with the commuting. In 2014, he bought the property that, after a tear-down and rebuild, he turned into Hontei, which opened in December. It’s a first-rate sushi restaurant with a serious kitchen that turns out fine shrimp shumai, crunchy spring rolls, fried oysters, chicken thigh yakitori, and one of the simplest, best and hardest-to-find finger foods: broiled hamachi (yellowtail) collar. The collar, just behind the gills, contains the juiciest, fattiest, tastiest meat on the fish. Hontei’s full bar, boasting high-end Scotches, also stocks about 20 Japanese sakes, many of them ethereal treasures.—EL
412 Bergen Boulevard, 201-947-0472.

Kimchi Smoke
Westwood

In 2007, Robert Austin Cho was inspired to try his hand at smoking meats after watching an episode of Throwdown! With Bobby Flay. Quickly gaining proficiency, he began winning competitions. Early last year, he opened Kimchi Smoke, his Korean-inflected barbecue joint, in Bergenfield, moving it to its present, larger quarters, in November. Cho’s brisket and pork belly are state-of-the-art. His famed Fatboy BCS (bourbon-chipotle sauce) is less sweet than the Kansas City kind and less strident than the North Carolina kind. His wackiest creation, the Chonut 2.1, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sandwich, remains a draw—whether because of or despite the glazed donut into which it is stuffed, you’ll have to decide.—FS
301 Center Avenue, 201-497-6333.

The Kitchen Step
Jersey City

The Kitchen Step: The dining room, with ceiling mural by New Jersey artist Christian Masot.

The Kitchen Step: The dining room, with ceiling mural by New Jersey artist Christian Masot. Photo by Laura Moss

 

Chef Ryan DePersio’s talent and verve have been evident since his family and he opened their Montclair BYO, Fascino, in 2003. Devoted to DePersio’s “Italian-without-borders” cooking, it became the jumping-off point for other projects, including NICO at NJPAC and Battello, the hugely successful restaurant and event space on the Jersey City waterfront. If he at times seemed stretched thin, the opening of the Kitchen Step last February showed that, at 38, DePersio has not lost his mojo. It fulfills his dream of owning “a relaxed neighborhood place” that dates to boyhood visits with his parents to cozy Greenwich Village bistros. Under chef de cuisine Roberto Carnero, the Step, as people call it, is packed with pleasure and value perfectly pitched to the hip downtown scene. A salad of poached pear, herbed goat cheese, watercress and ambrosial spiced-hazelnut crumble, is palate bending; an olive crust sparks a salmon fillet; and honey-sriracha wings with Thai peanut chutney fly like real chickens can’t. Ray Keane’s hip cocktails seal the deal.—KTH
500 Jersey Avenue, 201-721-6115.

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