Restaurant Review


This New American restaurant in South Orange has an interesting faux ancient Rome vibe to it.

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Thanks to new head chef Mark Sokolofsky (hired in early March), plus a few new waiters, Above has raised itself to real respectability. Occupying the floor above the Garden of Eden Marketplace in downtown South Orange, Above used to mangle the market’s luscious wares. Clueless servers complaining within earshot about lousy tips made a good argument for eating at home.

Now, we’re happy to save ourselves the dirty dishes. And we wouldn’t be surprised if in a few more months we view Eden’s produce with the same giddy anticipation that diners in Manhattan feel while passing through the famous Fairway Market on Broadway on their way upstairs to the Fairway Café and Steakhouse.

Sokolofsky has improved every dish we’ve tried on the menu, in some places with bold substitutions—for example smoked salmon marinated in Scotch whisky instead of gravlax. “The main thing is checking every dish as it comes out of the kitchen,” Sokolofsky says. “Somehow they had gotten away from that.”

Indeed. At one of our earlier meals, crispy duck breast came with skin pathetically limp. More recently that skin was crisp golden brown, its fat moistening a side of wild rice that, pre-Sokolofsky, had been inedible. Seared tuna with black bean-sake sauce is also better, though the portobello mushroom fries it includes hold too much water to fry well and absorb too much oil during frying. Sokolofsky admits as much and says he is working on a different accompaniment.

The first dish that made it clear that Above had changed for the better was excellent lobster ravioli, served with a deliciously rich brandy-cream sauce, snow peas, micro basil and arugula and generous chunks of fresh lobster meat from the tank at Eden. “Any time we need more lobster, we just grab a live one from downstairs,” says Sokolofsky, a CIA grad who has worked in several Jersey restaurants, most recently as a sous chef at the Napa Valley Grille in Paramus.     
The Scotch whisky-marinated smoked-salmon appetizer—formerly gravlax drowned in a cloying mustard-dill sauce—employs a better version of the same sauce, one that doesn’t eclipse the brining salt, the caper berries and the complex sweetness of the whisky-soaked fish.

The dessert menu has changed completely. We had Key lime cheesecake, smooth, airy, piquantly tart. Sokolofsky tells us that the owners do not plan to redecorate. That’s a shame. But at least the food is headed in the right direction—definitely above where it was before.

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