One of Andre de Waal’s treasured possessions, growing up in bucolic Newfoundland in Passaic County, was a copy of the Culinary Institute of America catalog. By age eight, he says, he had thumbed it dog-eared. He earned a CIA degree in 1988. De Waal and wife Tracey opened Andre’s in 1998.
Its menu stems as much from his travels as his education. But the homey simplicity of his food perhaps reflects childhood hours cooking with his grandmothers—Swedish (maternal) and Dutch (paternal). Indeed, an Old World charm envelops you as you open the stained-glass door. Pass a small copper-top bar, walk down a narrow hall and you come to the two dining rooms. Works by local artists line the walls. The one painting on permanent display—a mural in late Matisse mode of a lush, red, reclining nude—covers a wall in the ladies room. (Relax, guys, you can see it on the website. Or ask nicely, and the artist will probably show it to you. That would be Tracey, who is also the restaurant’s maitre d’ and owner.)
From a kitchen he calls his “12-foot cube,” de Waal, 45, sends out tasty, uncomplicated dishes like PEI mussels and littleneck clams in a white wine broth spiked with hot red-pepper flakes, and naturally raised, pan-roasted chicken with flavorful pan drippings and crispy parmesan-garlic fries. Although the market-driven menu changes every two weeks, we found that a number of items carried over from visit to visit. “Sometimes it’s the season speaking to us,” de Waal told me in a phone interview after my visits, “sometimes it’s the customer.”
A dish customers “won’t let me take off”—and I can’t blame them—is penne pasta tossed with morsels of duck confit in truffle cream sauce. Outrageously satisfying, it can be ordered as appetizer or entrée. It should remain on the menu permanently.
Decadence is the exception, though. At lunch, Andre’s offers what it calls its Soup Bar—a selection of soups and sandwiches to eat in or take out. (The soups are not offered at dinner.) They range from an unusual almond-and-bread soup with hints of sage to a light and spicy saffron-mussel soup, further enlivened by a garnish of chopped red sweet peppers that add contrasting flavor and color. Unfortunately, every time we ordered soup we had to request bread for dunking, and by the time it arrived we had finished our servings.
Lovely greens in a tangy mustard vinaigrette came with each main course, but without a supporting cast of carrots, radishes and the like, it seemed a bit skimpy. Better balanced and pleasing was a spinach salad sporting bacon and a shimmering poached egg.
On both our visits, a fish of the day was served over brown rice in a spiced coconut broth so lacking body it ran off the fillet like rain. Our waitress described a Mangalitsa pork collar steak as tender. It was not. De Waal has since put it to better use, ground in meatballs served over linguine in tomato cream.
The chef gets playful with pastry. His Not So Typical S’mores starts with a bowl of graham-cracker ice cream on a housemade graham cracker. Over that goes chocolate ganache. Marshmallows toasted on cedar skewers are laid across the bowl. More skewers, still smoking from the fire, are placed on a plate under the bowl. For a frosted red-velvet gateau, de Waal roasted local organic beets and shredded them into the cake batter, adding a dash of Coca-Cola as a talking point as much as for flavor. Give de Waal credit: he took two overfamiliar desserts and made them interesting and newly enjoyable.
One Monday a month, when the restaurant is normally closed, de Waal sets up in the dining room and conducts a lecture and cooking demonstration that produces a three-course meal ($65-$75 per person, including wine). Up to 24 people can sign up in advance. You can hire him to come to your own home to prepare a meal as well. Whether in your home or in his homey restaurant, dinner with Andre is a pleasing experience.Click here to leave a comment