Arthur Imperatore Sr., born in West New York in 1925, made his first money in the food business delivering pickles for 50 cents a day at age ten. Imperatore and his brothers later founded the APA Trucking Company, and Imperatore himself went on to develop swaths of the Hudson River waterfront facing Manhattan. But this son of Italian immigrant grocers was not finished with the food business.
Eighteen years ago, Imperatore opened Arthur’s Landing on the Weehawken shoreline. Over the years, the restaurant—with its knockout view of New York—became known as a respectable special-occasion place with a waitstaff adept at singing “Happy Birthday” and side-stepping young men on bended knee.
Imperatore turned over the reins several years ago but still drops by. Last year his management team shook things up. They expanded and redesigned the bar, drawing a younger crowd. The dining room got nautical accents such as shell-shaped sconces and sea-blue wall tiles that wisely do not try to upstage the vista.
Trickier was to make the kitchen worthy of the location. Last fall, a new executive chef was hired: Michael Haimowitz, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who has been sous-chef to West Coast titans Wolfgang Puck and Bradley Ogden. Most recently he was top toque at the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Middletown native says he has an additional qualification for the seafare theme of Arthur’s: a boyhood spent fishing on the Jersey shore.
Haimowitz likes to handpick his seafood at a dockside co-op in Port Monmouth where fishermen sell their catch. Since he can’t get there all the time, he relies on trusted purveyors to bring him super-fresh “dayboat” scallops, skate, monkfish, tilefish, and other species caught offshore from Sandy Hook to Cape May.
You won’t find an overworked or stuffed fish emerging from his kitchen. An oyster sampler and a raw-bar platter were exemplary. Salmon and tuna carpaccio—a bravura appetizer—presented a cylinder of minced sushi-grade tuna capped with velvety avocado purée, surrounded by thin slices of rich salmon belly. Tangy citrus-chili oil, peppery radish sprouts, and crunchy crystals of fleur de sel added snap, crackle, and pop. (Lobster chowder, however, needed a richer bisque to succeed.)
Haimowitz’s seafood entrées are hearty, not heavy. Seared Jersey ocean scallops contrasted intriguingly with creamy wild-mushroom risotto, with a heap of fried carrot matchsticks adding crunchy counterpoint. Mild pan-roasted cod had a lively supporting cast of spicy chorizo sausage, cockles, and sliced fingerling potatoes—a combination characteristic of Portuguese-American cooking in New England.
If you’ve ever had an everything bagel, you will immediately get the idea behind Haimowitz’s excellent everything-crusted yellowfin tuna belly. The fish is rolled in seeds—primarily white and black sesame and poppy, with celery, mustard, fennel, and coriander. The crust is light and crisp, with an elusive pepperiness that spotlights the luscious fish within.
The best salmon entrée I’ve had in recent memory was a fillet coated with a mixture of finely chopped piñon nuts (a Southwestern wild pignoli), citrus zest, tarragon, crabmeat, and butter. The fish is lightly roasted and served with earthy puréed parsnips. The butteriness of the pignoli-and-crabmeat mixture makes this familiar fish seem brand new and exotic.
Equally fine was bouillabaisse, which arrived with an arsenal of utensils—picks and a cracker for the moist steamed lobster, tiny forks for scallops, shrimp, cockles, and mussels, and a spoon for the rich Marseille fish broth, redolent with sunny hints of Pernod, tarragon, and fennel.
Salads showcase seasonal finds from farmers’ markets in Jersey City, Red Bank, and Manhattan. One that set off little flavor explosions was the frisée sparked with tangy French goat cheese, tart Fuji apples, and smoky applewood bacon.
The only pasta is an opulent house-made ravioli stuffed with seared artichokes and mascarpone cheese. With its sauce of veal cheeks and red onions braised for hours in Madeira wine, the dish is complex and compelling. Simpler but just as captivating is the signature side dish, mashed red-bliss potatoes laden with acorn-sized chunks of lobster. Bliss, indeed.
Carnivores have plenty of options. A nearly fork-tender, Australian, grass-fed beef tenderloin came with a zippy peppercorn aioli, and a well-marbled Texas strip steak luxuriated in blue-cheese butter and red-wine sauce. Air curing does wonders for duck breasts. Coated with Chinese five-spice powder, sugar, and salt, the meat develops a crisp skin and more flavor while losing fat. Haimowitz served these tasty slices with curried chickpea pancakes and a kumquat reduction that added a plummy, Asian touch to this memorable dish.
Unfortunately, braised lamb shank underwhelmed. This imposing hunk of slightly gamy spring lamb should be fall-off-the-bone tender. But on two visits, ours was over-roasted and dry.
Nonetheless, our meals concluded with flair, thanks to pastry chef Robert Gonnerman. Dense, New York-style cheesecake was fabulous; chocolate-banana cake oozed caramelized banana; pear crisp was exactly that, with intense pear flavor.
Arthur’s Landing has a new lease on life, something a real-estate mogul like Arthur Imperatore Sr. understands. —Karen Tina Harrison
Port Imperial, 1 Pershing Road, Weehawken (201-867-0777), arthurslanding.com. Dinner: Sunday and Monday, 5 to 9 pm; Tuesday, 4:30 to 10 pm; Wednesday and Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10:30 pm. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. All major credit cards except Discover are accepted. Dining room on ground floor is wheelchair accessible. Terrace dining in warm weather.Click here to leave a comment