No Esty Street exists in the cozy suburb of Park Ridge in northern Bergen County. The restaurant’s name echoes the Ithaca, New York, address of the original owner’s Cornell frat house. But this Esty Street is about as far from a frat house as you can get. Esty Street looks and feels like a glamorous supper club from decades past. Its delicious, swank food, with tabs to match, is crafted by a Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Adam R. Weiss.
Esty Street’s pitch-perfect design, by La Bossiere in Saddle River, creates a romantic, inviting interior. The restaurant is set in a former residence built in the 1920s. Diners step through the front door into a glassed-in vestibule much like an estate greenhouse. A softly lit bar with two inviting, velour-upholstered booths twinkles before you, and the 66-seat dining room beckons to your right. Two tables occupy a homey nook backed by a wall of real leather-bound books.
Esty Street’s owner, Joachim “Kim” Costagliola, is hands-on and oft present. Costagliola, who grew up in Elmwood Park, was a longtime exec at Becton Dickinson, a medical-device company in Franklin Lakes. “I’ve always wanted to own a restaurant,” says the 59-year-old. His 2008 purchase of Esty Street, “was based on a bottle of Hennessy and a dare,” he says laughingly, “but it turned out very well.” I have to agree.
Inheriting a chef like Weiss was a major piece of luck. “From the time I was a kindergartner, I helped my mother and grandmother cook,” says the 34-year-old Franklin Lakes native. “They were great cooks and hostesses. I’d help with dishes like mashed potatoes: tons of butter, heavy cream, sour cream and an egg for good measure.”
When Weiss was in high school in the early ’90s, “my mother got into restaurants—there was suddenly a huge variety in Jersey,” he says. “I started to really study what chefs did, how they’d combine ingredients and textures, how they’d present a dish on the plate.” After Ramapo High, he headed for the CIA. He cooked at Market Basket Caterers in Franklin Lakes and the Hilton Woodcliff Lake before joining Esty Street, where he became executive chef in 2007.
Weiss’s style is deluxe American bistro. I was wowed by his appetizers (Weiss says some customers make a meal of multiple starters). Crispy calamari were indeed crispy yet tender, and served with a tangy, just-right, lemon-caper Caesar aioli. Tuna tartare combined a 3-ounce mound of raw, sushi-grade Atlantic ahi, zippy with sriracha aioli, with a hefty avocado sushi roll, dipped in panko crumbs and flash-fried.
Weiss, who has never visited Japan, is equally adept with the savory Japanese flan known as chawanmushi. His rendition was inspired by a chawanmushi that chef David Bouley prepared at a Saddle River dinner party that Costagliola attended. Weiss’s version was a knockout. It arrived surrounded by mushrooms in a mushroom stock, its delicate custard sparked with white miso paste, soy, bonito flakes and edamame peas.
Weiss’s roasted green poblano chili pepper from New Mexico is another winning starter. He stuffed the chili with braised duck leg, sliced it, drizzled it with subtly chocolatey mole sauce and surrounded it with smoky black beans.
Both pastas merit praise. Parisienne gnocchi stroganoff was made with pastry dough, which gives it a lighter texture than potato gnocchi. It was plated with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, tangy Parmigiano-Reggiano and crème fraîche silkened with sherry. Ground filet mignon makes the dish a stroganoff. Butternut squash ravioli was just as tempting, served in a browned butter-and-sage sauce with toasted walnuts and crumbled Maytag blue cheese from Wisconsin. Pass it around.
Hudson Valley foie gras was properly pan seared and finished with crunchy fleur de sel. Unfortunately, it nested jarringly upon a sweet, syrupy, caramelized apple crisp, complete with cinnamon streusel crumbs.
Among main courses, duck breast was perfectly done: pan-seared, with crisp skin, served in a port reduction with braised red cabbage. Scallops were impeccable, too: plump specimens from Maine atop lightly crunchy farro with capers, dried cranberries and a maple butternut sauce.
Excellent farm-raised salmon fillet was pan seared, dusted with cumin and coriander, and plated with jasmine rice and smoked black-bean purée. I was not enamored of another seafood entrée, grilled-shrimp mac-and-cheese. It involved nothing more than a handful of behemoth shrimp atop bland mascarpone-laden orzo with a hint of shellfish stock.
But Esty Street’s two steaks are estimable: Iowa beef, dry aged 21 days and drizzled with cooked-down Cabernet Sauvignon. The 12-ounce boneless strip steak is lightly marbled, the 8-ounce filet mignon lean, yet lush. Creamed spinach and fries of mixed purple and white potatoes accompany the strip steak; a baked spud and a snowfall of Grafton white cheddar and black truffle oil attend the filet.
Candied-yam purée is Esty Street’s must-order (but not exactly low-cal) side dish. Finished with brown sugar, cream and a little salt, “it’s my mother’s recipe from the ’80s,” says Weiss. “All I left out was the marshmallows.” Like the foie gras appetizer, this dish could double as dessert.
But it would be a shame to forgo Weiss’s own stupendous chocolate concoctions. His Valrhona chocolate cake was served with house-made, faintly minty chocolate-chip ice cream as well as thick chocolate sauce in a shooter glass. The Cocotufo was nearly as chocoholic, but more dramatic: Our server poured liquefied Guittard chocolate over a heap of toasted-coconut brittle ice cream. Within 30 seconds, it firmed into a shell. Caramel-apple French-toast bread pudding came with embedded maple-candied bacon bits that were tough, not crunchy. Montrachet cheesecake came wrapped in flavorless, brittle phyllo.
Unfortunately, this gifted chef is not ably supported by his waitstaff. Three of my party’s entrées, explicitly ordered extremely rare, arrived medium rare. After my meals, I learned that the orders had been conveyed to the kitchen as rare. In general, service was distracted and detached. Weiss’s food and Esty Street’s genteel atmosphere deserve better.
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