The Manor is a lavish West Orange landmark famed for opulent weddings and its extravagant lobster and raw-bar buffets. What even many locals may not realize is that it also has an upscale à la carte dining room, the 120-seat Terrace Lounge.
A round, windowed salon bedecked with brocade fabrics, extravagant chandeliers and towering flower arrangements, it delivers the kind of full-on fine-dining experience that once defined sophistication for Americans.
“My dad, Harry, started the Manor as a classic fine-dining restaurant in 1956, and we have preserved that tradition,” says Kurt Knowles, 65, who runs it with his brother Wade, their dad and their kids.
“We kept the tablecloths, the table-side preparations,” Knowles adds. “And we continue to serve classic Continental favorites like shrimp cocktail and lobster thermidor. If we didn’t, we’d hear about it from regulars.”
The room is a trip back in time, for sure—sometimes wonderfully so, with such show stealers as their classic Caesar salad and flawless bananas flambé, both prepared with great aplomb table-side, and a beef Wellington that would make the duke himself proud.
The vaunted wine list is so enticing because the older holdings are priced relative to what the family paid for them years ago rather than what they are worth now.
Often, though, the Terrace Lounge can feel like a relic—from the haughty woman who admonishes full-grown adults not to arrive in “athletic wear” when they call to reserve a table to the glowing, ice-encased intermezzo sorbets that get marched across the floor between courses. On both visits, our party—not a spring chicken among us—was perhaps the youngest in the spacious yet sparsely populated room.
Chef de cuisine Mario Russo, born and trained in Bavaria, works closely with Kurt Knowles to craft the seasonal menu, often with produce and herbs grown on the farm and greenhouses at nearby Pleasantdale Chateau, also family owned.
“I do what I can to modernize classic dishes with what’s available and fresh,” says Russo, 30, who came in 2007 and lives on the premises with his family.
Russo is best when he sticks with tradition. The house-smoked salmon appetizer with frisée, orange segments and toasted brioche was delicate and beautifully balanced. Expert, too, was a duet of foie gras, the velvety torchon and seared liver offset by a smoked pineapple-and-strawberry compote. Oysters escargot (a Harry Knowles invention encasing the mollusks in bubbling snail butter) made diners happily swoon one night. On another, the oysters, overbroiled, contracted into knots.
Other appetizers had serious issues, too. Slices of pesto-rolled beef carpaccio disintegrated into mere paste on the plate. The ceviche portion of a tuna duet was fine, but its sashimi counterpart was drowned in a cloying dressing reminiscent of bottled chili sauce.
Winning entrées included sumptuous roast chicken with truffled potato soufflé and house-smoked bacon; and duck breast and leg confit, sublime despite its lack of crispy skin. Russo’s thick slab of olive oil-poached swordfish was succulent, herbaceous and topped with a punchy tomato confit.
Russo’s more creative mains were disappointing. I’m not sure what inspired him to heavily coat delicate fillets of striped bass in sesame seeds, but the crust—even more pungent from pan searing—made the fish a non-entity. A grilled vegetable and quinoa strudel—his stab at a vegan entrée—sounded and looked far more interesting than it tasted.
Dessert, though, should be mandatory. Thank talented pastry chef Duane Hendershot for the extra calories. Prod your tablemates to order his crazy-good chocolate-toffee bread pudding or silken maple brown sugar crème brûlée. (Who knows why its crisp cap was marred by whipped cream and a clunky biscotti?)
You and some other lucky person should schedule a date with the glorious bananas flambé. That dish alone—with all its pomp, melting house-made ice cream and caramelized deliciousness—is worth the trip back in time.
- Cuisine Type:American
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $10-$22; caviar, $45-$85; entrées, $26-$52; desserts, $9.95-$14.
- Ambience:Leisurely luxury
- Service:Attentive, formal
- Wine list:Full bar; extensive, award-winning wine list with old vintages and rarities, many at bargain rates