On many fronts, it succeeds. The atmosphere is warmly enveloping, thanks in part to the amber glow emanating from the wood-burning grill in the open kitchen. (In warmer months, tables are available on the front porch and brick patio.) The food is beautifully presented, and much of it tastes as good as it looks, especially the appetizers.
Excellent Tuna Two Ways (seared and tartare) comes with a cool wasabi cream and a spicy aoli. Outrageously flavorful fresh pork “bacon” (actually pork belly) is marinated and rendered of its fat for two to three hours before being grilled. Served with red, white, and blue potatoes and an arugula salad, this luscious appetizer could make a satisfying meal. Likewise, gnocchi with porcini cream sauce was deliciously concentrated in porcini flavor.
The three-soup sampler suggested the breadth of chef-owner Matt McPherson’s talent: choices may include delicate puréed carrot-and-ginger soup; earthy wild-mushroom bisque; or hearty seafood chowder. A CIA graduate, McPherson, 32, served as chef de cuisine of Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville and helped open the Sea Grill in Manhattan before returning to Flemington, his hometown, to open a place of his own.
The chef sometimes needs to rein in his sweet tooth. An artful tower of red and golden beets needed a more savory dressing than balsamic vinaigrette and a sharper counterpoint than cranberry goat cheese with a touch of cinnamon. (The cranberries, for whatever reason, had been deleted by press time.)
The nerve center of Matt’s is the 1,200-pound wood-burning stove with its 78-inch grill. Here, meat, pheasant, salmon, even salad (Matt’s Caesar starts with lightly grilled romaine hearts) absorb aroma and flavor from aged cherry wood and cedar. The grill menu offers four steaks and rack of lamb, each with its own sauce. The meats we sampled were so good I could have done without the sauces. Grilling salmon on a cedar plank lined with orange slices worked well and was aptly complemented by a soy, honey, and blood-orange glaze. (When blood oranges went out of season in April, the kitchen switched to a honey, tomatillo and roasted yellow pepper emulsion.)
A combo of pheasant and chicken (from the nearby Griggstown farm) were prepared two ways—the chicken leg and thigh as a classic confit, the pheasant breast marinated in an orange brine, then grilled for a crispy finish and served with balsamic-glazed pearl onions. All entrées come with potatoes, rice, or couscous, and a medley of seasonal vegetables.
Desserts were not especially inviting, but with big appetizer and entrée portions, that may be a blessing. The lightness of the cheesecake (made with a touch of sour cream) was defeated by a cloying raspberry sauce. McPherson’s individual fruit cobblers were inconsistent in our tastings. Peanut butter bomb—McPherson’s fantasy of a Reese’s cup—capped a mound of peanut butter mousse with dark chocolate ganache. It was the best dessert we tried, but it was candy-store sweet.Click here to leave a comment