Restaurant Review

Reinventing a Favorite: A Toute Heure in Cranford

The new owners of A Toute Heure in Cranford changed the menu, the chef, almost everything but the name. The other thing they didn’t change was the high quality of the food and service.

Photo courtesy of A Toute Heure

After 10 successful but demanding years, Andrea and Jim Carbine made the difficult decision last spring to sell their beloved boite, A Toute Heure, one of the first Jersey restaurants to showcase Jersey farms.

Prospective owners Marco and Nathally Florio were delighted. “When I walked into that cozy dining room and open kitchen,” says Marco, 48, who emigrated from Abruzzo, Italy, in 1970, “I felt like I had found a precious gem. It reminded me of the family-owned places where I grew up.”

Marco, who owned Vale restaurant in Hoboken from 2000-2005, inked the deal on May 8 and opened the next day with his CIA-trained chef, Alex Gomes, whom he and Nathally had followed for years. Gomes, 36, had previously worked at Le Rendezvous in his hometown of Kenilworth, Chez Catherine in Westfield and Mompou in Newark.

Together, Gomes and the Florios have breathed new life into ATH, as it’s called, while preserving key elements its regulars loved. While the name is French—à toute heure loosely translates as “anytime”—the food was and remains largely New American, but now reflecting Gomes’s Portuguese roots.

Chalkboards still call out the names of local farms. The hardwood floors were refinished, the walls repainted and (hallelujah!) more effective acoustical paneling was installed. More comfortable chairs are in the works.

As regulars requested, the crisp-capped Parker House rolls remain (wisely) untouched, and only minor modifications were made to the beloved ATH mussels with chorizo and saffron cream. The rolls were so good, I tucked two into my purse.

Some dishes have been improved. A popular duck confit that Gomes found neither crunchy outside nor tender inside was both on a recent visit. It’s served with a rosy, rendered duck breast, pattypan squash, potato and dried-cherry port-wine jus.

“I like contrasting temperatures, textures and levels of acidity because it helps ingredients play off each other,” says Gomes. “The variety creates a new experience with every bite and makes you keep going back for more.”

Indeed. In one sexy starter salad, grilled asparagus and cool arugula canoodled under warm béarnaise and the runny yolk from a perfectly coddled egg. A tender beef tartare became luxe with house-fried potato chips, firm capers, chopped radish and bits of shallot.

Only a fresh but unexciting crabmeat salad over greens failed to sparkle. (It’s no longer on the menu.)

Entrées delivered flavor and invention. Gomes marinates his butterflied Amish chicken in Portuguese piri piri, then pan sears it to cutlet-like crispness. Seared Barnegat scallops kept company with a riot of shiitake and oyster mushrooms, purple potatoes and tricolor baby carrots. A bright sauce verte aptly tied it all together.

A crisp, pan-fried bass, its flesh delicate and moist, dazzled on its bed of warm faro salad, chickpeas, fiddlehead ferns and a touch of beurre noisette. Niman Ranch prime strip was a tad tough. But its beefy punch—enhanced by a pan sear in duck fat and truffle-tinged beef demi-glace—helped us soldier through.

Desserts provide every reason to loosen your belt. During our visits, we enjoyed a dense, delectable olive-oil cake on tart, macerated cherries; and a smear of vibrant lemon curd with burnished meringue that practically dared us to lick our plates clean. Last summer, we had a cool grilled-peach salad, with fresh berries, whipped cream and tender cake well worth the calories. A flawless, lavender-scented crème brûlée transported us a smidge closer to heaven (or perhaps Provence).

Tough choices, sure. But don’t worry, you can return. Just about anytime.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
  • Price Range:
  • Price Details:
    Appetizers, $8-$18; entrées, $30-$39; desserts, $10
  • Ambience:
    Convivial and homey
  • Service:
    Enthusiastic, informed, gracious
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