Restaurant Review

Restaurant David Drake

Fans of the Stage House Inn in Scotch Plains will be delighted to hear that Chef David Drake has finally opened a restaurant of his own. Drake partnered with Rahway mayor Jim Kennedy, and together they refurbished and decorated the early-nineteenth-century house that now serves as his self-named restaurant. Under Mayor Kennedy, Rahway is undergoing a renaissance, and Drake is right in the forefront. It’s been done before in a run-down section of New Brunswick with the Frog and the Peach, now one of the state’s top restaurants, around which the city is blossoming. Let’s hope the same thing happens to Rahway, where Drake has made a great beginning.

The restaurant is comfortable, particularly upstairs, which is a bit more private, and in the small, intimate bar, also upstairs. The menu is prix-fixe at $49, with supplementary charges for some items.

David Drake is an excellent chef, and an adventurous one. Sometimes this is good, as when he comes up with the inspired seared foie gras appetizer on a bed of spinach and tiny onions served with a cup of oxtail broth; we’re instructed to take a bite of foie gras, then a sip of broth—a revelation. But at other times multiple textures and bland flavors do nothing for one another, as in the boneless quail stuffed with snails, making the tasting experiment seem like a waste of time.

In some cases, the simpler the better. Briny Prince Edward Island oysters with a champagne-shallot-and-horseradish mignonette are outstanding, and the creamy yet chunky corn-and-lobster chowder provides a soothing taste of summer. The warm mushroom napoleon—mushrooms layered with sliced potatoes in a rectangle and garnished with a drizzle of sorrel sauce and three soft dumplings filled with marrow—would be fine if the dumplings weren’t so salty. A coarse pork pâté studded with nuggets of foie gras is bland, but the tuna tartare—small cubes of marinated tuna on a disk of rice—is delicious.

One main course worth waiting for is the skate rolls; the fish is removed from the cartilage, rolled around spinach, and set on a red-pepper sauce. Other memorable dishes include five sweet, seared scallops served with a succotash of corn, fava beans, and zucchini along with pickled seaweed; nicely gamy roast squab prepared medium-rare with truffled spaetzle and black-trumpet mushrooms; and a tender, flavorful flatiron steak, sliced and served with puréed celeriac and a galette of potatoes topped with frizzled leeks. Cumin-rubbed lamb loin with artichokes is also interesting. My favorite is the tender and fabulous braised short ribs—probably the best I’ve eaten—served in a dark, rich sauce and oddly accompanied by a brandade of cod (salt cod, mashed potatoes, cream, olive oil, and garlic).

Desserts earn mixed reviews. The peach Melba, a round of peach-soaked genoise (sponge cake) topped with poached peach with apricot preserves, raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream, and almond cream, is a successful take on the classic. A tropical fruit salad is refreshing, and banana mousse with chocolate ganache, candied walnuts, and caramelized foam would assuage any sweet tooth. A chocolate coulant—the classic molten-chocolate cake with chocolate-caramel sauce and goat milk sauce and ice cream—is wonderful. The lemon panna cotta with blueberry jam, strawberry salad, and sorbet is pleasant, but I prefer the selection of seven to eight cheeses served with baguette croutes, fig cake, and tomato relish, and perhaps a glass of red wine or vintage port.

Reviewed: December, 2005.

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