This seven-month-old bistro has thoroughly Jersey bloodlines. It is owned by Dr. Alan Cooperman—a prominent Millburn gynecologist who in his obstetrics days delivered many tots who are now among restaurant.mc patrons—and his son Marc (the MC of the name), who has returned home after earning his spurs opening chic restaurants in Atlanta.
The consulting chef, and partner, is New Jersey native David Burke, celebrated owner of davidburke&donatella in Manhattan and the Fromagerie in Rumson.
Executive chef Steve Permaul—who grew up in Princeton, worked with Dennis Foy at Town Square in Chatham and Craig Shelton at the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse—says his strongest influence is Burke, whom he assisted at Park Avenue Café in New York and Primehouse in Chicago.
“Dennis gave me a great foundation,” says Permaul, “Craig a solid understanding of French technique, and David the freedom to create.”
The open kitchen at the back of the dining room features a brand of oven called a Wood Stone. Permaul says its stone base heats to 950 degrees, “which cooks food fast with an outside sear that seals the juices in.” The oven lends a moist, slightly smoky flavor to Burke’s signature “angry” lobster as well as to meat, fowl, seafood, egg dishes, seasonal produce, and the lounge’s pizza.
The Venetian plaster walls and industrial lighting of the spare upstairs dining room evoke the North Jersey warehouses and factories that are being reborn as residential lofts. Downstairs, noise-absorbing white tablecloths and wine-hued walls promote a fashionable, intimate mood. Up front, a bar area with a plush sofa serves house cocktails and a light menu highlighting charcuterie meats cured in-house.
MC’s quail egg Benedict appetizer is David Burke’s cute upscale take on the brunch classic, with a seared scallop and chorizo sausage in place of the ham. The upgrades do notch up the flavor, texture, and complexity of the dish in a rewarding way.
A boneless barbecued ribs starter puts a sophisticated spin on old-fashioned (Americanized) Cantonese spare ribs. Permaul serves them shredded with a bit of wickedly fatty pork belly, blanketed with a sweet-and-sour sauce zesty with star anise, cardamom, and lemongrass.
House-made pastas make terrific appetizers or main courses. A spring special of ribbon-shaped pappardelle was memorably jazzed by olives, tomato, garlic confit, and snappy prosciutto meatballs made by Permaul’s adept crew. The house greens are lavished with house-cured bacon chunks and wedges of properly ripe French goat cheese. The salad is served with a walnut-oil vinaigrette, but I found that a substitute dressing, garlicky Caesar, packed more punch.
Other starters proved less intriguing. Crab cakes were loaded with tender lump meat but were under seasoned, and “tempura” calamari were accompanied by one-note syrupy dips. A tuna and salmon tartare lacked a bottom note of salt or soy, without which they tasted unmoored.
Permaul’s meat entrees shine. His Short “Hills” ribs, seasoned with cumin, coriander, and salt—are seared, then braised in a reduction of Burgundy and beef stock. The short ribs are served boneless with a creamy, cumin-dusted polenta that underscores the richness of the meat. Permaul’s prime beef filet mignon, dressed with a melted slab of blue cheese and chunks of applewood-smoked bacon, is an unassailable choice. I found the bone-in ribeye just as tasty but chewier.
Duck a l’Orange needed crispier skin. A lobster “steak” was mystifying, featuring blameless fresh North Atlantic lobster meat overworked into a terrine-like mold, then bedded with bland risotto, studded with cucumber cubes that furnished only a jarring crunch. Sushi-grade yellowfin tuna was cooked “black-and-blue” as requested, but even the seared portions were oddly cold to the touch. Worse, the fish had no flavor, and its cornmeal crust was reminiscent of soggy Rice Krispies. These dishes need to go back to the drawing board.
Desserts look better than they taste. But Burke’s trademark “cheesecake lollipops”—chocolate-dipped globes of cheesecake on a stick—close the meal with flair.
MC, already popular, can do better by its upscale clientele. If it irons out the kinks, its star rating will surely rise.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Modern