Restaurant Review


Restaurants in the center of Hoboken tend to be simple in design. As soon as you enter Venue, though, you’re transported into a cool, stylish space with comfortable tables and chairs, contemporary lighting, and color-washed walls that morph constantly as the lights change gently from one color into another.

Venue’s food is also surprising. On one visit, the exciting menu is laid out in a classical manner. The next time around, it has changed to a prix-fixe three- or six-course menu with complimentary dessert—you can choose any type of food as part of the prix-fixe menu—and a whole range of small plates ranging from chilled carrot soup with a Japanese tea cloud for $1 to Hudson Valley foie gras beignet with chocolate ganache and grapefruit for $6. These are all the personally inspired creations of chef/owner James George Sarkar, who worked at the Grand Victorian in Spring Lake before opening his own restaurant. His menu is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in a long time. But although I greatly enjoy most of the food, there are often so many combined flavors that the dishes lose focus.

Only a few dishes are not worth ordering: the duck-confit ravioli, served with so many sweet garnishes it could almost pass for dessert; the shiitake-and-shimei-mushroom tempura, tasting more of batter than mushrooms; and the aforementioned foie gras beignets with chocolate “soil”—fatty foie gras fried in batter—is just a bad idea.

As for the rest, some dishes are presented with tiny pipettes of flavored liquids—interesting but a bit of an affectation. I like the poached-lobster carpaccio, accompanied by fingerling potatoes, truffle vinaigrette, and mâche; beef tenderloin ravioli; cappuccino soup, in a narrow glass topped with lime foam; and grape tomato sorbet paired with a little glass of basil soda. Also good are the carrot soup with a shiso leaf aspic and Japanese green-tea cloud; English-pea panna cotta with pea purée; tapioca garnished with spearmint; tender baby octopus seviches, served with a tangle of julienned vegetables and mango purée; and tuna tartare with edamame ice cream, finished with horseradish-and-cucumber broth at the table.

The seared tuna is commendable, as are the Chilean sea bass, accompanied by braised baby bok choy with apricot preserves and a pistachio emulsion; seared scallops on a bed of carrot-and-potato purée; and a lamb loin glazed with cardamom and served with paper-thin slices of crisp eggplant on eggplant purée. Soft and intensely flavored short ribs braised in pomegranate juice with Japanese sweet potatoes and lotus chips are absolutely delicious.

Desserts change daily. The Dessert Intermezzo comprises a thick disk of ice arranged on a folded napkin beneath three ovals of sorbet—lychee, mint-and-parsley, and Crenshaw melon. The lavender panna cotta, which comes with an almond tuille and berry compote, is much more subtle than it sounds. An individual peach tarte Tatin, with a crust of Greek shredded wheat and a pipette of vanilla-peach purée, is interesting. A wonderful sorbet terrine consists of three slices of striped sorbet flavored with berry, mango, or coconut, each sitting on a bed of correspondingly flavored purée. An excellent chocolate pound cake with coffee ice cream is paired with chocolate soup topped with foam.

Reviewed: December, 2005.