Restaurant Review

Yellow Plum

Originally offering a small but ambitious New American menu, Yellow Plum has since expanded to include more familiar, price-friendly dishes.

At least one good thing came of the polar vortex this winter: It delayed my second visit to Yellow Plum in Bloomfield by almost two months. In that time, the owners Dennis Lucik and son Chris, significantly improved their operation, which opened last August in the space that had been the DePersio family’s Bar Cara.

 The menu expanded, and the success rate went up. Delicious cheffy dishes like grilled head-on prawns marinated in Korean barbecue sauce, served with house-made watermelon sorbet, were joined by short-rib mac ’n’ cheese, chicken lollipops, burgers and a ribeye sandwich.

“The smaller menu was more upscale,” said Chris Lucik, the chef, in a phone call after my visits. “Now there are more price-friendly choices that match the neighborhood. It’s still a tough economy. My girlfriend and I can’t afford to go out and spend $300 on dinner, and neither can they.”  

Lucik, 37, hasn’t sacrificed quality or portion size. One outstanding example: a gorgeous, 8-ounce piece of farmed Faroe Islands salmon. He sears the skin crisp while keeping the flesh moist. Deeply flavorful celery-root purée and the mineral tang of braised chard perfectly completed the dish.

Lucik said he learned everything he knows about fish from Rick Moonen, whom he called “the king of seafood.” Moonen is one of several top chefs Lucik has worked with. Others are Rocco DiSpirito (“the best cook I’ve ever seen”), Marcus Samuelsson (“smooth, calm, inventive”) and Wolfgang Puck (“the celebrity chef and an incredibly nice guy to work for”). Lucik, a former Marine Corps sergeant who served in Afghanistan and Kosovo, graduated from the French Culinary Institute in 2003. “My grandfather, my father and my two uncles all had restaurants,” he said. Those two uncles? John and Dennis Foy, whose groundbreaking Tarragon Tree in Meyersville (later moved to Chatham) put New Jersey on the culinary map in the 1970s.

My first meal began with excellent appetizers: oxtail ravioli in a soulful jus; Caesar salad made of thinly shaved raw brussels sprouts; and steak tartare with tarragon-pepper aioli. Main courses were less successful. The rice in wild-boar risotto was slightly gummy, and clumps of the ground meat were overcooked. Expertly cooked sea bass was taken down by a gribiche sauce (similar to Hollandaise, but with minced pickles, capers and hard-boiled eggs) that separated into bits that looked like scrambled eggs.

A second visit brought the glorious salmon as well as tender, rosy duck breast, which Lucik poaches in chicken stock and sears to crisp the skin. The duck came with a well-balanced sauce of red wine and cranberries, delicious puréed artichoke hearts and strands of soft pickled fennel. Lucik coaxed maximum flavor out of chicken breast pan fried on the bone, sliced and moistened with tarragon jus. Flavor-packed New York strip steak, sliced into thick slabs, came with terrific smoked potatoes, wild mushrooms and Barolo sauce. Those same smoked potatoes are crucial to a show-stopping starter: panko-crusted blue cheese croquettes. Do not pass them up.

The kitchen is not yet entirely consistent. On a recent visit, the shaved brussels sprouts had almost no discernible Caesar dressing. Also no-show were the capers the menu promises in the beef tartare, although they had been there on a previous occasion. Worse, some of the tiny cubes of raw beef had not been fully trimmed of unchewable tissue. Among desserts, the fudgy brownies would have been fine on their own; dipping them in batter and deep-frying them was overkill. Homemade ice creams were flavorful but had the texture of ice milk. Cheesecake came to the table so cold we couldn’t suss out any flavor.

Wondering about the name Yellow Plum? “We spent a year trying to find a location, a concept, a name,” Lucik said. “My niece suggested Blue Lemon, and after that we just riffed on color and fruit combinations.” The name isn’t likely to change, but with a few further tweaks, the restaurant itself could realize its considerable potential.
 

 

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