Saturday, November 1, 2008

Restaurants...Here And There

I had two wonderful restaurant visits lately. One was a déjeuner intime, the other was a restaurant opening in beautiful Princeton.

My lovely friend, M, who lives outside of Princeton, invited me to the opening of Elements restaurant. I’m always up for that. Anyone (anywhere) feel free to ask me, anytime.

Elements is a brand new, built from scratch, modern gem of a restaurant co-owned by chef Scott Anderson (formerly Chef de Cuisine of The Ryland Inn) and Stephen Distler. It serves “interpretive American Cuisine,” which means a little of everything – Asian, Latin and Mediterranean. All of it, judging from the tastes we had, was delicious.


The cardoon (cousin to the artichoke) soup was rich and delicious. The corn crepe was yummy and there were various other tastes that came and went much too quickly. Miniature jelly doughnuts were adorable.

Another thing that will succeed for sure is the special cocktail list. This particular evening they were offering 4 special drinks, made with different liquors and fresh squeezed juices. I’m sure I’ll get the combinations wrong, but there was a beautiful emerald green, basil and lemongrass one that we dubbed a spa cocktail.

One nifty feature is the chef’s table (actually there are two of them), with prime viewing of everything that’s going on in the kitchen.

Elements will also be offering tasting menus and there’s a private dining space for 8,

and a larger one located in a loft upstairs. There’s also a sensational 600 pound sculpture by Frank Bowman Krimmel, hanging high above the Chef’s tables across from the loft.

And you have to love a restaurant with its own blog.

My lunch was with L, one of my favorite sister-in-laws, at Mercer Kitchen, another of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. This one sits in a basement and is pretty fabulous.

The hosting was warm and friendly. I got there early and chatted with the waiter. He told me that everything is made fresh everyday…no vats of pre-prepared vegetables are hiding in the kitchen. When I looked up, I could see people walking across the antique glass overpass, which is visible from the dining room.

L arrived and the feasting began with a spiced apple cider champagne cocktail.
Ooh la la.

Luckily L had been there before and steered us in an excellent direction. I was nervous about the word “steamed” in the shrimp salad. I always feel more confident about sautéed, deep fried or batter dipped etc.

I shouldn’t have worried. The shrimp were fat and juicy butterflied little darlings set atop a perfectly dressed avocado mushroom and tomato salad. The vinaigrette was a champagne vinegar one, which I couldn’t particularly discern, but it was wonderful.

We also started with the Tuna Spring Rolls served with a flavorful soybean purée. The tuna was wrapped in delicate flaky pastry and the dish would have been satisfying all by itself as lunch.

Thankfully, the slowly baked salmon didn’t come out medium, as ordered by L. It was still very pink in the middle. The truffled mashed potatoes were unctuous and so smooth I could have eaten a vat of them.

We were clever and instead of ordering another main course, our second entrée was another appetizer – the crab cake. It was too good. It was topped with curly frisée and sat atop a creamy un-tartar sauce. I don't what it was. It was good to the last bite.

Coffee came before dessert. I have to remember this isn’t Paris. It was an absolutely exceptional cappuccino. (I know in Rome I’d get the evil eye if I ordered that in the middle of the afternoon.)

Dessert was pretty fabulous. The first was an autumn cheesecake that was served with yummy figs and a Concord grape sorbet. The sorbet tasted like just-plucked grapes that had been whirled into a sorbet moments before. The cheesecake was accompanied by a crispy black sesame tuile-like cookie. Divine, but I must have been on my 5th cocktail, when I took this picture.

The lemon kiwi tart was topped with fresh sliced kiwis. I would have liked a bit more tartness in the tart, but the creaminess was beguiling. It was accompanied by some raspberries and chopped up kiwi. I would have skipped the extra fruit and taken a bigger piece of the tart.

This brings to 4 the number of Jean Georges restaurants I’ve been to. (I love having goals.) I really like them all - Jean Georges (visited in my pre-blogging days) is amazing, but Spice Market is probably my favorite (especially when I get to meet a blogging buddy). Vong comes next, but Mercer Kitchen is close behind. I thought the service was a lot warmer here than at Vong, although they did threaten to take away a plate before we both were through – one of my hugest pet peeves.

Just remember, lunch à deux or launching a new restaurant…I’m always ready and willing.


Emiline said...

Yes, I like Spice Market the best. :) It's my favorite JGV restaurant.

These sound like two wonderful restaurants.
My favorite dish is the crabcakes. I like the presentation with the frisee.

Adam said...

Those restaurants are beautiful. I would probably forget to eat and just walk around :) I'm glad you guys had a great time, the meals and sushi look amazing. And good thing you stopped after... 5 cocktails :)

doggybloggy said... eat well.....

Sue said...

I'm glad we agree.

Yes, it's rarely a mistake to order crabcakes.

Hi Adam,
Both nights were great! And it was only 4 cocktails at the restaurant opening!

Heya DB,
I know. I had a good week.

Michelle said...

The next time you want to try any restaurant, you just let me know! Imagine the tag-team blogging that would go on! :-)