Restaurants & Bars 3

Christopher's (Heldrich Hotel, New Brunswick)

Just Visiting | Feb 10, 200806:02 AM

Four of us dined at Christopher's last night.

Bottom line first - it just misses the fine dining mark. Good quality ingredients, properly cooked, but somehow just not quite there. It is hard to say just what is missing. Perhaps a little less trendy, a little more flavor.

Website is not working at the moment, so you will have to google it if you want to see the menu.

The space is very slightly off-putting - there are two or three separate areas, plus a private dining area - and with the very high ceilings and the huge windows, it feels a bit cavernous. In fact, it feels as though a restaurant had been inserted into what was originally intended to be a lobby. The open space is obviously hard to heat correctly as it is a bit drafty. Tables were nicely spaced and chairs were comfortable. Lighting was very dim - small track lights hung from the high ceiling were not up to the job.

Open kitchens are all the rage these days, and Christopher's has got one. In some ways, it is nice, because you can see that the kitchen is clean (although there is obviously an off-stage area, too) and it is kind of fun to watch the three chefs maneuver through the fairly small space. Overall, the noise from the open kitchen is not too bad (and we were at one of the tables closest to the kitchen - about 30 feet away).

The menu is varied - several fish dishes (grouper, black cod, salmon), 1 chicken dish, 2 beef, a special last night of lamb. The menu includes a pasta category but it is apparently pasta du jour, and they didn't suggest that there were any available last night.

It took quite a while to get bread, even though we dined early and the room was nearly empty when we arrived (although a group was seated in the private dining room at about the same time). The rye was nice with a chewy crust. I didn't try the other - some kind of white, elongated loaf-type bread. The interior didn't look all that great. Butter was nearly frozen.

The baby greens salads were served as deconstructed salads - greens held upright in some kind of baked ring - not sure what it was - it was extremely light. Perfectly fresh, crisp greens dressed lightly with a sherry vinaigrette. Accompanied by some very nice pancetta wrapped around dates, and some nice blue cheese scattered on the plate. Trendy? Yes. Good anyway.

Olive-oil poached salmon was a high-quality piece of fish. The salmon flavor was nice, but the dish overall lacked any wow whatsoever. It was accompanied by a few pieces of salsify. Two of us had the potato-crusted grouper (on the menu, it is panko-crusted, but they announced that it was instead potato-crusted). Both said it was good, but again, not one ooh or ah. Accompanied by forbidden black rice and mushrooms. A side order of polenta, presented in a small black pot, was extremely cheesy (parmesan, if I recall) and had little hint of the garlic (fine by all of us - garlic is generally overwhelming in our opinion). Ribeye also failed to produce any reaction. A side order of bok choy in a citrus reduction was also presented in a small black pot but was drowning in butter.

We all passed on dessert. The newspaper reviews laud the inventive desserts, but we didn't see anything innovative or inventive. Given that the rest of the meal was pleasant, but nothing special, we decided not to use precious calories on something that probably wouldn't be worthwhile.

Service was nice - the waiter was new and hadn't sampled the food, so he couldn't answer many questions, and he obviously hadn't been briefed, either. He couldn't tell us, for instance, which selections were local in origin. Still, he was pleasant and attentive and professional.

The GM was very friendly and helpful and attentive - watching carefully to be sure that everything was going smoothly and that everyone had what they needed. He made a point of asking us at the end of the meal how we enjoyed the food and if we found the service acceptable.

So, the quest for "the place" in New Brunswick continues. We enjoyed the food at Stage Left but thought it was overpriced and the room where we were seated (where the wine racks are located) was quite uncomfortable because they allowed people to exit to the street from that room, even though it was freezing cold that night. Every time someone left, a blast of cold air came in. Then the heat kicked into overdrive to compensate. Not good for guests, and not good for wine!

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