This is a new restaurant that opened in Old Bridge on Route 9 South ; and since my wife and I got lazy on our way to the city and didn't feel like continuing our trek up the Turnpike, we stumbled on this find, which is tucked off Route 9 behind a gas station next to what appeared to be an Asian marketplace
Though mostly invisible to passing traffic on Route 9, once we entered, the modern decor more than compensated for the lackluster location. We were brought the wine list but a pleasant, competent, but obviously nervous staff. While it is not a huge list by any stretch of the imagination, it had some well priced, well chosen options to enjoy. We initially selected a Crozes-Hermitage but as it was not available (distributor had brought a white Crozes-Hermitage and not the red we had selected), we kept with our Rhone Ranger mentality and selected a Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
We were told the chef whose name escapes me, has a long career in restaurants, traning under Wolfgang Puck and a few others, and having opened restaurants in the Boston area.
Bread was brought and was a promising start. Warm Naan Bread that was truly addictive - only issue was that the herb butter presented was served right out of the fridge and too hard.
Amuse Bouche was an Oyster Shooter with Asian Flavors - which provided a briny and flavorful beginning to the meal. This was quite tasty and set the stage for the quality of cuisine to come
The appetizers had a few interesting choices (including Foie Gras sliders that sounded similar to what L'Ateiier de Robuchon serves) but we settled on the Seared Foie Gras with Apple Tartin and Riesling Gelee, the Steak Tartare, and the Duck Risotto with Mango.
Surprised to see such sophisticated offerings behind a gas station, I thoroughly enjoyed the seared foie gras, which came presented on top of three small wrapped pastries (apple tartin) and the flavors all worked together while not overpowering each other. The gelee prep was not the best I've seen but the overall dish was interesting and delicious, and an indication of successes to come. The ratio of pastry to foie gras showed a balance of flavors and techniques that to me, demonstrates a chef committed to thoughtful and flavor combinations
The beef tartare was tasty but nothing earth-shattering. The meat was of high quality but I had hoped for a better flavor overall and found myself overusing the mustard provided as an accompaniment. Maybe a little salt? A good, but not great , dish.
The duck risotto with mango was much better, cooked al dente, and full of herbs and gaminess, counteracted by the sweet and tart mango. My wife loved this and I shared her enthusiasm though kept to myself and finished my foie gras.
We then went to the entree side of the menu, and despite the urge to order the steak with bone marrow (at $45 we opted to be more conservative), we went for the "Quail with Hen of the Wood Mushrooms and Foie Gras" and the "Braised Veal Cheeks."
With plenty of entree options, the menu has something for everyone.
My veal cheeks were (almost too) tender, melting in my mouth and covered with a nice Cabernet based sauce (if I remember correctly???) All in all, a toast to the winter stews I love in the wintertime. It was paired with a polenta that served to mop up the remaining sauce. I would have loved the addition of some more root vegetables or something to that nature, but overall, it was good.
Unfortunately, my wife's quail was overcooked for my liking, and I could not find the foie gras advertised on the menu. In my opinion, the only unsuccessful dish of the night.
Before dessert, we were presented with chocolate truffles which were very tasty. We didn't go for a true dessert, but decided to try the Malted Milk Ball ice cream (which we were told comes from Ciao Bella) which brought the meal to a fitting close. Absolutely delicious!
All in all, this was only their second night in operation, and we were very impressed at the new addition to the Monmouth County food scene. It is easily the most ambitious restaurant on Route 9 from Howell to Sayreville, and has a talented chef and team that promises innovative and exciting cuisine. I'm looking forward to the restaurant as it evolves, and hope its location doesn't impede its success.