Anderson, the chef who co-owns and oversees Mistral and its
upstairs neighbor, Elements, simply promoted Joe Mooney,
30, Nerenhausen’s deputy the last three years. Earlier in his
career, Mooney cooked directly under Anderson at the original
location of Elements. He brings an extravagant creativity to
Mistral’s mission, which he aptly describes as “using global
flavors to make fun, interesting food, getting people to be
adventurous, but at the same time making food people want to
eat every day.” There are many examples, all reasonably priced,
but two will do. The new $15 chicken and garlic chive wontons,
served cool in black bean sauce and topped with pea leaves,
are slippery, sensuous joys. The $15 massaman shrimp wrap,
an extravaganza of goodness bursting with shrimp, chopped
vegetables, peanut curry, lemongrass and chili, is big enough for
two. It even comes with a superb side salad.
66 Witherspoon Street, 609-688-8808; mistralprinceton.com
asbury park’s dining scene—along with Jersey City’s, the
most dynamic in the state—didn’t know it was missing something until husband and wife chefs Chris Davin and Jill Meerpohl
opened Modine in January. They have brought an irresistible
Southern accent to town. Their head-on shrimp and grits, fried
chicken with fixings, sausage gravy over biscuits, and wedge salad, to name just a few, possess something beyond authenticity.
It’s a kind of joy, born of travels through the South and a conviction that you can both honor and update tradition by unstinting
attention to detail, making everything from scratch using great
ingredients, and serving it with grace and a bit of a giggle. Meerpohl happens to be a dangerously good baker (chicory coffee
provides the magic in her amazing chocolate layer cake), and
Paul Check is one devilishly good cocktail creator.
601 Mattison Avenue, 732-893-5300; modineasbury.com
now in its 19th year of embracing the often-shunned
title of special occasion restaurant, Nicholas remains vital and
rewarding. Owners Nicholas and Melissa Harary are consummate hosts. Behind the scenes, there’s continuity. Nicholas, who
retains the title of chef, recently promoted Kevin Koller, 30, to
executive chef after a seven-year rise through the ranks. Koller
was groomed by his predecessor, Michael Metzner, who Nicholas is backing in a casual venture called Red Store in downtown
Red Bank. What’s it to you? A kitchen where talent and hard
work are rewarded is one that knocks itself out to please the
boss. And when the boss’s goal is to make customers cherish every moment of their visit, you get a restaurant that is young at 19.
160 Route 35 South, 732-345-9977; restaurantnicholas.com
the long, winding drive through Natirar Park, up the forested hill to the former carriage house, heightens expectations.
menu and decor include fetching local winks. Yet none of it feels
patronizing. Every bite, sip and glance around the place pulls you
into an encouraging urban conviviality when we need it most.
56 Halsey Street, 973-645-0004; marcusbp.com
eating chef chris Siversen’s food, especially the seafood
supporting the restaurant’s name, you sense his attraction to
Asian flavors. The terrific softshell crab, for example, tempers the
punch of Chinese sausage and red curry with soothing coconut
sticky rice. But backing up his statement that “I’m not looking to
pigeonhole my menu,” there’s French-influenced, bacon-wrapped
halibut with braised fennel, capers and Riesling sauce. The best-selling starter right now is spiced lamb meatballs with kale pesto,
yogurt and a golden raisin-pine nut relish. Then you have the
desserts of John Sauchelli, a star in his own right. Maritime Parc is
hard to pin down, except in quality, variety, and its waterside perch
on the Morris Canal basin at Liberty State Park.
84 Audrey Zapp Drive, 201-413-0050; maritimeparc.com
the departure of a brilliant founding chef, such as Mistral’s
Ben Nerenhausen, ordinarily causes alarm. But when Nerenhausen returned to his native Wisconsin this spring, Scott
Creste de gallo
with speck, grapes