The Year of Living in Limbo
Used to grueling, 14-hour days, the chefs of Elements suddenly had time to hike and
dream as the new (and very di;erent) Elements was being built. But chefs can take
only so much relaxing. By Eric Levin
One irony of being a chef is that you don’t get to eat out a lot.
You’re too busy—and Monday, the day you’re most likely closed,
is also the day most restaurants you’d like to try are closed.
So when Elements—the NJM Top 25 restaurant on the outskirts of Princeton—closed on June 28 last year to prepare for
its move to new quarters downtown, executive chef Scott Anderson and Mike Ryan, his longtime chef de cuisine, suddenly
seemed free to dine wherever, whenever. Wish-fulfillment time!
Except for one thing: All the equipment in Elements’ big, state-of-the-art kitchen had to be dismantled and put in storage while
massive alterations were made to the building it would share with
its sister restaurant, Mistral, already operating on the ground floor
of that location on the corner of Witherspoon and Hulfish streets.
“Scott and I took a lot of the kitchen apart by hand,” says
Ryan, “because it would have cost thousands otherwise. We
had friends come with their trucks and help. For the really big
stu;, we hired a moving company. Basically, until September
1, we were working every day to tear apart that kitchen. Then
it was like, We have nothing to do now. For the first month,
it was fantastic. Then it was, We have to get back to work.
Except there was no place to work."
Chefs are a little like athletes. “When you suddenly come to a
halt,” says Anderson, “your body doesn’t know how to respond.
You can’t just automatically relax.” Ryan flew to Seattle “for their
mushroom season,” then to Vancouver, then to Austin, where he
met Anderson to stand in line with all the other pilgrims to eat at
the famous Franklin Barbecue. Anderson later went camping with
his wife in the Adirondacks.
While the two chefs and their top two cooks remained on the
Elements payroll, other sta;ers went to work at Mistral, which
was instantly able to use the liquor license Elements brought to
the building from its old location. Even beyond that advantage,
the relocation was driven “by pure economics,” as Anderson
puts it. “Lower overhead; one building instead of two; fewer
employees, but working together better.”
Mistral gains a large bar area for the legerdemain of mix-
ologist Jamie Dodge, who will also create cocktails for Ele-
ments, which will occupy the second floor. The new Elements
will have 28 seats instead of 85; a choice of four-course
(Continued on page 118)
FOOD: New American
AMBIENCE: Modern and comfortable
SERVICE: Helpful, conscientious
WINE LIST: BYO
PRICES: Appetizers and salads, $8-
$13; entrées, $21-$29; desserts, $8
HOURS: Tuesday through Saturday, 5
to 10 PM; Sunday, 4 to 9 PM
CREDIT CARDS; AX, D MC, V; ;
615 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair
It’s unfortunate, if understandable, that when several restaurants fail in a given space, the space begins
to seem snakebit. It’s not young chef
James DeSisto’s fault that several
restaurants failed to make a go of 615
Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair. Still,
French and Italian menu.
Given that history, it’s to DeSisto’s
credit that he survived a winter that
brutalized all restaurateurs and now is
seeing daylight, in the form of new customers coming through the door.
He has a few things going for him.
One is the space, now soothingly hued
and more comfortable. Another is price.
DeSisto’s most expensive entrées, at $29,
are a 14-ounce, grass-fed, antibiotic-free,
boneless New Zealand rib eye with twice-fried pommes frites, an herb salad and a
lively chipotle aioli; and American rack of
lamb (three chops) with puréed potatoes,
vegetables and natural jus. We had the rib
eye, beautifully seared in a cast-iron skillet. It was tender, flavorful, a thoroughly
satisfying piece of beef. (DeSisto recently
began dry aging his beef in-house.)
Scallops ($28) were lightly sautéed and
tasty, but the bland spinach polenta with
them had gained more color than flavor
from the puréed greens. A fine pan-seared
filet of Atlantic salmon ($24) was cooked
medium rare, as requested, but the heavy
white-bean and mushroom ragù with it
didn’t flatter the fish, and there wasn’t
enough of the sprightly lemon beurre
blanc to achieve an overall balance.
Zesty appetizers included shrimp
Arrabiata ($13) and chorizo al diablo
($12). The tender shrimp come in a
butter sauce sparked with just enough
garlic and red-pepper flakes and moderated with the contrasting color and flavor of fresh parsley. The crispy-skinned
chorizo is cooked in a rich white-wine
broth with garlic, tomato and cilantro.
It comes with a toasted baguette you’ll
want to use as a sauce mop. On the other
hand, the crab cake’s smooth interior
did not deliver the jumbo-lump experience its name promised.
DeSisto, 28, makes his own mozzarella and burrata. The fresh mozzarella
is adequate. The burrata has been a special, but will be featured—rightly so—on
the regular menu with truffled toma-