Dennis Foy Restaurant
2691 Main Street (Route 206)
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Chef Dennis Foy’s enterprises have ranged as far afield as the Garden’s State’s critically acclaimed Tarragon Tree & Townsquare and NYC’s equally lauded Mondrian and EC. But the last time he set off blips on my radar screen they emanated from his partnership in Bay Point Prime in Point Pleasant and his eponymous establishment in Point Pleasant Beach, the latter of which I reviewed in August 2005.
But just when you think he may have permanently vanished from the scene, he surprises you by turning up in yet another unexpected and intriguing endeavor. Most recently, after a prolonged absence, he was discovered holding forth at the old Lawrenceville Inn.
As you may recall, the former farmhouse, circa 1892, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was purchased by Jonathan & Elizabeth Hunt in August 2001 and carefully and lovingly restored. And, although the establishment experienced a number of chef changes, it continued to turn out commendable contemporary American cuisine. However, several years ago, after the Hunts sold, the Inn went through several short-lived and eminently forgettable culinary incarnations… But with Mr. Foy now firmly ensconced in the kitchen, I have no doubt that the Lawrenceville Inn will quickly return to its former glory.
As I mentioned in my previous review of his eponymous restaurant in Point Pleasant Beach, Dennis Foy is as indefatigable as he is gifted. A restless and creative spirit, the chef is as accomplished on canvas as he is in matters culinary. Thus, while the exterior of the attractive 1892 farmhouse has changed not at all, the interior is now adorned with his towering sky and seascapes.
When it comes to the chef’s Mediterranean-inspired creative American cuisine, the emphasis is on local, organic, sustainable, “farm-to-table” ingredients. Mr. Foy is a consummate artiste… but his methodology is muted rather than maniacal. His presentations are beautifully crafted but not egregiously ostentatious; they are, above all, profound in their simplicity.
A number of Mr. Foy’s creations are identical to, or are variations on a theme of, those offered at his former Point Pleasant Beach establishment… The tian of crab, for example, one of the chef’s signature dishes, remains a fabulous starter. In reality, it is more like a crab cake; beautifully sautéed, rich & velvety on the palate, it is spruced up with just the proper hint of spice and dusting of black pepper.
The goat cheese tart, a special appetizer of the evening, was also a menu mainstay. Marvelously creamy, it is set on a pillow of tomato confit, sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and surrounded by artistic splashes of chive oil. Simple yet sublime.
On the other hand, Mr. Foy’s soups always make exceptional preludes. I still have fond taste memories of the extraordinary spring pea soup sampled at his Point Pleasant Beach establishment. Verdant and vivacious, it beguiled the palate with its incomparably fresh flavors and perfectly complementary seasonings. And the recently sampled asparagus soup, sans cream but rife with earthy goodness, was equally up to the mark.
When it comes to entrées, there are a select number of diverse dining options that change with the seasons. During a recent visit, the printed menu listed two fish choices, veal Bolognese, a chicken dish, and sirloin steak.
Matters piscatorial are particularly praiseworthy. I have always been of the opinion that finny creatures are best served by those sauces and other accoutrements that intrude the least; and Chef Foy’s offerings are both subtle of presentation and seductive of character. His North Atlantic grey sole, for example, is simply seared and set on a sensuous seabed of celery root purée. The contrasting textures are just right, the flavors enticingly engaging.
Then there’s the highly recommendable slow roasted Cajun chicken. Moist and succulent, there’s just enough spice here to tickle rather than incinerate the palate… and the accompanying fries are totally addictive. On the other hand, what dedicated carnivore can resist the considerable temptation of the roasted dry-aged sirloin? Presented with satiny pomme purée and green peas, the meat is perfectly textured and bursting with flavor.
Among the side dishes, the olive oil & roasted garlic spinach and the four cheese macaroni are both worth the price of admission. And, when the creamed spinach is offered – either as a side or entrée accompaniment – be sure to have a go, as there is just the proper amount of cream to tease rather than drown your taste buds.
Whether appetizer, entrée, or side, Mr. Foy is a master of culinary understatement. And that straightforward philosophy also carries over to his desserts. I have sampled many of Mr. Foy’s denouements over the years – the most exquisite crème brûlée it has ever been my pleasure to ingest; a sable tart, headlining a scrumptious crumbly cookie topped with a vertical arrangement of whole oven-roasted strawberries and tiara of fresh whipped cream; and delicate slices of caramelized banana aligned on a tart shell surrounded by a pool of peach passion fruit curd – but, somehow, it is the humble apple tart that epitomizes the chef’s simple but sublime approach to sweet endings. Open-faced, the crust is just the proper texture, the fruit still firm to the bite, and the smattering of caramel sauce embellishing the accompanying dollop of vanilla ice cream just sweet enough.
If there is one drawback to dining here, it is of an acoustical rather than a culinary nature. Rooms on both the first and second floors are small and, even when partially occupied, the conversation from adjacent tables is quite intrusive. Apart from this minor glitch, however, an evening with Dennis Foy is a most gratifying experience.
The Artful Diner
Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted? E-mail The Artful Diner!