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When people learn that I am a restaurant critic, the first question out of their mouths is invariably: "What are your favorite restaurants?" To which I usually reply: "Uhhhh..." I've visited so many eateries over the course of the years that sometimes it is difficult, on the spur of the moment, to rattle off a list of favorites. So I've reserved this space just for that particular purpose. When I am not engaged in my omnivorous pursuits as a hired belly for New Jersey Online, these are the Garden State restaurants to which I would gladly return again and again for succor and sustenance. A link to the full review has been provided for your convenience.

ANDRE'S RESTAURANT AND WINE BOUTIQUE- 182 Spring Street, Newton
Andre's has matured with a mellifluous grace and is more beguiling than ever. Formerly a BYOB, the restaurant now boasts a liquor license and diminutive copper-top bar and wine boutique where you may enjoy a special libation, sample one of the select wines available by the glass, or purchase several bottles to tuck away in your cellar. And Andre deWaal's innovative American cuisine continues to present diners with gratifyingly delicious vistas of colors, tastes, and textures.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

AXIA TAVERNA- 18 Piermont Road, Tenafly
Father and son Michael and Alexander Parlamis's Axia Taverna is a genuine restaurant phenom, as it continually packs in weeknight crowds that most establishments would sell their gastronomic souls to entertain on free-for-all Saturday evenings. The ambiance is au courant but decidedly comfortable, and Executive Chef Alexander Gorant's contemporary Greek cuisine is exceptionally prepared and presented.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

BERNARDS INN - 27 Mine Road, Bernardsville
The moment you enter its precincts, you sense that the Bernards Inn is a welcoming space, an establishment dedicated to fine dining, to good conversation, and to the amorous affairs of the heart. And chef Corey Heyer's contemporary American cuisine is, like the sophisticated surroundings, stylish but understated. An award-winning list of vintages under the watchful eye of wine direct Terri Baldwin completes the incomparable scenario.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review.

BLACK DUCK ON SUNSET- 1 Sunset Boulevard, West Cape May
Chef/owner Christopher Hubert, also proprietor of the Union Park Dining Room, has transformed the former garish colors of Peaches at Sunset into a most attractive coalescence of blacks, white, and grays. But the most significant changes have taken place in the kitchen... Mr. Hubert and his able chef de cuisine, Chris Crookston, have made dining at the Black Duck a truly memorable and exciting gastronomic experience. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

BLACK TRUMPET- 7 Atlantic Avenue Spring Lake
Sequestered away beneath the Sandpiper Inn, the Black Trumpet inhabits a space that has been home to a number of other eateries over the course of the years. Yet despite the decidedly romantic, club-like setting - rich carpeting, dark wood, walls of windows, cozy faux fireplace, etc. - these various restaurant incarnations generally served up a variety of cuisines that could only be described as eminently forgettable. The current chef/proprietor, however, on the scene since November, lost absolutely no time in significantly enhancing the establishment's heretofore mediocre reputation. Mark Mikolajczyk, who cooked up a storm at Whispers just a few blocks away, may have changed venues, but it is quite obvious that his American fare is as sumptuously creative as ever. And since he is joined in the kitchen by his long-time sous-chef and now partner, David McCleery, diners may rest assured that they have entrusted their taste buds to extremely capable hands. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

BLUE BOTTLE CAFÉ - 101 East Broad Street, Hopewell
The ambiance may should "bustling bistro, but chef/proprietor Aaron Philipson's contemporary American cuisine, like the upscale Hopewell/Princeton-infused clientele exhibits and air of casual sophistication. It is elegant without being egotistical, thoroughly exciting the palate without confounding the eye. And desserts, courtesy of Rory Philipson, are every bit the equal of her husband's appetizers and entrées. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

BRANDL.- 703 Belmar Plaza, Belmar
Step into Brandl. and you somehow sense you're at the Jersey Shore. There's a kind of casual, funky elegance, about the place, an ambient interior that invigorates but doesn't intimidate. But it's chef/proprietor Chris Brandl's stunningly innovative American cuisine that sets off the bells and whistles here. He is a creatively restless culinary spirit, constantly tweaking the menu, developing new recipes, and working with local farmers to secure only the freshest possible ingredients. Brandl. is surely a dining experience worth savoring. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

THE CHOPHOUSE - 4 South Lakeview Drive, Gibbsboro
Bob Platzer — proprietor of the popular chain of P.J. Whelihan's Pubs — has made the tricky transition from "pub grub" to upscale steakhouse fare with a definitive sense of style. Both the cuisine and the ambiance are a class act, indeed; and the lively bar/lounge is the newest "in" spot for the area's Porsche/Lexus/Mercedes/BMW set.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review.

DISH - 13 White Street, Red Bank
Owned by Chef Anthony Ferrando and gracious front-of-the-house coordinator Judy Matthew, this is one eatery that is exceedingly well named, as its lemon-yellow walls are adorned with vertical and horizontal arrangements of, well, yes& dishes. The atmosphere is clearly bustling bistro, and the food fits right in. It is hearty, robust American fare with an occasional innovative tweak along the way. Whether making the rounds of Red Bank's boutique shops and antique emporiums, taking in a movie, or paying a visit to the Count Basie Theatre, Dish will provide a delightful dining experience. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

HIGH STREET GRILL - 64 High Street, Mount Holly
The High Street Grill is a convivial gathering place for locals and out-of-towners alike, especially when the strains of blues and jzz waft gently from the attractive piano bar. Under the watchful eye of Nancy McDevitt, who presides over the front of the house, the environs sparkle with style and panache. And chef/co-proprietor John McDevitt's seasonally-inspired eclectic cuisine is superb in every respect. This charming establishment if a real gem& and highly recommended.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

KRAVE CAFE & CATERERS - 102 Sparta Avenue, Newton
It is the superlative eclectic American cuisine that constitutes the big story here. Evening appetizers and desserts were always excellently prepared & presented, and lunch a distinct pleasure. On the other hand, my initial review found the dinner entrées somewhat disappointing… But that minor faux pas has certainly been remedied. Proprietors Rich and Kate Hashway have obviously done a splendid job of fine tuning, and that is readily apparent in every aspect of their extraordinary fare. Dining here – for a variety of reasons – has become a truly memorable experience.
www.kravecaterers.com
Complete Review

DENNIS FOY RESTAURANT - LAWRENCEVILLE INN - 2691 Main Street (Route 206), Lawrenceville
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.
www.dennisfoyrestaurant.com
Complete Review

LORENA'S - 168 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood
They say that good things come in small packages. And that is certainly true of this enchanting jewel-box located in the very heart of Maplewood Village. Chef/proprietor Humberto Campos, Jr., offers up an enticing array of upscale French fare with international flair. He utilizes only the freshest possible, seasonally-inspired ingredients and weaves them together with verve and imagination. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

MATT'S RED ROOSTER GRILL - 22 Bloomfield Avenue, Flemington
Messrs. McPherson and Green like to refer to their establishment as an "American chophouse." The cuisine is reassuringly and restoratively robust, yet is decidedly sophisticated in both preparation and presentation; it also as you would surmise, emphasizes the chefs' considerable talents at the grill. Certainly one of the most exciting culinary properties to hit the Flemington area in quite some time. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

MAIN STREET EURO-AMERICAN BISTRO AND BAR - 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton Shopping Center, Princeton
Dining at Main Street is like enjoying a relaxing, comfortable meal with an old and dear friend; there are no pretensions, just good food, excellent service, and a warm inviting atmosphere. No matter how far afield you may travel in search of a suitable scratch for your gastronomic itch, you'll always be happy to settle down at table here once again. And be sure to say hello to John, Main Street's affable bartender.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

NANNI RISTORANTE - 53 West Passaic Street, Rochelle Park
Nanni is a step back in time... and it is a marvelous step, indeed! The handcrafted Italian cuisine is lovingly prepared and impressively presented in the Old World tradition. And be sure to pay a call at the cozy bar before adjourning to the stylish, comfortable dining room.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

NICHOLAS - 160 Highway 35, Middletown
Do not expect gastronomic business as usual. Nicholas and Melissa Harary, whose distinguished culinary credentials belie their youth, have unabashedly created a most civilized and cosmopolitan dining experience specifically designed to appeal to the adventurous and sophisticated of palate. Not to be missed.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

PALACE OF ASIA - 540 Lawrence Square Boulevard South, Lawrenceville
The main dining area soothes the eye with a placid profusion of blues, browns & beiges and the sinuous sensuality of classically curvaceous banquettes. And the marvelous Indian cuisine — a beguiling array of aromas, tastes, and textures — is in perfect harmony with the décor: demonstrative yet demure. Chic and stylish.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review.

PICCOLA ITALIA - 540 837 West Park Avenue, Ocean
Sandwiched between a kosher restaurant and a tiny Chinese chophouse, Piccola Italia is sequestered away in the CobblestoneVillage Shopping Center. The restaurant, originally a mom-and-pop Neapolitan nirvana, was purchased several years ago by CIA grad Brian Gualtieri and transformed into a casually elegant dining establishment majoring in innovative Italian cuisine perfectly complemented by international dots and dashes. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review.

ROSALUCA'S ITALIAN BISTRO - 1114 Route 173, Asbury
As you ascend the hill on Route 173, the lovingly restored farmhouse beckons warmly& as does Chef Carmine Castaldo's innovative Italian cuisine. Mr. Castaldo's presentations utilize only the freshest possible ingredients and are lovingly prepared, nicely presented, and amply proportioned. And desserts, courtesy of Jill Castaldo, don't miss a beat. My only regret s that, given my reviewing schedule, I am unable to dine here more often.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

SADDLE RIVER INN - Barnstable Court, Saddle River
If you have a decided aversion to the usual brand of decorative glitz and glitter, the setting, a converted 150-year-old barn, will surely strike just the right ambient chord. And chef/proprietor Hans Egg's definitely French cuisine with a variety of Asian and Italian touches is certain to please the eye as well as the palate.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

VERJUS - 1790 Springfield Avenue, Maplewood
Chef Charles Tutino and his wife and co-proprietor, Jane Witkin, have put together a dining experience that is wonderfully profound in its simplicity. The dining room is designed for adults: stylish, sophisticated, sedate... but not at all intimidating... Ditto Mr. Tutino's cuisine, which is Gallic to the core but decidedly unfussy.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

WHISPERS - 200 Monmouth Avenue, Spring Lake
The setting is a diminutive jewel-box sequestered in the Hewitt Wellington, a charming Victorian-style lakefront hotel. And the cuisine is sumptuous American fare creatively fused with a variety of other culinary traditions. Romantically inclined gastronomes have surely found a home.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

WINDANSEA - 56 Shrewsbury Avenue, Highlands
While quintessentially Jersey Shore — sporting a picturesque panorama of Sandy Hook — Windansea also showcases an ambiance that has New York chic and South Pacific passion written all over it. But the most memorable aspect of a sojourn here is neither the view, nor the decorative oddities, nor the bustling bar scene... it is chef/proprietor Rob Higgins' first-rate contemporary American cuisine. Worth a visit during any season of the year.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review.

ZA RESTAURANT - 147 West Delaware Avenue, Pennington
Mark Valenza - an alumnus of the French Culinary Institute in New York City - holds forth in the kitchen, while his brother, Chaz, a seasoned restaurateur, charms patrons at the front of the house. A winning combo, indeed. Chef Valenza lovingly describes the food as "cross cultural comfort cuisine& a commingling of international dishes with classic French cooking techniques using fresh American ingredients, including handpicked herbs from the restaurant's terrace garden." And the results of this intriguing amalgam are exciting, indeed. BYOB.
Restaurant's Website
Complete Review

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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