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Top Ten Holiday Dining 2004
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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@worldnet.att.net.

Holiday dining is special in many ways. Not only does it afford us the opportunity to enjoy the bounties of the table... but the joys of gathering together with loved ones and friends as well. And while we still seek out excellent cuisine, ambiance also plays an extremely important role in our dining choices. We tend to frequent those establishments that are able to warm our hearts as well as satisfy our hunger. Listed below are just a few of the many Garden State restaurants that will help us enjoy the warmth, peace, and serenity of this wonderful season of the year. Wishing you and yours the very best...


ANDRÉ'S RESTAURANT
182-188 Spring Street
Newton, NJ
(973) 300-4192

www.andresrestaurant.com

André's remains a totally beguiling dining experience and one of my all-time favorite Garden State restaurant destinations. Simple lace curtains adorn the front window... white Casablanca fans whirl silently on the black pressed-tin ceiling... one wall is dressed in lime green and sports a series of French posters... its opposite number is bright yellow and is decked out in weathered window frames and ivy trim. The establishment also boasts a charming wine boutique and diminutive wine bar. The ambiance is homespun with a decided touch of cozy elegance... as is André deWaal's extraordinarily innovative American cuisine with eclectic touches. Depending upon the fortnightly changing menu, you may wish to start things off with an irresistible Perona Farms smoked salmon "Rueben," seared beef sirloin with sesame noodle salad, or Prince Edward Island mussels swimming in roasted garlic cream. Main courses tempt the palate with such superb selections as pork osso buco embellished with roasted apples and three peppercorns, grilled venison with Guinness Stout and dried cherries, potato-crusted sea scallops with chive sour cream, and pan-roasted New York strip steak accompanied by blue cheese mashed potatoes and red wine sauce. André's will be offering "Thanksgiving Dinners to Go" for pick up on Wednesday, November 24th, and "The Seven Deadly Sins," a seven-course New Year's Eve dinner priced at $100.00 per person. Please call the restaurant for additional details.

BERNARDS INN
27 Mine Brook Road
Bernardsville, NJ
(908) 766-0002

www.bernardsinn.com

Your visit to the Bernards Inn will commence with valet parking and a walk through the tastefully appointed European-style lobby replete with a bevy of comfortable couches, magnificent flower arrangement, and cozy fireplace. The ambiance – in the clubby piano bar as well as in the dining areas – is sophisticated yet refreshingly subtle... as is chef Corey Heyer's contemporary American cuisine. Mr. Heyer, whose impressive culinary credentials include an extraordinarily successful run at restaurant Nicholas in Middletown, will dazzle both the eye and the palate with his stylish but understated presentations. You may wish to begin with such delicacies as grilled marinated shrimp set on a seabed of fennel & jicama salad and finished with a sensuously sweet/tart blood orange reduction or, perhaps, the incredibly silky Hudson Valley foie gras sequestered between sweet corn pancakes and drizzled with quince sauce. Entrées include honey-glazed Long Island duck breast with baby corn stir-fry and licorice jus, pan-roasted Maine salmon with carrot reduction and crispy ginger salad, and grain-fed veal chop served with morel mushrooms, fava beans, and lemon-thyme jus. On Thanksgiving, the Bernards Inn will offer the choice of a traditional buffet in the grand ballroom or prix fixe three-course menu in the dining room. Christmas Eve will also feature a three-course prix fixe served from 4:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

BLACK FOREST INN
249 Route 206 North
Stanhope NJ
(973) 347-3344

www.blackforestinn.com

The mere mention of German vittles generally conjures up visions of prodigious portions of eminently forgettable fodder dispensed by motherly waitresses in a boisterous, smoke-filled Brauhaus. Contrary to popular belief, however, haute German cuisine utilizes the freshest of fish and game and is prepared with both style and finesse. And the Black Forest Inn is one of the few restaurants on this side of the Atlantic where diners may experience the authentically subtle nuances of German cookery. Here you may partake of old favorites like sauerbraten in ginger and red wine reduction, veal schnitzelette Gruyere, Wiener schnitzel, and jägerschnitzel in a wine and mushroom cream sauce, as well as more elegant offerings such as pan-roasted sea scallops with tomato coulis and an irreproachably fresh seafood medley adorned with Pommery sabayon. And the Old World ambiance, accented with oak-beamed ceilings and stained glass windows, will surely imbue the senses with the warmth of the holiday season. On Thursday, November 25th, in addition to their most popular menu selections, the Black Forest Inn will be serving a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.


ESTY STREET
86 Spring Valley Road
Park Ridge, NJ
(201) 307-1515

www.estystreet.com

Esty Street is a cozy delight – dark wood paneling awash with a mélange of mirrors, comfortable, diminutive bar, crisp white napery – the perfect venue for joyous holiday dining. And while proprietor Scott Tremble and a personable and professional team of veteran servers keep you happy at the front of the house, executive chef Jack Mistretta will surely assuage your appetite with his substantive yet stylish American cuisine. Chef Mistretta's appetizers are especially noteworthy, as they clearly demonstrate the more sophisticated side of his culinary personality: braised duck and chanterelle ravioli with leeks and roasted garlic sauce; fried spicy shrimp with Matag bleu cheese; and sautéed crab cake with wild mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, and mushroom broth. When it comes to entrées, you can't go wrong with his tomato braised lamb shank, grilled loin of venison, or sautéed salmon with caramelized onion mashed potatoes. Now celebrating its twelfth anniversary, Esty Street remains at the very top of its game. Although the restaurant will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, be sure to take a break from shopping to enjoy a joyously delicious holiday luncheon or dinner.

THE FROG AND THE PEACH
29 Dennis Street
Hiram Square
New Brunswick, NJ
(732) 846-3216

www.frogandpeach.com

The Frog and The Peach describes its approach to cookery as "American Cuisine: French rooted with world influences." And be assured that, even now, as the restaurant enters its third decade, no one would accuse this fine establishment of resting on its laurels. With chef Bruce Lefebvre as the power behind the stove, the food remains gastronomically challenging without being idiosyncratic, as comfortable as it is creative. Consider, if you will, his Thanksgiving Day menu... Starters include such intriguing choices as: whole wheat gnocchi with root vegetables, bacon, and herb brown butter sauce; porcini-dusted Taylor Bay scallops with crispy leeks and vanilla saffron sabayon; and beet and orange salad with aged sherry, shallots, toasted walnuts, and watercress pesto. Entrées: roasted free-range turkey with sage pumpkinseed dressing, glazed haricots verts with diced fruit, celery root whipped potatoes, cranberry compote, and Riesling gravy; braised lamb shank with chestnut spätzle and braised red cabbage; and sesame-crusted salmon with bok choy, maitake mushrooms, pickled ginger, and Chinese black bean sauce. The Thanksgiving Day menu will be served from 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. ($54.50 per person; $19.95 for children). The Frog and The Peach will also be serving their regular menu with a number of chef's specials on Christmas Eve.

FROMAGERIE
26 Ridge Road
Rumson, NJ
(732) 842-8088

www.fromagerierestaurant.com

For more than three decades, Hubert and Marcus Peter have presided over one of the Garden State's most prestigious and popular culinary establishments; and Fromagerie's star shows absolutely no signs of abating. Indeed, a visit here is always an extraordinary dining experience; but it is especially enchanting during the warmth of the holiday season when the comfortable chalet-style interior is so joyously decked out in its festive finery. The service is polished and professional, and the classic French cuisine with Germanic subtitles remains an incomparable treat for the palate. Offerings are robust yet refined, and the attending sauces, despite their invigorating and energetic countenances, still gently caress rather than smother the objects of their affection. Starters include an excellent charcuterie assorti (selection of house made pâtés, terrines, and sausages); chanterelle mushroom flan served over brioche toast with wild mushroom and green lentil timbale; Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes with celeriac rémoulade and roasted red pepper coulis. For your main course, you may wish to sample the pan-seared sea scallops with cauliflower purée and haricots verts, porcini-dusted veal medallions, or superlative Colorado rack of lamb with rosemary goat cheese bread pudding. During the upcoming holiday season, restaurant Fromagerie will be serving Thanksgiving dinner with seatings at 1:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. For Christmas Eve, the restaurant will feature seatings at 5:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.


GIUMARELLO'S
329 Haddon Avenue
Westmont, NJ
(856) 858-9400

www.giumarellos.com

Giumarello's boasts beautifully appointed dining rooms, La Piazza for casual outdoor munching in warmer weather, and a snazzy bar/lounge. And even though my reviewing chores may prevent me from dining here as often as I would like, if I happen to be chowing down anywhere in the area, I always make it a point to stop by for one of the establishment's excellent martinis. But while preprandial libations – and the beautiful and congenial bartenders – may be a big drawing card here, it's owners Sam, Jr., and Gian Giumarello's marvelously satisfying cuisine that keeps the company of enthusiastic patrons coming back for more. Northern Italian is the name of the game, but there's still enough red sauce on tap to satisfy those with decidedly Neapolitan tendencies. The kitchen does many things well, but veal is a particular specialty, as is finny fare... and pastry chef Gian Giumarello turns out an array of homemade desserts that are every bit the equal of their extraordinary forebears. Giumarello's will not be open on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. The restaurant will be open on Christmas Eve for the purchase of gift certificates.

INN AT MILLRACE POND
313 Johnsonburg Road
Hope, NJ
(908) 459-4884

www.innatmillracepond.com

The Inn at Millrace Pond is a personal perennial favorite. Members of our family have dined here on several occasions during the holiday season, and we have yet to be disappointed. Set on a hillside in the picturesque village of Hope, the inn incorporates three buildings with seventeen distinctive guest accommodations and charmingly rustic dining facilities. The major focus of attention is, of course, the gristmill, where a massive stone wall and exposed posts and beams bask in the flickering candlelight of the formal dining room. And chef Victor Diaz's cuisine, as you would surmise, is as enchantingly homespun as the surroundings. Starters include French baked Brie wrapped in puff pastry embellished with a creamy blueberry sauce, coconut breaded shrimp served with coconut cream and tequila reduction, and vegetable ravioli adorned with watercress/spinach beurre blanc. Entrée-wise, I highly recommend the moist and succulent roasted rolled pork loin stuffed with dried fruit and finished with a port wine demi-glace, herb and peppercorn breaded loin of lamb, and the sesame oil-seared halibut flavored with soy sauce. You may even book yourselves into one of the cozy guestrooms and enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast the following morning. During the holiday season, the Inn at Millrace Pond will be serving extensive prix fixe menus on both Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve.

UNION PARK DINING ROOM
Hotel Macomber
727 Beach Avenue
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-8811

www.unionparkdining.com

Ensconced in the beautifully restored Hotel Macomber, the Union Park Dining Room  is both elegant and sophisticated. Two lovely dining rooms are decked out with fireplaces, cherry and mahogany furnishings, antique fixtures, and silver service. The well-spaced tables are gently caressed by candlelight and adorned with fresh flowers. It is, without question, the perfect venue for romantic and/or special occasion holiday dining at the Jersey Shore. And the ambiance is most assuredly matched by the quality of executive chef J. Christopher Hubert's New American cuisine. The prix fixe Thanksgiving menu will feature such entrée selections as roast turkey with sweet Italian sausage and fig stuffing, roast prime rib of beef au jus, and pan-roasted Atlantic salmon with lemon nage. The Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus will highlight such delectable possibilities as herb-roasted pheasant over whipped truffle potatoes, roasted winter vegetables, and Hudson Valley foie gras jus; and potato-encrusted grouper with saffron braised spinach and lobster nage. Union Park will also be serving a special New Year's Eve feast. Please call the restaurant for complete details.


ZOE'S BY THE LAKE
112 Tomahawk Trail
Sparta NJ
(973) 726-7226

www.zoesbythelake.com

As of this writing, Zoe's by the Lake is still, unfortunately, "Zoe's by the Meadow." But as I mentioned in my full review (7/28/03), even if this charming establishment overlooked nothing more scenic than asphalt, executive chef Scott Jacobson's incomparable French cooking would still be worth a journey. "Countrified" the cuisine may be, but Mr. Jacobson delivers it up with style and panache. His culinary combos strike all the right chords: Ingredients are pristine of countenance and superbly prepared; and presentations are attractive amalgams of colors, tastes, and textures without being self-indulgently "artsy." Begin with such delicacies as seafood crêpes, wild mushroom tart, or pan-seared foie gras and then move on to potato-crusted grouper, duck breast and leg confit, or grilled veal New York "strip" with grilled vegetables, corn and bacon risotto, and roast shallot sauce. Zoe's by the Lake will be featuring "Thanksgiving to Go." Orders placed by Wednesday, November 17th, may be picked up on Wednesday, November 24th (complete turkey dinner $29.00 per person; complete duck dinner $35.00 per person). The restaurant will also be open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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