New Jersey Monthly recently published its annual list of the 25 Best Restaurants in the state, led by the magazine’s deputy editor/ dining editor Eric Levin. It comes as no surprise to The Sue Adler Team that so many of the best dining experiences in New Jersey can be reached in just a short drive. Here are some of the local hot spots that made this prestigious list.
Chez Catherine, Westfield: This small French restaurant is no stranger to Levin’s list. According to him, “with each passing year, Chez Catherine becomes even more an experience to cherish.” With just 35 seats in its beautiful dining room, Chez Catherine is renowned throughout the region for its elegant and warm service and ambiance, as well as its perfectly prepared French cuisine. Its extensive wine list has 375 selections and attracts connoisseurs throughout the tristate area and beyond, in search of rare and fine wines priced lower than anywhere else. http://www.chezcatherine.com/
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Morristown: Perhaps the most ambitious and exciting restaurant to open in New Jersey in recent history, JHBK is the brainchild of seasoned Manhattan restaurant owners Chris Cannon and renowned chef Kevin Sippel. Cannon selected top talent for every position at the restaurant. Once a long-vacant 1917 Vail Manson, Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen has been transformed into four dining spaces on three levels. The Oyster and Wine Bar occupy the ground floor, as well as the clubby, wood-paneled Vail Bar, which offers a delicious raw bar menu and “peasant dishes raised to sublimity.” One level down is the Rathskeller, primarily an event space that offers a wurst, schnitzel, and smoked-trout menu. A grand marble staircase leads to the second floor fine dining area, appropriately named the Dining Room, which offers Sippels’ most elaborate and dishes, including Arctic char confit with crème fraiche panna cotta and grilled cuttlefish with oyster and saffron vichyssoise. Whether you’re looking for a drink and bar food or a full blown meal, JHBK will blow your mind. http://www.jockeyhollowbarandkitchen.com/
Lorena’s, Maplewood: Lorena’s recently underwent an extensive renovation, nearly doubling in size from 800 to 1,400 square feet. This has raised the number of seats from 32 to 50 and created much more space in the kitchen, where chef Humberto Campo Jr. works his magic. A result of this expansion is that many of his signature entre ( duo of braised short rib and pan-roasted beef tenderloin, with glazed baby vegetables, buttery potato puree and black truffle veal jus) is more tender and delicious than ever. The revamped kitchen “frees us up to do more stuff,” Campos says. “It’s allowed me to play around more and get a little more intricate with preparations.” http://restaurantlorena.com/
Serenade, Chatham: This French restaurant has earned a spot on many critic’s lists over the years, but according to Levin, this year marks a dramatic change in its culinary approach. A recent dinner at the restaurant included a”meaty, darkly flavorful slab of bacon appetizer topped with strawberries and pickled rhubarb; superb sea bass over asparagus risotto; tender octopus with preserved lemon and nicoise olives; and, most remarkable, that scary monster, calf’s liver, magnificently caramelized..” According to executive chef James Laird, “I think I’m just maturing as a chef, artist and business person,” Laird said later. “I think I was too much a purist in my earlier time, and too much about simplicity. There was not a lot of rock and roll in it. I wanted to make sure I didn’t offend anybody. I’m a little bit more of a risk taker now. I’m reaching for different flavors. My wife says, ‘James, I don’t know what you’re doing now, but people are ecstatic.’” http://www.restaurantserenade.com/
Ursino, Union: Ursino’s seasonal menu showcases New Jersey’s local produce, prepared with the most refined artisanal techniques. Some highlights from its menu include the swordfish carpaccio, the chestnut agnolotti with specl, Brussel sprout leaves, and brown butter, and the Venison entrée. Enjoy your amazing meal in the restaurant’s two-level, glass-walled space, which overlooks a garden and gushing fountain. http://www.ursinorestaurant.com/
Verjus, Maplewood: This charming and quiet French restaurant has been a neighborhood gem for the past 14 years, but this year, Verjus has made some exciting changes that have kept it at the top of its game. Besides its menu of better than classic French cuisince, Verjus now offers theme nights in year round rotation. Shore nights, t he summer staple, feature broile one-pound lonbster but also pleasant surprises like a salad of broiled halibut cheeks with pickled cucumbers. Italian Nights tart after Labor Day, then German Nights, and then Bistro Nights. Also in the works is a late summer Farm-to-Table/ Vineyard-to-Table Night featuring local farms and six unique roses from around the world. http://verjusrestaurant.com/