The Chef Recommends

EDGE takes you inside the area’s most creative kitchens.

Grain & Cane Bar and Table • Shrimp Tostada
250 Connell Drive • BERKELEY HEIGHTS
(908) 897-1920 • grainandcane.com
Our Shrimp Tostada is a next-level dish crafted with wild-caught gulf shrimp marinated in a lime, tomato water, and pepper marinade. Joined with the vibrant flavors of gazpacho and Peruvian leche de tigre and served with crispy nixtamal tortillas, avocado, watermelon radish, and charred salsa negra.
— Chef Louis Bayla

 

The Thirsty Turtle • Pork Tenderloin Special
1-7 South Avenue W. • CRANFORD
(908) 324-4140 • thirstyturtle.com
Our food specials amaze! I work tirelessly to bring you the best weekly meat, fish and pasta specials. Follow us on social media to get all of the most current updates!
— Chef Rich Crisonio

 

The Thirsty Turtle • Brownie Sundae
186 Columbia Turnpike • FLORHAM PARK
(973) 845-6300 • thirstyturtle.com
Check out our awesome desserts brought to you by our committed staff. The variety amazes as does the taste!
— Chef Dennis Peralta

 

The Famished Frog • Mango Guac
18 Washington Street • MORRISTOWN
(973) 540-9601 • famishedfrog.com
Our refreshing Mango Guac is sure to bring the taste of the Southwest to Morristown.
— Chef Ken Raymond

 

Arirang Hibachi Steakhouse • Pork Belly Bao Buns
1230 Route 22 West • MOUNTAINSIDE
(908) 518-9733 • partyonthegrill.com
Tender pork belly, hoisin sauce and pickled cucumber served on a Chinese bun.

 

 

LongHorn Steakhouse • Outlaw Ribeye
272 Route 22 West • SPRINGFIELD
(973) 315-2049 • longhornsteakhouse.com
Join us for our “speedy affordable lunches” or dinner. We suggest you try our fresh, never frozen, 18 oz. bone-in Outlaw Ribeye—featuring juicy marbling that is perfectly seasoned and fire-grilled by our expert Grill Masters. Make sure to also try our amazing chicken and seafood dishes, as well.
— Anthony Levy, Managing Partner

 

Ursino Steakhouse & Tavern • House Carved 16oz New York Strip Steak
1075 Morris Avenue • UNION
(908) 977-9699 • ursinosteakhouse.com
Be it a sizzling filet in the steakhouse or our signature burger in the tavern upstairs, Ursino is sure to please the most selective palates. Our carefully composed menus feature fresh, seasonal ingredients and reflect the passion we put into each and every meal we serve.

 

Support Our Chefs!
The restaurants featured in this section are open for business and are serving customers in
compliance with state regulations. Many have created special menus ideal for take-out,
delivery or socially distant dining, so we encourage you to visit them online.
Do you have a story about a favorite restaurant going the extra mile during the pandemic?
Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll make sure to share it with our readers!

Common Lot

“The kitchen partners shrimp with long-marinated green papaya, shards of popping-bright mint, hints of peanut and a vivacious coconut sauce that unites everything on the plate.”

By Andy Clurfeld

Common Lot

27 Main St., Millburn

Phone: (973) 467.0494 

Open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Major credit cards and reservations accepted. 

Prices: Small/share plates: $5 to$18. Big plates/entrees: $26 to $35. Plates for two: $78 to $82. Desserts: $10 to $12.

As I write this, the sun is setting a deep pink-orange over the western edge of my Bayshore, New Jersey, town. Silver-blue sky streaks through brush strokes of pale gray clouds that have lost all vestiges of white in a manner of split seconds. I am as aware of the minutiae of weather at this pinpoint moment as I am of the ingredients in a dinner consumed almost a week earlier at Common Lot in Millburn.

For Common Lot, piloted by the chef-owner Ehren Ryan and his wife Nadine, co-owner and conspirator, is an unforgettable gift to those who value singular experiences in dining out. Who value respect for ingredients, a vision that eschews the tried-and-ultimately-ordinary, a determination to speak in a culinary voice that is proud, loud when necessary, yet always original.

True voices in restaurants are in short supply. That is sad. Many diners don’t even know, let alone understand, what a voice in food is. They should come to Common Lot, to learn.

Photography courtesy of Common Lot

Cook fingerling potatoes, for example, in lamb fat, and that diner will be educated. Duck fat is the fat du jour, has been for more than a decade now in progressive restaurants. But lamb is inherently gamey, and potatoes, a crop that does best in cold weather climes, gain a brave new soul when cooked in something heartier, meatier than the fat of duck. We learn, then, through the Ryans’ rendition of this cunning “small-to-share” starter plate, that meat-and-potatoes, the Germanic-influenced mid-20th-century essential supper of suburban America, how the most basic of the basics can evolve. There is a bit more on the plate to emphasize the evolution: a wash of creamy, rich burrata, of piquant onions, and a little shrapnel—mere shots—of bacon marmalade to set the dish squarely in the 21st century.

The dish isn’t just fine; it’s defining.

And so are the other five “smalls” we order to start our evening at Common Lot, a BYOB down the street from the venerable Papermill Playhouse, where Central Jersey schoolkids like me were shepherded to matinees on class trips and by parents on weekends. If Common Lot had been Papermill’s dinner-plus-theater partner all along, it could’ve ignited a Broadway in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, back at Common Lot 2016: Char-grilled octopus, with edge-of-night splashes of almost-black, play off the sweet snappiness of a spring onion relish and a spare salad of elegantly cubed potatoes. It’s the reduced shellfish oil that both binds and elevates the dish. Rye berries, at once boisterously nutty and coy, are the stars in a grilled avocado salad given nuance by dashes of a date-onion puree, the pulse of many-layered fermented chili and a confit of fennel that ever so subtly resonates with anise. 

Heirloom carrots are roasted with the one-two punches of honey-cumin and pumpkin seeds-yogurt. They complement each other and, in turn, the humble-goes-haute star ingredient. Beef tartare you’ve had; we’ve all had. But try it with an aioli plied with black garlic, a caramelized riff on a common ingredient that renders it simultaneously savory and sweet. In the end, it’s irresistibly umami-driven. Smear the whole shebang on the charred bread offered on the plate and you’ll know how the Frank Sinatra bobby-soxers at the old Paramount felt when they swooned till they fainted.

Why, I thought, haven’t I had plancha-seared shrimp like those served at Common Lot? Here, the kitchen partners shrimp with long-marinated green papaya, shards of popping-bright mint, hints of peanut—and a vivacious coconut sauce that unites everything on the plate without dominating.

I want to do the entire first round all over again. I am learning and loving. I also am, as a pottery junkie of 40-plus years, turning over and caressing the handmade Jono Pandolfi dinnerware and pitchers Common Lot has chosen for its table settings. Good company: The Union City-based pottery is also anchoring tables at Eleven Madison Park, Atera, Piora and Rouge Tomate in New York City, as well as Uchi in Dallas, the Ace in L.A., and Hawksworth in Vancouver.

The big plates (read: entrees) don’t lose focus. Sirloins are a dime a dozen, frankly, but Common Lot’s is house dry-aged for a month and the potatoes that accompany are cooked in beef fat, of course. (I am imagining cauldrons of variously labeled fats gently simmering in the kitchen here.) Creamy leeks and a super-concentrated red onion jam are there for dabbing with slices of the beef. Celery root two ways has its way with Amish country chicken breast: It’s mellowed by time in chicken fat and also left, in near-translucent ribbons, raw; the result is a yin-yang accent that can counterpoint with crunch or collaborate with sheer comfort. The literal and figurative topper: a chicken vinaigrette. 

Ocean char trends autumnal, with a mild-mannered turnip puree, a neat pile of rainbow Swiss chard and a scattering of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms rounding out the plate. But, you know, it’s not really the sides that round out the plate; it’s the expertly browned butter drizzled over pretty much everything. Yeah, butter is wonderful, especially when it’s cooked a second short from too much. Technical wizardry.

Love these entrees, but I’m saving my favorite for last: roasted broccoli, a quinoa salad and kale chimichurri, with a Tinkerbell-esque flick of toasted almonds on the plate. I argue with myself: Was the pesto-like rough puree of kale and allium the muse for the quinoa or the toasty broccoli?Were the almonds meant as a foil for the grain or the vegetable? I have to stop thinking because we’ve done the unthinkable and ordered a follow-up entree from the “shared mains for two” category on the Common Lot menu: the 12-hour braised lamb shoulder, “san choy bow” style, meant for the meat to be piled into lettuce cups.

Momofuko bo ssam fans, lamb is the new pork.

The caramel-concentrated soy is key; the butteriness of the cashews and cooked-til-nutty flavor and texture of the brown rice essential. Once assembled as intended, it’s birthday dinner material. And leftovers? I mean, unless the pair who share this duo dinner are sumo wrestlers who deliberately have been deprived of food for a week, you will have lamb left over. Partner it with white beans dressed in lemon and herbs and have a next-night dinner party.

The Common Lot team doesn’t falter at dessert. There is a lemon semifreddo with a marshmallow cream that pops amid a feisty lemon curd and a thin graham cracker crust. It’s a tango of tart and sweet, of smooth and crisp. There’s a smart progression of creaminess in the duo of mousses—chocolate and peanut butter—set astride dulce de leche; the regret of the dish was the un-share-able honeycomb (too small) and the understandable paucity of the cocoa nibs (would’ve been too much bitter).

But the rice pudding. Hmm. Laced with vanilla and studded with pistachios, it was sophisticated in its simplicity. It defined Common Lot in a very real way, by making the common seem uncommonly intriguing. 

Who are these people? Their chosen restaurant home stops short of having that too-stark, too-wanna-be-chic industrial aesthetic thanks to paintings and the Pandolfi pottery, the warmth of wood and the graceful lines of small touches, such as the water glasses. Ehren Ryan is Australian, while Nadine, who oversees the dining room, is from Austria. They are late-20s/early-30s old souls who seem to-the-table born. They clearly have the utmost respect for tradition, all the while taking chances—and doing so with the confidence that comes from knowing you have the chops to turn chance into triumph.

Ehran and Nadine Ryan have given New Jersey a gift of a restaurant, a place that competes with the nation’s best and would be deemed “worth a pilgrimage” by guidebooks if it was in the south of France. May the sun never set on the most extraordinary Common Lot.  EDGE

WINE TALK

Food with a voice merits—make that demands—wine that can match its heart and soul. Frankly, given the nuances of accents here, I would refrain from bringing any one of those too-big, too-brawny, made-for-show California wines that have limited place at the table.

Common Lot is the place to bring that mineral-driven riesling from Alsace. That age-able rosé from Bandol. That oh-so-elegant Brouilly from Beaujolais. Subtle, but sure-footed is what the food here deserves in a wine…something authentic, sincere and, of course, with a voice.

“True voices in restaurants are in short supply. That is sad. Many diners don’t even know, let alone understand, what a voice in food is.”

Clydz

“There’s always an entrée that offers a combo of game meats. On this night, it’s kangaroo, antelope and quail.”

By Andy Clurfeld

Clydz

55 Paterson St., New Brunswick

Phone: (732) 846.6521 

Reservations and major credit cards accepted. Lunch: Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner: Monday to Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. The bar is open Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday from 

4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Prices: Starters: $9 to $20. Entrees: $22 to $39. Sides: $6 to $15. Cocktails generally range in price from $10 to $12.

The longer you work in New Jersey, the fewer degrees of separation exist between you and anyone else who lives in our storied state. I believe Clydz, a landmark restaurant in New Brunswick that opened nigh on 20 years ago, is one of the Garden State’s epicenters of connectivity. When it opened in 1997, the restaurant had two near-instantly famous specialties: the kind of cocktails that gave birth to the Mixologist Generation of a soon-to-be-new century and dishes that put game—from alligator to bison to rabbit—in the spotlight. In a college town, with folks fresh out of that college coming up with these concepts and putting them into play on a stage at once edgy-hip and comfy-friendly, Clydz spoke in a language that was spirited, refreshing and dicey.

I recall reading Clydz’s press materials sent to me at The Asbury Park Press, where, at the time, I worked as the restaurant critic. What are these Clydz people thinking? I said to myself. They are not following the rules.

I admired them before I took a sip or a bite. Taking a chance, choosing not to play the same-old, same-old game, always appeals to me. My admiration for the courage it takes to test a conviction in public knows no bounds. I went, was somewhat impressed and extremely intrigued, and yet never wrote a review of the then-novel fledgling restaurant. Regrets? I’ve had only a few. This misstep of omission is No. 1.

It’s only just, then, that years and years later I meet and become friends with not one, but two members of the inaugural-era-of-Clydz staff. What are the odds? Well, in New Jersey, especially for someone who has been a reporter here for 40 years, pretty slam-dunk gonna-happen.

Game on, 2016; I go back to Clydz to see how the original vision of first owner Joe Clyde, who later was to bring his “game” game to the historic Sergeantsville Inn in the most bucolic part of Hunterdon County, has held up. Bottom line: Clydz may have shown best when the original crew of young’uns set new standards, but it’s still a place with a personality. And a vibe.

www.istockphoto.com

Yet…am I judging too harshly our lead server, who fails to offer us the names of the day’s various oysters? No, I’m not. She’s wrong when she replies to my query about the types of oysters offered that night with a curt, “Are you going to order them? You don’t need to know unless you are.”

“I won’t know that until I know what kinds of oysters you have tonight,” I respond. I think of my two ex-Clydz pals, both pros in other professions now. No way, no how would they have dissed a diner that way.

Our server doesn’t veer from curt when she provides a half-hearted recitation of the oyster lineup along with a sidebar of how important work on her master’s degree is to her.(Message received.) The oysters are carefully presented and tinglingly refreshing, particularly New Jersey’s own Cape May Salts. These Salts taste better and better every time I have them. On this night, they leave the Blue Points and Deep Bays in the also-ran category.

Meanwhile, we’re finishing a round of classic Clydz’s cocktails from a list that includes members of the first vintage of the mixed drinks that put this spot on the map. The size and scope of the drinks menu is comparable to the length and breadth of a classic Jersey diner’s bill of savory fare. The designated drinkers at my table are gleeful.(And ever more so as the night progresses: I’ve never before told a dine team, “OK, you can drink too much tonight.”)

I’ll rattle off a few of the favorites: Corpse Survivor II (Death’s Door, Lillet, Cointreau, absinthe, lemon juice; can anybody fill us in on the composition of Corpse Survivor the First?); French 55 (Champagne, Zubrowka, St. Germain, pineapple juice, lemon); Holiday Inn (strawberry-infused vodka, St. Germain, cucumber, lime); Cyn City (Hayman’s Old Tom, Cynar, lemon, simple syrup, mint, ginger beer); Jersey Sazerac (Laird’s Applejack, Pernod, maple bitters, simple syrup)…you get the idea. These Clydzians are into complicated.

Anyway, speaking of rattling: The braised python ravioli starter cossets a fine-chop of the fillet speckled with arugula, all of which is ladled with a wild mushroom-infused cream sauce. Meatballs made with various ground game meats (boar, we’re told, dominates the day’s mix) are given a spray of a roasted tomato demi-glace that’s mild and relatively unseasoned. As I eat both the python ravioli and the meatballs, I’m thinking it’s pleasant. But I’m looking for the kind of thrill that comes from accents that understand the protein they’re meant to enhance. Not there. The roasted bone marrow, plated with shreds of pulled short rib, a dab of tomato jam and toasts rubbed with black garlic, is more properly mild. I yearn for a few spoonfuls of rich jus.

The cold appetizers have more character, even though the kitchen’s technical skills sometimes can falter. The charred octopus comes with cantaloupe that’s been grilled and then wrapped with bresaola. Some pieces of octopus are tender and lovely, while others tough; when it works, it’s terrific with onions that are pickled, tomatoes that are roasted till sweet and figs coaxed into a concentrated state. Duck confit deviled eggs sound like an ingredients’ dream come true but the eggs are rubbery and—even with the accompanying chipotle-licked aioli—the starter comes off as shy. Smoked salmon tostones have a flash of red chili-powered oil and plate partners that include mango relish and a pockmark of caviar. They’re in league with the other apps: in need of a flavor that leads, that guides.

There’s always an entrée that offers a combo of game meats. On this night, it’s kangaroo, antelope and quail. Hesitant to try an exotic meat? Don’t be. The kangaroo and antelope were chicken-breast mild, with the quail notching the highest intensity of flavor on that plate. Probably the most “gamey” entrée of the night was the rosy loin of rabbit, plied as it was with a pert sun-dried tomato pesto that weighed in as refreshingly tart and plated with nutty quinoa, favas, carrots and sweet corn. Grilled bison hangar steak was served well by a red wine reduction and a spray of onions electrocuted into frizziness. The kitchen tosses a quail egg onto the plate as a game give-away. Seafood, anyone? Try the rice bowl, with trout and shrimp in the lead and a supporting cast of squiggles of egg, baby bok choy and dashi broth. Mild, once again, ruled. But it’s a comforting dish.

I suspect regulars order another cocktail for dessert; indeed, while the dining spaces were less than half-full on this weekend evening, Clydz’s bar was, constantly, three or four deep. Maybe more. These are the folks, I suspect, who know to avoid the apple pie spring rolls with a “crust” that tastes like Play-doh. Better was the light-batter, not-too-sweet crepes plied with blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.

By now late-late, Clydz is rocking. As I eye the undulating crowd for the drinks of choice, I find myself stumped. I ask a server what the most popular cocktails are and he shrugs. “Everything is popular,” he says. There are maybe 100 cocktails on the list. That’s a lot of popular. Are the game dishes as popular as the drinks? I ask, hoping for a more specific answer.

Which I get. “The Tater Tots (with parmesan and truffle oil) and the Onion Rings (with cheese curds) are good.”

Game off, I guess. Those first years of Clydz, back in a previous century, set standards for fun and game—quite literally. The people who came together here may well have shared a spirit of adventure that wasn’t offered by other establishments in New Jersey. Frankly, I wish Clydz would reconnect with its roots and the soul of its menu. Game is on the menu; it needs to be in the concepts and the cooking, too.