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Princeton gems

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Please give me your opinion of the finest restaurants in Princeton.
Money is not an object but fine food definitely is!
I prefer intimate places to large ones and light rather than dark (if possible)
What about Lahiere?
My gracious thanks.

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  1. Oxymoron! No such thing! Only thing close is Mediterra. Nice wine selection and good food. I went to Lahiere's 2 years ago for my birthday and it was terrible. Service was bad and food was forgettable. If you want to experience a place with nice atmosphere, go to Rat's in Hamilton. It's really really cute. The food doesn't match up with the price, but it's really beautiful so the atmosphere matches it. Tre Piani in Plainsboro in Forrestal Village is a "slow food" italian restaurant. Food is wonderful.

    10 Replies
    1. re: njeggy1

      Mediterra is good. However, I stopped going there after observing a shocking lapse in cleanliness. It seems that their rear door opens up into the public parking garage that is in back of Mediterra, and that was directly connected with what I observed.

      One day last fall, I noticed that their cart containing silverware (wrapped up in rolled napkins, ready to be placed on the tables) was sitting outside their back door, inside the parking garage. It was there when I parked my car, and it was there a few hours later, when I went back to retrieve my car.

      I don't know about anyone else, but I do not want to use napkins or silverware (flatware) that has been sitting in a place where it is exposed to the pigeons flying overhead, the car exhaust, and the whims of whoever might be walking by.

      I suspect that this is a sanitary code violation, but even if it isn't, their disgusting practice is a violation of my standards, and as a result, I have stopped going to Mediterra!

      1. re: Ted in Central NJ

        I went to Lahiere last evening and was absolutely surprised and thrilled with the change.
        Friends who live in Princeton wanted to go there and I hesitated only because I had gone there 20 years ago and found it a bit worn around the edges, dark and the food over-rated.
        But I acquiesced to my friends and discovered a bright open dining area with lovely service and impressive presentation of fine food.
        Everyone tasted other dishes and we pronounced all dishes to be delicious.
        A very pleasant surprise over the hackneyed "professor-oriented" place of the past.

        1. re: idia

          >Oxymoron! No such thing!

          Hah! LOL.

          Agreed, although I never ate at Ferry House, which people like, and I have not tried the new Witherspoon Steak House. The Blue Point Grill (I think that's what it's called) is good for broiled fish and French fries if you get a coveted sidewalk table, but I think it smells fishy inside. If you prize quantity over quality when it comes to sushi, that wacky sushi place by the library will be great for you. I had the first (and only) chirashi that I couldn't finish there, and it only cost $14. The funky pseudo-upscale Indian joint with the handicapped ramp in front is not good IMO for reasons I forget. Triumph is hit or miss, but who cares when you're drinking. The food at Lahiere is also hit or miss, but I love the bar. The Alchemist and Barrister is basically an expensive Houlihans, but it sometimes rises above. Winberries? Nasty, but you can get a fresh (because its probably cooked from frozen) grilled salmon sandwich for lunch for around $8. Mediterra, the food is nothing special, especially for the price. There's some really old-world French place in the Princeton Inn that I've never eaten at that gets good reviews sometimes. There is no remarkable Thai in Princeton. The old-world pizzeria on the far end of Witherspoon (forgot the name, but people rave about this place) is subpar because crust tastes like cardboard. Zorba's is hit or miss for eggs and sandwiches, but almost always a hit for greek specialties--nothing to travel for though. All of my gems in Priceton are either small informal joints or are somewhere else, like the Lawrenceville Inn (which is not fabulous, but they get points for charming environment and friendly service).

          The cafe in the Library (is this a Chez Alice outpost?) for lunch.
          Olives for take-out. They always have felafel, even if it's not a daily special.
          Small World Cafe for strong coffee and red devil cupcakes.
          Theresa's for the best eat-out lasagna that I've ever had.
          The Little Chef Pastry Shop for real French-style croissants (tiny and crispy).

          1. re: soigne

            The Princeton Inn? I've never heard of it.

            There's the Nassau Inn. Its restaurant is the Yankee Doodle Tap Room. And there's The Peacock Inn. Many years ago, we had an anniversary dinner at its restaurant, Le Plumet Royal, which was bought some months ago by Ferry House chef/owner Bobby Trigg. He was supposed to be redoing it, but I don't know if it has re-opened yet. We had dinner a couple of times at Ferry House back when it was still in Lambertville. Never tried it in Princeton.

            1. re: RGR

              Peacock Inn! That's it. I lived in L'ville for two years and never got to try it.

              As far as The Rat goes, the food is quite good, but the service is so incredibly rude and snobby, that I cannot go back. They use computer software to track the regulars, and if you are not on the list, you will be treated like s**t, put in a high-traffic or drafty table, and will be ignored certain standard treatments, like a visit from the sommelier.

              Last time I was there, I got a piece of dust caught in my throat as we were being seated. Immediately upon being seated, I asked the maitre d' for a glass of water. I'll never forget the smarmy a**'s sarcastic response, spoken loudly enough to be heard in the entire small dining room (off to the right around the back of the host stand) "Sir, when you dine at a fine restaurant like the Rat, water is served to the entire table once the party has situated itself."

              Well needless to say, did that set me off! My comeback was quick and flawless: I turned to my wife and in a voice 5 decibels higher than the maitre' d and with the best Appilacian-hillbilly accent I could muster, I said "WHY DO YOU HEAR THAT HONEY, THIS HERE PLACE IS SO FANCY THAT THEY BRING YOU WATER WITHOUT YOU EVEN ASKIN' FOR IT! COULD YOU IMAGINE? Oh, it was rich my friends. The whole room paused and looked over.

              After that little incident we called the sommelier over, and he directed our attention to a wonderful Paullac for only $70, about the retail price, and the food was delicious.

              1. re: soigne

                This Saturday four of us had lunch at Rats in Hamilton and we all agreed it was overpriced and overhyped. Food was not good. Service was not good. We then had dinner at the Ferry House, which wasnt cheap but the food and service was all great. We really enjoyed it very much.

                1. re: irvingk

                  I've never been to Rats. The original chef, whose cuisine received pretty much universal raves, left some time ago. That could account for the decline in food quality though when it comes to service, that shouldn't make a difference.

                  1. re: RGR

                    One 53 in Rocky Hill. Far and away the best in the Princeton area. See my review. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/388682

      2. re: njeggy1

        I totally agree. Oxymoron. Avoid Princeton for food. I have found the first step of this write up very true.


        1. re: Will5352

          Will5352, this link leads to a post I've seen before. I think readers should understand that the post is over three years old AND that the author does recommend several places in Princeton (see the third paragraph and what follows).

      3. Went to Mediterra this past weekend and was not impressed. Good drinks and wine list but the food was mediocre especially for the price.

        1 Reply
        1. re: petro2

          I guess Mediterra must have slipped. Many posts about the food being inconsistent. What a disappointment.

        2. 153 in Rocky Hill is great but don't tell too many people!

          1. Everyone has mentioned all the obvious Princeton picks. Lahiere's has great food, but isn't exactly intimate or light.

            Price no object, this would be my ideal Princeton dinner:

            Stop by Princeton Corkscrew Wine Shop on the west side of Palmer Square, and pick up a bottle of 2002 Domaine Arnaud Ente Meursault (or any other of their fine wines that suit your taste, ask they are extremely helpful)

            Then, head straight to Ajihei at 11 Chambers St. It's down in a basement and you have to look for it, but don't let that scare you. It's the freshest most authentic Japanese sushi restaurants in Central NJ, one of the few actually run by Japanese. The Chef/owner is Koji Kitamura, formerly of Nobu. The atmosphere is intimate, light, and comfortable, in typical minimalist Japanese fashion. The food is mostly sushi and sashimi and not much more. But you will experience some amazing flavors and expertly prepared dishes. It's BYOB and they will happily chill your wine or sake. Between the wine, food, and atmosphere...this is as good as it gets in Princeton for me. Otherwise, I'd rather get in my car and leave town, because Princeton is dominated by mediocre restaurants.

            1 Reply
            1. re: frackit

              I have to second frackit's rec for Ajihei. The place is amazing - ten times better than Ichiban, IMO, but it's hardly mentioned on here. They have the freshest fish, the best rice, and will make anything for you if they're not packed (which they usually are, with visiting Japanese businessmen). It also fits your criteria of intimate and bright. I recently heard Koji-san's moving back to Japan, though - anyone else heard that?

              Full disclosure: My ex was Ajihei's first waiter back in college, and we used to hang out there after hours. Koji-san would make chirashi-zushi for us with the leftover fish - he never keeps it until the next day!

            2. We've been in Princeton for 14yrs and dine out locally frequently. Here's our list of Gems (great food, good value, never hesitate to go back):

              Seafood - Blue Point Grill on Nassau Street; freshest fish, simply prepared;

              Steaks - KC Prime on QuakerBridge Rd; classic steakhouse, excellent prime steaks, chops, etc., would rate KC Prime above Witherspoon Grill in town.

              Bistro - One53, Rocky Hill, NJ; not technically in Princeton, but 10 minutes away, great food;

              Witherspoon Street (aka Restaurant row) - Ferry House; always well prepared cuisine at this local favorite & BYOB;

              Another local place receiving many great reviews is the recently opened Blue Bottle Cafe in nearby Hopewell, NJ. Will be dining there soon and may add to a future gem list!

              1. Rats is over priced and not worth the hype. It is very pretentious there. Went for the $50 pp for brunch. It was good, but not great.

                Recently went to the Salt Creek Grill in the MarketFair. Very good food and a cool atmosphere. The prices are not cheap, but left very satisfied and full. Would definitely recommend it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: slickd23

                  Salt Creek Grill is in Forestal Village. I don't think much of the food. The service in the restaurant, on three separate occasions was below average. Good in the bar though.

                  I love Rats! I always eat in the Kabul Room though. Best fries I have ever had, and I lived in Belgium for 5 years. I love the croque monsieurs too. The place is so fabulous! Take a walk in the gardens after dinner or between courses. It rocks. Professional bartenders make great mixed drinks.

                2. For me, eating in Princeton is about the overall atmosphere of the town. I do not enjoy having to cross Route 1, because no matter how good the food might be in Princeton Market Fair, having to venture near the highway in a mall detracts and is far less pleasant than being in beautiful, quaint Princeton/Rocky Hill.

                  Lahiere's is definitely a gem. Always has been and always will be to me. I actually had my intimate wedding reception there for 80 guests and it was positively flawless. Intimate, elegant yet cozy and after 3 years, my guests haven't stopped talking about how amazing the food was. However, my wedding planner was outstanding and every detail was tended to. Would always recommend it.

                  I love Mediterra and all the Terra Nova restaurants, but that really can't compare to the other restaurants in the area for me. I would prefer Ferry House, Lahiere's or One53 above anything else.

                  Every time I have eaten at One53 in Rocky Hill, the NY Times reviewers have been there. Chef Justin Braun is a star.

                  For great bar food, nothing beats Triumph, especially in the fall when they have pumpkin ale. I crave their garlicky, spicy calamari with chipotle mayo.

                  For lowkey, casual drinks with friends I like A&B, but the food is so hit or miss and never that great. I really can't stand The Nassau Inn's food and Winberrie's is very dirty.

                  When The Peacock Inn was open, Le Plumet Royale received very high reviews.

                  I would like to try Ajihei that Frackit was talking about. Will have to do that soon.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: gottasay

                    In Princeton the finest food and atmosphere is away from the Borough and in the Township at Conte's Pizza on Witherspoon Street. You will never be disappointed with their brick oven thin crust masterpieces. Long wait sometimes but well worth it. Go there.

                    Main Street in the Princeton Shopping Center is overlooked here. It is worth a visit for simple tasty food. Try Nonna's Bolognese at Main Street.

                    Taste of Mexico in the Princeton Shopping Center makes one of the best moles around.

                    1. re: abatwork

                      I have to second Taste of Mexico! Overpriced (it is Princeton), but the quality and authenticity of many of the dishes is outstanding.

                      Never understood the appeal of Conte's. Coming from someone who things DeLorenzo's Tom Pies is the best pizza in the world. Conte's has teh atmosphere of my basement filled with 5 little league teams, cheese way too salty, and bland sauce and crust. Old World pizza and Iano's are better pizza choices in Princeton, IMHO.

                  2. Just returned and the board was a great tool, thank you all. But I need to add the best food we had was at a Italian walk down on a corner, Sotto's, 128 Nassua St. Fantastic food and I think all three of us would order the same meal again! Great ambiance, and the antipasto plate was fantastic. We ate in the nice bar w/ friendly tenders, and my son's Veal Parmesan over angle hair was the best I have ever tasted, my wife got a veal special w/ lemon and spinach and I had my usual the frutti di mare serverd over rissotto( which i usually dont like!), and it was unique.We asked an hinest bartender for advice but his 3 days was not adequate, so the very friendly and likable owner stopped by to chat up his menu and the single page printed specials lsit he had originated from his recent and annual trek to Italy.Do not miss this place- casual.
                    PJ's pancakes STILL the best breakfast and as good as that is I cant help but think their burgers are great. Next time?. The Big Fish in the Mayfair plaza on Hwy 1 is a do not miss as well. However while the Tre Paini was good and is highly recommended, it seemed a let down.And while all was acceptable, we felt the servers were only slightly interested and the advice was pandering. Food was great however, if uninspired.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Geane

                      Taste of Mexico...very well done...