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Sep 9, 2007 04:37 AM

Blue Bottle Café - Hopewell, NJ

The Blue Bottle Café has become one of the hot BYOB tables in the Trenton/Princeton area in 2007. Mrs MercerChow and I have tried to go on several occasions without success, chiefly because we tried on Sunday, when they are closed.

We finally succeeded and are glad for it. The food is good, the prices reasonable, and the service fine. That said, the Blue Bottle is not a knock-your-socks-off place (which leaves me somewhat mystified regarding the current frenzy). It is comparable to the nearby Brothers Moon – a fine and reliable local fixture – and I would be hard-pressed to choose between the two.

I started with the chilled tomato gazpacho with yellow tomato puree and diced cucumber, which was good and lovely to look at. Mrs MC had the Blue Bottle salad (mixed baby greens with sliced red grapes, toasted hazelnuts, red wine and honey vinaigrette, shaved manchego cheese). The hazelnuts are a nice, crunchy touch.

I continued with the cornmeal crusted lemon sole with fingerling potatoes, corn, English peas and crawfish remoulade. Definitely would recommend it, with the warning that it does have a bit of heat. Mrs MC had two starters in lieu of an entrée – the Nova Scotia mussels with andouille sausage, sliced garlic, and baby tomatoes in a white wine broth, and the roasted pepper and portabella mushroom terrine with boursin cheese and basil crème fraiche. Both were good.

We finished with a selection of three cheeses, of which the Eppoises was outstanding.

We definitely will add the Blue Bottle to our regular rotation. A couple of additional notes: (1) The space is tightly packed and was noisy when full on Saturday night. (2) There were no vegetarian options on the entrée menu.

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  1. I lived in Hopewell for more than 20 years and agree with you. Brothers Moon is just as good. However, the Blue Bottle seems to get more press.

    1. I have visited BM on numerous occasions, and BB once. Here are my observations.

      Service at Blue Bottle was quick, even on a busy Friday night. The owner made her way over to the table to say hello, ask how things were, etc. Service was responsive and efficient.

      Service at Brothers Moon was uneven. I've been there for lunch, dinner, when it's been busy, when it's quiet. There always seems to be some problem, though mostly the server forgets something or seems to disappear.

      Food at Blue Bottle was good, though not spectacular enough to make me understand the insane popularity. I liked the appetizer I had, which was cumin shrimp with Bent Spoon Avocado Ice Cream. The gnocchi I had was heavy and forgettable. So funny because that's what has caused such an uproar in reviews. People say they drive long distances for it, but I was not impressed. Deserts were fabulous. We ordered a couple to share at our table of 4. All were yummy and based on fresh seasonal ingredients.

      At Brothers Moon I had a tomato salad, with Bent Spoon Ice Cream and liked it just as much as what I had at BB. But most of the other food was just OK, and with problems. One of the entrees, salmon, I think, was cold, or lukewarm. The accompanying vegetables that came with the chicken entree were tepid at best, and tasted weird. The server, when we could get her attention, brought both back to the kitchen. The salmon arrived back warmer. The server told us that the veg side with the chicken was meant to be served cold because it was a salad. To their credit, BM offered a side of ratatouille gratis. It was only OK, but the gesture was nice. None of us were favorably impressed enough to order desert.

      I live nearby, both are BYOB. Brothers Moon has been's just uneven. I will likely make my way back there because it's easier to get a reservation. I'm sure I'll return to BB, but only when I can plan weeks in advance.

      3 Replies
      1. re: pfarrell

        I had a real good meal some time ago at Za, in nearby Pennigton. Has anyone been there recently ?

        1. re: BCjr

          Not recently, but late 2006. Food was quite good, though in my view not special enough to justify a menu with main courses pushing $30 and specials in excess thereof.

          1. re: BCjr

            I have been to Za on numerous occassions... The food is very good. The atmosphere is a bit cramped, and the tables become overcrowded very quickly. Za scones at brunch are delicious, and the patio is georgous. It is a shame that they stopped taking reservations. I fear not being able to get a table come winter when their seating capacity drastically reduces

        2. The little town of Hopewell is indeed blessed to have two fine BYO restaurants, namely the Brothers Moon and the Blue Bottle Café. It’s true that the Blue Bottle is getting more press right now but that’s because it’s the newer of the two restaurants and because the husband and wife team of Aaron and Rory Philipson are creating and cooking some wonderful dishes. Not everything works but when it does, wow!

          We went to the Blue Bottle last week and had yet another delightful experience. I should mention that we arrived without reservations on a weeknight and were seated within minutes. It can be done! We did arrive early and we also knew that we had to vacate our table by a certain time. This was not a problem and even as we approached D-hour there was no pressure from the staff to ‘start moving’. They trusted us, which too many restaurants do not.

          Like MercerChow, I had the chilled tomato gazpacho soup. I normally like my gazpacho a little chunkier, but this pureed version was more than acceptable and was ‘just the ticket’ on a hot summer evening. And like Mrs. MC, my friend had the Blue Bottle Salad, described above, which I sampled more than a few times. My friend is a salad maven and is determined to recreate this one at home. By the way, I recall one reviewer stating that salads are the weak link at the Blue Bottle but we could find no fault with this particular one.

          I could not resist going for the gnocchi dish, though I was a little concerned that this particular version contained diced ham along with melon and cantaloupe puree (the gnocchi dishes change with the season). As usual, the gnocchi themselves were wonderful, but my initial concern turned out to be correct. The dish just did not work for me. The ham added a little too much salt and the melon, in my opinion, just confounded things. Perhaps this is the version that pfarrell found forgettable? I hope Chef Philipson soon changes the gnocchi dish to something more similar to what he was serving in the spring. It was superb.

          Having read about the crab cake appetizer, my friend opted for the crab cake entrée and was not disappointed. Two plump pan seared cakes, with nary a trace of filler, were accompanied by grilled Italian sausage, green beans, leeks and mashed potatoes. This is what I will order next time!

          As usual, we shared one of Mrs. Philipson’s fabulous pastry desserts and were again bowled over by this woman’s ability to create delectable sweets that are just as good as they look. Having just returned from a vacation in Germany, where we were spoiled by outstanding pastries wherever we went, it was nice to know that we could find something comparable just twenty miles from home.

          My only “issue” with the Blue Bottle is that Mrs. Philipson, who seems to act as co-hostess as well as pastry chef, has an unfortunate tendency to dress in very casual attire that screams ‘busgirl’ rather than co-owner and pastry chef. All the wait staff, who are extraordinarily efficient and helpful, look as if they belong in the front of the restaurant. Mrs. Philipson does not and, quite frankly, it is off putting.

          1. Different strokes I guess. Wife and I think Blue Bottle is one of the best restaurants around and far better than Brothers Moon.
            Been to both many times and there is no comparison. For us Blue Bottle is in the same league as Cafe Mattise in Rutherford, Cafe Panache, Lorena's and Blackbird in Collingswood.


            1 Reply
            1. re: tom246

              In laws live on Aunt Molley Rd. We are thrilled to see both places doing well. Need to have a few more options. Princeton does little for the food scene. I like Blue Bottle because it has a bit more atmosphere. I agree with Gnocci comment as it has been up and down with me. Give me a lounge in hopewell with a variety of small plates and decent background beats and and I'll go see my inlaws every weekend

            2. We had dinner for the first time at the BBC last Wednesday. While the cuisine was generally very good, the overall experience did not live up to the hype started with the glowing NY Times review.

              To begin, we were seated in the more spacious back room with a wall (and half a ceiling) of glass. Unfortunately, the place was drafty and cold. Baseboard heaters were set on max (hot enough to melt the chap stick in a purse left on an adjacent chair back) yet they did little in warming the room. The other inner dining rooms appeared to also be in need of a bit of heat as there was a space heater on the floor near the foyer.

              For starters, we chose the Butternut Squash Ravioli, Crab Cake & BB Salad. Ravioli was freshly made and with a balanced combination of seasonal ingredients. The crab cake was the best of the three selections, contained virtually all lump meat and was served with a thick tomato pesto. The salad was unremarkable as salads can be.

              For entrees, we chose the Lamb Shank, Beef Tenderloin & Venison Loin. All were very good and portions were more than generous. The Lamb was fall off the bone tender and was a hearty dish to offset the cool evening. The beef arrived to the table on the very rare side of medium rare. A quick trip back to the kitchen brought it to the proper temperature and was enjoyed. The Venison, not seen on many menus, was seasonally appropriate and had a milder taste than what you may have experienced from the local woods.

              For dessert, we shared a mousse that provided a perfect ending to our meal.

              Service throughout was efficient, professional and pleasant.

              We'd rate the Blue Bottle Cafe 23/15/23. The 15 represents the general chill in the air and a feeling of being seated in Siberia. While the BBC won't be in our weekly rotation, we'll be back for another visit and will make a request for one of the inner dining rooms.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Foody4life

                We had our first dining experience on Saturday and I have to disagree with Foody4life. Our meal at Blue Bottle was, hands down, one of the best we've had in recent memory. We had no complaints with the temperature (we were seated in the middle dining room) and, if anything, I was actually too warm at times (must have been all that good wine and food).

                Starters for our part of 5 included the amazing, melt-in-your-mouth crabcake with polenta, the porcini mushroom soup (creamy and full-flavored) and two salads - the arugula with goat cheese, grilled pears and toasted walnuts and the roasted beets, parsnips, carrots with spinach. While I wasn't a fan of the second salad, the arugula salad was everything we hoped for and more. Each piece was excellent but the whole together was fantastic. And the portion was excellent for the price.

                Entrees - scallops, beef tenderloin, lamb shank and chicken pot pie. All were excellent, well above average, everything cooked perfectly with quality ingredients. Portions, again, were on the large side. Everyone licked their plate clean and the lamb bone was brought home for the dog.

                I didn't have dessert but the table tried the fudge cake with peanut butter ice cream (cake was a little on the dry side) and the hazelnut mousse and everyone seemed quite happy.

                The owner/chef's wife came by our table twice that evening (we were celebrating a birthday) and was congenial and really made the place feel honey. In fact, our meal was so good I've already booked a table for my birthday next month, waiting an extra two weeks since they're closed for the actual date. Unless something horrific happens, this is now our go-to place for all special occasion dining.