Equus - Bernardsville
My wife and I went to Equus Tavern in Bernardsville with two other couples this weekend, so I thought I'd post my impressions. This is pretty long, so if you want the quick and dirty review, it's "Food, great. Service, not so much."
For those who don't know, this is the previous Stone Tavern (or Freddie's before that). It was completely renovated and is now a much more upscale place.
Food: I didn't take exact notice of everyone's orders, but I know everyone was extremely pleased with their meals. Most of us just had some sort of salad to start, so nothing too extravagant to report there. They had a venison special which one couple had had on a previous visit. They raved about it and one person was ordering it again. I had never had venison so I gave it a try and I was *not* disappointed. They called it a "rack" of venison, which was two "chops" for lack of better explanation, and it was served with a port wine reduction. I've had port wine reductions before, and they're usually fine but nothing fantastic. This sauce was really delicious. There was also some sort of compote of cranberries that was nicely spiced with cloves and other spices. It had a nice "festive, holiday" taste to it and it went perfectly with the venison. My wife had the Pan Seared Duck in Fig and Almond, which was also quite good. Our "meat and potatoes guy" had what I think was called the drunken cowboy steak, which he also loved. The rest of the dishes were seafood dishes that I don't remember the particulars of (sorry), but I do remember seeing clean plates! The desserts were the pretty standard faire -- tiramisu, cheesecake, etc., but they did have some specials that were a little more inventive. My wife had what was essentially a lemon curd, but it was quite good and nicely presented.
Service: Here's where the "dining experience" really fell apart for us. Both of the other couples had been to Equus before and had commented that they felt very rushed, and they had heard that from other people. Well, apparently the staff got that message and took it too far. We had a 7:00 reservation (we got there on-time and were seated promptly) and we left around 10:45. This was a pretty standard one cocktail/appetizer/dinner/dessert meal. It shouldn't have been that long. I don't mind a relaxing, drawn-out meal (especially with good friends), but the service could only be described as "inattentive." I almost felt that they were short-staffed, which would be inexcusable for a restaurant of this supposed quality on a Saturday night. The person who sat us wore a suit and tie, so we assumed he was a maitre d' or manager or owner, but he ended up being our "waiter" for the evening. We were in the upstairs "loft" section of the restaurant, which has about a dozen or so tables -- some of them for parties of 6 or 8. Our waiter seemed to be the only one for this whole section. Being that it was upstairs and a also pretty decent walk from the kitchen, they should have had at least 2 waiters here. It was often very difficult to get his attention.
The restaurant's intentions of service are good: our water glasses were continuously filled, our napkins neatly refolded every time we'd go to the restroom, but our prodigal waiter left something to be desired. For example, at a fine restaurant I expect that the waiter knows that the main course is about to be served and should make sure that everyone has drinks. Those of us drinking wine were ordering by the glass, and three of us needed refills. We ended up eating for more than a few minutes before he finally came over to get new drink orders, and it was, of course, a few more minutes before we had the wine on the table. For those of us "foodies" who really enjoy having that great food and wine pairing, this was disappointing. Another problem was that one person in our party didn't order dessert, but did order an after-dinner Scotch, which he was never served. The dessert course itself took an extremely long time -- over an hour, I think. One other peeve is when there is a large gap between when desserts are served and when coffee is served. I've seen this at more than a few places, but never the 10 minutes we sat there nibbling at our desserts before coffees showed up. Oh, and the other thing that I would have appreciated was an after-dinner drink menu. Most nicer places have them, and my Scotch-thirsty friend had to ask what they had for 12 year-olds, which the waiter didn't know.
Ambience: If you'd been to the Stone Tavern, you'll remember that the exterior is a beautiful 150 year-old stone building. The interior, though, was somewhat dull. It seems that they completely (or mostly) gutted the place and refurbished. The results are fantastic. It's very warm and inviting. The bar area (which is now where the side dining are used to be) is very simple and comfortable. My only complaints stem from sitting in the loft area. It's very nice but very dark. And since the loft overlooks the main dining area, you are at eye-level with the 2 chandeliers, the resulting contrast was somewhat blinding for those seated in that direction. Others at our table were looking out the second story windows directly at the outside sconce lights, so they were also faced with having to shield their eyes when the person across from them moved! So I think maybe they need to frost the windows or something. Not sure what to do about the chandeliers.
So if they can get their service straightened out, I think this is a nice place to go for a celebration or holiday dinner with friends. The food was great and it's generally a nice atmosphere to be in. For the money, though, I'd expect a top-notch wait staff. And for the record, the bill for 6 people (before tip) was around $460.
We just visited Equus for the third time since it's opening and although the food is unbelievable the service is still atrocious. During the course of our meal we had my drink spilled all over the table and my husband, only to have the waiter wipe off my husbands knife and then proceed to replace it back on the table. Then the next waiter came over to clean off the table and place a napkin over the huge stain and spill the water all over the table and onto me. The head of staff, never apologized and went on as if nothing happened. Later on though he offered my husband a drink on the house. Additionally the major thing that annoys me is when they try to refill your water and reach across you and whoever is sitting next to you. If I wanted more water I'd sk for it. Last but not least we received our bill and we were charged for the second drink. My husband picked up the tab and left them 20% tip but not sure the meal was worth $450.00. I think we will wait at least another year for them to work out their kinks before returning or recommending this "babe in the woods" restaurant.
It sounds like perhaps you had a waiter that had a bad day. The food is great - If anything about the service - there is alot of it. They are very attentive to the tables (i.e. filling the water glasses) which I like. I have been there about 8 times and have never had to wait more then a miniute or two to get someone's attention. This is a first class place, with a relaxed atmosphere and only getting better every time we are there. I am so impressed I bring all my clients there!
I don't think it's been reported here but Equus was sold about three months ago to Scott Cutaneo, who was previously the owner/chef of Le Petit Chateau, also in Bernardsville. My understanding is that he has closed Le Petit Chateau but will renovate the space and reopen it as a more family style restaurant (I have never truly understood what that means!).
In any case, I wanted to report that we had dinner at Equus last week and the service was very good. We were there on a Thursday night and while the dining room inside was only about one third full nearly every table on the patio was occupied. As a result, the servers were fairly busy. Despite this, our servers (there were two of them) didn't miss a beat during the entire meal. Only towards the end did we experience a minor problem when we couldn't attract anyone's attention to get the check!
It would appear that any service problems at Equus have been rectified, though of course I don't know how things play out on a Friday or Saturday night when the restaurant is surely much busier. Perhaps someone else could report on that.
As you might expect with Chef Cutaneo at the helm, the food at Equus remains of very high caliber. One annoying thing, however, is that the on-line menu bears little resemblance to what is actually offered. Perhaps this menu is a holdover from the previous owner/chef or perhaps it's the Spring menu. Whatever the reason, this needs to be corrected.