Pluckemin Inn - What's Going On?
In late January, Carl LaGrassa, a co-owner of the Pluckemin Inn, died. Now I hear that David Felton, the executive chef, has departed (reported on a NJ Monthly blog). Does anyone know what, if anything, is going on here?
I always liked dining at the Inn but I must say that my last experience there was definitely sub par. Food was very ordinary and service was tentative. Perhaps the server was new but he was very unsure of himself and didn't seem well informed about the menu selections. The service wasn't bad, just not what I'm used to.
Added in Edit: Here's the blog report on David Felton:
A few weeks ago, I read a post on another food forum about Pluckemin. The poster said it has always operated at a loss and continued to function only because Carl La Grassa poured his own money into it. Now that he's gone, his partners are likely to sell. The chef's leaving seems an indication of that to me.
- The original comment has been removed
Dear ambrose & RGR,
Here is some clarification about the status of the Pluckemin Inn - After a long fight with a terminal disease, Mr. Carl LaGrassa, the founder and co-owner of the Pluckemin Inn, passed away in late January leaving Mrs. Gloria LaGrassa the sole owner of the restaurant. The Pluckemin Inn was Carl & Gloria LaGrassa's life long dream so you can be assured that Mrs. LaGrassa has no intention of selling the restaurant or closing it. It is the goal of the entire team at the Pluckemin Inn and Mrs. LaGrassa to keep his dream and legacy alive for years to come.
As for the departure of Executive Chef David Felton. It is not at all unusual in the restaurant industry to see chefs on the move. Mr. Felton acted as the executive chef at the restaurant for just under 3 years and is now moving on in his career. The Pluckemin Inn is currently interviewing some very qualified and exciting candidates to fill the position of executive chef. An announcement regarding the new executive chef will come in the following weeks.
Director of Operation
Seems the Pluckemin Inn has found its new executive chef, namely Juan Jose Cuevas, who comes to the wilds of New Jersey via Lespinasse, Blue Hill and Eighty One, all in NYC.
I'm looking forward to revisiting the Inn but I think I'll wait a couple of months until the new guy settles in.
I'm bumping this up because friends want very much to go to the Pluckemin Inn when they visit NJ next month. I told them about the chef change and promised to try to find out how this may have affected things at the restaurant. As I noted in my OP, my last visit, before the chef change, was disappointing.
I think we may be waiting a while before the verdict comes in! The fact of the matter is that there aren't many hounds in this part of Jersey, at least not many who post on Chowhound.
I thought, however, that you might be interested in the following comment I found on one of the NJ Monthly blogs:
"In the Hard Act To Follow Department..... , the vacancy created at the Pluckemin Inn by the departure of long-time chef David C. Felton ranks high. (Felton has signed on with the much-anticipated Natirar Resort & Spa, the 491-acre Somerset County property being developed by Sir Richard Branson, head of Virgin Group.) But enough about these others. The arrival of executive chef Juan Jose Cuevas is a coup for the plucky owners of the Pluckemin Inn, Carl and Gloria LaGrassa. A native of Puerto Rico and an honors graduate of the CIA, Cuevas has a stunning resume: sous chef at Lespinasse, executive chef of Blue Hill in Manhattan, opening chef of 81 in Manhattan, to name a few. But enough of resumes. This guy's food is pure rapture. His salads are much more than the sum of their parts, his pastas ditto. His slow-cooked duck puts most others to shame. His halibut with pancetta, whole-grain mustard and Sauternes jus is meltingly delicious. At lunch, he elevates fish and chips, hamburgers, and sandwiches to rarefied levels. And, having arrived this spring, he is just getting started."
This certainly got my interest and I will definitely be going back to the Pluckemin Inn!
BTW, if you're curious about Natirar (Raritan spelled backwards), you can read all about it in the following links. The Natirar estate was previously owned by the late King of Morocco.
This rapture over Chef Cuevas' cuisine doesn't really surprise me. Although we didn't manage to eat at Blue Hill Washington Square when he was chef de cuisine (our one meal there was prior to his tenure), all the reports I read were extremely positive. While owner Dan Barber remains intimately involved in the running of Blue Hill NYC, he spends a lot of his time at Blue Hill Stone Barns; therefore, it's was really Cuevas who was in charge of producing the cuisine on a daily basis.
We've never been to Pluckemin, but when I heard that Cuevas had been hired, I immediately put it on my "go to" list. I was just waiting for him to settle in and install his own menu. I've now pushed Pluckemin near the top of the list.
We finally made it back to the Pluckemin Inn for a long overdue dinner since the new chef took over. We'd been to the Tavern and come in for lunch, but had not been back for dinner until tonight.
I'd been wanting to go back for a couple of reasons- I've been dying to try Chef Juan Jose Cuevas' food and they also put my favorite summer cocktail, the Watermelon Red Hot, back on the menu. Yum! (I had two tonight.) After chatting at the bar for a few minutes and ordering our cocktails the hostess took us to our table. Upon perusing the menu for a bit, the Husband and I come to a conclusion- it's unquestionably tomato season. A good thing for me, not so good for him. Fortunately, they don't mind serving much of the tavern menu in the dining room so we weren't worried about filling in some holes.
The amuse buche was a tomato/vegetable water which was very tasty, just as light and cleansing as you would expect from something that was probably picked from the garden mere hours earlier. The only slip up tonight was the service. I ordered three courses, the Husband two, and they brought both of my starters out first, without bringing either of his. I started with the NJ heirloom tomato salad, basil, clear melon broth and tomato sorbet. There were about 5 or 6 different varieties of tomatoes with fresh basil leaves in the broth and a scoop of the tomato sorbet. The tomato salad was incredible but the tomato sorbet was just outrageous. I can't really describe what it was like but I just wanted more, it was really remarkable. I then had the grilled day boat sea scallops, with watermelon, chilis, mache, Castel Vetrano olives. Personally, I prefer my scallops with a bit more of a sear than these had, but that's just me (and the Husband!) but these were still quite tasty. The sauce had a bit of a kick to it. I didn't see any olives and thought it had grapefruit, but I could be mistaken.
The Husband finally got his risotto, organic zucchini risotto with parmesan, sot-l'y-laisse & squash blossom tempura. We learned today that sot-l'y-laisse is "chicken oysters". I'm still not quite sure what -that- is, but it was two very tasty little morsels. The squash blossom wasn't a big poofy piece as you often see, it seemed like this was split in half so it fried flat.
The Husband also got a crab cake, a consistently tasty treat from the Tavern menu. The tempura asparagus that came with it was apparently so tasty I never got a piece! (And that says something for someone who doesn't really like vegetables.) I had the John Dory, fennel, preserved tomato, white eggplant caviar & ratatouille jus. I didn't taste the fennel in it, but it was still tasty. The eggplant caviar was creamy and didn't have the seedy texture you sometimes get with eggplant.
We didn't get dessert, but two small chocolate chip cookies (still and consistently some of the best we've had) and two coconute macaroons were delivered with the check.
All in all, a delightful dinner. We'll definitely be back to the Plucky with the new chef at the helm, just after tomato season.
Thanks for the detailed report, nomistone. Heirloom tomato salad with tomato sorbet is something I've had before, and the sorbet really does add another delicious dimension to the dish. The John Dory also sounds wonderful. Looking at the menu on the website, I see that Chef Cuevas is, as expected, taking full advantage of the summer's bounty. I'm looking forward to getting to Pluckemin very soon.
I would suggest steering clear of this place for a while. a birdie told me big changes are coming and not very good ones. ....
Their wine selection is nice and the 'tower' is quite the sight. But the food...its changed. Mr. Felton did a great job as did the chef before him. It is quite unforunate to see a restaurant take a turn like this.
it will be sorely missed, as will Mr. Lagrassa
I see that this is your first and only post on Chowhound. What you have to say does not compute with the facts.
There has already been a major change at Pluckemin. That is, Juan Cuevas was hired several months ago to be the executive chef. He has cooked at some of the best restaurants in NYC. Although I have not yet to dined at Pluckemin, I have no doubt that he is doing a superb job.