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New Management at Rats

I would like to know from those of you who have dined at Rats recently, whether the recent management changes have made a positive impact on the experience. I am looking to go back there after avoiding it in the past few years.

For those who did not know about the management change, I am posting a passage from Philly.com:
"Stephen Starr has taken over management at the très posh Rat's Restaurant, the contemporary French destination in Hamilton Township, N.J. Chef is Kevin Sbraga, who won multiple bells at the Ritz-Carlton a few years back, was culinary director of Jose Garces' empire until earlier this year, and represented the United States in the Bocuse d'Or culinary competition last year. He spent five minutes consulting at Union Trust a few months ago."

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  1. Thanks for the heads up George. I may want to give Rats a try.

    1. The new chef certanly is a big deal but Stephen Starr's restaurants are not all that, certanly not Daniel Boloud or Le Bec Fin. I would wait on this one. Word is the rest of the front and back management will go as well and be replaced by Starr's own.

      1. The really important question is whether they will continue to have poutine on the menu! :-))

        The web site still lists poutines (sic) but I'm thinking the new chef may change things. The poutine at Rats has always been average at best but it's one of the few places in NJ that even serves this French-Canadian "delicacy".

        1. I have been to Rats quite a few times because it was a friend's favorite place to dine. I can only hope that they get rid of the over-bearing to the point of obnoxious server we always seemed to get stuck with (despite our requests NOT to be seated in his station).

          I also hope that they fix their smoking technique. My husband I went there on an anniversary, and he ordered a steak. The smoke overpowered the beef so horridly, it was inedible. Although we mentioned this to our server, nothing was done to correct it. We are not cheap, but when a dish is inedible, the least they could have done was offer another entree, or delete that portion from the check.

          I'll be watching the board for a review of Rats now that it is under new management and chef.

          1. How can a positive impact ever be made when the name is "RATS"...

            2 Replies
            1. re: HelloNewman

              Hello Newman :-)) :-))

              The correct name of the restaurant is Rat's, not Rats, and of course this changes the meaning entirely. So who is Rat? Well, you might as well ask who is Pooh, or Alice, or Harry Potter! Rat, or Ratty as many of us know him, is a major character in the classic children's book, The Wind in the Willows. Others are Mole, Toad and my favorite, Badger.

              Here's what it says on the Rat's Restaurant web site:

              "Why the name Rat's? In Kenneth Grahame's classic, The Wind in the Willows, one of J. Seward Johnson, Jr.' favorite books, the character Ratty represented everything a host should be. As founder of Rat's and Grounds For Sculpture, Johnson likens himself to Ratty who threw the best parties with the best wine. Likewise, the two share delightful imaginations and far-reaching dreams."

            2. Has anyone been to Rat's since Kevin Sbraga took over the kitchen? I've loved his food when I've had it in the past, I was thinking of going to there this weekend but would like to hear from someone who's been there since the changeover.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Buckethead

                The steak sampling at Epicurean Palette was excellent - it was the only stop where I went back for seconds. I'm looking forward to visiting the restaurant again...

              2. I had never heard of this place, but considering I was born the Year of the Rat and it's nearby, I will definitely have it on my list of places to try--thanks!

                Rat's Restaurant
                16 Fairgrounds Rd, Trenton, NJ
                (609) 584-7800

                5 Replies
                1. re: Caralien

                  It was just announced that Kevin Sbraga will be a contestant on the new season of Top Chef. Good luck Chef Sbraga.

                    1. re: bgut1

                      Well, now that Sbraga has won the Top Chef competition, he has decided to leave Rat's and open his own restaurant in Philadelphia.


                      1. re: ambrose

                        Ambrose, just for the sake of accuracy, Sbraga was scheduled to leave Rats long before the Top Chef competition. He was placed at Rat's by Starr for a one year assignment. His last day was this past Sunday.

                        1. re: madgreek99

                          Thanks, madgreek99, I did not know that. I heard Sbraga interviewed on a local Philly radio station and the way he talked he was going to use his Top Chef winnings as seed money to open his own restaurant. I guess if he had not won he would have stayed with the Starr group, but at some other location.

                          Btw, Rat's is still using Sbraga's picture and recent fame to promote the restaurant. No mention of the fact that he's no longer there!

                  1. Has anyone been lately? I have a ressy for tonight for my wife's birthday. We usually don't try a new resto on things like a b-day, but, we'll see!

                    1. Well, I knew I had that rule of not trying a new place on a birthday for a reason...

                      In short. Horrible.

                      The Grounds for Sculpture is a pretty neat place overall, however the restaurant, on the outside reminded me of a ride at Disney, complete with an 'exit through the gift shop'...the inside was no better, but it didn't bother me much. Didn't love it, didn't hate it.

                      We arrived early and had a seat at the bar as I heard somewhere they had a decent cocktail menu. It turned out to be happy hour and the bar was pretty full but we scored 2 seats in the corner. The bartender was very nice and told us about the happy hour and 2$ apps and such. I looked at the cocktail menu and dissapointedly ordered a scotch, neat. The cocktail menu was pretty bad to horrible and from the looks of it, I wasn't going to get a halfway decently made old-fashioned or side-car either...My wife the Sangria happy hour special. We ordered 2x2$ apps, hummus and a cheese plate.

                      Her sangria was retreived from the fridge and poured from one of those big square prep containers, kinda turned my wife off.

                      The apps came out and the hummus was good, the cheese was good, although very 'safe'. (mild cheddars and such) but for 2$ each they were both a steal and well worth it. The hummus to bread ratio was a little stacked, but for 2$....

                      The restaurant as a whole was pretty dead, I had a few sips left of my drink at 7:00 (when our ressy was actually for) and the hostess came in to tell us we 'need to move to our table now'...ugh.

                      Out waiter was very nice, but was a little confusing when explaining the 'tasting menu' special...in the end it was basically, you pick something from apps something from main and a dessert....which is what we usually do anyways, so...cool...it evened out to about a free dessert. Nothing on the menu really jumped out and the dishes were pretty common and safe dishes....2 steaks, a halibut, a lamb and a duck...prepared pretty simply.

                      I picked the charcuterie plate for app, my wife the tuna carpaccio. For main I picked the colorado lamb and she picked the hanger steak (mine rare, hers medium rare)

                      My app was ok, but again, a little safe with just some chorizo, salami, proscuitto and a few little pickles. Supermarket quality stuff. Her's was a little less than ok.

                      We had the option of adding wines to the dinner, I had thought they might be slightly paired, but they were not. We were asked if we wanted the red or the white first....we choose the white. it was..cheap but ok. They then poured the red. Columbia Crest Cabernet 2007. I think I cooked with this a few times...but I digress.

                      My wife's steak came out and was well done....a grey slab all throughout. I cut into mine and mine was cook well but the lamb had not been butchered very well and had sinew and silverskin all over it making it a bit difficult to cut with the knife I was given. The taste was very bland. The dish also advertized that it came with black truffles, unless porcini and button mushrooms on the side with some jus are black truffles, there wasn't a truffle, nor any truffle oil or anything resembling, smelling, tasting, like a truffle on or near my dish. It came with shepards pie and my potatoes on top were a bit cold.

                      My wife sent her steak back, which is unusual for us, 10 minutes later, the Manager/Maitre'd came over to say 'I apologies but the chef has determined he needs to recook your steak' ....no shit? you mean you don't have a reverse meat de-cooker? At that point I was done with anything edible on my plate, and he asked if I wanted a salad for when my wifes plate comes out. I didn not. Bummer to have to eat seperately....

                      At this point we are kind of laughing at the experience. The bread they served was pretty good.

                      For dessert, I had the sour cherry bread pudding with Mascarpone ice cream. The ice cream was really good, the bread pudding ok. My wife had some macadamia nut cookie with dark chocolate ice cream. They basically tried to make a 'chipwich' with 2 cookies and ice cream. This was most definitly premade and in the freezer as the cookie was hard as a rock, she enjoyed the ice cream, I thought it was a little too much. They tried to hide the other cookie on the bottom....because it was burnt. Like black burnt and tasted it.

                      We received the check and were comped a dinner (without us asking or really complaining at all), which was the right thing to do, so kudos there, but for the prices there, this meal was a huge dissapointement.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: RPMcMurphy

                        I have eaten there for lunch on a Sunday a couple of times and enjoyed it, but not enough to want to go back to dinner. Prices for lunch aren't bad... and when you consider that if you eat at Rat's FIRST, you can then enter into the sculpture park for free, it's a pretty good deal.

                        Last time we ate there on a Sunday the menu was very brunch-centric. We started with the cheese plate which was actually quite nice, I guess a little safe as you describe but not totally ordinary.

                        Their complimentary bread is delicious -- I could be happy with that, spread with the delicious herb butter.

                        I had the berry crepes, which were good. My aunt had some sort of chicken dish with arugula -- well prepared if a little boring. My mom had the eggs benedict, which were served on brioche instead of english muffins... this i did not think worked at all, as the brioche was just too chewy. The service was pretty good though.

                        My friends dined there for dinner last week. They ate on the patio and said there were a lot of kids running around, feeding the ducks and such. They are not uptight about this sort of thing but one child was practically throwing bread under their table (the parents' fault!). They enjoyed their meal but said it was very safe and boring.

                        I'd recommend it for lunch but that's about it.

                        1. re: RPMcMurphy

                          RP - Thanks for your review. I am sorry that you had such a horrible experience especially while celebrating your wife's birthday. You have saved me a trip.

                          1. re: bgut1

                            I wouldn't skip based on the earlier review. Although its hard to argue that quality hasn't suffered in recent years Rat's is still a very unique restaurant. And to go without bothering to saunter the grounds is to miss a very enjoyable expirience.