Review: went with my wife on Saturday evening.
We were looking forward to our visit as it seems the Morris/Somerset County area is woefully lacking good, creative restaurants. In our minds eye, with the Burton tie-in, swanky rural setting and the whole "farm to table" ethic of its website, we hoped it might be a Jersey version of Blue Hill at Stone Barnes. Not quite.
The setting is similar in that it's in a large, old estate, which has been marvelously renovated with two large dining areas, a private room and a bar area. But whereas BH@SB radiates calm elegance (some may say over-priced pretension), Natirar has a slightly Jersey Shore party vibe. It was rather loud, and the msuic from the bar area filtered throughout the restaurant. One gets the feeling people are there because they're searching for a good time rather than searching for a good meal.
We had heard the bar was fun, so arrived early for a drink. The bar, however, was mobbed, and the barkeeps looked like they had little interest in trying to satiate the thirsty throngs vainly trying to get their divided attention. Fortunately, a staff member told us there was an open bar downstairs, which there was -- it was empty and quiet. My wife had a cocktail she enjoyed, and I had a glass of wine and we passed an enjoyable 45 minutes. The staff did not come get us, despite my informing both the front desk and bartender of our name and reservation time and location, so I went upstairs 15 minutes after our appointed time, and, lo and behold, our table was ready and waiting. Would they have come collected us or let us linger into the night? I cannot say, but it pays to be pro-active, I guess.
The food was fine, but not exceptional. My quail app. was not terribly flavorful and oily, and the wee beet salad did not balance that out or add much. My steak was good, well-prepared and enjoyable, though admittedly just a steak. My wife had a ragu, followed by the duck and fennel, which she enjoyed, although it was served with rather large, cabbagey wedges of fennel. The bread, although only one kind (olive), was tasty as noted. We shared a side of mac & cheese that was unremarkable. The dessert we shared -- lime curd -- was superb. Espresso was passable -- neither great nor a thimble of bitter evil.
We both remarked the cost-value ratio was quite good. Entrees were between $25 and $35. The appetizers were beween $10 and $15. Wine was fairly priced, about $8 and $13 per glass. The water -- still or sparkling -- was complementary. All told, we both had appetizers and entrees, shared a dessert, I had 2 glasses of wine and she had a cocktail, it was $185 w/tip. Not cheap, exactly, but we've spent more in NJ on less and in locations that would be less likely to make you feel you were having an "experience."
Service was passable. The waiters were generally competent, but not great. I asked for assistance on the main course, and I get the feeling that's not something the wait staff is trained in, as they are at some finer foody spots. The sommelier, however, was quite good, though brusque -- practically scolding me for considering a shiraz; admittedly, her recommendation was very well paired. The front desk, apart from possibly forgetting we existed, was pleasant and there were some nice touches like holding doggy bags at the front for you.
All in all -- good, but should be a bit better, and could be great. But that would take a shift in emphasis. Also, I fear that the party crowd won't encourage the kitchen to do better, which it should.
Thanks for the thoughful review, Brownhound. A previous poster who never posted before, at least under that name, slammed the place and recommended another one nearby, which raises my suspicions. That said, I have often found that Teresa Politano of the Star-Ledger will award more stars to places that, at least on our visit, clearly do not rise to that level. That seems to be the case here, where four stars should mean something more than "good, but should be a bit better."
OK please remember there are three completely different experiences here, this can be a complicated place
Brownhound has given an exceptional review of the main dining room, I would concur with most points after dinning there 5 times over the last 4 months.
There is another whole experience in the FTM area, which is a prix fixe, high end- farm to market experience set between the main dining room and the open kitchen. That experience was uneven at the start but I must say on our last visit has the potential to be the best dining experience in the state. I did not write a review yet, but will in the next few months and if it continues to improve it will be amazing.
This place has a buzz about it that almost whenever we are scheduling dinner with friends close to our house in Bernardsville we are being asked to go there, and even now while we are at the shore house we are being asked by friends there what we think due to all the press and of course the Richard Branson association.
The place has private memberships that limit the amount of tables available at peak dining times, creating a challenge to get a reservation which in itself creates a buzz of exclusivity that people want to attain to.
It should be on everyone's list of wanting to try but remember if you want a high end dining experience, you should sit in the prix fixe area,
If a nice casual meal with good value pricing and ok service in an exceptional environrnent, use the main dining area.
As I mentioned at start there is a third option. It is the cooking school on site. We have tried this once for a birthday party of 10 friends and it was amazing. Check out the web site for the schedule and a description of what takes place there.
PRETENTIOUS as hell. But I guess you should expect that givin the area.Foods not that great either. Tons of wine if your into that sorta thing though. Kind of loud inside even when it's not crowded.There's another new place in the area that's MUCH better. Check out Sublime when you get a chance. You won't be disappointed!
Our group of three had dinner there about 3 weeks ago.
Overall I felt the food was a disappointment. My salad was way over-dressed and soggy. The duck was over-cooked and flavor-less. The squash soup was a hit with the other dinners. The steak was tender and well-cooked but nothing extraordinary. The vegetarian entree was well-received. Breads were fantastic however. Service was friendly but slightly amateurish. Prices were not too high. It was a fairly noisy room.
Frankly elements in Princeton has much better food imo.