New Jersey vs NYC/Philadelphia
With one of the highest average household incomes in the nation, why is that most New Jerseyans will travel to NYC or Philadelphia for a great meal? Why hasn't NJ attracted celebrity chefs? Why aren't there restaurants in the state that rival the likes of Per Se, Vetri, or Le Bernardin? New Jersey should have a steakhouse that rivals Peter Luger. Do these restaurants exist in NJ? Sure, when it comes to hot dogs and diners, NJ hardly has any peers. But I'm talking about the restaurants that dreams are made of. Am I missing something? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Density is the answer. NYC is a vertical city, with millions of people in a small place. An expensive restaurant can be much more easliy supported because so many affluent people are close by. A restaurant in the suburbs (even counting that NJ has the highest population density in the US) doesn't have that kind of support. So NJ people will drive the hour to NYC for a weekend night and get served.
And don't forget a sizeable percentage of fine dining in NY are doing so on expense accounts.
The sophistication of patrons in large cities supports great restaurants. Suburbs do not. It's a pretty easy question. NY is a major cultural center, you aren't going to find Lincoln Center Opera, Broadway shows, or museums like the Met in the burbs. New Jerseyans even fight on these boards about how great Olive Garden is!
Nicholas in Middletown exists like a 1990's NYC hotspot: still amazingly detail-oriented, turning out intricate and creative dishes, but the luster has slightly dimmed despite no shortcomings. too close but too far from the shore, perhaps
I don't have firsthand knowledge concerning the status of stellar Italian restaurants in North Jersey, but from what I gather, they exist, and some rival NYC spots. I am from Philly and have done Osteria but never Vetri, would very much love to. Osteria's upscale trattoria very much trumps the enjoyable Stella Marina, but is not miles above. As far as disarmingly casual Italian featuring exquisite food, the Jersey Shore is replete with places like Bay Ave Trattoria and Piccola Italia, etc.
The steakhouses in NYC seem to be more atmosphere-oriented than anything, in that you pay for an experience, whether or not some dry-age Kobe gold overpriced cow is "worth" $75. We have plenty of that, and Danny's in Red Bank uses the same NYC purveyors, and have some devoted regulars
Anything to rival Per Se, though? Na
Bay Ave Trattoria
122 Bay Ave, Highlands, NJ 07732
Stella Marina Bar & Restaurant
1200 Ocean Ave, Asbury Park, NJ 07712
837 W Park Ave, Ocean, NJ 07712