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Agricola, Princeton

Agricola Community Eatery opened for dinner this past Sunday and has immediately brought vitality and dining excellence back to its landmark location in the heart of Princeton.

J and I dined here last night with friends and really enjoyed the experience. It’s hard to believe they’ve been opened literally 4 days as our evening was nearly flawless. Our congratulations to owner Jim Nawn, executive chef Josh Thomsen and all involved in getting Agricola open for the community.

Upon entering, one is immediately attracted to the rustic finishes befitting a farm to table dining establishment. Rough hewn beams, exposed brick walls, tile floors, wood ceilings, an expansive pewter bar and industrial lighting all combine to enhance the casual rustic theme. The interior of the former Lahiere’s has been opened up and expanded creating a generous bar and windowed lounge area along with 3 separate dining areas and the adjacent eat in kitchen. It was a transformation well done and worth waiting for.

Diners have a choice of rooms when booking an online reservation. Depending on one’s mood, we would recommend the Parlor room off the bar for a casual dinner with friends, the Community room in the center of it all for a bit more energetic experience with a swirl of activity around it’s high top tables and you, or for a more refined dinner the Family room that’s tucked away from it all and is fitted with more comfortable seating. A small courtyard has been added to the rear of the building for additional dining space as soon as weather permits.

We started the evening with cocktails at the bar and were struck by the similarities to ABC Kitchen in NYC. All service staff at Agricola are dressed in similar plaid button down shirts and jeans as those at ABC, add some whitewash to Agricola's brick walls along with white furniture and you could be in the same place. That’s not a bad thing as we have really enjoyed dining at ABC.

The primary difference is the chef at ABC sources his produce from regional farmers at the nearby Union Square green market. Here at Agricola, the owner’s Great Road Farm is no more than a few minutes away and is the chef’s source. Agricola's menu covers are printed with lists of what produce to expect from the farm during each season - spring, summer, fall and winter. Nice touch.

The food at Agricola is exemplary. A lot of thought has been put into composing a limited menu that will emphasize the seasonal produce and local provisions to satisfy diners on a daily basis. Our compliments to chef Thomsen and we look forward to seeing how the menu changes throughout the growing season.

We enjoyed apps of cod fritters, octopus, poached egg and the excellent gem salad then entrees of the mushroom stew, arctic char, short ribs and red snapper. The depth of flavor in the wild mushroom stew was phenomenal. The short ribs were a generous and hearty portion. Our red snapper served with three pei mussels in a flavorful turnip broth was wonderful and we would order again.

The value here is excellent. With no entrees over $30, Agricola is a welcome alternative to our other local favorites - many with a majority of $30 to $45+ entrees. Agricola’s wine and spirits menu is extensive and we enjoyed a favorite bottle of Shypoke with our dinner.

We welcome Agricola to Princeton and look forward to returning on a frequent basis.

As a matter of fact, we’re returning tonight!

http://www.agricolaeatery.com/

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  1. Sounds great. Thanks for the review. I'm looking forward to trying.

    1. Nice review, you had me at "similarities to ABC Kitchen" - I love that restaurant so having something similar here in Princeton would be terrific.

      1. Was able to secure a reservation for dinner the other night. We had a wonderful evening. The space is a complete transformation from the old and stuffy Lahieres. It now looks fresh and energetic and very inviting. It's quite rustic inside but still manages to maintain an air of sophistication. The food was excellent. We had the kale salad and the octopus to start. Both were good, but the kale salad was outstanding. The cilantro dressing was light and refreshing and had just he right amount of acid. For dinner we had the arctic char, the mushroom flatbread, the scallops, and the pasta dish. They were all cooked perfectly, but the two stars of the evening were the pasta with fresh peas and the arctic char with quinoia and currants. Service was very friendly and attenive but not stuffy at all. The servers are young and hip but all seem knowledgeable. I found the prices to be reasonable for the quality of food and the overall experience of the evening. I highly recommend and will definitely go back.

        1. Thanks for the great review. We had dinner at Agricola last night. All the food was wonderful. We had the kale salad, which was big enough to share, the scallops, short ribs, and rosemary potatoes. This was a little too much food for us to eat and we spipped dessert. The water glasses are a little small and we had to keep asking for refills. I think as the servers get more seasoned they will think to refill the small water glasses. The restaurant is a definite winner and we will return again.

          1. Thanks all. We've been back to Agricola 4 times since our first visit - twice for dinner and twice for cocktails with lighter fare in the front bar / lounge.

            Each visit has been great and has allowed us to try most of the current menu.

            From the bar menu, we'd recommend the mushroom flatbread - addictingly great, and the Agricola burger. Our burger last night was well seasoned, grilled to a perfect medium rare, simply topped with cheese, house made pickles and aioli. It's now our local fav.

            From the dining menu, we'd recommend the market salad (now kale, as described by madgreek99 above), octopus or goat cheese and potato terrine to start. Stand out entrees include the chicken (yes the chicken!), the pork chop, short rib or the arctic char.

            Service continues to impress with well trained and engaging staff.

            Lunch will be starting as early as next week with weekend brunch to follow.

            1. We dined here last night. We will be back. Everything was excellent and I thought the prices were fair. Loved the tender octopus and poached egg appetizers. The pork chop entree was delicious as were the scallops. Only complaint was with the small portion size of the scallop entree as compared to the juicy pork chop dish which was very generous and served with apple, cabbage and grits. I didn't expect a huge portion but it was described as being accompanied by cauliflower, so I certainly expected more than 6 tiny florets garnishing the 3 scallops on the plate. I would have ordered a side of vegetables if I had known it would not be too much. The raisin and caper sauce was delicious though and the scallops were perfectly cooked.

              Cocktails were good -- loved the "dirt" martini with pickled vegetable juice and onions. We opted for the cheese plate for dessert so didn't try the sweets. Next time...

              2 Replies
              1. update: Agricola now serves their full menu at the bar and the adjacent bar tables. Finally!

                Menu has changed a bit with the season. Food continues to impress.

                1. Just looked at the menu. Nice! Would you recommend this for an anniversary dinner? We have never been here. I was looking into Elements, but when I did a search, this came up!

                  Thanks for any help!!

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Angelina

                    it all depends on your preferred ambiance. My top 3 for an anniversary dinner would be:

                    elements - chef's table if it's within the budget. An absolutely great dinner. A dining adventure. Semi-private. J and I celebrated a memorable event here a couple years ago (at the chef's table) and still consider it one of our best nights out in Princeton. Full disclosure: We returned for another dinner in the dining room and did not enjoy it as much. Loud. Just ok service. Tables for 2 along the banquette are awkward in width so you end up too far from your date!

                    Here's the chef's table info: http://www.elementsprinceton.com/menu...

                    Peacock Inn - Classic dining experience. More traditional and sedate than elements or Agricola. Excellent cuisine and service. Perfect for a special occasion.

                    Agricola - New kid in town. Brooklyn hip. Great cuisine. Innovative cocktails. OK wine list. Very busy and less comfortable than Peacock. If you're looking for a less formal (than Peacock) or less adventurous cuisine (than elements) then you'll enjoy Agricola. I'd suggest requesting the "kitchen" or the "family" dining rooms. Both would be preferred over the parlor or community room.

                    Any of these 3 would be a great pick for an anniversary dinner. Enjoy your special evening!

                    1. re: Foody4life

                      I did the chef's table with my wife at Elements a few years ago, for my birthday. It was touted as 9 courses, but ended up being more like 15. And I was stuffed at the end because my wife wouldn't eat most of what was served. Great, great meal. We dropped about $300 for the two of us. Well worth it for a special occasion.

                      1. re: MarlboroMan

                        My wife and I celebrated our anniversary there last march also. We didn't do the Chef's table, just a regular dinner. It was a wonderful experience.

                  2. I cannot tell you how happy I am I read this post last month! Last night was our 2nd trip there and yet again, it was fabulous!!

                    We went a few weeks ago to celebrate our anniversary. I did not like the first table they were seating us at, and the hosts were very nice and quickly gave us a much better table. The food is incredible! The goat cheese terrine was super creamy, and the Cape May scallops were so sweet! The steak was so tender as well. The GM made us feel so welcome and he was simply a pleasure to speak with! He was so kind, he even sent us over an incredible dessert of mini items on the menu! Very nice touch! The GM is Thomas and he really has the restaurant flowing and all customers are satisfied!

                    Since that was such a delightful experience, we went again last night! The kale salad is the best kale salad I ever had! Whatever they do to it, it is so fresh and has such great flavor!! Try the corn soup! Super sweet corn..yumm.

                    Again, the Cape May Scallops are my favorite, so I had them again! The staff is great and Thomas was there to greet us and we had another fantastic dinner!

                    So thank you Food4life!! I read your post and made me want to go..again and again!!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Angelina

                      Thanks Angelina, so glad you enjoyed. The goat cheese terrine and the scallops are my current favs as well.

                    2. We had dinner on Saturday evening, and once again, it was delicious. The heirloom tomato salad was perfect. The tomatoes were wonderful as was the almond hummus that dressed the plate. I have never tasted anything like it before. For dinner, the scallops were excellent, cooked perfectly, and the accompaniments were wonderful. The only item that could use improvement was dessert. We shared the peach pie. The crust was nice, but the peaches just didn't taste "peachy". A little disappointing considering it is the summer and NJ has such wonderful fresh peaches.

                      1. We finally had a chance to try Agricola today. Our experience was mixed. Overall we were disappointed because we had pretty high expectations based on positive reviews here and elsewhere.

                        Here's the breakdown:

                        Drinks: Martini was lousy. Way, way, way too much vermouth. My wife liked her cosmo.

                        Most of the food we had was very good.

                        Apps: Kale salad, heirloom tomato and watermelon salad, shishito peppers, and berkshire ham were all very good. Unfortunately,The heirloom tomato soup was not good at all. Way undersalted and just not tasty.

                        Mains: All very good. Pork chop, scallops, trout were excellent.

                        Desserts: Peach pie was very weak. lots of stringy peach peels in the pie that threw off the texture. crust was raw on bottom.

                        The service had real issues. Our waitress, while very nice, kept dropping things. She spilled my wife's drink upon delivery. Dropped a couple of forks on our table, Dropped a plate. My wife and I could not remember having a waitress with that kind of clumsiness in our 20 years of frequent dining out together.

                        Timing was off too. There was a very long gap between apps and mains.

                        Our peach pie made about 4 trips around the dining room, as one of the managers could not figure out what table it belonged to. By the time we got it, the ice cream had mostly melted and the pie was no longer warm.

                        All of this would be easier to accept if the place weren't charging high end nyc prices. If you are going to charge that much (which is ok with me), you've got to deliver at that level. Agricola did not tonight.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: freshmanjs

                          I'd been holding off posting anything about Agricola after we tried it for brunch back in June - but I had to echo your service issues. Agreed they were very nice but it was not at all efficient or polished like I'd expect for a place like that.

                          One of our friends ordered soup and there was no soup spoon brought with it. Drinks came out but just for a few of us, then it took awhile for the rest of our party to get their drinks. A few of us ordered coffee but only one of us got a spoon to mix the cream and sugar. My friend ending up using the same spoon to eat her soup because it took forever to get our server to come over.

                          My husband ordered one of the sticky rolls and a few minutes later, the server came by with a sweet roll on the house. I would have thought they should mention that - the roll is like a small cake and had my husband known, we wouldn't ordered the other one.

                          As for the food, I thought brunch was just meh. I really wanted to like the burger but the onion roll was way too chewy and had little give. They'd do better with brioche. The egg dishes we had were fine. My friend did enjoy his kale salad which was the highlight.

                          We don't get out as much lately now that we have a toddler but honestly I have very little interest in returning for a meal even if we were sans toddler for a night. I might like to sit in the bar and get a drink since the atmosphere there is quite nice.

                          1. re: freshmanjs

                            I agree that service is the weak point here. They've cycled thru a couple of GM's and the service is definitely hit or miss.

                            We prefer dining at the bar but the bartenders at Agricola are not our favs. Takes forever for one in particular to make each drink - all the while never conversing with a guest or taking an order from a nearby waiting customer.

                            Cold and unwelcoming service is not the way to retain local regulars.

                            Regarding desserts - get the meyer lemon cheesecake and order a limoncello to go with it. A great way to end the evening here!

                          2. We have been wanting to go there since they got great reviews in the Philly Inquirer, but we could never find a time we could get there when they had any availability. They are that popular. So, we are surprised to find ourselves in the minority, having been significantly underwhelmed.

                            The place is quite interesting to look at. And, our service was very pleasant, though for a Sunday night, the kitchen seemed very slow.

                            My husband ordered a Glenlivet 12. The price was about right for a generous pour. We shared a bottle of an average Crianza ‘09. At $44, the markup wasn’t unreasonable, though the wine was just OK.

                            The menu is pretty limited, which is fine. I prefer a well planned menu that has only a few choices that are prepared perfectly to a large offering that has too many off dishes.
                            We shared 2 appetizers. My husbands choice was pickled vegetables. He liked them. Other than a sour pickle or tomato with deli, I am not a fan, so I’m not the person to judge them. I found them dull. More of a nibble than a real appetizer. But, that is the problem with all the starters. They are either soups or salads or simple veg offerings designed to show off what is fresh, but no really complex dishes. Our other starter was grilled shoshito peppers, perfectly grilled on a bed of a bland puree. Again, a dish that would have made a good nosh for a table of 4 or more, but way too much of a simple We have been looking forward to eating at Agricola since they opened, but it was very hard to find a time we wanted to go when they had dish for just 2 people.

                            The entrees screamed well executed but not memorable. My husbands chicken was juicy. The accompanying fingerlings were delicious. Anyone with a general cookbook or the inclination to browse Epicurious could have found a more interesting way to prepare the fresh, but nothing more, green beans. The greens at the center of the plate were tasty, though. My pork chop wasn’t dried out. Nothing more worth saying about it. A half a roasted peach stuck on the plate tasted like an ordinary ripe peach you stuck in the oven for an appropriate amount of time. The collards under my pork were nice and smokey and the most interesting part of the dish.

                            While the rest of the meal was unremarkable, the dessert was remarkable in its dry tastelessness - layers of a dry chocolate beet cake with a goat cheese cream between layers. I felt like I was a child licking out the cream on Oreos, since that was the only part of the dish that was satisfying.

                            Espresso had good flavor, but was lukewarm. No plans to go back. It is not even close to our 2 Princeton favorites, Mediterra and Blue Point.

                            1. come here for dessert--the cheesecake is the best thing on the menu.