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Nov 4, 2013 11:01 AM

*Unpretentious* but special birthday dinner, preferably farm-y

My parents are visiting from L.A. in a few weeks for Thanksgiving and my mom's 60th. We both live to eat, cook, and generally obsess about food. My mom is a private corporate chef. I am one of those insufferable millennial/"Portlandia"-type foodies for whom a meal can never be too organic and local--or alternately, exotic.

We currently have a reservation at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, which is pretty much THE dream meal I envisioned for my mom's special birthday. However, over the last few days, my sister and I have come to the sober (and very sad) conclusion that BH@SB is just too much of a splurge for us in our current financial situations. ($148/person seemed reasonable for a very special occasion dinner until we factored in wine, tax, and gratuity...)

So now I am kind of scrambling to come up with alternatives for a SPECIAL but not pretentious, early Sunday evening dinner in the $100-150/person range without wine. I am considering some NYC restaurants but would love to stay in Jersey, especially for a more rustic, sedate farm-y experience.

Geography: Anywhere north of Lambertville/Princeton.

I moved here from SF last year so I have not tried many places yet and some of the reviews I've read on higher-end NJ dining here, on Yelp and on Google/Zagat have me a bit concerned about pretentiousness in food as well as service. We are adventurous eaters who appreciate creative menus, but value quality above novelty -- in other words, I'd rather have a perfect pork chop than a mediocre Korean-inspired short rib tourtiere. And we are definitely not into the stuffy, white-glove vibe.

Here are some of the places we're considering:

Eno Terra (have been here)
Ninety Acres
Bernards Inn
A Toute Heure
Ryland Inn

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  1. Go on Saturday (they are closed Sunday) to The Pass in Rosemont. Check out the previous thread on this place. It is exactly what you are looking for. $38.50 prix fixe, locally sourced, French techniques, rustic, and delicious. Based upon what you are looking for, this is a no brainer.

      1. I can't lie...I sort of laughed at your list after reading about how you want *unpretentious*! I say that knowing that you don't know, but...having been to both the Bernards Inn and Lorena's, they're not what you're looking for. The word I would definitely use to describe them is stuffy! Lorena's food is fantastic--no doubt there, and the service was excellent. But it is also tiny, with low ceilings, so it felt a bit claustrophobic to us.

        Ninety Acres or Ryland Inn sound like they're what you're looking for, but I'd look carefully at their prices online beforehand; hopefully others can chime in about the cost.

        I have a few other suggestions:

        Blu in Montclair (BYO) always has a tasting menu available and the pricing is INSANELY good; as in, $65 for 5 (?) courses. Really. Even if you go a la carte, it's hard to spend more than that per person AND you can bring your own wine. Service is impeccable and the chef is about as creative as you'll get in NJ! Search on this board or just Google and you can read/see more about it.

        Pairings in Cranford (also BYO) is also a wonderful option; I've taken my mom there for Mother's Day and she was thrilled specifically b/c it *wasn't* a typical M's D brunch. I also planned a dinner for 18 following my friends' civil union ceremony (aside: soon to be MARRIED-YAY) and people are still talking about it. Bonus: A talented FEMALE chef/owner! Your mom might enjoy that. :-)

        If you do decide to go in to the city, my current favorite is a bit off the beaten path, as it's in Battery Park City; North End Grill. It's a very handsome restaurant; part of the Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality Group, and the chef/partner is Floyd Cardoz, who you may know as a winner of Top Chef Masters. The food is amazing, but separate of that, I love sitting at the 'counter' in front of the open kitchen so I can watch the show! The other fun is taking a train to Hoboken and getting on a ferry to the World Financial Center for the 3-minute ride across the Hudson; when you get off, you're literally 1/2 block from the restaurant.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Curlz

          I'm going to North End Grill in 5 hours :)

          1. re: coldbeer

            That's just MEAN, Coldbeer! Tell Chef I say hi :-)

            1. re: Curlz

              Had the chicken burger...pretty good!

              1. re: coldbeer

                Haven't had that yet, but every time I go I'm swooning... Did you sit at the kitchen counter?

                1. re: Curlz

                  Nah there were four of us I was looking for Bifpocaroba, but didn't see him.

                  1. re: coldbeer

                    Definitely worth sitting there if there are just two of you...

        2. I concur Blu is excellent and so is North End Grill.

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