New restaurants should be like Avis in their old commercials: “We try Harder.” And although the folks at this very new (they opened last Tuesday) Wayne restaurant certainly tried hard, it obviously is still a work in progress. Our waiter told us that two of the waiters quit on Saturday at 5:00pm, so I certainly will not ding them for being overwhelmed. And even if it isn’t true, we knew what we were getting into. After all, it just opened, plus it’s a pretty ballsy story, so he gets credit anyway. The remaining waiters really hustled, and someone recruited a 12-year-old kid, who shows great promise setting a table.
What I didn’t find to be lacking was the service, which was confused but earnest. And the presentation was excellent and interesting, so no problems there. I didn’t like the fact that both fish dishes were overcooked, while the steak and lamb were cooked perfectly. That tells me that whoever is running the kitchen either doesn’t have a handle on what is, at least to me, the most important part of cooking besides cleanliness . . . cooking both fish and meat to the correct temperature . . . or that he just isn’t too interested in fish — which is fine, but don’t put it on the menu.
But on to the meal. We started with crab cakes — excellent, served with a simple mustardy sauce — that were a bit small. A weird “Lobster Strudel” that I really didn’t like, but nobody else complained, so maybe I’m the one with no taste. A well-made onion tart, and a mushroom risotto (I can’t resist risotto). The risotto was well executed but a bit on the simple
side. . .just sautéed mushrooms and rice. I enjoyed it, but it should have been a more complex dish. The menu says “Wild Mushroom Risotto, Duck Confit, Port Syrup.” Not a chance. They were out of the duck confit appetizer, and obviously, there was no duck available for the risotto. And port? Nope.
The aforementioned steak, which they claim on the menu to be “dry-aged,” was perfectly cooked, but if it was dry-aged, it was in dog years. The rack of lamb was, once again, a simple preparation but obviously good enough that my brother-in-law finished it before I could snag a piece. He is a card-carrying carnivore, so I will trust his judgment. But how do you screw up salmon? I could tell it was overdone from across the table. My sister-in-law, a much, much nicer person than I, said, “oh, I like my fish well-done.” And my pancetta-wrapped monkfish? What a nice idea — and one that I will steal quite soon. But it just doesn’t fly when the monkfish is as crisp as the pancetta. Okay, I am exaggerating slightly, but it was dry and tough.
Wayne, New Jersey, is not a hotbed of fine dining. If these folks can iron out the significant kinks in the service (and figure out how to cook fish), they will succeed, and I will return. The prices were reasonable, it’s BYOB (always a wonderful thing), the decor is stark but not unpleasant (decorated with the chef’s girlfriend’s artwork, which isn’t bad), and they have a small room off to one side that can be used for private parties. I also would suggest to the owner-chef that he come out of the kitchen and take a look at the dining room every once and a while. The service was pretty ragged on his first Saturday night — so bad that some people left without eating — but I didn’t see him once. I am not owed a chat with the chef simply because I have eaten at his restaurant, but come on, on your first weekend? Ask how everything was. I would have told the truth, and then I’d come back!
I received a polite comment about my 9 North post…from the chef! I sent him the link because it’s tacky to criticize him behind his back. To his credit, he was nice, and didn’t tell me to stick my amateurish, asinine comments. He also pointed out that his steaks are indeed 21-day dry aged from a local company.
I think that Mr. Bernstein is a serious chef trying to create a serious restaurant, and I am going to take his food seriously. That means holding the experience to the standard that he is trying to reach, but hasn’t achieved yet. I think that he will get there.