Elysian Cafe (Hoboken)

What to do on a Thursday night in Hoboken when I am not trying to “hook-up” or get falling-down drunk? That’s easy. Ask Tommy:eats for a recommendation. And he came through like a champ!

My wife met some friends for early drinks and I drove down later to meet her for dinner. The only restaurant I know in Hoboken is Arthur’s Tavern, a fun place to go with a group, or with kids, but I can make a mediocre steak any time, so that was out. And of course Vito’s Deli (click for the music!) for the best Italian heroes on the planet. But Vito’s doesn’t serve martinis (if they did I would move to Hoboken).

Tommy pointed us towards a bistro just a few blocks from Vito’s, called Elysian Cafe. As soon as I saw the big double doors and the warm, friendly look of the place I was hooked. We walked in to find a packed bar, but not in that “gee, if I get bumped once more I am going to hit someone” way. Our original plan was to eat at the bar, of course, but we were also hungry and didn’t feel like waiting. So on to the back of the restaurant we went, into a nicely lit, old-fashioned sort of room. It had incredible plaster work on the ceiling and walls, and great looking, and obviously very old, tile floors. The place has been a restaurant or bar in some form since 1895, which they claim makes it the oldest in Hoboken. I cut most of the lectures in my New Jersey Urban History class so I can’t say whether it’s true, but there is an air of authenticity to everything, which contributes to the warm and friendly feel. It doesn’t look like the owners went through a catalog to find “authentic” 19th century fixtures.

But on to the food and drink!

Excellent martini. Very good margarita, but only after I grilled the waiter about the use of fluorescent green ersatz lime juice made in a factory. In fairness to the bartender, I have no idea whether his default is fresh-squeezed lime juice, but I didn’t want to be unpleasantly surprised. My gut feeling is that any bartender who has Johnny Cash’s cover of U2’s “One” on his iPod is going to use fresh-squeezed.

We started with chicken livers and a goat cheese and lardon salad. Anything with goat cheese and lardon is going to be good, and this didn’t disappoint. The kitchen crumbled the goat cheese so that it was distributed nicely throughout the greens; a nice touch. The livers were great! They were big chunks of liver sautéed in an intense Madeira reduction, and then served over some sliced baguette. Simple, classic and excellent.

I then had oysters that were nice and fresh, but a couple were a bit washed-out tasting, almost as if they were rinsed and then put back into the shells. There is nothing like the combination of the salty brine and the sweetness of the oyster. Oh, well.

The mains were well executed and larger than I expected. The little woman had Steak Frites, and the fries were perfect. Seriously. They were the equal of the best we have ever had. The steak was good too. Nicely cooked, fairly tender, and with good beefy flavor. I had the Marinated Skirt Steak, which came with a mound of Mushroom Risotto. I am a sucker for mushroom risotto, and will order it whenever I see it, but I didn’t expect much, and I was happily incorrect. The rice was cooked nicely, and there was just enough mushroom to flavor the dish without overwhelming it.The skirt steak was cooked to order, and was interesting and good.

We were surprised by the quality of the food coming out of the kitchen. This is not a great restaurant, but they execute a simple menu very well. The service is pleasant and attentive, and the crowd is there to have good food and good drink, not as a stop on the road to inebriation. I would hesitate [I went back last night with kids and adults and would now suggest that it is a good destination. 5/10/2008] to say that it is worth a trip to Hoboken, but if you are there and need a good meal, give this place a try; you won’t be disappointed.

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