Ox Restaurant In…Jersey City? [closed]

When I moved from sunny California back to the East Coast, I didn’t tell anyone that I was moving to New Jersey. I was just too embarrassed. But at least I live in a really nice part of the state, in an attractive little town. But, Jersey City? That’s about as bad as it gets, at least to those who have no idea. In reality, Jersey City has undergone a bit of a transformation, and if Ox Restaurant is any indication, it is far hipper than the Meatpacking District or Red Hook.

But I am not sure what to say about this restaurant. I ordered well and had one of the nicest restaurant meals of the past year. My wife screeched slightly less triumphantly after the meal, but her dishes were interesting and serious, if not completely successful. However, the bartender irritated me, and it wasn’t his banter, which was fine. He poured short shots into three of the four drinks I watched him make. Two were because he was at the end of the bottle, but any good bartender would open a new bottle and finish making the drinks correctly. The other? I won’t speculate. In retrospect, this irritated me more than it should have, because everything else was impressive. The greeter was professional, efficient and friendly. I did some reading on the restaurant’s web site and discovered that one of the partners worked at Gramercy Tavern, and this might have something to do with the skill of the front desk woman. Her demeanor reminded me of the professionalism of a Danny Meyer restaurant. In my book, that is high praise.

We sat down, and instead of the usual bread service, the waiter placed a small container of popcorn drizzled with some flavored oil and liberally doused with salt. After we devoured that and mentioned to the waiter how good and fun it was, he immediately presented us with another portion. I started with the ox tail appetizer, and that almost made me forget the bartender. Beautifully braised ox tail on a bed of polenta and just a dash of some kind of shallot reduction that they call jam, but I call good. The portion was nicely sized, the polenta wasn’t overcooked, and the meat was silky and tender…just great. My lovely wife ordered the grilled romaine, which was a great idea that didn’t quite work out. The dish came with a lightly fried egg on top, which was an interesting play on a traditional Caesar dressing. The croutons were excellent, and scattered about were some superb anchovies, whose name I cannot recall, but it sounded Spanish. The dressing was so light that it was difficult to detect anything about it. But the biggest problem was the grilled romaine. It wasn’t grilled at all, but rather steamed, whether because the grill wasn’t hot enough or the romaine wasn’t dried completely, I couldn’t tell.

The main courses were more successful. I had the snapper special, which was described by the waiter as a pink snapper that had strawberry flesh and skin. When pressed, he cheerfully admitted that he hadn’t tasted it, but that it was, supposedly, quite good. He was wrong…it was great. I like fish and will order it whenever I think the odds are good that it won’t be awful. This snapper was cooked perfectly. A delicate crust with wonderfully uniform flesh that didn’t have even the slightest bit of overcooked corner. It was placed on a bed of grits (I think) and dressed with some thinly sliced grape tomatoes and a few asparagus tips. A perfectly thought-out and executed dish. Very impressive. My wife had the crab and shrimp roll with lardons and a small baby arugula salad. Well done, but nothing out of the ordinary. We had a Mia’s Playground Chardonnay with the meal, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have never heard of it. Good stuff and very well-priced at $36. I also sneaked in a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, because it would have been rude not to drink it, especially because it was in tap.

The service was professional and unobtrusive. Even the bus-girl was a notch or two above the norm. The original artwork on the walls was interesting, although the stuff on the left side was much better than the stuff on the right side (the side I was facing). The joint has a minimalist look, almost stark, but there is a warmth that is undeniable. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their food, and for good reason; this is a serious restaurant that deserves to be noticed. We will absolutely return, even if we have drinks down the block before dinner (can you tell? I am still irritated by the bartender).

6 Replies to “Ox Restaurant In…Jersey City? [closed]”

  1. glad you enjoyed it. One of my favorites.

    The hostess is OUTSTANDING. After a few visits and some interaction I just naturally assumed that she is one of the owners or has a real financial stake in the place, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    She is also, if memory serves, a driving force behind the cocktail program which, aside from your dopey bartender, is pretty damned good. The “Jersey City” is a bourbon drink that I could just drink every day.

    One of the bartenders there definitely has some personality issues. He has soured my feeling for the place, which is a shame. I don’t think it’s the same guy you’re talking about though, so maybe they have two crappy bartenders? That would be horrible.

  2. I guess hostess is the word, but a good one does so much more than that word seems to indicate. Regardless, she is fantastic. By the way, I made the same assumption you did. Her attitude is exactly that of an owner who cares about every detail of the experience.

    We will be going back, and I hope that they have dealt with their bartender issues. There are enough good ones out there that a restaurant of this caliber shouldn’t have to settle for mediocrity. Of course it is possible that they are the owners, in which case we are screwed.

  3. As a fellow NJer, I feel for your embarrassment. I live in Stockton, right on the Delaware River and I still feel like I need to tell everyone I meet outside of the state that I don’t live on the turnpike.

    I’ve got to admit though, I have a bit of a sentimental thing for Jersey City—both the old and ghetto JC and the new and only semi-ghetto one. It’s got a certain, err, “charm.”

    But short shots? That is unacceptable in any city!!

  4. Your new neighborhood has some very good restaurants! I’m jealous. My wife and I have spent some time in Stockton and Lambertville, and we always ate very well. Our favorite, Number 9, is great!

    As for the charm? I used to go to East Oakland (California) for barbecue, so Jersey City is a breeze. And the food was excellent.

  5. I had Sunday brunch here in the spring. It was truly a delicious experience. However, I’ve tried to go back two other times for dinner service and both times they had closed early. I gave up on this place after we were turned away twice by them deciding to close early. Not a good place for late night commuter dinner.

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