I know the golden rule is to not eat at a brand new restaurant the first week it opens. But the location was convenient to where we were heading that night, and I didn’t know it was only two days old. I had read that Terre a Terre in Carlstadt, NJ is owned by a chef who worked with Marcus Samuelsson. That was an immediate draw for me.
Finding the entrance was a bit puzzling. There are three doors, and the one at the corner is not the way in. But once you set foot inside, you immediately feel like you’re in an old farmhouse. In fact, I want to live in either of the two dining rooms. The decor is comforting, right down to the potato-sack window treatment. The menus are tied with rope onto a slice of tree. I thought “splinter” as the waitress extended it to me, but the boards have a smooth finish.
Each menu item indicates the farm from where the main ingredient came. While that’s reassuring to me that it is a true farm-to-table restaurant, I can not make a distinction between a good farm and a bad farm. But I now feel cool knowing that Shibumi Farm in Princeton specializes in mushrooms. The name stuck with me like a television jingle. I suppose it’s nice to give the farmer credit. Two of us started with the Butternut Squash Bisque, and while the flavors were rustic and autumnal, mine was cold and my friend’s was hot. The variety of warm rolls served in a bread basket with farm butter topped with Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt helped me to overlook this adolescent mistake.
Several entrees came out cold as well, but I was too busy enjoying my Crispy Skin Bass with macerated sweet potatoes, haricot verts with shellfish vermouth sauce to be concerned with the shortcomings of the others’ dishes. I know – selfish. In the following days I grew more irritated thinking about how it was even possible to get repeated cold dishes. But I wanted badly to love this restaurant. The ambiance embraced me like a warm fire (feel the irony?)…and the flavors and presentation of the dishes were more than promising.
And so two weeks later I returned. This night would determine which way my ambivalence would turn. The answer was revealed the second I stuck my fork in the hot appetizer: the Viking Village Day Boat Scallops, served with mustard seed, cauliflower purée, cappicolla, dried cranberry and soft herbs.
Then Todd, the owner, made it a point to come over to see how our entrees looked. This time I went with the Mosefund Farm Pork “filet mignon” (tenderloin), which was beautifully crispy on the outside and buttery soft to cut through the meat. It was accompanied by lavender cabbage, acorn squash risotto and heirloom apples. After spea
king with us for a few moments, Todd said, “Eat it while it’s hot.” He remembered well.
So be a little forgiving if a restaurant just opened. Even the best ones have to get the oil running through the machine. I didn’t give this one too much leeway to pass the test, by returning in two weeks, but it passed with flying colors and farm-rich flavors.
Lump crab croquette, fennel root, grapes, pistachio