Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lorena's - Maplewood, NJ

If there was one restaurant in NJ at the top of my 2010 Must Try list, Lorena's would it, and we finally made the trip up to Maplewood today to give it a try for ourselves.

After receiving an e-mail on Thursday about the new launch of the Sunday afternoon, early 2 course pre fixe menu for $32 that started today, what better reason to go up to Lorena's and check it out. This menu is served from 2PM-4:30PM. It worked out even better since I received a wine shipment from  Kistler Vineyards this past week, of which some of the wines belonged to my good friend, and winemaker Steve Eisenhauer, who lives a hop, skip, and a jump from Lorena's.

Steve has been kind enough to share allocations with us on some great wines, such as Scarecrow, and he has jumped in on a few of our allocations as well, this one being Kistler. On a side note, be sure to check out Steve's wine, Congruence.  I was fortunate enough to try the 2007 Congruence back in November, and it is definitely an up and coming cabernet sauvignon! You can tell that Steve has put his heart and soul into this wine, and his meticulous wine knowledge really makes this wine a treat! With that being said, I highly suggest you sign up for his mailing list, as his wines are made is small quantities, and will sell out fast. We are really looking forward to his 2008 release!

Back to the task at hand, we met Steve and Sue at their home, and headed over to Lorena's. We parked in the lot behind the restaurant, and turned the corner into what is a gorgeous little town. This was my first trip to Maplewood, but I am sure it will not be our last. Maplewood really reminded me of a town back in Illinois, but I can’t remember which town it was from my youth. Regardless, it had some nice charm.

I made a 3PM reservation, and we were greeted by the friendly staff. We were seated in the dining room to the right as you walk in, at a 4 top in the window, and were the only customers at the time. But really, who goes out to lunch at 3PM on a Sunday? The dining room was small and quaint, with some artwork and sconces covering the light sea foam green colored walls. The tables were spaced nicely, and covered with nice clean white linens.

Our server noticed that we had red wine, and immediately removed the white glasses, and brought red glasses to our table. As I always say, it is nice to see good stemware, and Lorena's is one of the few restaurants where we can leave the Riedel's at home and use their stemware. This is always a bonus, so kudos to Lorena's for the decent stemware. First wine opened was the 1999 Hartford Court Marin pinot noir that I brought, so feel free to read the notes in the previous post.

We were handed two different menus, and all of our eyes immediately focused on the 2 course pre fixe menu's priced at $32. Our server explained that it was a tasting menu, so the portions would be smaller, but this is always expected, and we were not disappointed in the least. A tasting menu is just that, and gives you a nice little preview of their entrees. I can say that none of us were disappointed in the least by this.

We chatted over a glass of wine, and in the mean time, our server brought over a basket of bread, ranging from some raisin bread rolls, to a brioche, to a few other kinds. This was a nice assortment, and served with butter topped with cracked sea salt.

Our waiter returned to take our order, and we all opted to go the pre fixe route. Zelda opted for the Sushi Grade Big Eye Tuna, with a Yuzu marmalade, radish, organic avocado puree, and smoked sea salt as her starter, and this was absolutely gorgeous. This was a great cut of tuna, and the two pieces were served over a gorgeous green avocado puree. The tuna had a great color to it, and from the bite that I had, I would order this in a heartbeat on our next visit as it was perfect. The tuna was very fresh, and had some great flavor to it. Sue had ordered this as well as her starter, and I think the both of them were happy with their choice.

For my starter, I chose the Duck Confit, with endive, apples, Roquefort, candied walnut, with a roasted shallot emulsion, and this too was far from disappointing! The flavors all worked so well together, and the duck confit was nice and tender, and cooked absolutely perfectly. What I really liked was how all the flavors played off of each other, from the endive, to the apple, to the sweetness of the walnut, to the shallot, to the pungent Roquefort. The flavors were endless, and it left my taste buds very happy. This was an absolute winner, and every bite gave you tastes of different elements. This was absolutely awesome.

Steve had the Spring Pea Soup, with fresh peas, a balsamic reduction, smoked bacon, and crouton. This was a gorgeous bowl of soup, with a seductive green color. From the look on Steve's face, and from seeing how empty his bowl was, I am sure that he enjoyed it.

Shortly after we finished our starters, we were down to the sediment in the pinot noir, so our waiter opened up the '96 Jadot that Steve and Sue had brought. I can't remember for certain which wine this was, but I did e-mail Steve to find out. Regardless, this was a very nice wine, with many years ahead of it. It seemed to drink so young, and I look forward to finding a bottle of this in the future to age. There is nothing as elegant as aged Burgundy, and I think this wine will develop for another 10-15 years. In that time frame, I think it will knock your socks off at the price, so hopefully I can find a bottle in the future to cellar.

For mains, Zelda and Sue opted for the Atlantic Halibut, with a vegetable fricassee of peas, fava beans and Brussels sprouts, with smoked bacon and a cauliflower puree. Chef Humberto was kind enough to make this to Sue's dietary restrictions, as well as Zelda's since she does not eat the swine. Zelda enjoyed this dish and the flavors, and if she had to make a complaint, it was that it was just a tiny bit overcooked, making it just a bit dry. Even so, she still enjoyed it, and it did look delicious.

I opted for the Braised Beef Short Ribs, with poached green asparagus, fine herb and mushroom fricassee, topped with a pan fried hen egg, and a natural jus. I am a huge short rib fan, and these were some of the best I’ve had. At first, I was a little skeptical with the egg, but this added such a unique element to the dish, and worked so well as the egg was cooked to perfection. The yoke was soft and runny, and the way this melded the dish together was awesome. The short rib was cooked very nicely, and very tender, and the meat pulled apart with little to no effort, with just a few small traces of fat. The asparagus spears were cooked nicely, and the flavors all worked so well together. This was a stomach pleaser for certain, and I couldn’t have been any happier with my selection.

Steve opted for the Sea Scallops, with morel mushrooms, Fiddlehead ferns, charred spring onions, white truffle oil and a mushroom emulsion, and it too looked nice, with 3 large scallops adorning his plate. Yet again, another delicious dish, and I am sure that Steve enjoyed this as well.

After dinner, we opted to skip dessert, enjoyed the rest of our glasses of wine, and had some good conversation. By this point, there were other diners in the restaurant, and it was starting to fill up. I will say that I couldn’t have been any happier with the food, the service, and the ambiance. This was a great lunch, and a great little preview for our next visit to Lorena’s.

On the way out, one of the staff was waiting at the door to hand Zelda her umbrella, and Steve had a chat with Chef Humberto on the way out. All in all, a heck of a great meal, and a very nice value for such elegant, high quality cuisine made with heart. Chef Humberto has some talent, and his creative menu highlights this.

I will say, that although the dining room is small, this would be a great place to have an offline for the oenophiles. For those in NYC, this is just a few short steps from the Maplewood train station, so it would be very easy to get do. With the fine cuisine, you could do a multitude of different wine themes, and it would make for a great night. Food for thought!

All in all, kudos to Lorena’s for a great experience, and we look forward to another visit in the future! Cheers!

168 Maplewood Avenue
Maplewood, NJ 07040
Phone: (973)763-4460


Anonymous said...

Nice to hear that you enjoyed yourself. I found the food over-salted and the staff very full of themselves. The whole experience was rather disappointing and I live in Maplewood, so I was really hoping I would love it!

Anonymous said...

Im Sorry to hear that i have been to Lorena's tons of times and it has been nothing but an excellent dining experience. Food Is Flavorful and seasoned just enough and service is attentive and friendly.