Pluckemin Inn: Reviewed

by artfuldiner on March 29, 2009

in Review

Pluckemin Inn
359 Route 202/206
Bedminster, Somerset County, New Jersey
(908) 658-9292

By The Artful Diner
March 30, 2009

pluckeminNearly every professional “hired belly” within reasonable commuting distance has bestowed his/her culinary imprimatur upon Gloria LaGrassa’s Pluckemin Inn… and with good reason. The atmosphere is sophisticated but unstuffy, the service is impeccable, the wine list is every oenophile’s dream, and the cuisine…

Ah, yes… the cuisine. Executive Chef David C. Felton’s au courant American fare is thoroughly transporting. Contemporary, to be sure… but not convoluted. Infectiously attractive to the eye… but not self-servingly narcissistic. There is a pristine, unencumbered individuality with regard to both the select utilization of ingredients and their integration and presentation. The purity of style is reminiscent of my dining experiences at Restaurant Nicholas, which puts Mr. Felton in illustrious company, indeed.

The menu presents a number of diverse dining choices, including a four-course winter prix fixe, which is a comparative bargain at $45.00 per person (an additional $30.00 per person is charged for appropriate wine pairings).

For my money, however, there is more action taking place on the à la carte side. Here you find four categories. The first and second are basically appetizers, while sections three and four enumerate fish and meats, respectively. Several of these latter may also be ordered in appetizer portions. And if the mood strikes, you are also permitted to import items from the aforementioned prix fixe.

But if you really want to know what Mr. Felton’s kitchen is capable of, and also wish to cover a variety of gastronomic bases, my advice is to choose one item from section one or two, move on to a diminutive fish course; and then, depending upon the state of your appetite, choose an entrée size or abbreviated appetizer version from the meat course.

pluckemin-arugulaDuring a recent visit, for example, starters included an arugula salad and the marinated cauliflower ferried in from the prix-fixe side of the menu. The former incorporated hints of basil, delicate slices of mango, Surryano ham (the American counterpart to European prosciutto and Serrano ham), Marcona almonds, and crumbles of smoked blue cheese. The peppery arugula was carefully trimmed, the ham lean and luscious, and the other participants beguilingly complementary in their strong supporting roles.

The cauliflower was ingratiatingly firm to the bite and teamed with pungent slices of local apples, while crumbles of bacon and segments of green olives provided an earthy point/counterpoint. An irresistibly enticing coalescence of tastes and textures.

The fish course yielded two unmitigated delights. The first was the black cod. This is one finny creature that possesses a somewhat finicky countenance. If undercooked, it is very nearly inedible; if overcooked, the delicate flesh can turn mealy. Here, however, it was prepared to perfection, exhibiting just a touch of translucence at the center and accompanied by a winning combo of soba noodles, bean sprouts, and shiitake mushrooms. The consummatory touch was provided by an ambrosial apple-scented miso broth that was administered at table.

The very same may be said of the pan-seared halibut filet, a special of the evening. Beneath the golden brown crust, the flesh was snowy white and beautifully textured. It was set on an emerald sea of smoked green pea purée and crowned with a tiara of micro greens. Incomparable…

pluckemin-lamb-shank1And meat dishes demonstrate the same careful attention to detail, the same judicious utilization of ingredients, and the same subtle restraint as their piscatorial predecessors. The lamb shank, for example, literally falls off the bone and is rife with distinctive nuances of lamby flavor. Set on a creamy pillow of Anson Mills polenta, provocative finishing touches include an olive purée and understated acidity of gremolata.

The pasture-raised veal loin is yet another striking example of the kitchen’s prowess. The thick slices are remarkably tender while still maintaining their textural integrity. And they are teamed with ethereal nuggets of Parmesan gnocchi and finished with an exquisite vin Jura.

Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Joseph Gabriel, carry on with style. And those that I sampled — namely, the Valrhona chocolate timeline and jasmine tea rice pudding tart — are served up on large oblong plates and appear to draw their inspiration from Bento, a Japanese-style take-away in which a box is divided into numerous small compartments. The chocolate timeline, for instance, is comprised of Aztec hot cocoa, peanut butter sablé torte, and a frozen pudding pop; the rice pudding tart is companioned by caramelized pear, funnel cake, and dollop of pear & jasmine sorbet.

There is absolutely no question that Mr. Gabriel’s creations charm both the eye and the palate. On the other hand, after indulging in a variety of sumptuously innovative appetizers and entrées, I would have preferred denouements that were slightly less sweet and picture-perfectly over-the-top. I realize, of course, that this is strictly a personal preference and that others may disagree — my wife, for instance!

And for those who would prefer to do lunch, the “Plucky” tavern is a great place to settle in for a casual repast. The menu includes a variety of starters, sandwiches, and entrées, as well as a three-course “Power Lunch” priced at $25.00 per person.

Recently sampled were the fish ‘n’ chips and a hand-rolled pasta dish. The pasta was superb, firm to the bite and awash with an appetizing array of tender morsels of chicken, zesty Tasso ham, and cremini mushrooms. The fish ‘n’ chips were accompanied by ramekins of malt vinegar, remoulade, and ketchup. And while the fries were first-rate and the quality of fish beyond reproach, the batter, though discreetly administered, was quite soggy. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the lunch chef during the week is different from the one who held forth during out Saturday visit. But despite this relatively minor faux pas, I found the cuisine to be exceptional with regard to both preparation and presentation.

plukemin3The fruit of the vine also plays an important part in the Pluckemin Inn‘s approach to matters gastronomic… as the three-story glass wine tower, which cradles approximately 15,000 bottles, clearly attests. And sommelier/beverage direction Brian Hider is ever on hand to assist with diners’ oenological predilictions. Does a bottle of 1934 Romanée-Conti tickle your fancy…? It can be yours for a mere $25,000.

On the other hand, the restaurant also stocks an exceedingly wide range of reasonably priced vintages, as well as several outstanding options by the glass — including a top-flight Chassagne-Montrachet ($22.00) — and an intriguing selection of “Plucky” cocktails.

As I have mentioned on several previous occasions, the longer one rides the New Jersey culinary circuit as a professional restaurant reviewer, the more difficult it becomes for individual establishments to stand out in the crowd. But the Pluckemin Inn does just that — and significantly so. It is certainly one of the best dining experiences to come my way in quite some time. Expensive…? To be sure. But more than worth the price of admission.

Cuisine: Contemporary American
Hours: Lunch: Mon – Sat, 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon – Fri, 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Sat, 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.; “Plucky” Tavern: Mon – Sat, 11:30 a.m. – Close; Sun, 4:00 p.m. – Close
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Reservations: Highly recommended
Parking: Onsite/Valet
Alcohol: License; world class wine list
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: