Monday, October 11, 2010

Restaurant review: A Toute Heure, Cranford

It's been awhile since I've done a restaurant review. Having a baby will do that. We still go out but it's usually to our favorite local spots like Ginger Sushi or Bel Paese. But our anniversary was good reason to get dressed up and have Grandma and Grandpa over to babysit.

I first heard about A Toute Heure a couple years ago. I was reading an issue of New Jersey monthly and they had a feature on NJ's top chefs. It talked about David Drake and a few others, including Kara Decker. I'd never heard of her, but according to the article, she was doing great things with local ingredients right in nearby Cranford. Shortly after reading the article, we tried the now defunct Restaurant David Drake, but we just never made it to A Toute Heure (ATH), until now.

Reservations are a must at ATH; I made ours a month ahead via Open Table. Also note that this little gem is BYO, so bring your favorite bottle with you.

When we arrived, our table wasn't quite ready so the host (who owns the restaurant) offered us some house made rosemary nuts and a seat out on the porch. He promptly opened our wine and brought us some while we waited. After only about 5 minutes, we were shown to our table. He came over and welcomed us again and explained some of the night's features. The menu changes daily and features seasonal ingredients from local farms. A chalkboard in the restaurant lists all the farms that provide ingredients to ATH and the menu calls out some featured that night.

The menu offers starters, salads, bites and entrees. We shared two appetizers, a bite and two entrees. To start, I ordered a fricassee of mushrooms with green olives, and speck and topped with a local fried egg. The unusual combination includes some of my favorite things and it was delicious. Simply prepared, it was served in a small round pan. It had just a little bit of spice. The perfectly cooked egg added a silkiness to the whole thing. Jeff ordered peekytoe crab fritters. They were tasty, but a bit gummy inside and not quite as crisp on the outside as we would have liked. The "bite" we shared was a pulled pork croquette - these little nibbles were packed with flavor and crispy on the outside.

Our entrees were served promptly. I opted for duck leg confit with butternut squash puree and a light cabbage and carrot slaw. It was simply divine. The duck melted in your mouth and the squash puree was luxurious and creamy (perhaps more than a little butter in my butternut!). The cabbage added a fresh crunch. Jeff got braised short ribs over cheddar grits with wine braised cippolini onions. The ribs were perfectly cooked and the grits were so rich Jeff could barely finish them. Both entrees were perfectly made and full of flavor.

Other entree choices included steak frites, a pot of mussels (a signature dish), two types of fish, chicken and more, all using the best local produce currently in season. They also offer a vegetarian option.

For dessert, the restaurant offers a number of options as well as a selection of local cheeses. The menu was topped with an apple toffee cake and a note saying "It's back!". We ordered one to share - if it was good enough to make a comeback, we had to try it. Served with a scoop of homemade cinnamon ice cream, it was dense and sweet, delish! My only complaint was that it was served cold. The plate itself was cold, indicating the dessert had been plated ahead of time. ATH is a tiny restaurant and I'm sure the kitchen is small, so pre-plating the dessert may be necessity, but this cake, already amazing, would have been unbelievable served warn and just a little gooey, especially next to the cinnamon ice cream.

Warm, friendly service in a great atmosphere make ATH just the dof place we like. The food was seasonal, and very well prepared. The focus on local ingredients makes it even more appealing. We will go back (many times, I'm sure).

A Toute Heure on Urbanspoon


BakingWithoutABox said...

Love the thorough review. Like the rosemary nuts and seat during the wait. Hate just standing around. Agree with you on the dessert plating.

Michelle said...

I've been here for dinner and lunch and enjoyed both meals. We actually just made reservations for the end of October which I'm really looking forward to. Have you been to The Italian Pantry in Cranford also? It's just as good as A Toute Heure and one of our favorite restaurants in the area.

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