By Bob Sacks
It’s so easy to take the short ride to that nearby restaurant that you like. You know the menu by heart and can order your favorites without even looking. But every once in a while, it’s a good idea to expand your horizons, have a new experience, and learn what’s happening in the rest of the big, wide, world of food.
OK, Old Bridge is not 10 minutes away from the Two River area; it’s a bit more than that, but the modest drive to visit Heirloom Kitchen will transport you worlds away from the same old. Go for it! Stretch out a bit and you will be rewarded with a fun and delicious, evening.
At the helm is Chef David Viana, who hails from Asbury Park; a contestant on “Top Chef” and James Beard nominee, with serious credentials from stints working with a number of New York chefs – Bobbie Flay and Michael White, to name just two. This man is the real deal. Try to snag one of the eight stools right in front of the kitchen island where he cooks, so you can interact with him. There are also high-tops nearby, conventional tables and a long communal one as well, if you prefer.
The food is contemporary American, locavore, farm to table; the plating exquisite. From the Small Plates & Share Plates section of the compact menu, we started with Lox Flatbread ($18); food turned into art! The crispy flatbread serving as a canvas for cubes of silky lox (cured smoked salmon), pieces of blood orange, strips of savory picked fennel and pistachio nuts. The interplay of textures created a different sensation in each bite. Recommended.
Curiosity drove me to order Chicken & Waffles ($19) These are waffles unlike any you have had before: made from porcini mushrooms and rye flower, they were more bread-like, dense and chewy than the name would imply. They were topped with chicken rillettes (a mousse-like blend made from ground chicken enriched with some of its own fat to make it creamy), curls of fragrant Périgord black truffle, and tarragon aioli to add some zip. As good as this dish was, I would have preferred the waffles a tiny bit thinner and cooked a little less, making the ratio of topping to waffle better balanced.
Pork Belly ($18); three thick slices, perfectly seared on the outside, with a soft, richly textured inside, and served with a churro (fried dough pastry) crumble, black beans and a light mango and cilantro sauce was a perfect savory appetizer for sharing.
On the lighter side, Broccoli Salad ($16), with smoked ricotta cheese, crispy noodles for textural contrast, and a lively miso Caesar dressing, was refreshing and flavorsome.
From the Large Plates section, we chose Scallops ($39); the golden-brown crust and creamy interior were complimented by a very tasty miso-honey-flavored sunchoke puree, mushroom “jam,” cashews, pears and shiso (Japanese mint leaf) pesto. Truly a mix of different and delicious tastes in each mouthful.
The most unusual preparation was the Monkfish ($34). Mixed with foie gras and pine-nut gremolata, wrapped in a cabbage leaf and formed into a cylinder, steamed, then sliced into discs, it shared the plate with a crispy cabbage roll and burnt cabbage jus. This was Monkfish gone uptown. Yum!
Thick, rare chunks of seared Duck Breast ($38) were accompanied by a homemade jalapeño corn cake, a lightly spiced interpretation of corn bread, providing nice contrast and mouthfeel. An accent of red pepper puree finished the plate.
Another unique entrée, Short Rib ($38), tender beef, plated with General Tso’s cauliflower (small cooked chunks coated with a sweet and spicy sauce), and a streak of creamy cauliflower puree was deeply satisfying.
Heirloom Kitchen is BYO, but they also sell wines from Domenico Winery in California. We brought a California white: 2000 Rochioli Chardonnay, which was still fresh and fruity. Who says Cali chards can’t age? Reds: 1997 Dujac Charmes Chambertin was velvety and soft, with plenty of fruit, and showed very well. I love Cru Beaujolais, and the 2011 Moulin a Vent from Desjourneys did not disappoint. Gobs of spicy berry-flavored fruit and a gentle spine of acidity, it hit the spot. 1996 Ch. Montrose was the wine of the night. Fully mature, this classic cedar-nosed Bordeaux provided much pleasure.
Meyer Lemon Bar ($12) with a touch of lavender was just sweet enough to be a perfect finale to the meal.
In addition to serving dinner, Heirloom Kitchen also holds cooking classes and even has an area which sells cookbooks and utensils. Truly a one-stop shop. More information and reservations available online. For a really different dinner experience, with gracious service and food almost too pretty to eat, just do it! Make a reservation and take the ride to Old Bridge. It’s worth the trip!
3853 Route 516
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
This article was first published in the March 7-March 13, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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