After re-reading a New Jersey Monthly article from last year, I once again felt fortunate knowing three of the Top 25 restaurants in the state are elements (third year in a row), Eno Terra (second year in a row), and The Peacock Inn Restaurant (first time). No other Princeton restaurants have received this honor, at least since 2007.
These three relative newcomers to the restaurant scene are eager to offer the region something unique. While they all have changing menus, well-informed servers, use the freshest ingredients acquired mostly from the area’s local farmers and food purveyors, have excellent wine lists and pairings and a bar in a town that’s difficult to get a liquor license, have valet parking, and think outside the box, each has their own signature style. They are the reigning restaurant titans of the Princeton area, and offer exactly what foodies yearn.
elements co-owner and Executive Chef Scott Anderson is a New American cuisine artist. He starts out with a different canvas and adds unusual paints like foams, and the usual ones like smears. The composed salads are served on something that looks more like a slate tile than a plate, and has sweet, salty, bitter, and sour profiles with various textures and colors. Soups are served first as a bowl of beautifully presented solid ingredients, and then a second server pours the liquid in the bowl. This is classic table side service at its best.
Chef Anderson is also a scientist. He brings a little molecular gastronomy to the table. This is definitely a new concept to Princeton. He sees the future of cooking using science, so we should expect the unexpected. I have a feeling he’s still being a little conservative, knowing he can’t use his entire bag of tricks yet, but I see great growth still to come from Anderson, which will keep patrons coming back for more. Go for the Foodie Fridays tasting menu if you are more adventurous. If you’re more conservative, select from the You Pick 2 lunch menu as an introduction. The mini almond pound cake is a nice treat to receive as you leave. I think of elements as Princeton’s up and coming version of Chicago’s Alinea, who are both influenced by elBulli‘s creative Chef Ferran Adrià.
Executive Chef Christopher Albrecht brings Contemporary Italian cuisine to the table. The food is light and prepared to be the star, yet has a layering of flavors to make your palate sing. It’s no wonder he’s a James Beard recognized chef. To top it off, he’s his own pastry chef. Eno Terra is renowned for their wine collection, salumi and cheese, and they make their own sausages and pasta. This is a winning combination. The Pranzo a Presto (three-course business lunch) is a fantastic way of sampling their cuisine. You’ll be back for dinner soon after.
In collaboration with owners Carlo and Raoul Momo, Chef Albrecht has been a major force in the sustainability of the Princeton area. They strongly believe in supporting local farmers with an emphasis on organic produce, grass fed-cows, free-range chickens, etc. This has to be the best farm-to-table, and greenest restaurant in the state. The Momos and Albrecht cultivated the now two acre Canal Farm, which isn’t far from the restaurant, to make a nutrient rich soil growing, produce and herbs for all of the Terra Momo restaurants. You can’t get any more locavore than that! In this respect, I feel Eno Terra is like the Aspen restaurant Montagna at the Little Nell, which is in the forefront of the farm-to-table movement.
Albrecht is also the most accessible chef in the area. He’s cooked in front of a live audience at the Princeton Public Library, gives demos to students, and has been a TEDx speaker.
The Peacock Inn Restaurant
The Peacock Inn Restaurant‘s Executive Chef Manuel Perez brings a certain flare toNew American cuisine. When you experience his food, it makes you feel something. Perez’s cuisine evokes emotions of classic sophistication and romance. You get beautiful presentations of creative cuisine. The gratis French macarons at the end of your meal is a nice touch.
This is the best restaurant in the region for a romantic date. The rooms are smaller and more intimate, there are twinkling lights in the ceiling, and the service is outstanding. It allows you to disconnect with reality, and enjoy the food, wine, and good company, as if you were on a luxury cruise ship. I believe it’s ambience tops New York’s romantic One If by Land, Two If by Sea because it’s subtler. The prix fixe dinner is served in the dining rooms. They also serve à la carte and a modestly priced prix fixe meal at the bar, and is a perfect way of giving The Peacock Inn Restaurant a try.