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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@verizon.net.

55 Main
55 Main Street
Flemington, Hunterdon County, New Jersey
(908) 284-1551

By The Artful Diner
August 25, 2008

Printable Copy of this Review

Chef Jonas Gold is the owner of some impressive culinary credentials. Not only is he a 1991 graduate of the CIA, but he also assisted at the James Beard House and made significant contributions to the kitchens of Harvest Moon Inn, Pittstown Inn, and the Fox and Hound Tavern.... So when news began to circulate that Mr. Gold was returning to his hometown of Flemington, the opening of 55 Main was eagerly anticipated.

And the critics have been positively effusive... ditto the comments of patrons on various food/restaurant forums. After several recent visits, however, I must confess that I've come away with decidedly mixed emotions.

I do like the restaurant itself. The former ice cream parlor is a long, narrow space that has been lovingly renovated -- a good deal of the work done by Mr. Gold himself -- and now boasts a minimalist décor of ice blue walls, white napery & large white china plates, and classic black and white framed photographs. The interior lines are clean yet warm and completely unencumbered... but they stand in sharp contrast to the cuisine, which, at times, seems ponderous and heavy handed.

But let me immediately qualify that statement. The desserts, simple yet seductive, are, in my opinion, the most consistent items produced in 55 Main's kitchen. Appetizers are something of a mixed bag: Several border upon the sublime, while others suffer from either too much or too little of a good thing. Entrées, though, are problematic. Some seem cumbersome and/or convoluted; still others look like the various components have been piled willy-nilly upon the plate with little or no thought given over to possible aesthetic repercussions.

To paraphrase an old axiom, life is short... so let's begin with dessert. Both the lemon tart and the Key lime pie are superb. In both cases, the crusts exhibit just the proper texture, and the fillings are mouthwateringly tangy. The individual Kahlúa cheesecake not only boasts a firm but lusciously creamy consistency, but also a fabulous Oreo cookie crust and consummatory Kahlúa anglaise. Other closures include a benchmark crème brûlée and a homey peach cobbler served à la mode. There is also a cheese platter, which was not sampled.

Desserts are clean of line and clear of countenance. Simple yet seductive, they definitively demonstrate that, in many cases, less is more and that the kitchen is surely capable of a great deal of finesse... as a number of appetizers also bear witness.

The Asian duck pot stickers, for example, are a superlative effort. Their consistency is a study in ethereality, the sweet duck meat tantalizes the palate without overwhelming it, and the coconut-sweet chili sauce is the extraordinary catalyst that brings all the constituents together.

And a special starter of ravioli with mini Black Angus meatballs is nothing short of addictive. The pasta exhibits just the proper texture, the meatballs are lusciously moist & perfectly seasoned, and the pinot noir reduction is a revelation to the palate.

In both the aforementioned cases, not only is the integration of ingredients spot-on, but the portion size -- neither too large nor too small -- is also right on the money. With the starter of udon noodles, however, changes are in the wind. The portion size begins to escalate, and the dish could surely benefit from a good deal more pizzazz than the peanut vinaigrette provides.

The crisp oyster-calamari combo was also amply proportioned and certainly demonstrated possibilities... but it was sabotaged by a number of factors: The delicate bivalves were smothered beneath a blanket of breading; the rings of squid, though marvelously tender, were lost in an overbearing sesame glaze; and the entire presentation came off as rather dark and brooding.

A special salad of arugula teamed with morsels of mozzarella, sun-dried & diced tomatoes sounded good... and the Parmesan-balsamic vinaigrette had a great deal to offer in the flavor department. But the leaves were inordinately large (at first I thought spinach had been substituted for arugula) and not well trimmed. The plating seemed haphazard at best and the entire presentation was not terribly attractive.

Some of these faux pas might have been overlooked if the entrées had been up to snuff. However, in my opinion, the main courses excited neither the eye nor the palate. And the special pork scaloppin proved the chief culprit. The pork medallions, which could have been mystery meat, completely lost any identity beneath a topping of melted Brie; and an equally assertive balsamic demi-glace only added to their woes. Vegetable accompaniments included asparagus and an all-too-typical medley replete with underdone broccoli florets. Once again, aesthetics seemed to take a backseat. All constituents looked like they could have been dropped onto the plate from twenty-thousand feet. The only redeeming feature: delightfully crispy wedges of Yukon gold potato.

Two seafood selections suffered from what might most adequately be described as visual and gustatory "whiteouts" -- both color and flavor conspicuous by their absence. The first, herb-roasted codfish, came swimming in an undistinguished broth surrounded by inordinately chewy littleneck clams and crowned with a white anchovy tempura; the second, white-on-white crabmeat topped tilapia, arrived in a white wine butter sauce in desperate need of inspirational infusion.

The grilled chicken breast and penne pasta, a relatively simple dish, also fell short of the mark. The morsels of chicken were overcooked, and the roasted garlic cream sauce, which should have propelled the dish into orbit, never got off the launching pad.

There is absolutely no question in my mind that 55 Main has incredible potential. And it is also quite obvious that, judging by the desserts and a number of the appetizers, Mr. Gold surely knows what he's about in the kitchen. I just wish that the entrées were less "muddled" and demonstrated a bit more finesse. They have ingredients aplenty... but their combinations often fail to yield a meaningful coalescence of flavors.

Cuisine: Global/Eclectic
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Weds & Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Appetizers, $6.50 - $10.00; Entrées, $17.00 - $26.00; Desserts, $8.00 - $10.00
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.55main.com

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