Rocky Hill Inn Eatery & Tavern
137 Washington Street
Rocky Hill, Mercer County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
Special to NJ.Com
December 8, 2008
Printable Copy of this Review
The stately historic structure at 137 Washington Street in Rocky Hill
has played host to several restaurant incarnations over the years. Most
recently, the 200-year-old inn was home to the Santa Fe Grille & Bar,
which, as the name implies, majored in Southwestern cuisine.
But when Evan Blomgren and his wife, Maria, took over the proprietorship,
things changed dramatically. The sophisticated main dining room comes replete
with Milliken carpeting and two fireplaces adorned with antique glass decanters
that were originally owned by the chef's father. Just across the hall, the
rustic pub provides the perfect venue for family dining. But the culinary
emphasis has definitely shifted into upscale overdrive. The menu now headlines
American cuisine enhanced with a variety of international nuances.
As the power behind the stove, Mr. Blomgren, an alumnus of such kitchens as
Lahiere's in Princeton and Chambers Walk in Lawrenceville, brings over
seventeen years' experience to his current enterprise -- and his expertise is
As I have mentioned on previous occasions, the longer one rides the dining
circuit as a professional reviewer, the more difficult it becomes to be
impressed by many restaurants' all-too-redundant culinary offerings. But Mr.
Blomgren does manage to impress -- albeit in a quiet, unassuming manner. His
platings aren't self-consciously dazzling, but his ingredients are exceedingly
well integrated, and there's a kind of homespun elegance to his presentations
that is both comforting and comfortable.
His appetizers place a strong emphasis on greenery... but each has its own
unique wrinkle; and each, through the creative utilization of various
components, manages to propel itself out of the realm of the ordinary. Tender
marinated diced beets, for example, are teamed with peppery baby arugula and
embellished with grilled rings of red onion, toasted almonds, and crumbles of
goat cheese. The catalyst is a superb red wine vinaigrette.
A salad of red and white endive incorporates earthy Maytag blue cheese,
marinated figs, Granny Smith apple, candied walnuts, and a zippy mustard
vinaigrette; and the baby field greens are adorned with goat cheese and
finished with a Champagne vinaigrette.
A variety of other starters, however, are just as pleasing to the palate.
The caramelized onion and leek tart is totally addictive, caressed by a thick
homemade crust, and sided by mixed greens; the creamy duck confit
risotto is spruced up with dried cherries, goat cheese, and smattering of
crumbled walnuts; and the unique take on the classic shrimp cocktail features
grilled cilantro-marinated crustaceans served up with mango salsa.
Entrées are deliciously diverse and decidedly cosmopolitan in scope. You
may, for instance, take the exotic route with sesame-coated yellowfin tuna or
opt for the more traditional New York strip steak. The former is served rare
with shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, wakame (seaweed) salad, and ginger-soy
sauce; the latter is companioned by goat cheese whipped potatoes, grilled
asparagus, and consummating balsamic-rosemary butter. Traditionalists also
can't go wrong with the moist and juicy Griggstown Farm chicken served on a
pillow of luscious garlic whipped potatoes.
For those who prefer a bit of heat, the succulent grilled pork chop spiced
up with a zippy chipotle sweet potato purée is an excellent option. And pasta
fans will obviously be quite taken by the pappardelle, which is perfectly
paired with roasted butternut squash, sage brown butter, and Grana Padano.
My nod, however, would undoubtedly go to the tamarind-glazed wild salmon.
The fish is beautifully grilled; and the glaze, which can be overwhelming if
too liberally applied, holds just the proper hint of sweetness. And wild
salmon, the possessor of an exceedingly strong personality, needs something
equally assertive to match its distinctive flavor. In this case, the supporting
cast includes a pillow of arugula, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, and a
generous garnish of caramelized fennel. Superlative in every respect.
In addition, the restaurant sports a more casual "tavern menu,"
which is also available in the dining room. This includes an excellent
rendition of fish n' chips and bangers n' mash finished with a Guinness Ale demi-glace.
But the star of this particular show is, without question, the superb braised
lamb shank shepherd's pie. It is presented en casserole and incorporates
a foundation of pulled lamb, tier of creamed spinach that is just creamy
enough, and an artful tiara of mashed potatoes. Seldom have I tasted anything
quite so sublime in its apparent simplicity.
Desserts are equally up to the mark. The apple-cranberry-walnut bread
pudding is just the right texture and surrounded by a ring of decadent caramel sauce.
And the raspberry mascarpone cheesecake beguiles the taste buds with its
feathery richness. The only drawback: There is no decaf espresso... and the
decaf coffee I sampled was weak and insipid.
Since the Rocky Hill Inn Eatery & Tavern just recently made its
debut on November 14th (2008), service can be a bit on the tentative side,
especially the young food runners, who seem particularly befuddled. This, of
course, will work its way out in time. The kitchen on the other hand, has
clearly hit the ground running.
Cuisine: Contemporary American
with International Influences
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Bar Bites: 2:30 p.m. -
5:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m.
- 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Price: Appetizers: $6.00 - $13.00; Entrées: $11.00 - $27.00; Desserts:
Handicapped Accessible: Yes