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Andre's Restaurant and Wine Boutique
188 Spring Street
Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 300-4192

By The Artful Diner
August 8, 2005

Nearly seven years ago, André and Tracey deWaal, proprietors of Andre's Restaurant, hit the ground running, capturing the immediate attention of the Garden State's knowledgeable foodies and every professional hired belly within commuting distance. My own initial review appeared five years ago this September; and I'm happy to report that, after several recent visits, this charming establishment has matured with mellifluous grace and is today more beguiling than ever.

There have been, of course, a number of significant changes in the interim: namely, an expansion and the acquiring of a liquor license. Fortunately, these alterations have been completely in keeping with the restaurant's homey, comfortable character and décor. As you enter, you now discover a lovely, diminutive copper-top bar and wine boutique where you may enjoy a special libation, sample one of the select wines available by the glass, or purchase several bottles to tuck away in your cellar. A second dining area, replete with a rustic exposed brick wall, has also been added and is utilized on busy evenings or for private parties and gatherings.

On the other hand, certain aspects have remained constant. Tracey deWaal's welcome is as warm and as captivating as ever, and her graciousness is clearly mirrored in the enthusiastic professionalism displayed by members of her staff. And Mr. deWaal's innovative American cuisine continues to present diners with gratifyingly delicious vistas of colors, tastes, and textures. Indeed, the initial assessment of the chef's creative cookery noted in my first review has changed not at all: "The freshness of his local organic ingredients is beyond reproach; his preparation and execution are, for the most part, flawless."

One of the telltale signs here is the state of the complimentary house salad. In many establishments, an unholy amalgam of tired iceberg lettuce, chunks of Styrofoam tomato, and gloppy bottled dressing. Andre's offering, on the other hand, consists of obviously freshly tossed assorted lettuces enhanced with a light by zippy Dijon mustard vinaigrette and sprinkling of equally pristine julienne carrots. And the portion size -- as with all other items sent forth from the kitchen -- is just right: ample but not painfully prodigious.

Another good omen is the size of the menu, listing, as of this writing, just two soups, four appetizers, and seven entrées supplemented by a select number of daily specials. In other words, Mr. deWaal has chosen discretion as the better part of valor, quality rather than quantity, allowing the excellence of the few to triumph over the mediocrity of the many.

The shrimp and seafood cake ($8.50) makes a superlative starter. Lightly breaded, the crisp exterior yields to a marvelously moist and flavorful core. A bed of mango salsa provides a cool touch of the exotic, which, in turn, is nicely offset by the gentle heat emanating from dabs of chipotle vinaigrette. The rare beef sirloin ($9.00) is also exemplary. A semi-circle of fanned slices is spatially counterbalanced by an epicenter of roasted diced beets and sprinkling of candied walnuts. The culinary catalyst is a luscious sauce endowed with earthy chunks of blue cheese.

The phyllo pastry-caressed warm goat cheese and pesto set on a pillow of wilted spinach ($8.00) is yet another delightful prelude... as are the special presentation of grilled bourbon-glazed shrimp crowned with a delectable fennel salad ($10.00) and the silken textured Perona Farms smoked salmon ($9.00), in whatever cleverly conceived combinations it may appear.

Chef deWaal's entrées exhibit an alluring elegant rusticity; creative yet comforting, they artfully engage the diner's eye and palate without offending either his/her sense of proportion or of propriety. The wild king salmon ($28.50), for example, is beautifully grilled and swims to table on a seabed of basmati rice awash with crunchy haricots verts and julienne carrots and is consummated with a totally engaging tarragon beurre blanc.

The New York strip steak ($36.00) is another winner. Strappingly robust, it is pan roasted to a right-on-the-money medium rare and teamed with a luscious wedge of rösti potato that is crisp on the outside and yet boasts a marvelously rich and creamy interior. The coup de grâce, however, is delivered by a decidedly zesty horseradish-mustard sauce that, despite its heady countenance, succeeds in complementing rather than confounding the natural flavor of the beef.

The chef also does an excellent job with fowl... and the pan-roasted duck breast ($27.00) is particularly noteworthy. The presentation headlines succulent medium rare slices reclining on a fabulously flavorful pillow of duck fried rice, while an ingratiating apricot-tinged sweet and sour sauce provides an appropriate finishing touch. The incredibly moist organic free-range chicken ($22.50) is also highly recommendable. The accompanying golden brown risotto cake tastes a bit bland on its own but receives a new lease on life from an invigorating onion and lemon sauce.

Andre's sports a first-rate wine list... but Mr. deWaal's menu also suggests reasonably priced wines by the glass that match up quite well with appetizers and entrées (and desserts): Waterbrook Chardonnay ($7.50) with the shrimp and seafood cake; Tatoo Merlot ($7.00) with rare beef sirloin; Erath Pinot Noir ($9.00) with king salmon ; Baron Philippe de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.00) with New York strip steak; etc., etc. A very nice touch, ideal for couples who may be of differing opinions with regard to red or white, and undoubtedly much appreciated by those who may not feel like splurging on a bottle.

Desserts ($7.00) continue in style: Fresh strawberries swimming in vanilla pastry cream arrive in a miniature Mason jar topped with a scrumptious cookie crust and sided by a ramekin of strawberry cream sauce; and a homespun plum and apricot cobbler is paired with rich blueberry syrup. Being a confirmed chocoholic, however, my absolute favorite is the velvety chocolate truffle tart companioned by a decadent dollop of malted ice cream. Delightfully hedonistic... especially when sipping a glass of Quinto do Infantado Ruby Port ($6.00).

Also not to be overlooked is the selection of fine cheeses ($9.50). Recently sampled were a tangy goat's-milk Gouda from Holland, Vacherin from France, a buttery Spanish San Simón, and Valdeon, a bold blue cheese also hailing from Spain. These were arranged around an oval plate and interspersed with toasted bread slices and dabs of whole grain mustard. Bonnie Doon Muscat ($8.00) proved a perfect complement.

Mr. deWaal's menu changes every two weeks. But whatever comestibles he may decide to cook up on a given evening, your discriminating palate will surely not be disappointed. Andre's Restaurant and Wine Boutique is cozy, comfortable, so very romantic... and it remains one of the Garden State' premier dining destinations.

Cuisine: Innovative American with Eclectic Touches
Hours: Lunch: Weds - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Weds & Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Street parking; nearby metered municipal lots
Alcohol: License; Wine Boutique
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Difficult
Web Site: http:// www.andresrestaurant.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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