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Esty Street
2011: Recently Renovated
86 Spring Valley Road
Park Ridge, Bergen County, New Jersey
(201) 307-1515

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online

From the very first moment, you're going to like Esty Street: the dark wood paneling awash with a mélange of mirrors; the cozy, diminutive bar; the wall of sparklingly clean windows; the crisp white napery. And while proprietor Scott Tremble, dining room manager Larry Dunlap, and a personable & professional team of veteran servers keep you happy at the front of the house, executive chef Jack Mistretta will assuage your appetite with his substantive yet stylish American cuisine.

You begin with warm semolina rolls accompanied by a light but assertive arugula pesto. So settle in comfortably, try not to overindulge on these dense and delicious bundles, and spend a little time perusing the extensive wine list. By the glass, Oregon's 2001 King Estate Pinot Gris ($9.25) is always a reliable choice. And the very same may be said for Atlas Peak's luscious 2000 Sangiovese ($11.25) and an elegant 2000 Pinot Noir courtesy of Hangtime ($14.00).

While I have never been a fan of the oaky outrages often perpetrated upon the noble Chardonnay grape by overzealous California vintners, if you feel like splurging on a bottle, I would highly recommend the 2001 Shafer "Red Shoulder Ranch" from Carneros ($69.00). This is a sprightly representative with just the proper dash of acidity to counterbalance a discreet diffusion of oak. Of course, if you're feeling particularly flush, you might want to take a gander at the pricey treasures holding forth on the restaurant's reserve list.

Chef Mistretta's appetizers are especially noteworthy, as they clearly demonstrate the more sophisticated side of his culinary personality. His chilled jumbo lump crabmeat salad ($14.00), for example, is embellished with avocado and mango, set on a bed of mixed greens in a crispy wonton basket, and surrounded by squiggles of a zesty sambal (chili/lime) aïoli. The salad of arugula and baby romaine lettuces ($11.00) is equally stylish. An epicenter of greens is circumscribed by slices of maple-roasted Anjou pear, sprinkled with spiced walnuts and Saga blue cheese, and finished with an excellent walnut vinaigrette.

The ravioli ($14.00) is yet another highly recommended starter. Tempting and tender pasta pockets are filled with chicken and Jersey corn and then allowed to luxuriate in a scintillating white wine basil broth awash with crumbled bacon. Even the littleneck clams ($12.00), standard issue in many establishments, are thoroughly invigorated in a white wine parsley broth imbued with white beans and savory morsels of chorizo sausage.

Entrées, which will surely appeal to those with heartier appetites, are best described as robust yet refined. They do not exhibit quite the finesse of their predecessors, but they are still lovingly prepared and artistically presented. And a special of wild boar spareribs ($24.00) is surely a case in point. Unctuous and mouth-wateringly tender, the ribs are set on a bed of sautéed spinach and accompanied by incredibly delicious braised red cabbage arranged on crescents of bacon polenta.

The grilled salmon ($27.00) reclining on a pillow of sautéed wild mushrooms, slices of Yukon gold potatoes, and caramelized onions is yet another winner. The real kick, however, is supplied by an intensely flavorful port wine reduction drizzled about the periphery... but even more so by the tiara of foie gras butter that succeeds in adding a wonderfully decadent touch. Splashes of port wine also figure prominently in the presentation of sautéed grouper ($27.00) arranged on tiers of creamed spinach, green beans, and crispy potato slices. The only quibble here is that there is a touch too much crisp for comfort. Once past the crackling outer shell, the grouper is moist, flaky, and tender; but the exterior is inordinately crunchy (more reminiscent of fried chicken than of sautéed filet), as are the rather brittle potato slices.

On the other hand, the grilled filet mignon locked in the enthusiastic embrace of a heady cabernet sauce ($30.00) is a velvety-textured revelation. And the addition of apple wood smoked bacon mashed potatoes, braised red cabbage, and roasted celery root proves to be a ménage à trois made in heaven. I also like the sautéed sea scallops ($26.00), which are beautifully seared, luscious and meaty. But when they are paired with a risotto-like rice blended with leeks, Parmesan cheese, and pine nuts, this is one marriage that is simply too extravagant for my palate.

Desserts, like a number of the entrées, tend to be rich and filling: "Milky Way" ($7.00) and Tahitian vanilla ($8.00) crème brûlée; molten chocolate cake ($8.00); warmed Macadamia and Pecan filo "pie" with bourbon butterscotch ice cream and butterscotch drizzle ($8.00). If you'd prefer your denouement with a lighter touch, be sure to sample the fresh seasonal berries ($7.00), with or without benefit of whipped cream, or the wonderful assortment of homemade ice creams ($7.00). The malted white chocolate and cappuccino chocolate chip are particularly recommended.

Now celebrating its eleventh anniversary -- something of an anomaly in the fragile, ephemeral restaurant universe where eateries of every size, shape, and culinary persuasion appear to come and go at the drop of a fork -- Esty Street remains at the very top of its game. Although located a bit off the beaten track, this fine establishment continues to parlay exceptional cuisine, impeccably professional service, and comfortable, pleasant surroundings into a totally beguiling dining experience.

Cuisine: Creative American
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Smoking: Permitted at the bar only
Reservations: Recommended, especially on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; interesting wine list
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.estystreet.com

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