They say that good things come in small packages. And that is
certainly true of the enchanting jewel-box located in the very heart of Maplewood Village. This diminutive space has
been home to a number of intriguing eateries over the course of the years, most
notably and recently Jocelyne's, which, much to the dismay of the GardenState's culinary cognoscenti,
closed abruptly last year. But take heart, Lorena's, which celebrated
its first anniversary on October 1st, has New Jersey's dedicated foodies
buzzing once again.
Like his predecessor, Mitchell Altholz, chef/proprietor Humberto Campos,
Jr., offers up an enticing array of upscale French fare with international
flair. Mr. Campos, a graduate of the CIA and alumnus of such illustrious
kitchens as Nicholas and the Ryland Inn, utilizes only the freshest possible,
seasonally-inspired ingredients and weaves them together with verve and
imagination. His presentations are artistic without being anachronistic,
innovative but not ingenuous. In short, there is substance here as well as
style. Mr. Campos succeeds admirably where many other chefs fail: He engages
the eye without short-changing the palate.
Interestingly enough, you begin with the one item not made in-house: slices
of rustic bread sided with a wedge of sweet butter crowned with a few crystals
of sea salt. Imported from off campus the bread may be, but it delightfully
textured, nearly a meal in itself, and it sets the stage admirably for the
gastronomic delights to follow.
Appetizers are as beautifully presented as they are delicious. The Maine
lump crabmeat salad ($13.00) is comprised of a disc of sweet, pristinely fresh crab
surrounded by a stream of tomato emulsion and crowning of baby lettuces. A
splash of preserved lemon and smattering of sensuously salty sea beans add
wonderful consummatory touches.
The yellowfin tuna tartar ($13.00) is another eye-catching seafood starter.
The incredibly meaty, superbly spiced tartar arrives on a rectangular plate
juxtaposed with a salad of cucumber, edamame, and baby radishes. In this
instance, the culinary catalysts are a sprinkling of fresh herbs and subtly
assertive ginger essence.
The presentation of marinated artichoke hearts ($13.00) clearly demonstrates
Mr. Campos's complete mastery of complementary and contrasting tastes and
textures. Three fresh hearts luxuriate on a creamy pillow of eggplant purée.
But the richness is wonderfully counterpoised by an earthy tiara of micro
greens and the saltiness of a smattering of black olive tapenade and shavings
of ricotta salatta (a Parmesan-like cheese hailing from the Sicilian
city of Catania).
And a prelude of roasted baby beets ($13.00) exhibits equal flair and
finesse. Wedges of red and golden baby beets and chèvre fondant surround
an epicenter of Graiff Farms frisée and mâche. The crowning touch, however, is
an outer ribbon of enticing Valencia orange emulsion. Once again, the chef
delivers just the right combination of ingredients with just the proper
Entrées continue with a definitive sense of style... The Atlantic halibut
($28.00), for example, is pan seared to a beautiful golden brown, set on a
pillow of roasted parsnip, apple, and sage, and surrounded by a scintillating
sea of brown butter shellfish broth. Pure delight... But even better, in my
opinion, are the superlative Maine scallops ($28.00). Like the aforementioned
halibut, the bivalves are pan seared to perfection, the golden brown crust
yielding to a sensuously meaty interior. The scallops luxuriate on a bed of
melted Napa cabbage -- an inspired touch -- with firm yet tender potato
gnocchi, smattering of pancetta, and beguiling beurre blanc in strong
The lamb sirloin ($32.00) is another superlative effort. Thick, marvelously
tender slices recline on a bed of caponata salad; and the lamb manages to
retain its own distinctive flavor rather than the "mystery meat"
character often discernable in lesser establishments. Chunks of merguez, a
spicy Moroccan sausage flavored with harissa, a hot chili paste, add a good
deal of zip to the presentation, while a sumptuous white bean purée and
exceptional rosemary lamb jus provide equally satisfying stimulation for
Meat lovers also can't go wrong with the extraordinary Cervena venison
($32.00). Presented au poivre, it is companioned by braised red cabbage,
potato gratin, and is finished with a zesty spiced red wine reduction.
An interesting aside... conspicuous by its absence from the menu during my two
visits was any mention of the ubiquitous filet mignon. Refreshing, indeed.
And speaking of ubiquity, nothing appears to be more omnipresent than various
and sundry incarnations of the much maligned common domestic fowl. Be that as
it may, Mr. Campos's version of the Giannone free-range chicken breast ($26.00)
is anything but commonplace. Set on a bed of spaetzle, field mushrooms, and
young broccoli, the moist skin-on slices melt in the mouth and reach new
heights on the wings of an incredible black truffle chicken jus.
Desserts ($8.00), particularly the homemade ice creams, are excellent across
the board. But should you be in the market for more decadent denouements,
Michel Cluizel's "Hacienda," warm soft chocolate cake sided with
Sicilian pistachio ice cream, is not to be missed. The lemon tart and
individual toffee & praline cheesecake -- the former juxtaposed with
blueberry compote, the latter with banana compote -- are also worthy of serious
In my opinion, however, the only civilized way to conclude your evening at Lorena's
is with the artisan cheese plate accompanied by slices of walnut raisin bread
and dried fruits and nuts ($15.00). The offerings, of course, change according
to availability and the whim of the chef; but, when it is offered, don't pass
up the opportunity to enjoy Époisses, an aged French cheese produced from
unpasturized cow's milk and characterized by a pungent, spicy aroma and strong,
If certain financial restrictions prohibit you from jetting off to Paris in
search of a suitable scratch for your Gallic gastronomic itch, you will find Lorena's
a most enjoyable -- and certainly less expensive -- sojourn. Just be advised...
given the spatial limitations and the immense popularity of this charming
establishment, reservations should be made well in advance.
Hours: Dinner: Weds - Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY &
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Parking: Street and nearby municipal parking areas
Handicapped Accessible: Difficult
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