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Main Street Euro-American Bistro and Bar
301 North Harrison Street
Princeton Shopping Center
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey
(609) 921-2779

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online

Although it hardly seems possible, nearly seven years have passed since I penned my initial review of Main Street Euro-American Bistro and Bar (April 20, 1998). Oh, I'd dropped by numerous times in the interim -- usually to partake of a preprandial libation prior to critiquing another restaurant in the area -- but several recent visits were the first opportunities I'd had to take another critical crack at Main Street's food and service... And I'm happy to report that both are even better than I remembered.

Selected as one of America's "Great Neighborhood Restaurants" in the September 2002 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, this easy-going eatery majors in a diverse variety of solid bistro offerings that are carefully prepared and presented, immensely satisfying, and reasonably priced. Indeed, you will find chef Don Daley's menu a well-traveled and provocative blend of culinary constants and monthly specials that are always right in turn with the season.

Your first stop, however, is likely to be the comfortable bar/lounge, a sedate Ivy League enclave adorned with a bevy of black and white photographs. Here John, Main Street's affable bartender, holds court. In addition to offering pleasurable and spirited conversation and service, this consummate host will ply you with the restaurant's featured wines -- which, like menu items, change monthly -- as well as a scrumptious variety of seasoned flatbreads.

Recently encountered vintages were a crisp, herbaceous 2004 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($6.95 glass/$26.00 bottle), unctuous 2002 Chalone Vineyard Estate Chardonnay ($9.95/$38.00), ever-reliable 2003 Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay ($8.50/$32.00), 2002 Château St. Michelle Indian Wells Merlot ($8.95/$34.00), and heady 2002 Wildhorse Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95/$30.00). The restaurant also offers a first-rate wine list available by the bottle only, an interesting collection of Euro premium and domestic micro-brews on tap, as well as an array of liqueurs, cognacs, brandies, single malt scotches, and dessert wines.

The spacious dining area exudes its own unique brand of charm. Boasting glass-topped tables, more black and white photos, posters of sports cars, and an open kitchen, it manages to be both light & airy by day and intriguingly & bustlingly bistro by night. In warmer weather, you may even take your meals al fresco beneath the green and white canopy in Princeton Shopping Center's inner courtyard.

The menu is a globetrotting profusion of possibilities -- appetizers, soups & salads, main course salads, entrées, side dishes, specialty breads, pasta, chili & cornbread, grilled sandwiches -- which, of course, affords diners the opportunity to take leave of the more traditional route of appetizer-main course-dessert for the freedom of gastronomic grazing, mixing and matching from hither and thither as their appetites may dictate, on the road less traveled. So permit me to share a few favorites from across the board...

The Asian spring roll ($7.95), something of a menu mainstay, is simply sensational. Marvelously crisp and filled with minced shrimp, pork, and a variety of oriental vegetables, it is split lengthwise, set on a bed of fresh mesclun greens, and then garnished with diced tomatoes, pools of zippy wasabi mayonnaise, and pickled ginger. A fabulous starter. As are the baked mozzarella-ricotta medallion ($7.95) -- an herb-crusted island surrounded by a sumptuous sea of marinara imbued with fresh basil accompanied by crostini -- and the quesadilla ($7.95), crispy flour tortilla triangles filled with a heady combo of chorizo sausage, caramelized onion, mashed red skin potatoes, and cheddar cheese.

And if you happen to be feeling reminiscently retro, "The Wedge" of iceberg lettuce ($6.50) is a definite must. Yes, I know that certain fatuous foodies would consider this particular item completely démodé (despite its recent comeback). Be that as it may... the greenery is pristinely crisp (not a brown edge in sight); the Thousand Island dressing is judiciously applied (as opposed to a not-so-subtle case of drowning) and incredibly rich and creamy; and the embellishment of diced tomatoes and sprinkling of bacon morsels are consummately complementary. The former, even in the dead of winter, is marvelously meaty; the latter, sumptuously crisp. This is one trip down memory lane that is surely worth the frequent flyer miles.

Among the main courses, salmon (in its various guises) is another permanent resident on the bill of fare. It may, for example, be served roasted, dusted with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs ($16.95) or, perhaps, grilled in a smoked salmon broth with braised leeks ($19.95). During the summer months, it may be rolled with a filling of basil pesto, baked, and presented with herbed couscous ($18.95) or grilled over a corn and shiitake mushroom sauté ($17.95). In its current incarnation, a potato-encrusted filet is partnered with sautéed red Swiss chard and chaperoned by a sassy citrus vinaigrette dotted with segments of blood orange ($18.95).

You also can't go wrong with the marinated and grilled New England pork tenderloin ($18.95). Thick, succulent slices are perfectly paired with braised red cabbage and finished with a tangy apple cider jus. Also consider one of the appetizing ethnic winter stews -- March 2-15, coq au vin; March 16-31, O'Kelly's Irish stew -- or down-home chicken potpie ($11.95; with a salad of baby greens, $15.95) served Sunday through Wednesday evenings only.

As noted above, one of the advantages of chowing down at Main Street is the fact that you are not restricted to entrées. For those in the mood for somewhat lighter fare, a number of salads, sandwiches, and pastas present viable and delicious alternatives. I am particularly fond of the excellent grilled chicken and feta salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette ($11.95); the grilled portobello sandwich with roasted red peppers and ricotta salad on crusty ciabatta bread ($9.95) is also first-rate, as is the orecchiette pasta adorned with tender broccoli florets, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives ($12.95).

And you will certainly want to leave room for the luscious desserts ($6.95), all created in Main Street's own bakery. There are some wonderful choices here, personally sampled and highly recommended: The Mississippi mud cake, a decadent chocolate bourbon bundt cake served with homemade vanilla ice cream, continues it popular reign among chocoholics; the zebra cheesecake -- vanilla with swirls of chocolate -- sports a hazelnut crust and delightfully gooey hazelnut praline sauce; the Key lime pie is appropriately nippy and just the proper color and texture; and the apple brown Betty layered with sweet pecan crumble is as homey as it is delicious. For a lighter conclusion to your evening at table, you may wish to try the biscotti ($3.25) -- cinnamon-sugar, orange-pistachio, and chocolate-hazelnut -- paired with a potent shot of espresso ($2.95).

When this establishment is going full tilt -- teeming with cell-phones-at-the-ready business types, rumpled scholars engaged in enthusiastic epistemological exchange, very proper Princetonian ladies daintily sipping their Perrier and white wine, assorted celebratory gatherings, couples of every age, shape, and persuasion -- which is most of the time, the atmosphere can be a bit on the frantic side... But the congenially casual and collegiate servers continue to be, at least in my experience, one of this restaurant's strong suits. Even on a frenetic Friday evening and an even more frenzied free-for-all Saturday night, my two most recent visits, the service, both at the bar and in the dining room, remained right on the money.

As I noted in my first review -- and would reiterate here -- dining at Main Street is like enjoying a casual meal with an old and dear friend. Some restaurants reach their peak and then slowly fade away. Main Street Euro-American Bistro and Bar, like a warm and enduring friendship, continues to age gracefully. No matter how far afield I may travel, I'm always happy to settle down here at table once again.

Cuisine: Global
Hours: Mon - Thurs, 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Accepted for parties of five or more only
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; nice wine list with monthly changing selections by the bottle and the glass
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

Web Site: www.mainstreetprinceton.com

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