3 Sparta Junction
Sparta, Sussex County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
August 27, 2007
In my initial review of proprietors Steve & Rachel Scro's Mohawk
House, dated January 23, 2006, I voiced my misgivings with regard to the
food and several other issues. In the interim, I was informed that a new chef
had taken over the reigns in the kitchen; I also received several e-mails
urging me to pay another visit -- which I did quite recently.
On the plus side, the restaurant's interior -- exposed stone and brick,
rich, dark woods, and rustic copper lamps suspended from the towering timbered
ceilings -- remains as impressive as ever. The bar/lounge is
particularly attractive, and the extensive wine list is certain to keep
dedicated oenophiles happy.
And I'm pleased to report that the food -- in the capable hands of Josh Fryer,
who did such marvelous work at Trap Rock in Berkeley Heights -- has also
demonstrated incredible improvement. There are still one or two minor faux
pas, but both the preparation and the presentation of the cuisine are
definitely head and shoulders above my previous visits.
Among the appetizers, calamari is usually a good test of the kitchen's
mettle... and the crispy calamari salad ($10.00) passes with flying colors. The
diminutive rings are inordinately tender, spiked with a zippy chili-lime glaze,
and find a perfect textural companion in a shaved celery root & carrot
The jumbo lump crab cake ($14.00) also proves a worthy starter. The sweet
crabmeat is seared to a beautiful golden brown and aided and abetted by an
unusually tasty grilled pineapple and cilantro salad. The consummating touch is
a sriracha (Southeast Asian hot sauce) aïoli.
The Bibb salad ($10.00), jazzed up with apple shavings, candied walnuts,
Brie croutons, and a dynamite Champagne vinaigrette, is excellent. I also like
the Caesar ($8.00), a nice blend of romaine and radicchio buttressed by crunchy
garlic croutons, although the dressing is overly salty.
Entrées, for the most part, carry on with style. The rigatoni Bolognese
($16.00), for example, is appropriately creamy, its richness nicely
counterpoised with a splash of broccoli rabe pesto. The grilled filet mignon
($30.00), though cooked slightly less than the requested medium, is,
nevertheless, velvety of texture and bursting with flavor thanks to the
ministrations of an assertive port-infused natural jus. And the grilled
pork tenderloin ($24.00) is marvelously moist and presented with a perky green
apple risotto and provocative pomegranate molasses.
Among the seafood possibilities, the pan-roasted swordfish ($28.00), a
special of the evening, is absolutely superlative. The flesh is pristinely
white and just the right texture, and the crawfish butter sauce provides just
the proper pinch of pizzazz. The pan-seared scallops ($28.00) are also
beautifully prepared, rich and meaty.
The only real downer proved to be the combo of rock shrimp & pappardelle
pasta ($18.00). The pasta was nicely seasoned with morsels of asparagus, oyster
mushrooms, assorted herbs, and a delicious light truffle cream sauce. But the
flat noodles were hard around many of the edges, perhaps the result of an
extended exile under a heat lamp. The real problem, however, was the rock
shrimp. Those that crowned the above-mentioned swordfish were at the peak of
good health and appropriately crunchy. On the other hand, those adorning the
pappardelle were mealy and off-tasting. Something was definitely amiss.
Desserts ($7.00), however, were right back on the money. The blueberry
almond cake garnished with Grand Marnier cream was positively first-rate, as
was the delicious chèvre cheesecake with poached apricots and candied
pine nuts. The kitchen also turns out a number of excellent house-made ice
creams ($6.00) and sorbets ($6.00).
In my first review, I noted that service -- while young, willing, and enthusiastic
-- was on the amateurish side. The second go-round, however, has seen a
definite improvement as well. Our waiter was professional yet personable, knew
the menu options, and was always there to meet the needs of our party.
Reservations and seatings, though, were something of a problem. We arrived
to discover that the 20-piece Silver Starlight Orchestra was booked to
entertain patrons with swing music from the 30s and 40s on that particular
evening. We had never been informed of this fact when making our reservations,
and there was also no mention on the restaurant's website... A serious faux
pas in my book.
Knowing from previous experiences that the noise level -- even without
benefit of a 20-piece orchestra -- can be formidable, we asked to be seated as
far away from the music makers maker as possible. So what does our charming
young hostess do...? She escorts us to a table in such close proximity that I
very easily could have filled in on the tenor sax. Needless to say, we
immediately voiced our displeasure and were promptly seated in the adjacent
dining area overlooking the spacious grounds. But even here, the noise level
was deafening. Shouting at full voice, it was still almost impossible to make
oneself heard among one's table companions. In the defense of our eardrums and
conversational sanity, we beat a hasty retreat and enjoyed coffee and dessert
in the peace and quiet of the outdoor patio.
There is absolutely no question that the Mohawk House has made
significant improvements to both its cuisine and its service -- and Chef Josh
Fryer's prowess in the kitchen is especially noteworthy. But noise and customer
communication still appear to be something of a problem. After an extended
conversation with proprietor Steve Scro and his wife, Rachel, however, I have
absolutely no doubts that this charming couple will do their very best to
continue to improve their excellent establishment.
Cuisine: Creative American
Hours: Open daily for dinner, beginning at 5:00 p.m.; the tavern opens
daily at 4:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes