Molly Pitcher Inn
88 Riverside Avenue
Red Bank, Monmouth County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
March 13, 2000
Modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall, the Molly Pitcher is a study in cultured civility. And while hotel meals usually fall far short of the mark, you may rest assured that Chef Stuart Olson's creative American cuisine is even more impressive than the surroundings. Mr. Olson isn't afraid to take a few chances, and his culinary bravado has made this charming establishment one of the Garden State's premiere dining destinations.
Before settling in at table, however, be sure to pay a call at the cocktail lounge for a preprandial libation. It is dark and intimate, richly furnished and uncompromisingly comfortable. Beyond its precincts, the atmospheric, well-appointed dining room will beguile you with crystal chandeliers, imported Italian chairs, and an unobstructed view of the picturesque Navesink River.
You'll start things off with a roll from one of Newark's top-flight bakeries. And your first bite will tell you that you've struck gold: perfectly crunchy on the outside, ever so light and airy on the inside. So munch away while you take a gander at the first-class wine list. French and California varietals predominate here, and there are some excellent and, for the most part, reasonably priced selections. Among the whites, the 1996 Trimbach Riesling ($32.00) is always a good bet, as are the 1997 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($34.00) and the 1996 Louis Latour Macon Lugny ($26.00). If a California Chardonnay is more to your taste, I would recommend both the 1997 Franciscan "Oakville Estate" ($26.00) and the 1998 Sonoma Cutrer "Russian River" ($34.00).
When it comes to the reds, try the 1996 Steele "Catfish Vineyard" Zinfandel ($42.00), the 1996 Chateau St. Michelle Merlot ($36.00), or Oregon's 1995 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir ($62.00). But if you're really in the mood to splurge, you shouldn't pass up the 1990 Chateau Talbot from Bordeaux ($135.00) or the 1994 Turley "Aida Vineyard" Petite Syrah ($98.00). My wife and I recently sampled the Turley, and it is exceptionally luscious. The special wine for that special occasion.
Now that you've chosen an appropriate vintage, it's time to move on to the appetizers, which represent a host of delightful gastronomic possibilities. But where to begin? Perhaps with the pure ecstasy of tender and succulent Prince Edward Island mussels ($10.00). All but two are presented without their shells, swimming in an ambrosial garlic broth and accompanied by foccacia toast. But, then again, there's always the shrimp ($8.00), lovely crustaceans poached in an exotic lemon grass tea and served on a tender seabed of soba noodles. Continuing the seafood theme, soup lovers simply cannot afford to pass up Mr. Olson's incomparable Atlantic chowder ($6.00). Tender morsels of Maine lobster and potatoes luxuriate in a rich stock of pureed caramelized corn that is lovingly enhanced with just a hint of sherry and basil. Both subtle and seductive.
The salads here are quite special, and all make wonderful starters. "Mr. Barry's Favorite" ($5.50), named for the gentleman who owns the company that purchased the inn in 1992, is an attractive blend of baby greens, pear slivers and fresh mushrooms. Add creamy touches of German cambozola cheese, a delicate coating of toasted sesame seed vinaigrette, and you have a perky and palate-pleasing prelude to your meal. And cetainly the same may be said for the spinach, frisee and arugula salad tossed with candied pecans, red onion and a warm bacon Gorgonzola vinaigrette ($5.00).
As with the appetizers, denizens of the deep are quite prominent among the regular entrees and daily specials. And just when you're certain that you've sampled every conceivable variation of salmon in the known gastronomic universe, along comes Mr. Olson and simply knocks your socks off. His version is perfectly grilled, embellished with sauteed spinach and spinach gnocchi, and finished with an exquisite red wine emulsion ($21.00). Equally outstanding is the striped bass a la nicoise ($22.00), garnished with crunchy haricots vert and red bliss potatoes.
Among the daily specials, the herb-encrusted grouper ($23.00) is a standout. It reclines on a bed of pommes lyonnaise and is spruced up with a colorful vegetable medley of baby carrots, green beans and sugar snap peas. Even more delectable, in my opinion, is the horseradish/chive-encrusted halibut ($23.00). Pristine of both color and texture, this lovely filet is accompanied by scrumptious garlic mashed potatoes and is consummated with a positively exhilarating rosemary sauce.
Meat eaters need not despair, however, as they will discover tasty options aplenty. The 10-ounce char-grilled filet mignon ($27.00) is sufficient to satisfy the heartiest of appetites; and the addition of an intensely flavorful roasted shallot and shiitake mushroom demi-glace is nothing short of extraordinary. Equally robust of stature are the superlative pan-roasted veal chop with wild mushroom risotto ($30.00) and the tender loin of pork ($21.00). The latter is served with an impossible-to-resist twice-baked potato replete with goat cheese; the presentation is then finished with an elegant marionberry pinot noir reduction.
On the other hand, those of vegetarian persuasion may choose to partake of the Jardiniere ($19.00), sensuous soba noodles swimming in an exotic miso broth and garnished with a lovely variety of seasonal veggies.
As delightful as Mr. Olson's cuisine may be, however, you would never forgive yourself if you failed to leave room for Pastry Chef Todd Knaster's incomparable dessert creations. And topping my list is his chocolate peanut butter praline cake ($6.50). Yummy chocolate cookies are layered with Swiss milk chocolate custard and an incredibly creamy peanut butter mousse. Wonderfully decadent! Coming in a close second is the caramel amaretto cheesecake ($6.00). The consistency of this individual cheesecake is positively ethereal, with homemade chocolate biscotti and brandied cherries adding the perfect contrasting touches. Those seeking more traditional denouements would do well to cast their lot with the hot apple cobbler ($5.00), classic creme brulee ($5.00), or a refreshing sorbet sampler garnished with winter fruit compote ($6.00).
If I find any fault with this attractive establishment, it is surely not with the cuisine. However, like its sister, the Oyster Point Hotel, the Molly Pitcher books a plethoric variety of gatherings (especially wedding receptions) into its banquet rooms during the course of a year. So should you pay a call on any given weekend, especially during the warmer months, you are certain to encounter various nuptials -- either coming or going -- or even a party of rambunctious children featuring Mickey Mouse as the guest of honor. With his kind of organized chaos in the offing, it is not unusual, I have noticed, for service to become a bit offhand or, perhaps, not quite as attentive as it would be under less stressful circumstances.
So should you be planning to dine here -- and it is most assuredly worth a journey -- I would suggest that you do so on a quiet weekday evening when both the food and the ambiance may be savored to the full.
Cuisine: Creative American
Hours: Breakfast: Mon - Fri, 6:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.; Sat - Sun, 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m.; Brunch: Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.; Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs & Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri - Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Jackets required at dinner.
Smoking: There is no separate nonsmoking section, but the air filtration system in the dining room is excellent.
Parking: Onsite and valet
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes