River Palm Terrace
209 Ramapo Valley Road
Mahwah, Bergen County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
On one occasion, you may be greeted by a young, perky, terribly
attractive blond young woman whose casually tasteful but provocative attire is
certain to elicit admiring glances from the male of the species; on another, a
slightly more mature but equally alluring hostess will -- unless your hormones
are in stasis -- dazzle the eye with her delightfully daring décolletage.
Both of these charming ladies, I should hasten to add, seem entirely
appropriate to the often tempestuous testosterone transfused terrain of an
all-American steakhouse. In any event, both are most pleasant and accommodating
and will, according to your wishes, escort you directly to table or point you
toward the bar/lounge for the pleasantries of a preprandial libation.
And this latter option would surely make a suitable starting point for your
evening, as the bar is cozy, convivial, and boasts a plethora of rustic wood
and brick, etched-glass panels, grand piano and -- like the dining areas --
picturesque depictions of the wild, wild West. The only downer is that the
service area at the far end of the bar serves as a gathering place for members
of the staff when not attending to their various and sundry duties. Here, with
boisterous enthusiasm, are discussed the latest baseball standings, dating and
mating rituals, and the apparent capricious whims of management's scheduling
policies. Needless to say, this is all very distracting to patrons in search of
a quiet cocktail and intimate conversation.
Still, if you can tune out the staff's vociferous barrage of inane chatter,
there are certain oenological rewards to be had. By the glass, the Campanile
Pinot Grigio ($7.25) and Clos du Bois Chardonnay ($8.50) are both highly
recommended. Among the reds, the Crosspoint Pinot Noir ($8.25) displays an
agreeable touch of elegance and the Estancia Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon
($10.00) is quite suitable for those who prefer a bit more body. And be sure to
peruse the award-winning wine list: For those contemplating beef, the 2001
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon ($65.00) is exceptional; and the 2003 La
Scolca Black Label Gavi di Gavi ($63.00) makes a marvelous accompaniment for a
great variety of seafood.
When you're ready to adjourn to table, bear in mind that, while the
bar/lounge is exceedingly comfortable, the main dining area is not nearly so
posh as accommodations to be found in more upscale bovine establishments. The
room is quite unpretentious; in point of fact, it bears an uncanny resemblance
to a rustic saloon. One expects Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty to come
strolling in at any moment.
And the high-ceilinged space is boisterous and bustling. What with carts
bearing tubs of dirty dishes clunking along the hardwood floor, the constant
arranging -- and rearranging -- of tables and chairs, the restless comings and
goings of carnivorous hordes, and the spirited verbal byplay on the part of
members of the staff, the frenetic ambulation can become unnerving. Despite
this apparent state of organized confusion, however -- and the complaints from
other reviewers regarding sporadic service -- I have always found the members
of the wait staff here to be, if not finely polished, at least competent and
professional in the timely fulfillment of their appointed tasks. Still, if you
desire a respite from some (but certainly not all) of the general hubbub,
prevail upon the hostess to seat you in one of the smaller side rooms... and
hope for the best.
The regular menu is a straightforward affair highlighting the restaurant's
USDA prime beef, which is aged on the premises, and a number of permanent
appetizers, potatoes & vegetables, and salads. There is also a daily
printed insert listing items (with prices) designed to appeal to seafood lovers
as well as carnivores with more adventurous palates. By any stretch of the
imagination, an evening at River Palm Terrace is NOT a
cheap date; but since a house salad and choice of French fries, baked Idaho
potato, or rice are included with the entrée -- and are usually additional
luxuries at more hoity-toity steakhouses -- the sticker shock may be somewhat
Among the appetizers, the Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail ($16.95) is
clearly the star of the show. A copious mound of sweet, succulent nuggets is
set on a bed of radicchio and garnished with ramekins of spicy cocktail sauce
and horseradish. A fabulous starter. As are the grilled
tender-right-down-to-the-stem artichoke hearts accompanied by pristinely fresh
mâche and drizzles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar ($11.95).
The presentation of fried calamari with fresh tomato-basil sauce ($10.95) is
also quite good. The squid is lightly breaded, perfectly cooked, and
surprisingly tender. The Maryland crab cakes ($14.95), on the other hand, are
overpriced and suffer from a surfeit of filler. They resemble potato
croquettes, which isn't at all surprising, as they contain infinitely more
whipped potato than they do crab. Although nicely seasoned with green onions
and dash of pimento, at these elevated tariffs, one expects a good deal more
crustacean for the money.
And speaking of unreasonable monetary machinations... nothing beats the hot
seafood platter for two, which weighs in at a whopping $32.50. Consisting of
two of the aforementioned potato-crab croquettes, mountain of calamari, and six
rubbery, scorched clams casino, it simply isn't worth the hefty price tag.
The Caesar salad ($6.95) also leaves a great deal to be desired. The romaine
suffers from a severe case of battle fatigue, the anchovy-tinged dressing is
slightly off tasting, Parmesan cheese is conspicuous by its absence, and the
croutons are stale. Hardly inspiring. Much preferred is the freebie house
salad. Chopped lettuces, tomato, cucumber, and onions are tossed with a light
vinaigrette in a faux wooden bowl by your server and then plated for individual
diners. A silver gravy boat of crumbled blue cheese adds to the festivities.
Very nice, indeed.
Like the appetizers, entrées have their ups and downs. The grilled rib eye
steak ($33.95) is beautifully textured, alive with flavor, and finds a perfect
complement in a topping of earthy Gorgonzola cheese. The presentation of
grilled medallions of filet mignon ($28.95), four petite segments surrounding
an epicenter of mashed potatoes and tiara of sautéed spinach, sounds like a
good idea -- especially since the potatoes are positively hedonistic and the
obviously fresh greenery is tinged with garlic -- but the medallions lack the
velvety texture so characteristic of this cut of meat and are decidedly fatty
If you decide to go the filet mignon route, stick with the infinitely
superior prime butcher cut ($32.95). And if your wallet is up to the challenge,
you might also consider the prodigious prime porterhouse for two ($74.00). Also
available are the prime T-bone for one ($37.00) and hefty veal chop ($28.95).
Should you be contemplating finny fare, the salmon ($28.95) is excellent.
This fish is cooked through, precisely as ordered, topped with a golden brown
shredded potato crust, and finished with a delicate but assertive champagne
mustard sauce. Conversely, the red snapper "oreganato" ($28.95),
while obviously of the highest quality and at the peak of good health, is the
unfortunate victim of both over breading and over seasoning.
When it comes to the aforementioned freebie starches, the Idaho baked potato
is just that, a baked potato; the rice is dry and tasteless; but the French
fries are marvelous. Served up family-style in mountainous portions, they are
delightfully crisp and incredibly addictive. The best spuds I've sampled in a
long, long time.
With regard to side orders: The jumbo-cut onion rings ($4.95) are
fabulous... ditto the homemade mashed potatoes ($5.95) and fresh leaf spinach
sautéed with garlic and olive oil ($6.95). Conversely, the steamed asparagus
spears ($7.95) are in desperate need of a jolt of butter and/or seasoning; and
as it cools, the creamed spinach ($4.95) acquires the viscosity of molasses in
Desserts, should your peristaltic functions be up to the challenge, are a
cut above. Of those made on the premises, I would highly recommend the
first-rate Florida Key lime pie ($8.95), creamy cheesecake ($7.95), and
scrumptious individual apple pie with cinnamon ice cream and chocolate sauce
($8.95). And, although it is trucked in from off campus, the divinely decadent
chocolate mud pie ($7.95) -- a long-standing establishment tradition -- is a
chocoholic's dream come true.
Espresso ($3.25 single/$5.50 double) is also quite good. But if you really
want to go out in style, settle back with a taste of 25-year-old McCallan
single malt ($45.00) or, better still -- and definitely not for the faint of
pocketbook -- the Remy Louis XIII ($140.00).
Like most restaurants, the River Palm Terrace, which also sports
locations in Edgewater and Fairlawn, has its share of liabilities as well as
assets: It is not as posh or upscale as a Ruth's Chris or Morton's, for
example; the main dining area is quite noisy; and rambunctious progeny appear
to be everywhere present. Its confines, in my opinion, are infinitely better
suited to family and group gatherings than to romantic repasts à deux.
Take these above admonitions to heart and a visit to Mahwah's River Palm
Terrace will not prove a disappointment.
Cuisine: Steak and Seafood
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 12:00 noon - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs,
3:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri, 3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 11:00
p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar/lounge only.
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web site: http://www.riverpalm.com.