Vineyards Restaurant and Wine Bar
3619 Route 94
Hardyston, Sussex County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
January 14, 2008
Restaurant Now Closed
Can a restaurant location be jinxed? Perhaps. It is certainly no
secret that a number of establishments have tried -- and subsequently failed --
at this very same site. Be that as it may, with Vineyards Restaurant and
Wine Bar, the Sussex Restaurant Group appears to have a definite winner on
And there are a number of interesting factors at work here. First of all,
despite previous faux pas, the venue is primo, rife with golf courses
and ski resorts with incredible potential for attracting summer and winter
visitors, as well as a slew of residents from the posh Crystal Springs compound
just across the road. Secondly the former Hayloft and Big Red Barn underwent
five months of intensive reconstruction before its November 14th (2007) debut
and now boasts not only Vineyards, but also the chic and romantic
New York-style Shadow Lounge, which offers 50 signature martinis and an
exciting array of tapas fusion fare. Thirdly, in contrast to the expensive and,
in my opinion, overrated Latour at Crystal Springs, Vineyards prices are
(Note: August 2008--New executive chef is Peter Case.)
But the major component in this restaurant's future success scenario is
surely the presence of the power behind the stove, Executive Chef Patrick Yves
Pierre-Jerome. As many will undoubtedly recall, Mr. Pierre-Jerome was the
chef/proprietor of the four-star Yves in Montclair before moving on to
consistent critical acclaim as the exec at Stage Left in New Brunswick and,
subsequently, a successful stint at the Mountain Lakes Country Club.
Mr. Pierre-Jerome, of course, is famous for his exquisitely innovative
American cuisine with French accents; at Vineyards, however, the
emphasis is somewhat different. The menu is more eclectic in nature, ranging
from simple American bistro fare to a number of more creative international
offerings. As Mr. Pierre-Jerome noted in a recent interview: "We are
trying to be all things to many people."
But that is not to say that his recipes are "dumbed down" in any
sense of the word. His presentations are as intensely flavorful as ever;
indeed, even with the simplest of dishes, he has the uncanny ability to take
his ingredients to the max.
You may, for example, enjoy the sublime simplicity of meatloaf ($14.00), the
ultimate American comfort food. But no slices here. The chef's conception is
individually circular, a generous patty finished with an extraordinarily savory
bacon-wild mushroom demi-glace and crown of crispy fried onions. And
just as deliciously down-home is the individual Texas Shepard's pie ($14.00), a
rich and robust chili topped by a layer of luscious mashed potatoes sprinkled
with melted cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses. On the other hand, you may not
be able to resist the house favorite, a decadently juicy 10-ounce Kobe burger
($11.00) aided and abetted by blue cheese, cheddar, and/or apple wood smoked
bacon ($1.00 per).
And Mr. Pierre-Jerome's creative fare is totally beguiling. By the chef's
own admission, his signature dish is the presentation of diver scallops
($22.00). The bivalves are pan-seared to a golden brown and marvelously meaty.
Artistically placed on a diminutive pillow of lobster quiche, they are
surrounded by a sensuous sea of orange-ginger sauce.
Continuing in the seafood vein, the special tilapia ($17.00) is adorned with
a light potato crust and circumscribed by an armada of ethereal shrimp pillows
and roasted shiitake mushrooms; the crispy red snapper ($18.00) is kissed by an
enticing tomato-tarragon sauce; and the sesame-crusted salmon ($19.00) is
finished with a pungent hoisin vinaigrette.
In the red meat department, the braised lamb shank ($15.00) is without peer.
The succulent, tender flesh literally falls off the bone, and the entire affair
is consummated with a superlative rosemary sauce. This particular herb can be a
mighty tough customer, fragrant enough, in a culinary sense, to bury anything.
But here it is applied with such discretion that it lovingly caresses rather
than smothers the object of its affection.
As I mentioned at the outset -- and as you have undoubtedly noticed --
prices here, especially given the superior quality of the cuisine -- are a
comparative bargain. And what makes them even more attractive is the fact that
soup or salad and two sides are included with your main course. The house
salad, for example, is an obviously freshly tossed mélange of mixed greens
anointed with a lively Champagne vinaigrette; and the soup we sampled on two
occasions was a sumptuous, perfectly seasoned ham-lentil. Even these relatively
simple items, mere throwaways in lesser establishments, show unusually special
care in preparation and exhibit a decided touch of class.
... As do the side dishes. The mashed potatoes are lumpy and luscious; the
creamed spinach puts steakhouse versions to shame; and the coleslaw,
embellished with dried cranberries and honey, is uniquely flavorful. The
polenta is beguilingly crisp; the risotto tinctured with herbs and delightfully
creamy; and the garlic bok choy just garlicky enough. Tender broccoli rabe,
sweet potato fries, glazed carrots, ratatouille, potato puffs, and house-made
fries round out the possibilities.
With so much food in the offering, appetizers appear almost superfluous.
However, should you be so inclined, and the possessor of a hearty appetite, I
highly recommend both the French onion soup laced with sherry and topped with
Gruyere ($5.00) and the ethereal gnocchi companioned by pesto, grilled
portobello mushrooms, and roasted peppers ($8.00/as an entree, $15.00).
Desserts, all homemade, continue with style. The apple spring rolls are
perfectly crisp and adorned with a decadent caramel sauce and dollop of vanilla
ice cream ($7.00); and the baked cup of hot malted milk chocolate ($7.00) more
than lives up to its description -- part gooey/part chocolate -- crowned with
toasted mini marshmallows. The bananas Foster ($7.00) is an innovative takeoff
on the New Orleans classic: an armada of sliced bananas and rich buttery sauce
surrounding a chocolate brownie topped with a tiara of vanilla ice cream.
In keeping with the Vineyards theme, you will discover a very nice
wine list. A supple and elegant 1/2 bottle of 2002 Estancia Meritage ($35.00)
-- a blend of cabernet, merlot, and petit verdot -- is particularly
recommended; and Esperto Pinot Grigio ($8.00) and Rocca Della Macia Chianti
($9.00) are both excellent choices by the glass.
There is absolutely no question that Vineyards Restaurant and Wine Bar
is poised to become a major player on the Sussex County restaurant scene. And I
also have no doubts whatsoever that Mr. Pierre-Jerome will continue to hold
locals and visitors alike under his magic culinary spell.
Hours: Open seven days: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: 5:00 p.m.
- 11:00 p.m.; Shadow Lounge: Weds - Fri, 8:00 p.m. - 2:00 a.m.; Sat, 8:00 p.m.
- 3:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Alcohol: License; interesting wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes