Although it hardly seems possible, over eight years have passed since
I last reviewed Whispers, Nicholas Bruno's charming little jewel-box tucked
away in the Hewitt Wellington Hotel. On the surface, not much appears to have
changed. The restaurant's casually elegant interior, which accommodates a scant
50 diners, is as beguilingly romantic as ever; and the service remains
attentive without being obnoxiously obtrusive.
As many New Jersey diners are no doubt aware, however, there has been a
changing of the guard in the kitchen. Mark Mikolajczyk and David McCleery have
departed and are now the chefs/co-proprietors of the Black Trumpet just
a few blocks away. Scott Giordano, an alumnus of the CIA in Hyde Park, NY, now
holds forth as executive chef, and the cuisine is every bit as irresistible as
it was under the previous administration.
In the heat of summer and early fall, salads make excellent preludes -- and
Mr. Giordano's renderings are exceptional. The grilled romaine heart ($9.00),
for example, one of the chef's signature dishes, is simple yet seductive. A
pristinely fresh sheaf of romaine is gently touched by fire, slathered with
just the proper amount of an enticing lemon-mustard dressing, and attractively
presented on a large square plate. A sprinkling of pine nuts adds a nice
textural contrast; dabs of sun-dried tomato purée at two corners, an attractive
splash of color.
And the presentation of chilled asparagus ($10.00) is yet another winner.
Jumbo spears are prepared to a perfect consistency, not at all stringy, and
companioned by a combo of red & gold beets, sautéed fennel, and marinated
portobello mushrooms. A luscious roasted tomato dressing adds a marvelous
For those who prefer starters of a more substantive nature, the grilled lamb
tenderloin ($12.00) is something of a must. Tender, succulent strips of
tenderloin cozy up to a corn & bell pepper polenta cake, are chaperoned by
slices of grilled zucchini, and consummated with an assertive chipotle demi-glace.
More in the mood for seafood? An array of pristinely fresh sautéed shrimp
and grilled pita triangles surround a black bean cake decked out in a tiara of
mango salad -- and all constituents bask in the glow of a memorable honey red
curry sauce ($13.00); a benchmark jumbo lump crab cake is crowned with a
chipotle lime remoulade and attended by asparagus, mushrooms, and roasted
peppers ($14.00); and meaty seared scallops luxuriate on a sumptuous seabed of
soba noodles ($14.00).
When it comes time to choose your entrée of the evening, please bear in mind
that the chef prepares fish to perfection. His wild king salmon ($32.00), for
instance, is cooked through, precisely as ordered, yet remains incredibly
moist. It arrives pillowed on kalamata olive/toasted pine nut Israeli couscous
and asparagus spears and is finished with a superlative sun-dried tomato basil
butter. The Chilean sea bass ($32.00), on the other hand, takes a delectable
turn toward the East. It is marinated in sake, broiled, and accompanied to
table by shiitake mushroom rice, tender baby bok choy, and an enticing sesame
Two other piscatorial possibilities to consider are the oven-roasted,
spice-rubbed halibut ($34.00) and panko-crusted swordfish stuffed with crabmeat
($32.00). The former, set on a bed of poblano chili mashed potatoes, is a
superb effort. It is presented à la Provençal -- replete with capers,
grape tomatoes, black olives, and brown butter -- and is surrounded by a sortie
of tender julienne vegetables.
The latter is done to a beautiful golden brown, underpinned with sweet
crabmeat, set on a foundation of smashed Yukon gold potatoes and sautéed
spinach, and finished with a tantalizing teriyaki drizzle. This is a very rich
dish; a trifle too rich for my palate, as it turned out. Actually, I think the
presentation would have been just as effective without the crabmeat, although
this is just a personal preference. But since most people go absolutely gaga
over this delicacy, it is perfectly understandable why it would be included.
The kitchen excels in meaty matters as well. The barrel cut filet mignon
($33.00) is a carnivore's dream come true. And it is paired with an earthy
Gorgonzola potato cake and topping of heady cabernet shallot butter. Superb!
You might also opt for the tender sautéed medallions of veal in the company of
luscious lobster mashed potatoes ($32.00) or the grilled white marble pork chop
finished in a sherry shallot sauce ($29.00).
Portion sizes are ample but not prodigious. Whatever you do, however, be
sure to leave room for one of the outstanding desserts. The banana bread
pudding topped with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream ($8.00) is a
homey classic, as are the crème brûlée adorned with coconut shavings
($9.00) and the warm pecan tart ($9.00). On the other hand, the lemon Napoleon
($9.00) is more delicate of disposition. A light and creamy lemon mousse is
layered between feathery tiers of puff pastry and gently anointed with a fresh
blueberry and Mandarin orange sauce.
Even with changes in the kitchen administration, Whispers has
remained remarkably consistent. The cuisine continues to dazzle, the service
shines, and the ambiance is as irresistibly romantic as ever. Entertain
absolutely no doubts, this charming restaurant is still at the very top of its
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Hours: Dinner: Serving daily from 5:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Parking: Ample street parking
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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