Update (2/2009): Esty is under new ownership since this report. It has been remodeled and somewhat tweaked. Adam Weiss remains in the kitchen, and the restaurant is open for business.
Esty Street is one of those places that has been around for a reeeally long time, and seems to fly under the radar. If you've just mumbled "Huh? Where?", well I'm not surprised: it's not new, it's not hip, it's not flashy, it doesn't have a big bar scene, it's not young, it's not a lot of things. What it is, however, is a solid restaurant serving some of the more interesting food that Bergen County has to offer.
Every time we walk away from a meal here we think "damn, we should go back there." And then a year passes and we don't. Why you ask? It's partially due to the fact that we have no idea where it is. If not for GPS, I'd never find it. Thankfully, the GPS was working today as we pulled out of the parking lot of the intensely crowded Nellie's, which is really a great standby for a Thursday night (save for the totally full bar on most Thursdays, of course). Restaurant L, up the road a piece, also looked mobbed. Thursdays at 7:30 suck for last-minute dining. Thankfully Esty Street came to mind, and within 15 minutes of typing "Esty" into the GPS, we found it. Again.
The restaurant isn't all that big, and the bar isn't either. We've been lucky enough to grab a bar spot during each visit, along with a few others who were clearly regulars.
Our bartender on this recent visit was new to us, but I felt at ease as soon as I started asking about margaritas and tequila. I asked if they had fresh lime juice for a margarita, as opposed to crap "sweet and sour" mix or Rose's neon green high fructose corn syrup water product, and was informed that she'd be more than happy to juice a lime for me. When I started to get into specifics about what I wanted in the drink ("reposado, touch of Cointreau, lime juice,") she said "I know how you like it." That meant "I know what you want", even though she'd never served me in the past. Turns out it's how this bartender likes them as well. I like a bartender who knows how to make a good margarita.
Make no mistake about it: Esty Street is not a southwestern or Mexican restaurant, but it is the best southwestern restaurant in this part of the state. That makes little sense I know. But there's something about the Chef's ingredients and preparations that remind me intensely of meals in Santa Fe, and how I think meals in some parts of Mexico might be.
Duck confit tostadas, a special that night (created by the sous chef, Adam Weiss), was just absolutely fun and delicious. At first the idea of cheese and duck put me off, but that didn't last long after sticking my fork into this dish, and cutting through the fresh tomato (grown by the Chef I'm told) hidden below pieces of duck and a light layer of cheese. A great, fun dish.
Pear and beet and goat cheese salad? Yes, please. Thank you.
An all-American wine list? I love it. It takes balls to do it, and it's not easy to pull off successfully. Well done, in this case. Lots of selections with many under 50 bucks. Davis Bynum? But of course. I never did like Francophiles very much anyway, so hopefully this list pisses them off, and keeps them away.
I thought the pork in the special of "braised bacon pappardelle" was a bit pedestrian. In fact, it tasted like store-bought spiral ham. I'm not convinced it wasn't, and I would have preferred almost any other pork product in this dish, which was just fine otherwise. This was the only misstep in the 8 or so dishes that I've had here.
Esty Street is serving food that's bright and clean. Lots of acids and herbs. Overall I'd say that it's one of the more interesting restaurants in Bergen County, and well worth trying to find (hint: it's not on Esty Street).
Esty Street : 86 Spring Valley Rd : Park Ridge, NJ : 201.307.1515