Restaurant L opened less than two weeks ago (it's 11/1/06, as I type this) in the old "Turnpike" space on Franklin Turnpike in Allendale.
Driving by the long-abandoned Turnpike building for the past 5 or so years, I've had visions of buying it and opening a BBQ restaurant. It was a real shack. It looked like a shack. It looked old. It looked like it should have BBQ.
Well some other people had different ideas, and weren't as gun-shy: they moved in, and totally redid the whole building. Probably down to the foundation, where none even existed apparently, according to a brief conversation with one of the principals. Suffice it to say, they did a lot of work on the place. The result is a sharp-looking "New American" restaurant. Our recent visit suggested that we were not the first ones to notice that the sharp-looking place opened.
First impressions from the outside:
The parking lot was filled to capacity, on a mid-week night at 6 pm. And I think I spied me some outdoor seating on a patio behind the building, with gas-heaters.
First impressions from the inside:
The bar room was filled to capacity (we didn't peek into the dining room). Luckily we found a few spots at the bar for a quick drink and quick bite.
First service impressions:
A fella named Billy was behind the bar. We immediately (now when I say "we", I mean the much more keen missus) recognized him as our bartender from Sabor in Hawthorne. Now he's here. Not there.
First wine impressions:
The wine red wine is served way too warm. Room temp which, on this particular night, proved to be well over 70 degrees. This has to be sorted out to my mind. They have some nice stemware, but those were often warm from coming out of the dishwasher. I think they just couldn't keep up with the stemware demand. I'm sure that'll be addressed as well.
Their current website (which is under construction at this point) includes a picture of Robert Sinskey Vineyards, whose wines they do have. We like Robert Sinskey wines, and we like Restaurant L already for serving them.
First menu impressions:
The menu consists of steaks and chops and a raw bar, with some Asian touches. Fish as well. A nice mix. All of the food we saw coming out of the kitchen was artfully plated and looked appetizing. Chef Natoli comes most recently from Hackensack New Jersey's Stony Hill Inn.
First bite impressions:
I was able to pinpoint what is no doubt the best item on the menu: pork shank, served with truffled egg noodles. Not too much truffle flavor, but that didn't matter. This shank was OUT-STAND-DING. Crispy on the outside, tender and really porky on the inside. When cut open with a fork, the steamy porkiness filled my nose. If they take it off the menu I'll cry. It's not something that you find many places, and I think it'll put off most of Restaurant L's customers. I hope I'm wrong. I'd be proud to serve this dish to anyone. And I just might for Christmas dinner this year. (Edit: this dish made my year-end Best of 2006 list)
The beef short ribs lacked any depth of flavor that I'd associate with long-time-braised beef. They could have used a salty element. Anchovies come to mind. They were served with a diner-style mélange of steamed veggies. I find this treatment of vegetables near pointless. I'd much prefer a couple of great green beans, or some seasonal squash, or something that is actually exceptional in some way. A mix of squash, beans, carrots, and whatever else doesn't do it for me. That could be me, though.
First impressions of the people around me:
It seemed that everyone knew everyone. That's not odd for a new restaurant, as oftentimes friends, family, and associates flock during the opening stages. It's the kind of place where you might hear "Oh, there's my dentist, let me go say 'hi'". And I heard just that. Nothing wrong with that of course. But I'll be interested to see how it all plays out. With any luck, it will all normalize, and there will be more room for me at the bar for that pork shank. Can I get a "hells yeah"? Thanks.
A special shout-out to Table Hopping with Rosie for the heads up on the opening.
Restaurant L : 9 Franklin Turnpike : Allendale, NJ : 201.785.1112