Tag Archives: Frank Cretella Landmark Hospitality

Ryland Inn Preview Dinner

New Jersey’s most well known restaurant is back up and running – well, almost – with a series of preview dinners. Does Ryland Inn 2.0 measure up? Here’s a sneak peak.

English: women in masquerade

English: women in masquerade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I get down to specifics, clarifications are in order. In my capacity as restaurant critic I do my utmost to dine anonymously. If there’s even a slight chance that I may be recognized, I don a disguise. (During my days as radio talk show host I interviewed many chefs and restaurateurs face to face.) My disguise is so effective that even my brother-in-law who has known me for decades did not recognize me in it. (I sought out professional advice. It’s a great story that I’ll relate when my reviewing days are over.)

That said, I did not go to the new Ryland Inn in disguise. It wasn’t necessary – not because owners Jeanne & Frank Cretella and executive chef Anthony Bucco don’t know me. They do. I went in plain sight for the simple reason that there is no way I can officially review this restaurant. I am totally compromised because my husband, Bill, is the site engineer for the project through his employer, Van Cleef Engineering.

And that said, here’s my report on my preview dinner – as objective as I can make it.

Overall Impressions

In short, the Ryland Inn is poised to reclaim its rightful place among the Garden State’s best. Not because it recreates the old days – that would be a losing proposition. On the contrary, Bucco’s food is totally 21st century, totally his own, and totally exciting.

Yet the team has recaptured one important aspect from back in the day: the essence of what it felt like to dine at the Ryland. The place has been renovated inside and out – including the addition attractive new fittings and fixtures that mix traditional and au courant elements – but is still recognizable, and that sense of easy grace remains. This applies to the service, too, which is polished, informed, and correct, but also warm, natural, and as interactive as you want it to be – which is also reminiscent of the glory days.

The Meal

We started with a drink at the bar, where mixologist Chris made this beautiful cocktail of pomegranate juice and reposado tequila topped with Champagne and garnished with a grapefruit twist.
The amuse – coins of spanking fresh, rose-red tuna and coral-pink salmon crudo in broth – was simultaneously bracing and luxurious. We downed it so quickly (as we did the Asiago sourdough bread) that we neglected to snap a photo.

A situation we did not repeat with this bowl of potato gnocchi with duck prosciutto and chanterelles in Pecorino broth:

All pistons are firing in this dish, the toothsome pillows the perfect the canvas for slivers of rich, salty duck and earthy mushrooms. Ditto for the pistons in this

creamy chilled celeriac and potato soup with smoked trout, Swiss chard, and horseradish creme fraiche. The textures and flavors of both dishes have nothing in common except that the elements of each are exquisitely attuned and harmonious.

This seared tuna blew us away: It arrived in one piece, looking for all the world like a block of pork belly. But a gentle nudge with my fork revealed these pre-cut slices. Among its elements are pickled watermelon, Asian pear, miso vinaigrette, and truffle. Sesame shows up in the form of black seeds, toasted oil, and – see the white stuff by the fork tines? – sesame powder. Yes, Chef Bucco plays with chemistry (maltodextrin in this case) and the latest technologies, but never just for effect. If you have never grasped the concept of umami, this dish will enlighten you. If it were an IPO, I’d invest in it.

About this horseradish-crusted organic Irish salmon:

my husband declared it the best textured salmon he has ever had. It’s encrusted with horseradish crumbs (not as dark as it appears here) and that’s horseradish creme anchoring it. Pickled fennel adds a note of anise; arugula one of pepper. It’s hard to see, but resting in the cream sauce are red quinoa, cucumber balls the size of peas, and mushroom balls even smaller. All intensely flavorful. How is this accomplished?

This photo doesn’t do justice to the tasting of lamb with smoked polenta, braised endive, and romesco sauce.  In addition to the rosy seared loin medallions shown, it includes meltingly tender chunks of braised shank, a rib bone (which, I’m embarrassed to say I picked up with my hands and gnawed), and – wait for it – sweetbreads.

Here are before and after shots of the cheesecake “truffle” with Graham cracker sponge and strawberries (they looked like wild ones):

“Truffle” cracked open

Before I cracked open the lemony cheesecake “truffles” that look like eggs

Our photography skills lapsed again as we dug into a moist cake made with Terhune Orchards apples accompanied by fig-balsamic puree, raisin chutney, and creme fraiche ice cream, as well as fresh figs and nasturtium leaves. Another showstopper is panna cotta made with Valley Shepherd sheep’s milk yogurt with a puree of local basil seeds and bits of tropical fruits – fresh and manipulated – including star fruit, kiwi, and pineapple.

The coffee service shown reminds me of other elegant appointments, which included a Laguiole steak knife for my lamb course, world-class wine glasses, and ultra-luxuriant napkins. You can end your meal with one of 7 French press coffees. If tea is your thing, among the loose leaf choices are a biodynamic one and City Harvest Green, for which 20% goes to that worthy organization.

Snagging a Reservation

There will be at least another week of preview dinners at the Ryland, with reservations now being accepted on OpenTable for October 1 and beyond. Keep in mind that the menu and much else are being tweaked, so the dishes I enjoyed may or may not be what you encounter. Rest assured, though, that they will be of that caliber.

The Tab

Wondering about prices? Well, these also may fluctuate, but here’s some idea of what to expect: a la carte starters range from $10 (that celeric soup, for instance) to $16 (grilled Spanish octopus with cranberry beans, feta, pine nuts, salsa verde). Entrees, $27 for Amish chicken breast with roasted root vegetables, hazelnut puree, and tarragon jus, to $36 for the tasting of lamb. Desserts, $9 to $12. During previews a 7-course chef’s degustation is $85.

Wines are, to my mind, similarly reasonable. We ordered two reds by the glass, to go with the salmon and lamb respectively. Our lead server, Marc, made excellent, knowing choices for us after asking about our wine predilections.

In conclusion, welcome back Ryland Inn

Restaurants Galore: Brian’s Review, Bernards Inn, Nicholas, Ryland Inn; Plus Win a Trip to Portugal

My 3-star review of Brian’s – chef/owner Brian Held‘s French/Italian bistro in Lambertville that opened earlier this year in the space on Kline’s Court that had been No. 9 – is in the August issue of New Jersey Monthly. Check out the online version here.

NJ Seafood is Having Its Moment


seafood (Photo credit: kiszka king)

I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or what, but this summer the state’s top-tier chefs are showcasing fish and seafood from local waters like never before. Just a few of the most exciting examples:

The Bernards Inn: For the Garden State Bounty dinner he’ll be cooking at the Beard House on August 9, executive chef Corey Heyer will combine NJ seafood with ingredients from the Inn’s own garden. In a nutshell (or perhaps sea shell):

Hors d’oeuvre of smoked blue fish, Cape May salt oysters, clams (in the form of a shooter), blue crab, and lobster (in the form of a summer roll).

Four courses featuring fluke, Barnegat Inlet scallops, skate, and striped bass.

Dessert is fish-less, and rightly so: Jersey peach tart Tatin with local honey and lavender ice cream.

Bernards Inn wine director Terri Baldwin has selected wines for each course. For the full menu and to make reservations for the Beard House ($130 -$170) click here.

Nicholas: On August 23, Nicholas Harary will feature a one-night-only Tastes of the Sea menu at his top-rated Red Bank restaurant. Cape May salts, NJ Canyon bluefin tuna, Jersey blue crab (joined by sea urchin – not a NJ creature, but oh my!), Barnegat Light scallops, and lobster. $125, or $175 with wine pairings. For the full menu, details, and reservations, click here.

Ryland Inn: No, Ryland 2.0 in Whitehouse is not open yet, but I hear tell it will be soon. Meanwhile, I had a chance to preview the kinds of things executive chef Anthony Bucco has up his chef-jacket sleeve when he guest cheffed at the Stone House in Warren one evening in June. NJ seafood starred in several courses of a memorable meal, among them a perfectly nuanced crudo of yellowfin and yellowtail with baby herbs and Jersey strawberries, and steamed black bass with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and a puree of English peas and mint that was the embodiment of spring in a bowl.

btw: If you haven’t read Tammy La Gorce’s excellent story in the August issue of  NJ Monthly about the Ryland’s new owners, Jeanne & Frank Cretella of Landmark Hospitality, read it here.

Win a Trip to Portugal!

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Dou...

Portuguese wine center of Oporto along the Douro river. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trade association ViniPortugal has launched a U.S. Facebook contest with a grand prize of a five-day trip to Portugal.  The contest runs between now and September 25th, with the winner announced on September 28. I have to admit I haven’t read the rules, but you might want to. Just click here.