Now’s your chance. Go to The PASS before the New York Times – and the rest of Hunterdon and Bucks Counties – discovers it. And go as often as you can.
When the PASS first opened on May 1st, I wrote a brief piece about chef Matthew Ridgway, how I met him and what he has been doing for the past couple of years in the area. Ridgway caught my attention with his superb charcuterie – all manner of pates and cured meats – which he sells under the name PorcSalt.
But what many around here don’t know is Ridgway’s background as a chef in some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta. Now you can experience his skill in the kitchen as he blends French-inspired dishes with seasonal, local products, working with his long-time colleague Paul Mitchell in the kitchen. The result is creative, exciting and a delight. We need to go to this restaurant often.
Good karma. We met friends at the restaurant last Friday evening. You probably know the place. It was for many years the Café at Rosemont, just north of Stockton. It’s got good karma. So many people have fond memories of the Café. And in fact, very little has changed in way of décor from when it was the Café – simple, wooden furniture, knick knacks on the shelves and that same green color covering the walls (that I could do without).
The tone is laid back and casual. You won’t find any white tablecloths or pretention here. As Ridgway says, the restaurant is “like a French routier or roadhouse. We use quality ingredients to elevate simple dishes. The atmosphere is intentionally casual, and the prices are reasonable.”
You’ll also find influences from other Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy. My knowledge of French cooking is lacking and so I needed some translation for the menu but the wait staff was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, explaining the dishes in terms we could all understand.
The prix fixe menu changes every week. It includes a first course, second course and dessert. On Friday, we had a choice of five items for the first course – a chilled seafood acqua pazza, warmed rabbit rilletes with vermicelli pancake, a vichyssoise made with cabbage and ricotta, uni toast gratin with saffron pil-pil and a porc wiener. I decided on the seafood acqua pazza, served in a parfait glass with the seafood on top of an avocado cream. I scraped every last bit out of the glass.
Mark got the porc wiener, served as a petite sandwich with whole grain mustard and other traditional fixings. I got a bite and was very happy. Just the right amount of salt and a lot of flavor. I also had the opportunity to taste the rabbit rilletes, a kind of pate made by cutting up the meat, salting it and cooking it slowly in fat, then shredding it and mixing it back in with some of the fat. Fantastic. The guys said the vichyssoise was also very good.
Onto the second course, a choice of three items – quail escabeche with green onion raviolette and chick peas, porc mange tout resting on du puy lentils pistou, and a roasted white fish “salt cod” brandade. I chose the porc mange tout made with pork belly and finished every last delicious lentil. To be honest, I did not taste the other dishes. I was too consumed with my own.
Dessert was a very difficult choice. The paris-bresse, a flat donut-like pastry, was filled with hazelnut cream and drizzled with caramel. Mark got that and allowed me a bite. I wanted more. I chose the bay leaf panna cotta with stuffed lemon dates. The sugared bay leaf was laid on top of a light, creamy panna cotta and the stuffed dates added just the right chewy compliment to the softness of the dessert. A cheese course, featuring nearby Bobolink Dairy’s Drumm cheese was also offered for an additional $3.
All this for only $38.50 per person. It’s BYOB and reservations are recommended (see their website). Check out Ridgway’s blog that includes suggested wines to accompany each week’s menu. Dinner is served Wednesday through Saturday, 5:30 pm to 10 pm. It is not, however, handicap accessible at this time.
Take home some bacon. You might also want to take home some of Ridgway’s charcuterie, sold out of a cold case near the front of the restaurant. Ridgway uses a specific variety of local and sustainable old-world breed pigs, a mixture of Duroc and Berkshire, as well as duck and chicken. You’ll find bacon, pancetta, guanciale, fois gras, terrines, pates, prosciutto and torchon (for a full product list, see their website). The charcuterie is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
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