Some restaurants have such influential reputations that I automatically put them on the ‘dream list’ of places to try. With jam packed work and social calendars, a very large catalogue of places to try, and limited funds it’s nearly impossible to try every raved about restaurant across the state. Some restaurants land on this to-do list of mine and just get pushed to the back burner as new exciting places start to arrive on the scene.
Today’s write-up is on one restaurant that has star-like influence around NJ and it has been on my radar for a while. Mistral is a tapas style American cuisine eatery in Princeton, NJ. The restaurant has won a legion of awards including landing in the Top 25 restaurants in the state for New Jersey Monthly Magazine this year. While I don’t live in the Princeton area, I do work there so I was able to steal away for a lunch to finally try their upscale, locally sourced cookery.
It was a gorgeous afternoon so we sat on their open-aired terrace. The veranda made you feel like you were taking your lunch at a spa resort in the countryside (rather than a small building, situated in a busy city center of town) with its soothing waterfall wall, high exposed wood and brick ceilings, and restored window shutters as décor.
My observation of the menu was that it caters to the refined palate with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and unique flavor combinations. The dishes all looked to have a simplistic approach that really highlights the culinary technique that’s skillfully required with each meal. We each decided to choose 2 small plates per person. Of course we tasted and shared to get a feel for the other menu items but, our individual choices were the main focus for our lunch meal.
The waiter dropped off some light, airy and crunchy mystery “snacks” at our table to start the meal instead of bread. If you’ve ever had a shrimp toast, these are what they most similarly reminded me of (That may even be what they were but we never asked). We each ordered one of their specialty (Non-alcoholic) beverages to pair with our meal. The Ginger and Lemongrass white tea was unsweetened, zesty and refreshing, I really enjoyed it. (Oh and their straws were very fun too!)
Bacon beignets with molasses crème fraiche were ordered to share as an indulgent appetizer for the entire table. They were savory, salty, but a little doughy. My first course was the blue crab salad. It was topped with a citrusy vinaigrette, tiny globs of creamy green curry (I steered clear in case it was mayo), seasoned peanuts and crispy puffed rice. The textural difference was like a party in my mouth. The crab was very fresh and tender. It was a great first course. I also stole some spoonfuls of the chilled apricot soup which was sweet, spicy, tart, and all around revitalizing on a hot summer day. Other first courses at the table included the tuna crudo, warm falafel salad, and the chilled vegetable salad. All received a round of applause from their respective recipients.
Next up on my plate was the rye garganelli pasta with baby vegetables, sauerkraut, and smoked belly. There were also some dallops of aioli which I scooped out and ate around. I did not have good luck with mayonnaise on this outing. Eating around it was a big feat for me because I usually won’t even touch the dish if a mayonnaise product has been on the plate. So it is duly noted to ask on my next visit what accompanies each dish! Aside from the smear that I eliminated, the dish was quite unique in flavor. The chef took a slightly Polish comfort dish and added an Italian flair, it was an enchanting combination.
For fear of food comas and naps at our work desks we opted out of dessert for the day but our waiter brought us some biscotti as a consolation to end our meals.
I want to provide a quick note on the service during our experience. The waiter was very knowledgeable and took the time to answer a handful of ingredient and preparation questions from our group (it was my own downfall not to ask about any condiments!). He took everything in stride with a smile on his face while serving us which is always appreciated.
Mistral is a worthwhile experience for the sophisticated food culture lovers out there. The dishes are exquisite, petite, and costly so be prepared to share a large number of dishes at the expense of your wallets. I hope to get back to experience their dinner service in the near future!
Mistral’s menu can be found here: http://www.mistralprinceton.com/lunch-dinner-dining-princeton-nj/
…all for the love of the dish