Date nights in New Jersey
RESTAURANTS • Suburbs Report
If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect from a decade’s worth of date-night dinners in the New Jersey suburbs, it’s mediocrity.
When the kids were babies, the restaurant was besides the point. What was really on the menu was two hours of freedom. Everything else was atmosphere. So we tolerated wan ingredients, lackluster service, and elevated price-to-quality ratios. Occasionally there was a spark, sometimes even ignition, but mostly flameouts.
From time to time, we’d get excited by a new opening, maybe even a glossy project fronted by a chef from the city. Upon inspection we’d usually discover that they were just playing the game, churning out lowest-common-denominator chopped salads, tuna tartares, and filets for people willing, at least for a night, to make do with the veneer of a good restaurant.
Last Saturday night, we lost our memories and showed up open-minded for an 8p reservation at Huntley Taverne (Summit, NJ), one of a fleet of “farm-to-table comfort food” spots run by the Harvest Restaurant Group. The place was hopping. For a moment, as we waited for our table at the bar, we felt alive. All of life’s choices were the right ones.
But then they forgot about us, first at the bar and then at our half-set table. The salad was next, sweet and wet. By the time the matte-finish, overcooked fish arrived, our memories were fully restored.
This weekend, throngs of city dwellers will head back to their suburban hometowns for the holiday weekend. They might want to dine out with friends or family at XX Taverne or YY House in town. By all means, support the local economy, be merry. But here’s my advice: go early, order straight down the middle, and stay away from the seasonal cocktail menu. It’s going to be fine, really. –Josh Albertson