Elements reopens in its new downtown Princeton location on Tuesday, in the building it now shares with its sister restaurant Mistral and Mistral bar. To get to elements you step into an elevator just inside the Witherspoon Street entrance (or you can wend your way through the bar, which, by the way was packed when I visited). You are whisked upstairs to elements, and while the décor is similar to the old elements (but, somehow, softer) it’s a whole new world service-wise.
I have to congratulate co-owners Stephen Distler and Executive Chef Scott Anderson (and the entire staff) on what I think will be a roaring success, especially with the presence of General Manager Fia Berisha who magically appears just when needed, and that’s a truly special talent.
My preview dinner on Friday evening was a night to remember, one of four evenings the restaurant devoted to “friends and family” (and, obviously, media) dinners to practice service under real-life conditions. (Our dinners were complimentary, so this isn’t a “review,” just my impressions of my pre-opening dinner.) I was completely impressed with the smoothness of timing and service, plus with excellent – even extraordinary – food. I also really liked the floral arrangements (lots of succulents and interestingly contrasted textures), linen table runners and napkins, and the stunning crockery by ceramic artist John Shedd.
I think of their new incarnation as “elements 2.0.” And, believe me, it is an experience not to be matched in Princeton or, frankly, in many places at all. There are precious few restaurants in the US doing what our own elements is doing. This is a new service paradigm for fine dining where the chefs who prepare the dishes bring them to the tables themselves. This makes sense, since these are not simple, obvious dishes, by any stretch.
This barrier-breaking model accomplishes several goals. It makes the relationship between chef and diner more interactive, more intimate and personal. (Never fear, dishes were delivered with just a few words of explanation, so as not to disrupt conversation.) The new elements seats only 28 diners (down from around 80, I believe), and it is based on prix fixe menus, four courses weeknights, more on the weekend. (Examples are online.) Table spacing is generous, and parties of more than four will be booked into one of two private dining rooms, which should keep a tight control on the ambience of the main dining room. A 20% service charge added to each check helps erase some of the longtime income disparity between front and back of the house, too, which has been an increasing concern.
So now we have Executive Chef Scott Anderson’s delicious and provocative cuisine matched with upgraded service and ambience. During the year that elements was closed, Anderson and his Chef de Cuisine Mike Ryan cooked guest dinners all over, visited lots of food producers, and foraged extensively for mushrooms and other vegetation. (Even the ingredients in their teas are mostly foraged.) The big-eye tuna I enjoyed Friday night was from a 240 pounder Anderson reeled in (with help!) off Eastern waters. Even the house made whole wheat bread and cultured butter with salt crystals were notable.
My photos are below, and below that is a list of courses and wines. Somehow I missed taking one of the tuna and one or two other courses, but you can (and should) mosey on over to my colleague Pat Tanner’s blog post about her Saturday dinner which also went up tonight, for the full monty, including some interior shots – great photos Pat!
Time to come and get it Princeton.
Thanks to Wine Director Carl Rohrbach for his excellent matches and service, and for providing me with wine notes after our dinner
Amuse: Shirohana Bean Flower
Woodear Mushrooms with forest herbs
Cuban oregano, ham, cucumber, mustard
Szegeti, Gruner Veltliner, Brut, Austrian Sekt (sparkling)
Nightshades roasted, raw, sundried – Girard Maddoux, Vin de Savoie, Chignin 2010. Jacquère is the grape for this wine
Big-eye Tuna from the Canyon, grilled, achiote, cowpeas
Kasusuke Ocean Trout, smoked, roe, broth made with the bones of the trout and chrysanthemum flowers.
Chateau D’Arlay, “Corail”, Cotes du Jura, 2009. The six year old rosé blend of Pinot Noir, Trosseau, Poulsard, Savignin and Chardonnay. (This was very unusual, unlike any rosé I’ve had before.)
Eggplant, chicken jus, sesame, vadouvan – Bisceglia, “Gudarra”, Aglianico del Vulture, Basilicata, Italy 2009.
Bison Tartare, tropea onion, kohlrabi, jujube (fb-tasted like honey mustard) – Moissenet-Bonnard, Bourgogne Rouge, 2013. Pinot Noir
Fennel, cured pork, kale pistou, onion – Mastroberardino, Fiano di Avellino, Campania, Italy 2012.
Wagyu, buckwheat, miso, walnut, brown enoki – Produttori di Carema, Carema Riseva, 2010. Nebbiolo
Kittatinny Goat Cheese, peach, honey, basil – Chateau La Colombiere, “Vinum”, Fronton, 2013. 100% Negrette (organic)
Chocolate, strawberry, hazelnut, anise hyssop
Mountain Mint, bourbon
Carpano Bianco, white sweet vermouth, Milan, Italy