Elements in Princeton

by Melody Kettle

Nowadays, when you pull into 163 Baynard Lane you hand your keys to a valet, not a mechanic. Surprisingly, Elements, the acclaimed Princeton restaurant headed up by Chef Scott Anderson, is located in what was formerly an automobile service station.  Re-envisioned and repurposed, the exterior of Elements - muted stone and shiny metal - hums with a sleek, steely coolness and refined, modern confidence.

Scott AndersonMr. Hot and I journeyed down Route 1 to meet Pat Tanner, the well-respected, NJ food writer and restaurant critic, and her husband, Bill, for dinner at Elements.

Our table was ready when we arrived, so we breezed past the tiny, four-seat bar and were escorted into the well-appointed, contemporary dining room.  Subtle vestiges of the former use can be identified, like the car bays that are now windows – but it’s a bit like finding Waldo, and rather gratifying to discover.

Following our ride from Montclair to Princeton, Mr. Hot and I decided a cocktail was in order. I began with a fantastic cocktail called the Cracker Jack ($13).  Mixed with Aviation Gin, walnut liqueur, Benedictine, Suze (a French brand of bitters), and smoke, it smacked of barrel-shaped, old-fashioned root beer candy, a boasted a lingering finish, full of smoke, and nutty spices.

Foie Gras TorchonPheasantThe menu at Elements offers four and six course degustations, with and without wine pairings.  For those who prefer to dine a la carte, any item from the tasting menus can be ordered as an appetizer ($18) or as an entrée, $32 for fish and pheasant, $42 for game bird and meat, or $28 for a vegetarian selection.

Lava Lake LambI observed very quickly that it's good to dine with Pat; the kitchen sent several amuse  that kept us happily noshing, gabbing, and pulling for food-centric adjectives.  First, mizuna croquets with squid ink appeared, followed by pan-fried Wagyu tartare meatballs! Then, my personal favorite arrived, an incredible foie gras torchon with sour plum puree, between two crisp and flavorful parmesan cookies. Just the savory macaroon I’d like to find atop my pillow at bedtime!

Black Bass with Tarragon PureeOur table decided to dine a la carte.  I began with an appetizer serving of Hamachi with toasted barley and a dollop of mustard, which was outstanding. Another favorite appetizer at the table was the Entoloma, an edible mushroom of the  Entolomataceae family of fungi, with a striated texture, and delicate woodsy flavor.  Mr. Hot order the lean and juicy Stony Brook Meadows Duroc pork as an appetizer, and Bill enjoyed the colorful Market Salad.

For my entree, I chose the 100% grass-fed Lava Lake Lamb which was flavorful and lean.  Pat opted for the pheasant with grilled broccoli.  Pinkish-white in color, subtle and clean in flavor, the dish quickly became the table favorite.

Mr. Hot opted for the black bass with tarragon puree.  Although the serving seemed a bit meager compared to the plentiful serving of lamb and pheasant, the flavors were spot on and execution was flawless.

Dessert did not disappoint, a free-form galette with local pear and baby ginger from Blue Moon Acres in NJ, was warm and perfect for the season. We also enjoyed a stout glazed cream puff filled with Stout mouse, three different ice cream selections, and another dessert that riffed on the classic "Mounds," that boasted flavors of cherries, coconut and chocolate.

Whether search engines dub the cuisine at Elements to be Modern American, Farm-to-Table, or Global American, the fact remains that Scott Anderson and his crew create foodie-food that delights and satisfies.The tab can add up rather quickly, however, the incomparable quality of the cuisine, and knowledgeable, enthusiastic service are top shelf, which makes it a perfect special occasion destination for those appreciative of cuisine.