Not JUST Another Restaurant

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

For those culinary connoisseurs weary of counting themselves among the bridge and tunnel crowd- there's a new restaurant this side of the Hudson that promises NYC style dining minus the hassle and hefty price tag.

JUST Restaurant in Old Bridge offers an impressive menu, interior, and bar scene that rivals pricier city alternatives. Though situated in an inauspicious location, JUST immediately impresses once you walk through the front door, with modern clean lines, jewel tone lighting, and a beautiful onyx bar.

Executive chef Ira Siegel possesses an impressive pedigree himself, training under Wolfgang Puck and working in notable restaurants at the Waldorf Hotel and the River Café. This pedigree, however, comes without a hint of pretension, and Ira’s passion and culinary experience shine through in every dish on the menu. Everyone I met at JUST couldn’t have been nicer, from the chefs to the waiters to the team behind launching the restaurant. Usually restaurants with such amazing food and credentials come with attitude and an undertone of snobbery, at least in the city.

Everything served at JUST is organic, and they strive to use sustainable and local ingredients whenever possible. The seafood is flown in fresh from the best purveyors, the produce is largely seasonal, and the beef is grass-fed USDA Prime. Whenever possible, items are made in-house, including the bread, pastries, pastas, and all desserts. Each of the twenty-two plated on JUST’s menu reflect the passion for quality ingredients and its revamped French-style theme. My tasting at their media dinner last week included tapas-sized portions of nearly every dish on their menu, allowing me to get a feel for the restaurant overall. The meal started with two types of homemade bread, including naan and a Comte cheese filled popover. Both were delicious and warm and served with two types of blended butter. 

After the bread came a blur of decadent dishes, all delicious but with a few stand outs. The tuna tartar Napoleon, with sushi grade yellowtail tuna, Japanese mayo, tobiko caviar and unagi sauce jumped off the plate with a perfect balance of spice and richness.  The Hudson Valley foie gras, with a petite apple tatin, port syrup, and a Sauterne gelee offered a creative play on the sweetness of foie gras, with the Sauterne and the tatin offsetting the fatty goodness of the foie gras. The JUST sliders, one of the in-house favorites, were completely over the top, with Wagyu beef topped with foie gras, on top of a Brioche bun and served with a tangle of straw potatoes. The milk fed veal cheeks also stood out, served with creamy Parmesan polenta, tangy sweet and sour pearl onions, and a rich thyme demi-glace. Though not included in the tasting, I’m also dying to try the Pacific black cod, served miso glazed, with baby bok choy, soba noodles, and ruby red grapefruit, as well as the Maine duet, which pairs a whole lobster with open-faced lobster ravioli, crème fraiche, and caviar.

Aside from an amazing culinary staff, JUST employs its own in-house pastry chef, who crafts delicate and decadent desserts to top off your meal. I sampled the chocolate pyramid; a trio of chocolate mousse, flour less chocolate cake, and creamy vanilla mascarpone for one seriously satisfying dessert. Other stand out choices include the crème brulee trio, the vanilla-coconut cream cake, and the JUST chocolate, a play on temperatures with frozen milk chocolate mousse, dark chocolate cake, and hot chocolate. JUST also offers an impressive wine list and a creative cocktail menu, as well as a fully stocked bar, so you can really make a night of it. 

In addition to dining, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights JUST transforms late night to a lounge/club venue, with a DJ and a dance floor, and a state of the art sound system to boot.  Though certainly worth the drive, JUST is definitely a haul from the Montclair area. It’s a solid 35-45 minutes, so it’s certainly not an easy weeknight mainstay. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to a memorable dinner with unparalleled ingredients in a beautiful restaurant, then move JUST to the top of your list, forgo the bridges and tunnels, and head down Route 9 towards Old Bridge.

*All photos courtesy of Just Restaurant/Lounge.