A rectangular blackboard hangs on an exposed brick wall in the dining room of Escape. It's a bill of fare, of sorts; a white chalk roster of New Jersey farmers and artisans from which chef and owner, Bryan Gregg, sources proteins and produce. Gregg is source-centric.
There's a gastronomic school of thought that says, "farm-to-table isn’t a trend - it’s the way it should be," and therefore food writers shouldn't be impressed with a chef just because he uses farm fresh ingredients and local purveyors. That said, Gregg's agro-centric agility, instinct and expression is such that I will blog his praises until my food writing fingers buy the farm!
At Escape, Chef Gregg, along with executive sous chef, George Mandakas, offer innovative, fine cuisine with a Southern slant and unwavering adherence to local sources and purveyors. Located on Bloomfield Avenue, in the space formerly True North Osteria, Escape is farmhouse chic and emits an nostalgic, yet modern vibe. The cuisine juxtaposes tradition with modern innovation, but manages to not take itself too seriously. Like Gregg, himself: humble and unassuming, but as talented and dedicated to his craft as any NJ chef worthy of note.
At the inaugural tasting, Gregg, Mandakas and crew turned out an outstanding prelude to the dinner menu Escape will be serving, while sommelier, Neil Rodrigues, of the Wine List in Summit, paired the wines accordingly, with savvy and creativity.
From Butter to Banylus, our prelude tasting was outstanding! Pale yellow, whipped with Jersey-made Bob's Buzzy Bees honey and sprinkled with smoked sea salt, the butter at Escape is luscious. I could have enjoyed it straight-up but refrained simply because the house=made cornbread Madelines and biscuits made the perfect vessel for spreading the heavenly goodness.
Our amuse bouche featured Berkshire lomo. Unctuous and the perfect teaser, it left me hoping for more - much more!
Our first course arrived: smoked trout with Meyer lemon puree, spring blossoms and brown butter vinaigrette. This was paired with a Grand Marrenon, Luberon Blanc, 2009 with a refreshing, gentle acidity. Gregg's gentle-hand with the smoke, allowed the flavor to be an enhancement that didn't mask the river-like flavor of the trout.
Southern fare made a dignified and creamy appearance via Gregg's hen egg and grits that were set off with a verdant ramp pesto. Rodrigues made this challenging pairing work with a Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec 2005.
Our third course, line caught bass, demonstrated a remarkable harmony of complimentary flavors, plated with rhubarb gelee, foie gras puree and miner lettuce. With this we sipped Domaine Danjean-Berthaud, Givry Rogue “Mei Au Roi” 2011.
A good duck is hard to find, but Chef Gregg's Jurgielwicz duck with Jerusalem Artichoke, woodland ham, asparagus, and marjoram exhibited layers of flavors, and was nothing short of swoon-worthy. Along with a Feudo di Santa Croce, Salent “Malnera” 2010, I found my happy zone.
Before dessert, we were treated to a ripe cheese course with tender spring onion grass from fromagophile favorite, Bobolink Dairy.
Dessert, frozen chocolate with dulce de leche and nutty, almond milk bubbles, once again demonstrated Gregg's innate instinct for creating palettes of flavors.
If serving stellar dinner wasn't enough, Escape will be also serving lunch beginning this Wednesday. The lunch menu offers a three course prix fixe tasting menu for $15. Escape will also be hosting a Mother's Day brunch menu, three course prix fixe tasting menu for $35. (I'll give you one guess where Mr. Hot, along with Thing 1 and Thing 2 will be dining this Sunday afternoon.)
Chef Gregg, welcome to Montclair! We are only too happy to have you in town.