Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Restaurant Review: Elements

Foodie Fish
At this restaurant, the Elements means balancing all factors to create the perfect dining experience. Right from the moment you walk in to Elements (located on 163 Bayard Lane, Princeton, NJ) a certain atmosphere has already been created. A relaxed and chic restaurant with dim lighting, but still has that familiar smell of food being prepared. The restaurant has a very modern and elegant design finished off with the touch of a homey feel. You get the unique environment Elements provides right when you walk in those gleaming glass doors at their entrance. They were so popular on a Friday night that it was hard for us to get a reservation. Due to complications with our reservation, Elements made it up to us by seating us in the back room where I got full view of their professional kitchen.

The food at Elements is suited for even the most discerning palettes. I know that from first hand experience in seeing that my father’s friend, who corrected the waiter for mispronouncing a special off-menu, was pleased. Everything at Elements is cooked to perfection. The menu is so interesting with so many innovative foods, that they do not even have names for some of their creations. The head chef, Scot Anderson, is a genius. He uses such complex techniques and flavors to take his dishes to the next level. They also have very artistic and playful plating designs. The plating design was so impressive that you could almost taste the food before eating it. Elements uses all locally grown ingredients from New Jersey farms. All of their meat is either grass or corn fed, and is sometimes imported all the way from Australia!

For adventurous meat-lovers, there is the Cervena venison. Cervena is meat that is transported and processed following an extremely strict standard from New Zealand. If you have never dared to try deer meat before, Elements definitely does the meat justice. Deer are very muscular animals with mostly lean meat, so I must commend the chef for making the venison so succulent and tender. It is served with a flavorful smoked ricotta cheese, a chewy bed of barely, and surrounded by beets gathered from their fresh vegetable garden.

Another great option for meat-lovers, but perhaps the more conventional type, is the 48-hour short ribs. This beef is cooked sous vide for 48 hours. Sous vide is also known as vacuum packing. If done right, cooking meat sous vide should lock in all the natural juices of the fine quality beef to make it a melt-in-your mouth kind of texture with an explosion of flavor. Cooking meat sous vide could also potentially just make the meat taste processed and boiled in a bag (for it practically is)!
For fans of dessert, Elements follows through in doing a terrific job of pleasing the diners with their desserts. Many restaurants just add desert to the menu because they feel as though it is an obligation, or simply to make more money. At Elements, dessert is taken seriously. The carrot cake there is an incredible dish. The texture was rich and fluffy at the same time, with a little crunch from the walnuts at the end. I could taste the locally grown whole wheat. The whole wheat was a nice touch, giving the cake an earthy flavor and keeping it moist chewiness interesting with even more texture. It came al la mode, and the ice cream was itself was made right in the Elements kitchen as well. Any chocoholic would flip over the Chocolate pot de crème on the menu. A spicy hot chocolate, paired with churros to dip, and a creamy chocolate mouse to top it off. (pictured above: the Kit Kat)

The service was perfect. The waiter had memorized the menu like a script, and your water glass was always half full. The chefs at Elements took their jobs very seriously. As I watched them prepare food, they had more concentration and focus in their eyes than you would ever see on the faces of our classmates (no offense to our teachers)! They were adroit, like robots. I was only reminded that they were only human when I saw a ‘plater’ quickly sneak a bite out of somebody’s food. When the dinner rush eased up, they all stood around the kitchen relaxing making jokes about garlic that I would probably never understand. However, the second someone makes an order they are all back in the zone. There was a full army in the kitchen, taking each of their responsibilities very seriously.

One more unique feature at Elements is the complimentary samples given from the chef. Before you get your appetizer, and right after you get your dessert, the waiter always gives everyone at your table small portions of free food. The samples are different almost every time I go there, and they are always delicious. This time before the appetizer arrived, the sampling was a creamy spoonful of turnip soup served with a small chicken curry salad. The dessert sample was a plate covered with macaroons, chocolate, and other small dessert treats for each person. None of the samples are ever actually on the menu; the free food is just for one last crowd pleaser. Even as you are walking out the door, someone will hand you homemade packets of pound cake that you can enjoy later. It is one last hurrah as you exit the restaurant. The staff does their best to make sure you will not forget this meal. I definitely prefer the pound cake to the hard mints they usually hand you at restaurants as you walk out the door. The fact is, if you are looking for a terrific restaurant, go to Elements. At Elements, you get the perfect dining experience.

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