Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A Toute Heure, or Jamais? A restaurant review
In the tiny centennial village of Cranford, this little gem is so popular reservations are required. But beware, don't let your expectations be set by this. The restaurant's size is the driver of this necessity, not its formality. In fact, once you do get a seat, the level of informality is, well, intense? Servers in tee shirts and jeans approach with "Hows it goin guys?" I expected him to sit down with us. A bit too Ruby Tuesdays even for this west coaster.
At first we were a bit taken aback by the latin music, but it thankfully went away.
One simple request that seems to consistently flumox service is "Water with no ice." Try it. You will see that less than 1 in 10 restaurants can deal with this seemingly simple request. If you get your first glass served correctly, wait for the bus boys to swoop in with a swearing pitcher of icey water to rectify the situation A Toute Heure failed. They thought they were OK, with just a few cubes of ice floating in our ice water, but of course, missed the point that water with no ice is not ice water. But this is not a restaurant with great service. They spend a lot on service, the server to table ratio was perfect. And they knew the menu and specials. But well trained? Not really. Earnest attentiveness is essential, but only half the equation. Here is what I mean. When peanuts were served with the butter (?), and we sent it away due to my allergy, I was informed peanut oil was used in the fryer. OK. Awkward moment. Is the server not mentioning something and I am a dimwit? Then I remembered I had ordered something fried. So we struck it from the order. That was that, and I was left disappointed. Why not suggest a substitute?
ATH, as they like to call themselves, are proud of their alliances with local producers. It is in your face everywhere. OK. I wish they had an alliance with some vegetable producers. On our two dishes there were a few sprigs of micro green something, and a grand total of three leaves of spinach . Really, just three. So it was meat and potatoes for us.
I had brisket. It tasted a lot like sauerbraten. It was braised to tenderness, so tender it was hard to tell where the meat ended and the fat began. So it took some care to ensure not to put the big globs of fat in my mouth. I avoided most of them. But really, pieces of fat about 1.25X3 inches? A bit extreme. Did the server notice? Of course not. Nor did he notice the skin on my wife's chicken thighs that the menu claimed were skinless and she enquired about, and he said had almost no skin on them. One restaurant truism is "fat is flavor", and so I would have expected more flavor at A Toute Heure, for the dishes were replete with oil, fat and grease, and not in a good way.
We passed on dessert. Our meal of a salad and two main courses ended with a bill for nearly $100. Fair value, like the fat on my brisket, had not been rendered. Even in a place as sophisticated as Cranford NJ, restaurants aren't all as good as they should be. We had looked forward to this meal for days. A hundred dollars is a lot of money to us. Our dessert from A Toute Heure was betrayal.
So, "A Toute Heure", or "Jamais"? Translation: At Any Hour, or Never? Since we go by this place often and it is often not open, and when it is, it is hard to get into, and when you do, it is not worth it, I say Jamais! Jamais!