Posted by joy manning on September 29th, 2009
This summer, Stephen Starr took over Rat’s Restaurant, the elegant fine-dining venue at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey. The restaurant had always enjoyed a reputation for good food, but Starr has stationed chef Kevin Sbraga behind the stove, who recently served as culinary director for Jose Garces’s restaurant group. (Before that, he cheffed at the Grill at the Ritz Carlton in Center City.) Prices are bit lower now than they have been in the past, with most entrées in mid-$20s, but the reduction has not translated to a loss of quality. The menu now sports a few interesting and creative touches — like a sweetly acidic tomato sorbet served with the local tomato salad — and Sbraga has not yet made all the menu changes he intends.
During a recent visit, I enjoyed the foie gras terrine, which combines creamy liver with sweet brioche and bracingly bitter grapefruit marmalade to good effect. Sbraga’s tuna tartare comes with crème fraîche, thinly sliced baby radishes, and crunchy potato chips in a memorable version of what is sometimes a forgettable dish. Entrées were a shade less good: Bronzino was served in a pungently fishy broth, and shrimp scampi with mushrooms and truffled vinaigrette was well executed but uninspired. Housemade ice creams and sorbets are nice way to wrap up the meal — especially after an afternoon spent taking in all the art on the grounds. The art and a table at Rat’s make for a lovely date on a fall Saturday afternoon.
Rat’s Restaurant, Grounds for Sculpture, 16 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, NJ; 609-584-7800.