Stage Left: A Marvelous Dining Experience
||Attractive, intimate cafe-restaurant
||Worth the prices, which are on the high side of moderate
||Seasonal menu that is mostly regional American
New Brunswick has an asset that is difficult to find even in Manhattan--a first-rate restaurant within a stone's throw of its theaters.
To the side of the Crossroads Theater on the site of the former Cafe Pierro, Stage Left is also within sight of the George Street Playhouse and the State Theater. And, as any good restaurant in a theater district should do, it offers dining before the theater (no special deals) and a post-theater light menu until 1 a.m. The food is basically regional American, the menu changing with the seasons.
The semicircular bar is the scene stealer at the front left of the restaurant and is surrounded by a simple interior that is enhanced by local art work that is for sale. The restaurant has a different look every three months when a new artist is highlighted. (Prices available on request.)
In nice weather tables are placed outside on the sidewalk.
The restaurant is owned by an enthusiastic and completely pleasant group of people with a lot of restaurant know-how. Francis Schott and Mark Pascal met while working at The Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick. Their infectious enthusiasm combined with their experience in offering first class service at the Frog and the Peach serve them well.
Prices have gone up since the restaurants launch over four years ago, but, where is this not true?
What's also new since my last visit is the chef, Mike Wieskus, who replaced Michael Perselay when he went off to the Triumph Brewing Company Restaurant in Princeton. A native of Bogota, Wieskus trained at the New York Restaurant School and worked at March and then Arizona 206, both in Manhattan. Schott and Pascal were able to persuade him to come back to New Jersey.
His seasonings are lively, rich, and innovative. We found ourselves finishing a lot of the ample-portioned dishes that we had ordered mainly for "research" purposes.
Service is thoroughly pleasant and professional. The dining room is manned by a young staff that works as a highly polished team. Many servers are Rutgers students and they have been expertly trained.
The restaurant's regional American menu, which changes seasonally, is augmented by nightly specials. The wine list is extensive and includes a well thought out and well-balanced selection from all price ranges.
Summer starters are eclectic in nature, combining ingredients from many different cultures. We started with a heavenly union of chilled crab cakes topped with a refreshing gaspacho and cucumber salsa ($10.95). We scraped the plate. Other starters successfully combined ocean floor with garden, compelling oyster stew with local asparagus and corn ($9.95).
The evening's soup redefined summer colds soups. The chilled strawberry soup ($5.50) would have been equally satisfying as dessert.
Two offerings contained no meat. Stuffed poblano pepper graced the summer table with almonds, pinto beans and cilantro ($10.95) and tagliatelle was served with fresh tomatoes and pistachio pesto ($19.95). Meat eaters will not be disappointed with these dishes.
Fish is featured prominently at Stage Left. Current choices range from a delightful thick macadamia nut encrusted tuna fillet ($23.95) cooked perfectly medium rare and presented in a melon chutney to the earthy fried cat fish with cornmeal crust and pecan hush puppies ($22.95).
A superior portion of wood grilled tenderloin of beef cooked beautifully rare, was served with beer battered shallot rings ($24.95).
Desserts are $4.95 to $7.95. An exception is the strawberries served in superb 20-year-old Balsamic vinaigrette, which is worth walking many miles to have.