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Stage Left


Why would you want to go to a crowded, noisy restaurant in New Brunswick? Well, in Stage Left's case, it's because the menu is exciting, the food and service first rate and the atmosphere stimulating. And, if you're going to a theatre on Livingston Avenue, you're only a few steps away.

Outside, Stage Left offers tables and a small fountain, all of it encircled by a wrought iron fence. Inside, the attractive, dark-wood bar is surrounded by tables for four. They're close together, and, if the place is crowded, the noise level is high. But, with this kind of restaurant, you expect plenty of stimulation. Large paintings on the walls, all of them by the same artist, add to the excitement with their contrasting dark and light colors.

The waiters and waitresses are relatively young, as are owners Mark Pascal and Francis Schott, who are active in the dining room. They oversee a staff that is obviously well-trained, because service is both friendly and professional. Water glasses are kept filled, specials are recited with prices and table is kept clean throughout the meal. And they managed all of this on a very busy night (by accident, we choose the night of the Rutgers University commencement to show up).

Stage Left calls itself "An American Café" and has the menu to prove it. While its not extensive, Executive Chef Mark Wiekus' menu is varied and highly innovative. One of the eclectic choices is Rabbit Napoleon, an appetizer in which homemade waffle chips are stacked with slices of rabbit. Some of the dishes offer fairly exotic ingredients, such as huitacoche, which is in the vegetable stew served under the Crispy Risotto Cake, and nori, which accompanies the Salmon and Tuna Tartare. Popular in Mexico, huitacoche is a type of black fungus that grows on corn, and nori is dried seaweed common in Japanese cooking.

Even the side dishes at Stage Left are unusual. Among the listings on our menus were Truffled Polenta and Gorgonzola Stuffed Fingerling Potatoes.

Appetizer prices range from $7.95 to $10.95 for the Corn Crab Cakes with a chipotle lobster sauce. And entrees range from $17.95 to $24.95 for the Black Angus New York Strip steak, which was one of the best we've ever tasted. Most of the grilled items are cooked on a wood grill.

The quality of the food is consistently excellent. The bread is hot and crusty on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and served with garlic-infused olive oil. For an entree, we tried the Pan Roasted Salmon with saffron in a Kafir Lime Broth. The salmon was crisp outside, moist and tender inside.

The presentations were attractive and unusual. The delicious Japanese Eggplant Rolls consisted of three pieces of thinly sliced eggplant, which had been rolled around a mix of chopped eggplant, onion, red peppers and feta cheese. They were placed vertically on a nicely decorated plate. The grilled spring vegetables, which accompanied the Creole Tuna, were layered, wrapped in phyllo and baked.

Desserts, which ranged in price from $4.50 to $7.95, include such unusual items as a "Chocolate Sandwich" and a Blackberry Rhubarb Crisp with Black Pepper Ice Cream. Each was excellent. In addition, a cheese board offers a sampler of six cheeses. The choice of cheeses varies from night to night.

The excellent wine list, which features wines from smaller, less-known wineries, won a Wine Spector Award of Excellence for 1995. Wine is also available by the glass, starting at $5.

Stage Left features fresh ingredients and good American food with lots of innovation. For an exciting evening in a lively atmosphere, try this excellent restaurant.

Stage Left | 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 | T: 732.828.4444
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