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A Show Stopper

Atmosphere Urbane in look and feel, newly decorated with apricot marblized Tuscan wash
Service Perfectly professional and understated
Value Expensive but worth it. Entrees $21.95 to $35.95
Food Creative American
Rating (Excellent)

I could wax romantic about Stage Left. I could start this review with: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." But that would be schmaltzy. I like Stage Left, first because, since it opened about 11 years ago, it's raison d'etre has been to clearly define the customer it wants to attract and to cater to the needs of such a customer.

Diners at Stage Left like to be pampered with first-rate food and service. The regulars like to be recognized. Recognition is a very important way to say "thank you for your patronage."

When a customer calls at midnight to make a reservation for the next evening, they are not surprised that someone answers the phone, usually one of the owners, who takes the reservation. The indefatigable Francis Schott, Mark Pascal, and Lou Riveiro know exactly what they want their restaurant to be and they clearly love what they do. They have created a high-end supper club with exquisite decor, discreet and professional service, and cuisine that, after l1 years, has only gotten better. The restaurant sits to the left of New Brunswick's professional theaters, and the restaurant is theater in itself.

The most important quality this restaurant offers is the ability and desire to continually reinvent itself to maintain the excitement. They have recently renovated. The cuisine has also changed many times over the years. The latest chef at the helm is Dan Wood, who started last March as sous chef. It soon became obvious that he was running the show, and he took over the kitchen last October.

Wood attended Johnson & Wales Culinary University in Charleston, S.C., and cooked in Baltimore and at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando, Fla. He also had a stint at the Hotal Halin in Konstanz, Germany.

The service is thoroughly pleasant and professional.

Wood's cuisine is basically creative American, the operable word being creative. Selections constantly change or modify. The menu is divided into rather flamboyant sections, First Course Warm, First Course Cold, From the Water and From the Land and Sky.

The 15-year-old daughter who shared our table that night likes simple food and was apprehensive about the sophistication of the main course descriptions. The chef concocted a simple boneless chicken dish for her that he served with carrots and lovely mashed potatoes. It had as much flavor as the other dishes we ate that night, and I'll bet it is a long time before she enjoys chicken nuggets again.

We tried two selections from the "Water," tender scallops ($29.95), caramelized with interesting semolina cakes and baby asparagus, all of which was brightened with tomato butter. The second was sushi-quality, lightly seared loin of tuna ($34-95), rare in the middle, that was wrapped in leek and served in a luscious red wine reduction. It came with porcini mushroom and lardons (a French term for diced, blanched and fried bacon).

Before dessert, we shared a cheese course for one ($12 for one, $6 for each additional person), a delightful assortment of cheeses from small independent farmers.

Desserts are also light and sophisticated, new twists put on old flavors. The daughters, of course, chose the molten chocolate cake (well, that!s why they started with salads, after all), truly a young person's dream chocolate dessert ($11.50). The other was a different sort of Napoleon ($9.50), with crisp cookie cover and fruit with cream.

If you've been noticing the prices quoted with these dishes, you will realize that all this excellence comes at a price, but Stage Left customers are happy to pay it. Perhaps they are high rollers, but perhaps they are like many of us who would prefer to go out to dinner less often in order to afford what we like.

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