The Ferry House

Karen’s

Ichiban

Lahiere’s

Alchemist & Barrister

Quilty’s

Sakura Express

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Elaine Strauss were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 29, 1998. All rights reserved.

Dining On Witherspoon Street

After suffering for years as the town that dining

connoisseurs love to hate, downtown Princeton is undergoing a

transformation,

and it’s no more evident than on Witherspoon Street. The street that

leads from the main gates of Princeton University to the birthplace

of Paul Robeson now bustles day and night with adventurous diners.

Witherspoon Street not only offers a half dozen restaurants of various

cuisines, but it is also home to the Witherspoon Bread Company, the

first full-service bakery in downtown Princeton; the Small World

Coffee

Company, the first and still the most popular of the now many coffee

houses in town; and A Little Taste of Cuba, the pioneer cigar store

in town.

As most oldtimers can tell you, Princeton is a town that used to look

to the west, principally to Lambertville and New Hope, for its dining

destinations. So it is surely a telling move when a Lambertville

restaurant

pulls up stakes and moves to Princeton, and that happened just this

spring. Along with the flowering pear trees that line Witherspoon

Street Princeton dining is in indeed in bloom. U.S. 1 correspondent

Elaine Strauss took a stroll down Witherspoon Street last week and

filed this report.

Top Of Page
The Ferry House

The newest eating place, and the most interesting,

institutionally,

is the Ferry House. The restaurant opened on Witherspoon Street last

month and has made every effort to continue the life it began in

Lambertville

in 1992. The roughly finished plank walls are painted in the same

medium cool green shade used in Lambertville. On the walls hang a

large number of framed and favorable newspaper reviews based on the

Lambertville operation. One of them says of chef-owner Bobby Trigg,

"Once a rebel without a cause, he’s now a prince of flavor."

(See sidebar, page 19.)

"We are new, so everybody wants to come," says manager Robert

Bielsa, who was born in Brittany. A spokesman, readying the restaurant

for lunch on a recent weekday, explains that because the number of

potential diners is considerably greater in Princeton than in

Lambertville,

the number of lunches served has tripled since the move less than

a month earlier. He adds, however, that 90 percent of the lunchtime

clientele in Lambertville came from Princeton, anyway. Now it’s the

fans from Lambertville who must travel to the restaurant.

Owner-chef Bobby Trigg decided to move when the Ferry House faced

an astronomical rent increase in Lambertville

(http://www.princetoninfo.com/199804/80429c02.html). Casual elegance in

a sweater-and-jeans atmosphere is his goal, just as it was in

Lambertville.

A visit to the premises in broad daylight reveals nine parts casual

to one part elegant. The elegant touch is the lace window treatment

below eye level at the large windows of the restaurant front, which

let in a great deal of light on a sunny day. The entrance hall, with

its complicated eye-arresting tile floor, leads to expectations of

further elegance, but, looking up, one sees only a rather random

collection

of objects. Above a dark brown Victorian serving table is a mirror

curvaceously framed in dull yellow metal.

On the table are scattered a bright blue vase, a green glass candy

dish with wrapped red and white mints, a black wingless cherub

electrified

with a single clear pointed light bulb, and a small stuffed tiger

that holds business cards in its paws.

Looking out from the back of the restaurant, the place has the feel

of a boat house, an effective reminder of the former Delaware River

location. The maroon carpet in the dining room could be indoor-outdoor

carpeting. Its color matches that of the cloth napkins. The off-white

table cloths are protected by glass. The floral upholstery of the

chair seats is a cheerful touch. Brightly colored oil paintings of

various sizes, with various subjects, are randomly deployed on the

walls. Their artistic merit is not overwhelming, but they are all

for sale.

The dishes offered tend to fuse ingredients not commonly used

together.

A fried calamari dinner appetizer is served with a soy glaze, sweet

peppers and pesto. The cumin crusted salmon dinner entree comes with

a black bean and sweet potato tortilla. An entire section of the

dinner

menu, devoted to "Mushrooms and Salads," lists five items.

A grilled vegetable lasagna Napoleon is aimed at vegetarian diners.

Uncluttered food is hard to come by here. There is an additional plate

charge of $3. Bring your own bottle. This is a good place to go for

those who rank culinary adventure above artistic surroundings.

The Ferry House, 32 Witherspoon Street, 609-924-2488,

fax, 609-924-3485. Bobby Trigg, owner and chef. Open Monday through

Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturdays and Sundays, for dinner only.

No smoking. Lunch appetizers are $4 to $7; lunch main dishes range

from $7 to $10. Dinner appetizers start at $7.50; dinner entrees tend

to cluster at about $25. BYOB. Credit cards and personal checks

accepted.

Top Of Page
Karen’s

The impact of the owner is most present at Karen’s,

a Chinese eating place. Its owner, Karen Ong, is a warm presence.

The color scheme reflects her welcoming personality. A carpet with

a floral design reflects the pale pink of the walls above the chair

rail and the dark green of the walls below. Wooden chairs with Chinese

lines are stained a warm light red. Large wall mirrors reflect the

affability. On the walls hang a large fan with floral decorations,

and paintings with birds or flowers; all contain calligraphy.

"They

were done by our relatives in south China," says Karen, who comes

from Taiwan. Additional pieces of calligraphy, in a strikingly sturdy

and vigorous style, decorate the walls.

Karen explains that they were done by her father, who lives in Taiwan,

in the style known as yen jeng ching, developed in the Tang period,

which ended in 907. One of the calligraphic pieces urges Karen to

hang in there even if things are hard. Her father knows that the

restaurant

business is difficult. (From the front door of Karen’s restaurant

is visible the defunct Athenian Restaurant, a vivid warning.) Another

wishes sunshine to all who work at the restaurant; Karen calls it

a sort of blessing. Yet another quotes an ancient sage who warns that

no matter how successful one is, one should not be overly proud.

Karen says that her restaurant attracts families. Children, she says,

may be reluctant to come at first because of their penchant for fast

foods. She undoes that prejudice by explaining that what she serves

is just like chicken nuggets, except that it has a different sauce.

Children soon develop an enthusiasm for her restaurant, she says.

They like to talk to the staff, she reports. In addition, Karen

supplies

them with crayons so they can draw. Behind the cash register she keeps

drawings made for her by child guests at the restaurant. Behind the

cash register, also, is the Mickey Mouse wall clock that she has

installed

for the amusement of children.

Karen’s is open continuously from lunch through dinner. The usual

wide variety of food available at Chinese restaurants with a south

Chinese background is available. Foods can be made spicy or not, as

the customer wishes. Brown rice is available. A number of dishes can

be ordered in small or large portions. At all times families are

welcome.

The restaurant has been in its present location since 1996, the

successor

to Karen’s Corner, a takeout business which opened its doors in 1993.

Karen’s Chinese Restaurant, 36 Witherspoon Street,

609-683-1968;

fax 609-683-0820. Owner Karen Ong; Chef Zhen. Open continuously from

lunch through dinner. Lunch specials including soup and rice except

weekends and holidays; many are less than $6. Chef’s specialties start

at $9.25. Standard portions of most dishes start at less than $8.

BYOB. No smoking. Checks and credit cards accepted.

Top Of Page
Ichiban

Ichiban, the Japanese restaurant, makes a cool and

austere

impression. The color scheme is primarily gray and blue, black and

white. Miniature Shoji screens below eye level shield the diners eye

from the adjacent parking lot. A sumo wrestler graces the cloth

hanging

on the way to the rest rooms. Although the restaurant was established

only 18 months ago, small tears in the shoji screens, and slightly

shopworn hangings mar the perfection of the surroundings. A rather

large handsome screen with birds and bamboo is mounted unobtrusively

on a wall. Two wood block prints of actors are hung on the window

wall, where they are hard to see.

The menu is extensive for a Japanese restaurant. Six sorts of soup

are listed, as are eight versions of tempura, 11 varieties of

teriyaki,

21 kinds of sushi, and 24 selections of maki. Incongruously, tiny

wrapped tootsie rolls are the after dinner giveaway. Outdoor dining

is possible in good weather. English is strictly a second language

here.

Ichiban, 66 Witherspoon Street, 609-683-8323; fax,

609-683-8335.

Head chef at the sushi bar is Jay Chung; the kitchen head chef is

Tom Chung. Open continuously from lunch through dinner. No smoking.

Lunch specials, include soup, salad, and rice; prices for most range

from $5.50 to $7.95. Dinner appetizers are in the range of $4.25 to

$6. Sushi prices (two pieces) are in the neighborhood of $4. Dinner

entrees, with extras, cost close to $14. BYOB. Checks, credit cards

accepted. (http://www.princetoninfo.com/sushi.html).

Top Of Page
Lahiere’s

Lahiere’s, established in 1919, is the traditional

eating

spot on Witherspoon Street. It gives the impression of fashionless

stability. The photograph of Albert Einstein in a sweater hangs above

the table associated with him, which seats two. The arched main entry,

with its white masonry walls and wrought iron gate, is intended to

evoke a wine cellar. Dining is possible in either the bar, at the

left, or in two rooms at the right. Smoking is permitted only in the

bar. A good ventilating system keeps the odor of stale smoke at a

minimum. Space for private parties is available on the second floor.

The decor of the three ground floor dining areas is not coordinated;

white table cloths and napkins, however, are a common element. The

dominating decoration in the bar is a very large poster for cognac

featuring a peacock. It hangs on the red brick wall behind the bar,

at which customers can enjoy drinks as they sit on backless stools

covered in red. Two crossed alpenhorns decorate the wall opposite,

and a Toulouse-Lautrec theater picture hangs on a side wall. The other

pictures are unmemorable.

Of the two dining rooms where smoking is forbidden, a smaller room

with pale gray walls seats 20. The larger dining room has salmon

colored

walls. In both non-smoking areas bouffant drapery decorates the upper

portions of the windows, and gathered white curtains hang below eye

level. The overall effect is dowdy.

But because of its history, this is a restaurant where all can share

the Princeton experience. The menu leans toward the gastronomically

adventurous. A sample appetizer is seared scallops with thyme-pickled

mushrooms and leeks. A sample main course is grilled tuna with

couscous,

accompanied by corn and chipotle relish. However, the gastronomically

timid need not go hungry at dinner. Pan roasted chicken, sauteed veal,

or loin of lamb come with relatively conventional accompaniments.

A daily selection of grains and vegetables caters to vegetarians.

The menu discourages customers from requesting substitutions of items

paired on the menu.

Lahiere’s, 5-11 Witherspoon Street. 609-921-2798; fax,

609-921-3812. Owner Joe Christen. Chef Gregg Smith. Open for lunch

and dinner Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Lunch selections

include appetizers, most of which cost $7 or less; pasta at prices

from $8.50 to $10.50; sandwiches averaging $7; and main dishes in

the neighborhood of $12. Dinner appetizers range from $6 to $14;

dinner

main courses are predominantly in the mid $20 range. Credit cards

and checks accepted. Full bar. Smoking permitted only in the bar.

Top Of Page
Alchemist & Barrister

Alchemist and Barrister, which dates from the 1970s,

gives the impression of a place that has just kept on growing for

many years. Approached through Chambers Walk, across from the Flower

Market, it appears to be off the beaten track. A trompe l’oeil

painting

on an exterior wall shows flowers and is bracketed by genuine maroon

shutters that match shutters elsewhere at the restaurant. Window boxes

planted with pansies in spring add to the charm.

Diners may eat in a garden area, a pub, or two non-smoking dining

rooms. In the garden area plants hang overhead, seating is on green

metal chairs with comfortably padded simulated rush seats, and tables

are covered with softly-colored vinyl tablecloths subtly showing

various

fruits. In inclement weather a plastic sheet protects diners; in good

weather, the sheets are lifted to let in the fresh air.

The pub is dark, as a pub should be. Glasses hang on racks above the

bar. Oak stools with backs make for comfortable seating there. Three

alcoves seat up to six guests in semi-privacy.

As at Lahiere’s, no attempt has been made to match the decor of the

two dining rooms. Both, however, have beamed ceilings and swags at

the windows. One room has walls of a lusty rose color and mule ear

chairs. The other, with striped blue and green wallpaper offers

seating

on captain’s chairs.

Although some items on the extensive menu offer adventurous eating,

this is a safe place to bring somebody who doesn’t want to eat

anything

they haven’t eaten before. Conventional meals are available in

abundance

— baked ham sandwiches or burgers for luncheon; steak or veal

for dinner. Vegetarians will find dishes they can order. The more

adventurous fare in the dining rooms includes, at lunch, a Barcelona

stir fry consisting of seafood and chicken, chorizo sausage, and

potato

in green sauce; and at dinner, a salmon Wellington with crab duxelle,

wilted greens, lemon, and dill. A separate pub menu offers, in

addition

to standard pub food such as bratwurst, buffalo wings, and nachos,

relatively substantial dishes, and a children’s menu for those six

or under.

Alchemist and Barrister, 28 Witherspoon Street,

609-924-5555;

fax, 609-921-2634. Owner Thomas C. Schmierer. Chef/owner Arthur

Kukoda.

Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Smoking in the

pub and patio areas only. Open for brunch and dinner on Sunday. The

pub serves until midnight. Lunch sandwiches are $8; entrees range

from $9 to $12. Dinner appetizers are $9 and $10; entrees are

primarily

in the low $20 range. The majority of items on the pub menu are $9.

Full bar. Checks and credit cards accepted.

Top Of Page
Quilty’s

Quilty’s, open since 1994, is, without question, the

most handsome of the Witherspoon Street restaurants. A jewel box of

a setting, with curved lines, mirrors, and lighting integrated into

a unified architectural vision, the surroundings are a feast for the

eye. Architect Eric Regh and his wife, designer Debra Regh, are

responsible.

Debra did the subtly abstract wall paintings.

The intensity and placement of lighting brings out a sense of

well-being.

The shape of the semi-circular marble-topped bar just inside the

entrance

basks under gentle overhead lighting. The shape is mimicked by the

entrance to the dining room, and its curved ceiling. A semi-private

semi-circular booth at the back of the dining room, complete with

a wall painting by Debra, is described by a restaurant spokesman as

"much loved and much hated;" its privacy is a plus; its

nearness

to the kitchen, a minus.

"Bistro Cuisine," declares the writing on the entry door.

This is understatement, even though one of the lunch appetizers is

salade nicoise with haricots verts. Lunch fare includes appetizers

and salads, sandwiches, and main courses, including a pasta special

of the day. Among the dinner appetizers is caramelized sweetbreads

with wilted frisee and black trumpet mushrooms. Among the main dishes

for dinner are hummus crusted salmon with caviar barley risotto, and

venison osso bucco served with a potato dish enhanced by caraway.

Steak, lamb and turkey would satisfy conservative diners in the

evening.

Two vegetarian main courses are on the menu at dinner.

Quilty’s, 18 Witherspoon Street, 683-4771. Steve Willis

takes over as owner in June; and the name will change (see story,

page 23). Lunch Tuesday through Friday, and for dinner seven days

a week. Sunday brunch. At lunch substantial salads and sandwiches

commonly cost $7 or $8 and main courses range from $8 to $11. Dinner

appetizers average $8; most main dishes range from in the teens to

the low twenties. Full bar. Credit cards, checks accepted.

Top Of Page
Sakura Express

Sakura Express bills itself as offering sushi and

teriyaki

on the go. (Sakura, by the way, means cherry blossom.) However, stools

and counters make it possible to eat, self-service, at the

establishment.

A self-service American style salad bar is available. Teriyaki,

tempura,

maki, temaki, sushi, and noodle dishes are available. Various

combinations

of dishes are served with steamed vegetable or salad.

This is no nonsense Japanese eating, without even the hint of a frill.

Sakura Express. 43 Witherspoon Street, 609-430-1180 or

609-430-1179. Albert and Andrew Ko, chef-owners. No smoking. Lunch

and dinner Monday through Friday. Open continuously Saturday and

Sunday.

Teriyaki and tempura items range from $4.75 to $5.95. Maki and temaki

rolls are $3 or $3.50. Sushi (one piece), typically costs $1.50 or

$1.75. Combination dishes, with two main items most commonly cost

$7. Cash and local checks accepted.


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