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
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
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
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
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.
The newest eating place, and the most interesting,
is the Ferry House. The restaurant opened on Witherspoon Street last
month and has made every effort to continue the life it began in
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
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
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
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
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
The dishes offered tend to fuse ingredients not commonly used
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
The restaurant has been in its present location since 1996, the
to Karen’s Corner, a takeout business which opened its doors in 1993.
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.
Ichiban, the Japanese restaurant, makes a cool and
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
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
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
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
Lahiere’s, established in 1919, is the traditional
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
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
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.
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;
main courses are predominantly in the mid $20 range. Credit cards
and checks accepted. Full bar. Smoking permitted only in the bar.
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
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
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
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
they haven’t eaten before. Conventional meals are available in
— 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
in green sauce; and at dinner, a salmon Wellington with crab duxelle,
wilted greens, lemon, and dill. A separate pub menu offers, in
to standard pub food such as bratwurst, buffalo wings, and nachos,
relatively substantial dishes, and a children’s menu for those six
fax, 609-921-2634. Owner Thomas C. Schmierer. Chef/owner Arthur
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
in the low $20 range. The majority of items on the pub menu are $9.
Full bar. Checks and credit cards accepted.
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
Debra did the subtly abstract wall paintings.
The intensity and placement of lighting brings out a sense of
The shape of the semi-circular marble-topped bar just inside the
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
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
Two vegetarian main courses are on the menu at dinner.
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.
Sakura Express bills itself as offering sushi and
on the go. (Sakura, by the way, means cherry blossom.) However, stools
and counters make it possible to eat, self-service, at the
A self-service American style salad bar is available. Teriyaki,
maki, temaki, sushi, and noodle dishes are available. Various
of dishes are served with steamed vegetable or salad.
This is no nonsense Japanese eating, without even the hint of a frill.
609-430-1179. Albert and Andrew Ko, chef-owners. No smoking. Lunch
and dinner Monday through Friday. Open continuously Saturday and
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.