It’s always a joy to see an old friend again and to revel in the changes that have taken place. Such is the pleasure to see the rebirth of the late lamented Rusty Scupper on Alexander Street in Princeton. The wait was worth it.
The newly renovated space, now known as JL Ivy, is a sophisticated place, both in decor and in substance. The new owners, led by New York restaurateur Ed (Jean Luc) Kleefield, have retained the craftsman style, emphasizing the simple, clean lines of the Frank Lloyd Wright-esque lattice and decorating with rich wood tones. Chic banquettes and well spaced tables set with simple white give privacy in a cozy space. Be sure to look heavenward to enjoy the painted ceiling. The terrace has been enhanced by a gated fence that blocks the parking lot from the welcoming patio.
The food is a metro mix of American styles with a sushi bar thrown in for extra measure. The Kamikaze roll, a visual delight, is proving to be a repeat favorite ($16) and I saw several move past me as I savored mine. Appetizers range from Prince Edward Island mussels in a broth that demands a big spoon and lots of bread ($11.50) through an extensive raw bar with a special ceviche of the day ($9) and blue claw crab ($16) to a generous salad- with or without goat cheese-pate or Kobe beef sliders ($14.50).
Entrees include hearty salads ($15.75 for a tuna sashimi), a brawny burger, poultry, steaks galore, vegetarian pasta and maki rolls, and an extensive selection of fish, all within the $23 to $26 range. The Paella Royal, with Maine lobster, is a bit more at $32.
The staff is accommodating and friendly. They are even enlightened enough to let me exert my adult prerogative and order my beef rare, a welcome break from restaurants that insist on protecting me from my gustatory self. On the two occasions my friends and I dined there, it was busy but not crowded. Both times were early in the week, a Monday and a Tuesday, but by the look of the parking lot on weekends, Princeton’s dining population has embraced the venue’s return with gusto.
The bar area is comfortable and arranged to encourage talk, actual talking, without multiple big screen TVs blaring in your face. A group of friends could settle in either downstairs or up and enjoy drinks and dinner without becoming hoarse shouting over the din. The low ceilings keep noise to a minimum and the music is a delightful mix of world beat, Afro-pop, cool 20’s jazz that makes itself heard in a “what’s that cool song?” sort of way.
JL Ivy greets you with a casual sophistication that invites business lunches, gatherings of friends and just the right feel for an impressive date. It is a welcome change from the trend of large, mosh pits disguised as restaurants, where the wait is ludicrous. While we had no trouble getting a table on the two occasions we dined, reservations would be a very good idea for late week dining.
A friend is back, nipped and tucked, and sporting a chic new look. It works.
JL Ivy, 378 Alexander Road, Princeton. Closed Sundays. 609-921-1113.