3 in New Brunswick:

Soho on George


Corrections or additions?

Miles to Go Before We Eat, Miles to Go. . .

This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on April 28, 1999. All rights reserved.

Here’s a true story from the annals of central New

Jersey dining: A determined couple set out the other night to find

a quiet place for a sit-down dinner. Money was no object; they were

dressed suitably for either a casual or elegant venue; and they were

not fussy about food type or dietary considerations. So far, so good.

They drove into downtown Princeton — the Restaurant Row that U.S.

1 featured in last year’s spring dining guide. Unable to find any

easy parking, the trio headed out to Route 1, and pulled into the

first of the big box, shopping center restaurants. Plenty of parking

here, but no seats. Along the southbound lane of Route 1 our trio

encountered one long line after another, a reality they would have

expected had they recently visited the dining section of U.S. 1’s

website, princetoninfo.com, where a steady stream of comments have

been registered with respect to the shortage of tables on weekend


In a few more months they would have been able to entertain even more

choices — three new seafood places are now close to opening (see

separate story, page 30). And who knows what other entrepreneurs are

ready to rush in to meet the seemingly insatiable appetites of central

New Jersey diners.

But for now all our couple could do was to head back north on Route

1. They were famished — and used the cell phone to order pizza.

What else could they have done?

For one thing, in the time they spent driving into and out of Princeton

they could have been well on their way to New Brunswick. Since U.S.

1 last visited, two years ago, the city has gained three new eateries

that deserved our attention. Varied in look, cuisine, and location,

these three places are "in" right now, and for an array of

appealing reasons.

Scoping them out in the afternoon, when the town seems to be at capacity

in people, vehicles, and one-way streets, you might wonder about coming

back for dinner. Be prepared for takeout pizza? Engage a limo? Flag

a cab? Or, as one restaurateur laughingly put it, "park in Piscataway

and walk over"? By supper time, though, the parking decks are

emptier, on-street parking is possible, and surface lots here and

there have disgorged the 9 to 5 crowd. While reservations are suggested,

particularly for weekends, you should at least be able to park and

walk a short distance to your destination.

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3 in New Brunswick:

Los Molinos

It’s named after those mythic windmills but there is

not a single windmill in sight at this restaurant until you get inside

and see the mural, complete with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, on

one long wall. On other walls around this attractively designed restaurant

are a mix of paintings and gifts from cousins and other relatives,

according to Jim Villarino, 27-year-old son of the restaurant’s owners

and full-time general manager.

Let’s make it clear from the outset: this is a family business, congenially

and proudly so. And the Spanish cuisine, presided over by chef Victorio

Gonzalez, another relative, who owned a restaurant in Spain, is a

family heritage. But from the look of the menu and the aromas in the

air, diners can adopt and treasure it too.

Conveniently situated on a triangular corner at Georges Road and Jones

and Sandford streets, Los Molinos ("the windmills") has been

open only a little more than a year, but its appearance and overall

accomplished air would argue longer. In its last incarnation, the

building was a nightclub, Villarino recalls. Once his family settled

on this site, instead of moving to Long Island from their Union County

home base, they gutted the building, which was then redesigned by

his mother, Mercedes. Her conception: a pleasantly angular dining

room next to a bar room, with creamy walls and lots of honey-toned

mahogany wainscoting and trim. Blue napkins accent white tablecloths,

and the floor is speckled terrazzo tile. Villarino firmly supports

this floor choice, which is mopped daily. It is a nice alternative

to a stain and odor-retaining carpet.

On the balmy spring day we visited, breezes blew through open doors

throughout the restaurant. Villarino says even in winter, they air

the building for an hour or so each day, dissipating yesterday’s cooking

smells and starting fresh. (His mama didn’t raise a slouch at house-cleaning!)

Since the spacious kitchen and food storage areas are downstairs,

Los Molinos also serves as fitness center to the wait staff, now accomplished

stair masters.

"Nothing is pre-made," Villarino says, and "everything’s

simple." Patrons can request, and get, salt-free cooking, and

extra virgin olive oil is the oil of choice in the kitchen. But "simple"

is relative: Los Molinos’ dinner menu offers items not commonly made

at home, and, judging by the myriad glowing reviews on display in

the entrance area, apparently UN-commonly made here. The unanimous

tie for most popular entrees, according to Villarino, his mother,

and Chef Gonzalez, is either the "Pechuga Los Molinos" —

chicken breast with mozzarella, asparagus, and wine sauce, or "Ternera

Los Molinos" — medallions of veal stuffed with spinach and

prosciutto sauteed with extra virgin olive oil, mushrooms, sweet red

peppers and brandy (both $16.95). And this in the face of the house’s

"Paella (Marinera O Valenciana)," described as "an exquisite

variety of shellfish served in our Spanish rice" ($18.95), and

served, to the chef’s delight, in a classic shallow metal pan —

the only way to go, as he sees it.

Los Molinos’ "Mariscada en Salsa Roja," or shellfish in tomato

sauce with Spanish rice, is "different from other places I’ve

had it," notes Mercedes Villarino, and for "different"

read "much better." At $18.95, this is the priciest entree

except for the musical-sounding "Mar y Tierra," or surf and

turf ($24.95), and, presumably, two "market price" lobster

dishes. Entrees — fish and shellfish, meat and poultry — start

at $14.95. Daily specials, offered with wine suggestions, are priced

within these parameters. Also unique to the restaurant are white asparagus,

octopus dishes, and cream of carrot soup, called "the best we

have here."

Appetizers, all in the $7 range, run from grilled sausage

in Spanish cider through shrimp in garlic sauce ("our specialty")

to stuffed mushrooms — "light, the best." And desserts

include five homemade dishes, all $5 or less, including crema catalana

(the house version of creme brulee), flan, cheese cake, tiramisu,

and chocolate cake. Tartufo and sorbets imported from Spain are alternatives,

as are specialty coffees and after-dinner drinks.

Except for one California and two French wines, it’s all Spanish,

including sangria. And without exception, the music is also Spanish,

though not always the predictable flamenco. Explaining how there’s

stereotypical Spanish and other Spanish, Villarino cites film heart

throb Antonio Banderas as southern Spanish. In contrast, the Villarino

family are northern, Celtic Spanish, or "cabbage and potatoes

and bagpipes," often accompanied by "red hair, pale skin,

and freckles," he says, pointing out his sister, Sylvie, visiting

from college: "See how pale she is?"

The family pride extends to a paternal grandmother, who, Villarino

says, was a mogul in her little town in Spain, where she owned the

slaughter house, butcher shop, restaurant, and hotel. His father,

Jesus, is a crane operator, while his mother, Mercedes, is "the

boss." Villarino speaks Spanish and a dialect, as well as English,

and all serve him well during the long days he puts in at the family

business, doing a variety of jobs from greeting to waiting to food-running.

Los Molinos will soon try out a guitar player, he mentions, stressing

the musician will be stationary, not the roving kind. The restaurant

seats 115, and except for Saturday night, the busiest evening, offers

a small, well-ventilated smoking area, besides the bar. Drawn from

as far away as Princeton and West New York, the clientele includes

"judges, chiropractors, law enforcement reps, pharmaceutical company

employees" — it’s safe to say a cross section of the populace

enjoys "The Essence of Spain," as one menu has it. And they

do so in "casual dining" comfort; neither jackets nor ties

are required.

Los Molinos is open daily from 11:30 a.m., and serves

lunch until 3 p.m. and dinner from then until around 10. Reservations

are strongly suggested for Saturday night; phone 732-545-5955.

Top Of Page
Soho on George

Younger than Los Molinos — it opened last October

— Soho on George is a different kind of New Brunswick hot spot.

It’s bright, colorful, window-full, and very possibly wonderful —

but definitely a different breed of cat. Positioned on the corner

of George and Bayard streets, in the center of New Brunswick’s downtown,

it’s eminently visible and accessible, conveying an air of with-it-ness.

Overall angular — picture a floor area that approximates two triangles,

back to back — and employing a triangle motif in its side plates,

ashtrays, and napkin folding, Soho is done up in a plum and mustard

color scheme, with handsome cherry wood tables, chairs, bar, and other

design elements. Where it’s not hard-edge, it’s curvy: the wavy awning

outside presages corrugated-patterned ceiling panels sprinkled with

glittering recessed lights, and a dark wavy carpet pattern too.

Besides the poster art that otherwise prevails, a floor-to-ceiling

mural near the open kitchen punches hot colors into the atmosphere:

vibrant pinks, purples and greens. White-clad dining tables are tucked

into every available multi-level niche. Like the tables, the central

bar is topped with an attractive copper inlay leaf design. (Together

with a few tables nearby, this constitutes the restaurant’s smoking

area, with reportedly effective "smoke eaters" on duty.) Soho

on George is not intended to be a quiet, restful place.

Chef Bruce Courtwright calls Soho’s cuisine "modern American with

French overtones," and another staffer calls it "upscale new

American." Take your pick. The menu, which changes seasonally,

includes his current signature dish: "grilled filet mignon with

omegang braised short ribs, mashed yukon gold potatoes, wilted bib

lettuce and crispy bacon" ($24), and he mentions "new lamb

with artichokes" as a coming attraction, and salmon and tuna as

staples of every menu.

"Pan seared diver scallops" (meaning those that were hand-harvested,

and not damaged by trawlers or injected with a chemical to open) come

with a portabello mushroom pillow, cipollini onion coulis, and American

sturgeon caviar for $19, and vegetarians might look with favor on

"wild mushroom and fresh pea risotto, with rosemary skewered vegetables

and a light parmesan broth" for $16. At $25, the grilled sirloin

dish is Soho’s most pricey main course.

First courses that the chef describes as both "popular and good"

include warm lobster and artichoke salad with lobster vinaigrette

($13), and "wild mushroom and duck confit croustade with goat

cheese fondant, a truffled herb salad and preserved lemon" ($8).

Probably only tasting it could explain "roasted fennel, scallop

and orange soup" ($7). Four salads, from $6-9, round out Soho

offerings; the wordiest is also the costliest: "marinated goat

cheese crottin de chavignol with a salad of parsley, mint and watercress,

with citrus vinaigrette and marinated anchovies." Phew. Though

otherwise verbose, the Soho menu deserves credit for streamlining

prices to simple two-digit figures — no 95-cent suffixes cluttering

things up. Easier to tally, too.

Asked about plate painting and presentation in general, Courtwright

holds with "balance," mentioning that some plates are handled

in a clean, straightforward way. Others, according to a daily manager,

are "unusual" — for instance, the monkfish entree is trussed

up to resemble osso bucco, and the apple tart comes with pillars of

pastry topped by spun sugar balls.

Courtwright, who has cooked for years in such diverse places as Napa

Valley, California, France, and "small French places in New York,"

favors fish, citing suppliers from Maine to Florida, besides "locals

with boats." He extols Soho’s wine list and cognac choices. More

important, perhaps, is that the patrons represent all ages and range

from pre and post-theater diners to college students.

Soho on George is open every day, with lunch served Monday

through Friday only. The kitchen closes from 3 to 5 p.m., and dinner

starts at 5 (4 on Sunday); closing is 11 p.m. most nights; 10 on Sunday.

Reservations are recommended at least a week ahead for weekend evenings,

and dress is "nice casual" — jackets and ties not required.

Phone: 732-296-0533.

Top Of Page

For a dramatic change of venue — an apropos concept

in a neighborhood dominated by the courthouse — and for unusual

entree options that a demand existed for or that created a demand,

move on to Clyde’s for a martini or (gulp) a black bear steak.

From upscale and uptown Soho, move downstairs to Clyde’s, across from

the courthouse at 55 Paterson Street, and marked by a green awning

with metal supports that are hung with curling dried vines and hydrangeas.

Descend five or six steps, through scattered red rose petals, and

into a long bar that has the power of suggestion: Suddenly, you crave

a martini. Could that be so because the place serves at least 40 different

kinds of "martini," some of which might appall purists but

seem to please the patrons on hand.

Think greens at Clyde’s: the place is replete with green tones, making

it dark, cool, and woodsy, lighted by Victorian wall sconces or hanging,

glass-shaded fixtures. Ceiling fans move lazily. The bar area gains

extra illumination from sizable fish tanks among the bottles, and

it boasts two elevated fireplaces on the facing brick wall, where

additional bar stools cozy up to a narrow counter — the better

to accommodate martini drinkers.

Behind the bar, and accessible from either end, are four small booths

in a long narrow room — probably perfect for plea-bargaining or

other privacy-requiring quarters. And for smoking during the week.

At the end of the bar, five steps lead up to the dining room and more

greens, from carpet to painted rough-wood walls, accented with a big

vase of tall stems. In this room, true to the theme, framed prints

show vignettes of martini life. Crisp white napery and "Clyde’s"

on the plates — mind you, the "Y" in that word is a stylized

martini glass — invite power lunches and tete-a-tetes. Reportedly,

Clyde’s attracts "the courthouse crowd" at lunchtime, so the

question becomes one of, which came first — the game on the menu,

or a carnivorous clientele.

"I sat here 12 years ago," says co-owner Michael Parla, "and

I thought, wow, this place is a mess. I could make things happen here."

Clyde’s opened in September of 1997, with an "upscale menu at

affordable prices." Offering "creative food and drink"

in a bistro-like setting, Clyde’s dinner menu includes comparatively

traditional menu items — steaks, veal, chicken, seafood, all with

the de rigueur demi glazes, wonton-wrapped veggies, and yukon gold

mashed potatoes infused with this or that — at prices ranging

from vegetarian entrees for $12 or $13, to the house specialty veal

chop at $19.95, or the breast of duck for $21.95.

Game dishes dot the menu, and demand the highest tariffs: venison

london broil ($16.95), grilled ostrich, tenderloin of wild boar, or

grilled fillet of kangaroo (all $24.95). At other times, the menu

might include antelope ("very tender and meaty," according

to a young waiter), black bear, zebra, and "even lion," evidently

for novelty-seeking patrons, or those with seriously jaded palates.

Parla says the more conventional food sells most at both meals, and

notes the emphasis on serving meats that are lower in fat.

Citing "a different generation of drinkers," Parla says vodka

is more popular "by far" than gin in Clyde’s martinis. For

starters, the place offers a martini menu with about 40 choices, complete

with a blushing (and perhaps politically incorrect) Dorothy Parker

quotation on the subject:

I like to drink martinis

two at the very most

three, I’m under the table

four, I’m under the host.

The menu also states the caveat that "all martinis will

be served shaken to your desired dryness," noting that for extra,

extra dry ones, "the bartender will glance at the vermouth bottle."

What’ll it be? How about the most popular martini, the "Cosmopolitan":

absolut citron, cointreau, cranberry and lime juice? Too serious?

Make it a "cajun," with tabasco and old bay seasoning, or

maybe a "neopolitan," boasting goldenbarr chocolate vodka,

stoli vanilla and stoli strawberry, or an "almond joy," with

vodka, malibu rum and amaretto, or — the trainer martini —

a "watermelon martini": midori, berentzen’s appel, stili raspberry

and lime juice. A twist on What’s in a name?: Does calling it a martini

make it one?

Clyde’s martini menu — all in lower case letters — offers

a panoply of gins and vodkas, and charges $5 ("gibson" —

gin or vodka with onion garnish), $6 ("bloody martini," with

absolut peppar and a splash of tomato juice), or $7 ("creamsickle,"

with stoli ohranj and vanil with a splash of liquor 43 and oj). Parla

says while the essence of Clyde’s drinks is 70 percent gin or vodka,

some of the martinis are "softened" with juices; breaking

down the ice, the shaking softens them further.

Clyde’s is open seven days and serves lunch Monday through

Friday only. Dinner runs from 4:30 to 10 p.m., or 11 on weekends,

and dress is "casual." Parking at night is "fantastic,"

Parla says. As for reservations, his answer is a firm yes, especially

for more than a few people on weekend nights. Phone: 732-846-6521.

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This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

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