Not long ago, the chic, vibrant restaurant Mistral opened its doors in the heart of downtown Princeton near the library. Its mix of taste, style, and atmosphere made it a destination location where diners enjoy an outdoor seating area as well as a cool interior space. Chefs Scott Anderson and Joe Mooney, whose talent has drawn recognition from the industry’s most authoritative players, continue to place emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, creating a variety of culturally influenced, inventive small plates for guests to savor and share.
In a move calculated to concentrate creative culinary energy, chef Anderson and partner Steve Distler have brought their popular venue elements to Mistral’s building, designing a more intimate dining space than existed at the former State Road location. An elevator from the entrance on Witherspoon Street provides effortless access. From a glassed aerie overlooking the passing parade, guests will have a relaxed fine dining experience, and the venue coupling provides the opportunity for chef Anderson to touch every plate.
Mistral has a vibrant bar scene and a stunning outdoor patio space. Mistral’s guests enjoy creative small and large plates that are both unexpected and attuned to chef Anderson’s local and seasonal ethos. The full Mistral menu is available at the bar, in addition on Tuesdays through Thursdays an excerpt from the a la carte elements menus is available. The late night bar menu offered on Fridays and Saturdays perfect for post-event and after-theater dining, and never last call before 1:30 a.m.
elements’ intimacy comes from the unique configuration that will allow five chefs the ability to serve diners directly, with small wait staff. The kitchen is completely open. The menu will change daily based upon what is available that meets the demanding eye of chef Anderson. A creative tasting menu is highlighted on the weekends. Two private rooms that can become one, seating up to 40 people, are also available.
elements is already synonymous with creativity and panache. Chef Scott Anderson and his staff are dedicated to exploring the world of food for excitingly different tastes. The backbone of his approach is that eating nourishes the soul as well as the body.
But how can he access distinctive ingredients for diverse dishes without resorting to costly methods of delivery? Enter Dave Zaback of Z Farms on Princeton Pike in Lawrenceville. Both “Farmer Dave” and Chef Anderson have been dedicated to expanding the range of local produce for years. In 2010 when Zaback began cultivating his own 15-acre farm, they started a collaboration that now brings deliciously new products to the tables at elements. What is on offer is not your usual mixed greens.
Ever eager to expand the reach of what can be grown organically in New Jersey, Zaback is willing to stretch. As a result of his expertise and care, diners at elements have been introduced to several items from around the world.
Ficoide glaciale, from France, is a crisp, succulent green with a slight lemon flavor. Also known as ice lettuce, it adds punch to salads and can be wilted as part of savory dishes. From the other side of the globe comes celtuce. This Chinese vegetable is a long green stalk that intriguingly combines the flavors of broccoli, lettuce, and celery with a water chestnut texture. The leaves can be used much the same as dandelion greens.
Adding to these exciting new tastes, Zaback provides Piracicaba broccoli (sweeter than the common variety), Tuscano kale, and a colorful palette of squashes as vibrant on the plate as a Gauguin still life.
Each winter, Zaback sits with Anderson and his staff to discuss discoveries and to make up a new wish list of ingredients. His years of training at various local farms gives him a depth of understanding about what can and cannot thrive in the Princeton growing zone. Some happy accidents also happen. Last year the harvest missed some of the Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, and they wintered over. Seeing them this spring, Anderson tried the tiny tubers and found them sweeter. Eureka!
Z Farms is also an active participant in the Community Supported Agriculture system (CSA). In addition, they can be found at numerous farmers’ markets. Ably assisted by his genial father, who mans the till, Zaback is carefully expanding his presence in the region.
elements’ hallmark is to look to what is freshest and local for inspiration. Anderson’s exacting standards demand the best quality. He is consistently open to inspiration based on what is available at the moment. By focusing on the ingredients and working with those that are at their peak currently, his dishes are constantly reinterpreted. Consistency of excellence trumps cookie cutter preparation. Anderson calls it “Interpretative American Cuisine” because he approaches dishes as canvases and paints what feels right, while staying grounded in the essence of the ingredients.
Anderson believes that collaboration among fellow chefs and local purveyors allows for culinary ideas to move forward. This intrinsically American belief is practiced by Anderson and his team daily as they work with local farms and butchers in farming, foraging, curing, and fermenting ingredients to execute their vision of transforming classic dishes into something completely new.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Anderson spent part of his childhood in Japan. This exposure to foreign tastes and cultures piqued his interest in the culinary arts. It greatly influenced his technique and the distinctive flavor profiles he develops.
The combined energy of these two cutting-edge venues has changed Princeton’s palate for good.
Mistral, 66 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. Monday and Tuesday, 4 p.m. to midnight, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday 10:30 a.m. to midnight. 609-688-8808. www.mistralprinceton.com.
Elements. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. 609-924-0078. www.elementsprinceton.com.