One of the things that makes central New Jersey special is its abundance of artisanal farms, where fresh produce, grains, and meats are grown by farmers who are more craftspeople than businesspeople.
What that means for Mistral is the opportunity to create innovative meals from some of the most lovingly grown foods available anywhere. It means that Mistral’s executive chef, Scott Anderson, and chef de cuisine, Ben Nerenhausen, can take something like a maitake mushroom and craft a whole new dish around it, rather than chop it up and throw it into a salad.
Another thing about the seasons in central New Jersey is that the crops can be a surprise. This, says general manager Derek Brosseau, greatly influences Mistral’s seasonal menus. You can try to plan for a summer menu featuring new takes on corn or tomatoes, only to find out that the quality of one of those crops turned out to be underwhelming this year.
Instead, the crew at Mistral lets the local bounty steer the menu, whatever the season. The only requirement is the best crops, grown locally, and always fresh. And this is for more than just flavor, it’s also about connecting with food and with the community of passionate, dedicated growers that provide the ingredients for exquisite meals.
“There’s something to be said when you have to clean the dirt off something and you just know it’s fresh and you know where it came from,” Brousseau says. “There’s a sense of place involved.”
This sense of place and the spring harvest have led to a dazzling menu that features such seasonal delights as chilled pea soup with coconut sorbet, chicharrone, and lemongrass; quarter roasted cauliflower with sumac yogurt and harissa; and stuffing gnocchi with cultivated mushrooms, smoked curd, and black garlic.
Of course, Mistral’s menu is not just about locally sourced vegetables and grains. Mistral also serves some of the finest poultry and game, grown with the same loving care, on some of central New Jersey’s finest farms. Try the Griggstown chicken roulade with maitakes a la grecque, roasted cabbage, and buttermilk potatoes if you need proof for yourself.
Mistral’s focus on locally harvested foods also contributes to the presentation of the meals and menus. For example, one look at Mistral’s menu will show a straightforward approach that would rather highlight the main ingredients than confuse guests with an elaborate explanation or obscure names for dishes. The restaurant’s warm falafel salad, for instance, simply lists sprouted grains, black sesame, and carrots cooked in barley ‒‒ just the ingredients. This, says Brousseau, is meant to convey the direct, straightforward appeal of the dish. In other words, to let the dish and its ingredients do all the talking.
And this focus, in a way, pays respect to the local farmers that Brousseau calls artisans and craftsmen, the small mom-and-pop businesses where, often, actual moms and pops dedicate hours to grow the most delicious ingredients, whether mushrooms or grains or heirloom products. “They’re spending time and they’re personally invested in these foods,” Brousseau says. “They really are artisans.”
Mistral, 66 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. 609-688-8808. www.mistralprinceton.com.