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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 29, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Out to Lunch: Trenton Marriott

As a Trenton resident and booster, I went to review

Archives, the restaurant in the city’s much-ballyhooed new Marriott,

with a positive bias. I wanted to like the place. Even so, the restaurant

blew me away — and did so well before I got anywhere near the

hostess station in the main dining room.

The lobby is just so comfortable, welcoming, and yes, downright resort-like.

It reminded me of the colorful lobby in the hotel in Celebration,

Disney’s prototype city of the future in central Florida. There is

a similar festive feel, lots and lots of great seating, and plenty

to look at, including colorful paintings by central New Jersey artists.

I walked in the front door right behind two briefcase-toting women

who headed straight for a waiting friend. They exchanged greetings

in front of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on an long expanse

of lawn bordered by flower beds, through which a path, lighted by

gas lamps, meanders. Then they settled into comfy armchairs for a

pre-meal chat.

Overstuffed chairs and couches, mostly in deep reds and greens, some

solid, some in subtle floral patterns, divide the main lobby into

two sections. One features a fireplace, and the other a grand piano.

Each offers an ideal setting in which to wait for the arrival of friends

or business colleagues gathering for lunch. Perhaps this impressed

me so much because I have spent hours pacing in front of restaurants

— or shoe-horned into VW Beetle-sized reception areas — waiting

for friends to arrive for a lunch appointment.

Getting away from the office is rarely easy, and parking anywhere

along the Route 1 corridor poses challenges, so the gathering-everyone-in-your-party

thing generally is a tad trying. What a pleasure, I thought right

away, it would be to gather the group in this Marriott. Considerably

smaller and more intimate than its big brother hotels up Route 1 to

the north, the Lafayette Yard Marriott doesn’t even require complicated

logistics, which are sometimes necessary in the larger places with

their multiple restaurants, lounges, and waiting areas.

Walk in the door of the new Trenton hotel, and your dining companions

will be easy to find — and most certainly will be comfortably

seated and enjoying the atmosphere.

Past the main lobby area, are two more casual common rooms. The first

contains a long table, several smaller seating areas, and a wide-screen

television. This is the least attractive area, with the long table

pressed up so close to the big TV that anyone interested in watching

near-life-sized golfers or hoopsters would not have a great viewing

angle.

Just beyond is a two-room bar area, the first room furnished with

a long, curved banquette, small tables, two wall-mounted televisions

tuned to CNN, and a warming station for Happy Hour munchies. The bar

itself is perfect for quiet conversation or solitary dining. Made

of dark wood, it has room for 10 or 12. On a recent late-afternoon,

one gentleman in a golf shirt was having a light meal, and a few bar

stools away, a group in business attire were having an animated conversation

over drinks.

The dining room itself is right next to the bar. It is larger than

I expected, with several seating areas that flow into one another.

A low wooden wall, painted in high-gloss white outlines the room,

while chandeliers consisting of dozens of small, cobalt blue tensor

lights provide a punch of color. The effect, again, is more resort

than corporate hotel.

Tables, covered in starched white cloths, are well spaced, allowing

for private conversations and easy navigation by diners and waiters.

Toward the windows, which overlook pleasing greenery, are curved banquettes

in a yellow-going-to-gold tone. A matching, oversized banquette provides

a visual divider for the largest dining area. Beyond that main area

is a smaller section of tables, which look into an open kitchen. Also

in this area — right in front of the kitchen, is a buffet station,

which is used at lunch and at breakfast.

The lunch buffet, already popular according to a hostess, is $12.95.

Choices vary. On a recent Tuesday, the buffet featured wonton soup,

stir-fried ginger beef with asparagus, salmon with Oriental pineapple

sauce, stir-fried vegetables, penne pasta with snow peas and shittake

mushrooms, jasmine rice, and a full salad bar. Dessert and soft drinks

are included in the price of the buffet. Typical dessert offerings

include carrot cake, marble cheesecake, and coconut cake.

Described as "Historically-Influenced American Cuisine

with New Age Flair," the lunch menu begins with appetizers —

priced from $4 to $9.50 — and soups, at $4.50 and $5.50. A hostess

says the portobello fries — wedges of portobello mushrooms fried

and served with a horseradish dipping sauce — are one of the most

popular items on the menu. Other appetizers include barbecue pork

barrel tidbits — braised in micro-brewed beer, twisted vegetable

quesadila — another favorite — and Buffalo wings in an apple

cider dipping sauce.

There are a number of salads on the menu — priced from $5.95 for

a classic Caesar to $13.95 for a steak cobb salad, which is a 6-ounce

strip steak served over greens with maple pepper bacon, egg, avocado,

tomato, and a peppercorn-blue cheese dressing. Sandwiches, priced

from $7.95 to $13.50, include a vegetarian cheese steak ($7.95), grilled

filet mignon medallions topped with sweet onion jam and bacon strips

for meat eaters ($13.50), and a slow-roasted turkey sandwich ($7.95),

which is emerging as an early favorite.

Entree prices begin at $9.95 for vegetarian penne pasta, also popular

in the restaurant’s early days, seafood scampi ($12.95), pan-seared

bass ($13.95), and roasted chicken with artichoke-mushroom ragout

($12.95). Wine suggestions sit alongside entree listings on the menu.

Desserts on the menu are similar to those included with the buffet,

and run about $4.95.

Still finding its audience for dinner, the restaurant already is extremely

busy at lunchtime, particularly during prime time — noon to about

2 p.m. It opens for lunch at 11 a.m. (breakfast is served beginning

at 6 a.m.) and stops serving at 2:30. A hostess suggested those in

a hurry to get a table and be served quickly would do well to come

early or late. "Two o’clock is perfect," she says. This would

be especially true for a large group. Reservations, she says, are

taken for groups of eight or more.

For larger groups, there are also private dining rooms and dining

areas available at no extra charge. The most inviting private area

is the one in the bar section. It provides a long table — and

a certain amount of privacy — for a group of 10 or 12, but is

also in an attractive area with lots of good people watching possibilities.

The other private areas are separate, windowless rooms behind closed

doors just off the main dining room. They could feel a bit claustrophobic,

but would be well suited to groups desiring complete privacy.

The advantage of the private areas for smaller groups is a cut-down

in the frenetic, loud chatter that can emanate from a gang of office

buddies celebrating a birthday or retirement.

Despite nearly 10 years of living in Trenton, I still get lost downtown.

Yes, I am directionally challenged, but I have heard this complaint

from more competent pathfinders. I was surprised, therefore, to find

the new Marriott so quickly and easily. Exiting Route 1 at Market

Street, I followed signs for "Downtown and Lafayette Street"

and was there in a jiffy — only about two or three minutes from

the exit.

I easily found free parking on the street right outside, in an inviting

neighborhood of two-and-three-story brick buildings in pristine condition

right next to the War Memorial. On-street parking is not so easy to

find during prime lunchtime hours, but there is an attended garage

adjacent to the hotel. A hotel representative says the restaurant

is now setting up a validation system that would give diners free

parking. Now, parking is free for the first half hour and a dollar

or two for longer stays.

Not only is Archives an outstanding find for anyone doing business

in Trenton, but, truly, it is well worth the drive down Route 1 for

office workers looking for a good meal in an setting that makes getting

together with friends, clients, and colleagues in a comfortable setting

oh-so-easy.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Lafayette Yard Marriott Conference Hotel, 1 West

Lafayette Street, Trenton 08650. 609-421-4000; fax, 609-421-4002.


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