SoHo in New Brunswick? Well, why not? This college town has become very fashionable, and some of the new restaurants in the neighborhood are quite hip. SoHo on George is a modern eatery near the State Theater. Its large windows face the street, allowing passersby to peek inside--not a bad thing; SoHo on George was popular from the moment it opened, and aren't people more likely to try a new place if they can see that it's crowded?
The interior is atmospherically dark, with pools of light dramatically illuminating wood tables with interesting copper inlays. Walls are adorned with framed posters and a vibrant, slightly distorted mural. An attractive bar divides the bi-level dining room, creating the feeling of two separate dining areas. One night, while waiting for my dining companions at a table that's not visible from the entrance, the hostess, unfortunately, forgets that I am there; after almost an hour, I finally walk around the restaurant and find my party. Apart from that, the service is pleasant but not too swift.
The executive chef and the restaurant manager have impeccable credentials. Chef Bruce Courtright worked for restaurants in New York City, California, and France before coming to New Jersey to preside at the well-reputed 28 in Montclair. General manager Patricia Lytwynec formerly managed the Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick, the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, and Harvest Moon in Ringoes. Their combined expertise shows in the exciting menu and wine list, although the latter could be broadened a bit.
Menu prices are quite good, with most main courses ranging between $15 and $19. Only two dishes are in the $24 range. Specials run considerably higher, but since they are listed on a tented card on the table, you are forewarned. Before the meal, a variety of excellent breads and interesting accompaniments are served. The only soup on the menu is a thick, wonderfully flavored concoction of celery root, leek, and pear that comes with a mound of crisp duck confit and crèfraîin the center.
Delicious little gnocchi flavored with porcini mushrooms come with artichokes, peas, and pancetta. An oval of smoked-duck mousse served with seared foie gras, a poached pear, and a pomegranate reduction proves to be a great combination. Smoked salmon slices layered with smoked-salmon mousse, crèfraeche, and crabmeat and topped with salmon roe is as attractive as it is tasty. And tuna tartare with scallop seviche is presented with a refreshing salad of mango, cucumber, and mesclun. The Seafood Martini special--a martini glass filled with shrimp, crabmeat, and lobster surrounded by a plate of bluepoint and Malpeque oysters and tiny clams--tastes fresh and pure, but because no seafood forks are to be found in the entire restaurant, we must pry the tiny clams from their shells with dinner forks. I don't care for the wild-mushroom-and-goat-cheese terrine; the gelatin-based slice has very little flavor.
Despite the menu's rather long dissertation on the proper cooking of fish, the two that we order--cod in potato crust with a foie gras emulsion and a lovely-to-look-at special of a white fish called opah--are both overcooked. Diver scallops, however, are perfectly prepared and served with a truffle-cream sauce and a napoleon of wild mushrooms and parsnip purétopped with frizzled onions.
A delicious loin of lamb special, cooked as requested, comes with a timbale of diced zucchini, sauté spinach, and wedges of roasted potatoes. Another good main course is the pan-roasted duck breast accompanied by mustard-flavored spaetzle and baby vegetables. Pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and served with beans is another winner, as is the filet mignon served with short ribs braised in Guinness, mashed Yukon potatoes, wilted baby Bibb lettuce, and crisp bacon.
Desserts improve on our second visit, when they seem to be prepared by a different pastry chef. A Tropical Strudel, filled with bananas and garnished with a fruit salad and crisp baked banana slice, is outstanding, as is the mascarpone cheesecake with a port-and-fig compote and walnut crescents. A delicious and visually interesting Triple-Chocolate Mousse Tower made of crisp giant chocolate tuiles filled with dark, white, and milk-chocolate mousse is served with espresso and dark-chocolate sauces. Less appealing are a too-rich chocolate terrine special and a crèbrûthat is soggy on top. A warm open-face apple tart is disappointingly heavy.
SoHo on George is an exciting addition to the New Brunswick dining scene that will appeal to all age groups--even hungry college students. --V. S.
335 George Street, New Brunswick (732-296-0533). Lunch: Monday through Friday, 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner: Monday through Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; Sunday 4 to 10 pm. Wheelchair access easy. All major credit cards. Dinner for two without wine averages $70.