I recently had the pleasure of dining at Elements, the Princeton, NJ contemporary fine dining restaurant helmed by Chef Scott Anderson. I drove down specifically to have dinner there with three good friends, Alex Talbot, Shola Olunloyo and the semi-anonymous Foodplayer Linda. I had heard many wonderful things about the restaurant, initially from Alex and Shola and subsequently from Steven Plotnicki. Indeed, Plotnicki's Opinionated About 2010 Dining Survey, just released, listed Elements amongst the 30 Most Important Restaurants in the entire USA, despite the restaurant being less than a year old.
While I would meet up with my friends later on for dinner, I arrived early at the restaurant to check it out and get a sense of the place. I expected a nice space, but not as seriously beautiful as this restaurant is. The small, but incredibly efficient bar manned by Mattias Hagglund sits just in front of the entrance to the restaurant. The main dining room, to the left of the bar as one enters, is elegant and lovely, outfitted in rich and warm wood and earth tones. There is an equally lovely small, enclosed private dining room with a round dining table just off the kitchen. In addition there is more space upstairs for additional dining as well as a wine room with a small table for tastings. The last dining area is in full view of the kitchen, off to one side. That is where I decamped with my friends later on.
The restaurant itself sits adjacent to a gas station, the only sign of the location's former existence, as a gas station service area and garage. The building bears no resemblance to those functions at all. An additional benefit of its previous function is the ample parking area in front and behind the restaurant.
As wonderful and beautiful as the service spaces of the restaurant are, the most beautiful space is the efficiently designed, but still generously apportioned kitchen. With two dual-sided work spaces in the center and additional work space around the periphery, the kitchen can handle its small brigade of cooks. The opposite end of the kitchen from the Chef's dining tables are the clean, large walk-in and pantry areas as well as a room for cleaning. The pass lies between the kitchen and the main dining rooms.
The kitchen staff functions mostly silently and with little rushing around or commotion. That probably comes from most of them having worked together for quite some time. Chef Anderson, his sous chef, Joe Sparatta and the bulk of the kitchen had known each other from working under Chef Craig Shelton at The Ryland Inn. Their comradery and ability to work well together is apparent from watching them in the kitchen for just a little bit.
Working on Kagoshima Prefecture Kobe beef
I left to change clothes and returned a little early later on with Alex. Shola was already there. While we waited for Linda to arrive from Connecticut, we observe the opportunity to watch the kitchen in action during service. That was a treat. After Linda's arrival we sat down for dinner. That deserves its own post. Please stay tuned!