Elements – A Meal of the Moment for the Ages

I got an email from ChuckEats asking if I’d be available to join he and Lesley along with Alex and Aki for dinner at Elements in Princeton, N.J. on a Sunday evening. Since Princeton is a 3.5 hour drive from where I live at a minimum, this would ordinarily not be a doable, especially on a Sunday night, but this was not just any Sunday night. Chuck and Lesley were in from the Bay Area, Alex and Aki are always fun, Elements always makes interesting and tasty food and this was the Sunday night of President’s Week and I did not have to work on Monday. There was still another stumbling block, though. I already had plans to spend the weekend in Montreal with my family. That would add a minimum of two and a half hours to the drive and we would have to leave Montreal a bit earlier than we might otherwise have. As much as I was wanting to go, it didn’t appear likely that I would be able to do it.

I got lucky. After a terrific brunch in Montreal, we hit the road on a beautiful sunny day. The Canada/USA border can be a nightmare, but we sailed right through and that clear sailing continued all the way home. According to my GPS, I had a shot. You only live once! Leaving my family at home, I hopped back in the car and decided to give it a go. Armed with a little freshly brewed Blue Bottle coffee, driving tunes on my iPhone and an open road, I had one of the most enjoyable drives I’ve had in a while. I actually arrived early and was the first of our group at the restaurant!

So many factors enter into the final perception of a meal. Of course the food is of paramount importance, but so are a diner’s mood, level of hunger, the company, environment and service, any one of which can turn one’s perception of a meal. That written, a mediocre meal may be  received more agreeably, but still won’t be great despite the best of circumstances, while a wonderfully conceived and prepared meal may still fall flat in the wrong environment.

Chef Scott Anderson

This night at Elements, we had a nearly perfect storm to make this meal one for the ages. I’ve enjoyed some superb dinners at the restaurant, but overall none better than this one. Chef/Owner Scott Anderson and his right hand man, Michael Ryan are thinking man’s chefs. Anderson has become well known for sourcing unusual and pristine ingredients and this dinner would prove a consummate example of it. He has always had an eye on Japan and prepares Japanese ingredients with a skill that few non-Japanese chefs can match. Chef Anderson calls what they do in the kitchen at Elements, “Interpretive American Cuisine,” adding “because we think of our dishes as canvases and paint what feels right, while staying grounded in the essence of the ingredients.” That description of Anderson’s approach to food proves to be quite accurate, but I find it to be more than that.

Scott Anderson and Alex Talbot in deep contemplation prior to dinner

Elements is a top notch restaurant, but it is not so much a trend setter as it is a stellar interpreter of the moment. While Ferran and Albert Adria created Vanguardist cooking, Rene Redzepi made foraging respectable, Dan Barber brought the farm to the fine dining table and Sean Brock has made the South rise again, Anderson has been a master of exploring those styles and more and distilling them into his own compound vision. A meal at Elements right now is a meal that fuses all the current dining trends into a unique  combination. An approach like this could easily lead to a convoluted disaster of a meal, but Anderson, Ryan and the rest of the Elements team manages to keep it all together and create a meal that, though interpretive and reflective of today’s food trends, still remains original and creative. For a snapshot of contemporary fine dining trends in one place at one time, I would be hard-pressed to think of a restaurant better than Elements.

For this meal, I will not provide a detailed blow-by-blow account of each course. Though I enjoyed some courses more than others, there wasn’t a bad one  and together they comprised a truly amazing and wonderful meal. I will let the photos of the courses with their descriptives provided by Chef Anderson speak for themselves. We sat at the kitchen table, so I will add a few photos from that perspective as well.

Since I had just been in a car for a total of six hours and had to drive a bit more after dinner, I limited my alcohol intake. Normally for a dinner like this, I would have enjoyed a wine pairing, but instead I had a cocktail. Mattias Hagglund had been the barman at the restaurant in the past and had set an impossibly high standard of creativity and execution. The cocktails are still creative and good, but not quite at the impossible standard set by Hagglund.

"Mean 'n Green" - Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila, Green Chartreuse, Lime & Thai Bitters

The meal opened with some snacks. This was a parade of tastes and textures.

Crisps - Fish Skin, Rice & Pork Rinds

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Crisps

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Egg - beet custard, salsify, black rice, 64.5 degree egg, crème fraiche

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tempura ice fish, shirauo, fish sauce

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Delaware Bay oyster poached in its shellseaweeds, ponzu, monkfish liver, pimperelle

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Delaware Bay oyster poached in its shellseaweeds, ponzu, monkfish liver, pimperelle

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Hard at Work

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A Glass Eel

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glass eel, trout roe, nori, curly cress

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sunchoke ceviche, roasted tomatillo, shima aji, wild fresh water aquatic plant

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sunchoke ceviche, roasted tomatillo, shima aji, wild fresh water aquatic plant

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sashimi of Kindai shima aji and kindai shigakidaisalted turnip, cilantro flower, torched pine

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Kindai toro tartarea)o toro tartare – ginger, scallion, white soyb) chu toro tataki – nasturtium, miso, shiroshoyuc) cured o toro – buddhas hand flower, pink lemon flower, nasturtium

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o toro tartare – ginger, scallion, white soy

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chu toro tataki – nasturtium, miso, shiroshoyu

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cured o toro – buddhas hand flower, pink lemon flower, nasturtium

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Aki All Atwitter

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honey mussels, beef tongue, housemade kimchi

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honey mussels, beef tongue, housemade kimchi

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A New Centerpiece for the Table

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nishin (pacific herring), freekah, milt, cider

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kuro mutsu (Japanese bluefish) wild onion, fingerling sweet potato, pork jus

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Mangalitsa lomo hung in Octobertrumpet royale vinaigrette

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kimchi and black pepper macaroonswhipped lard

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Stony Brook Meadows Duroc porkcabbage, sweetbread, achiote, hazelnut, smoked butter emulsion

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Stony Brook Meadows Duroc porkcabbage, sweetbread, achiote, hazelnut, smoked butter emulsion

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Tea Time Courtesy of Chef Michael Ryan

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Mallard Duck Paté

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mallard ducka)roasted bone tea - duck katsuobushib) liver pate – fermented cider sourdough breadc)roasted breast – 21 day dry agedd) tartare – 40 day dry aged, mustard, tobacco

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roasted bone tea - duck katsuobushi

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mallard ducka)roasted bone tea - duck katsuobushib) liver pate – fermented cider sourdough breadc)roasted breast – 21 day dry agedd) tartare – 40 day dry aged, mustard, tobacco

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mallard ducka)roasted bone tea - duck katsuobushib) liver pate – fermented cider sourdough breadc)roasted breast – 21 day dry agedd) tartare – 40 day dry aged, mustard, tobacco

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liver pate – fermented cider sourdough bread

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The Green Fairy

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whey and absinthe – sugar, tarragon, chervil, anise hyssop

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H. Alexander Talbot

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Ideas for Ideas in Food

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Notes for Chuckeats

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cured wagyu110 day dry aged, 85 day cured and dry, emulsified wagyu fat

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cured wagyu110 day dry aged, 85 day cured and dry, emulsified wagyu fat

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cured wagyu110 day dry aged, 85 day cured and dry, emulsified wagyu fat

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110 day dry aged wagyu ribeyedried sweet maine shrimp, tonburri, dry aged jus

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whey and absinthe – sugar, tarragon, chervil, anise hyssop

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whey and absinthe – sugar, tarragon, chervil, anise hyssop

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keeping an (virtual) eye on the meal

Desserts

curds and wheya)whey and absinthe – sugar, tarragon, chervil, anise hyssopb) curds and sourdough ice cream – celery, fennel, celery root, granola, herb

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hoja santa ice creamJapanese sweet potato and white chocolate puree, barley, mezcal, rose thyme

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Pastry Chef Justine made the petits fours

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petit fourssticky buns, blondies, ginger cookies, house treats

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The end

This was an extraordinary meal in every respect. It would have been worth the travel just for the company, but when Scott Anderson and his crew put this meal together, it truly flew over the top. I’ve enjoyed some fantastic and unusual ingredients and great meals at Elements, but this was truly one for the ages.


This entry was posted in Cocktails & Libations, Culinary Personalities, Fine Dining, Food and Drink, New Jersey, Pastry, Slow Food, Top Restaurant Meals, Travel, Wine and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Elements – A Meal of the Moment for the Ages

  1. ChuckEats says:

    i like the lens – some great texture in those photos

  2. Reid says:

    John,

    Looks like it was an amazing evening with great food and great friends. What more can anyone ask for? That you made the drive to be here speaks volumes about both. I hope to get here someday.

  3. Jorge Hernandez says:

    I’ll be digesting this post for a while. Absolutely beautiful. Pictures are amazing, you can almost feel the texture based on the photos. Great job for what looks like an unbelievable dinner.

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  5. Patty Brower says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t wait to go – the food looks amazing!

  6. Patty Brower says:

    Thank you for carrying our wines!
    I can’t wait to go to Elements – the food looks amazing!

  7. jeremy b says:

    Looks like an incredible meal!

    I’m curious, could you clarify the note on the cured wagyu dish? Is it dry aged for 110 days, cured for a few days and then dried for another 85 days … or am I confused. Also any idea what part of the cow was used?

  8. docsconz says:

    Jeremy, The wagyu is dry-aged for 110 days then cured for another 85. The cut was latissimus dorsi. Sorry for the confusion!

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