This list began in 2007 as a Top 25. Since then, New Jersey’s dining scene has steadily gotten bigger, better, more varied and contemporary. Expanding to a Top 30 simply recognizes that fact. It was not an easy decision—Top 25 had a certain alliterative ring, and during its 11 years it became a recognized standard. But the need to expand the list is reason to celebrate.
Common Lot, Millburn
Why go: Don’t go if you’re looking for the usual fare — pasta, burger or even bread. Australian-born chef and owner Ehren Ryan isn’t going for the same-old, same-old. His rustic no-airs-about-it, grown-up restaurant has portobello-mushroom colored walls, wooden floors and an open kitchen and an intriguing menu with loads of possibilities for adventurous food lovers. Get his guacamole, studded with spring peas and topped with a sweet pepper relish, especially if you love cilantro (Ehren is not afraid to use herbs boldly). Try his crispy char-grilled cauliflower, served “al dente,” in a lovely lemon-y tahini dressing. Enjoy his perfectly grilled octopus with fried capers, dark purple onions and spring onion relish in a shallow bath of shellfish oil. It has been on the menu, a waiter reported, since the restaurant opened in March 2016. (The next year, Common Lot won the Garden State Culinary Arts award for Best New Restaurant.) As for entrées, you have a few single-serving dishes to choose from such as leg of lamb with fava beans and plancha-seared halibut or mains for two including 12-hour braised lamb shoulder.
What may surprise you: This is one restaurant where you must make room for dessert. On the night I visited, I couldn’t decide which dessert was better: the silky-smooth goat-cheese cheesecake sporting edible flowers accompanied by heady lavender ice cream or the black sesame meringue stuffed with mousse-like creamy semifreddo atop dehydrated strawberries, pickled green strawberries and fresh strawberries. They were both divine.
How much: Appetizers from $8 to $17; entrees from $26 to $36 with entrees for two starting at $82. Desserts are $10.
The details: 27 Main St., Millburn; 973-467-0494, commonlot.com.
Black sesame semifreddo at Common Lot, Millburn
This black sesame semifreddo is one of the best desserts of the summer season: the black sesame meringue stuffed with mousse-like creamy semifreddo atop dehydrated strawberries, pickled green strawberries and fresh strawberries. It’s light, it’s refreshing, and it’s absurdly divine. Cost: $10.
GO:27 Main St., Millburn; 973-467-0494; commonlot.com
First time dad Paul hasn’t been out too much lately, so Ashley set up a day full of unique ideas for a date night in NJ.
New Jersey was shut out last week when the list of finalists for a James Beard Award was announced. Why? Well, that’s a story for an opinion column.
But there’s a New Jersey-centric dinner starting at 7 pm, on Monday, April 16 at the Beard House, located at 167 West 12th Street in New York, in which four top toques from the Garden State are cooking, along with two chefs from Pennsylvania.
Called “Jersey Road Trip,” the dinner spotlights Anthony Bucco, of the forthcoming Felina in Ridgewood; Ben Nerenhausen, of Mistral in Princeton; Ehren Ryan, of Common Lot in Millburn; David Viana, of Heirloom Kitchen in Old Bridge; and Eric and Mark Plescha, of Charcoal BBQ in Yardley, Pa.
All chefs lead farm-to-table restaurants, and the menu they have created reflects that.
The hors d’oeuvres: Fried Chicken Skins with Chicken Liver Mousse, Lemon, and Thyme; Warm Buttermilk Biscuits with Young Spruce, Cultured Butter, and American Sturgeon Caviar; Beets with Béarnaise, Horseradish, and Dill;
Crispy Tête de Cochon with Pickled Vegetables; Smoked and Beer-Battered Forty North Oysters with Housemade Bread-and-Butter Pickles.
The dinner: Salmon Tartare with Ponzu Gelée, Grapes, Sesame, Nori Cracker, and Micro-Herbs; Radiatore Pasta with Benton’s Bacon Bolognese, Arugula, and Yolk Sauce; Hudson Valley Rabbit with Beets, Horseradish, and Dill; Lamb with Sea Urchin Chowder, Peas, Fava Beans, and Lamb Prosciutto; Burning Ember–Toasted Umami Pie with Maple, Mushroom, and Brown Butter.
The dinner is $135 per person for members and $175 for nonmembers; this includes wines, tax and tip.
To reserve, call 212-627-2308. For more information, visit jamesbeard.org.
By Teresa Politano / For Inside Jersey
THE VIBE: Intimate, casual BYO, designed as modern rustic, enlivened by vibrant artwork
STANDOUT DISHES: Bison tartare, fried chicken skins, dry-aged rib-eye, lemon semifreddo
Ehren Ryan is not like the others.
New Jersey is certainly diverse, as are our restaurants. Yet, most of our chefs are much alike in one distinct but important measure: They’re New Jerseyans. Even those who are from elsewhere have eased in — spending years here — growing up, working. Among the rare exceptions are those who share our altitudinal gradient; they’re from New York or Philadelphia.
He came to us via Australia, India, the Philippines, Canada and Hong Kong.
Most importantly, he came to us from a Michelin-starred kitchen in one of London’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Sketch is really three restaurants in one, an Alice-in-Wonderland experience, eccentric and quirky but still, and you sense it as soon as you walk in, steeped in a certain incalculable British propriety. You may not know the rules, and the rules may change nightly, but the rules certainly exist.
So, Ryan was nervous when he opened Common Lot in Millburn, unsure how we’d react to a menu that was more fine dining than not, in a restaurant with communal seating that was more casual than not. Not sure if we’d like his cheeky “bag of egg and crisps,” or respond to a chef whose previous customers counted themselves among the global elite in a city that prides itself on its innovative cuisine. Ryan is a cheese sommelier (yes, that’s a thing) who fiercely defends the rigor and discipline and the Escoffier sauces of a French kitchen. How would New Jersey respond?
Restaurant Keeps it Simple in Millburn by Christine Sloan
By Eric Levin
“A decade ago, we created the Top 25 to augment the Jersey Choice Restaurant Poll in recognition of the dynamism of New Jersey’s dining scene. Every year since, the scene has grown more competitive, contemporary and varied, creating a boon for Jersey diners and a greater challenge for us to select the best of the best. But, hey, it’s a wonderful problem to have.” Read More…
By: Dawn Del Russo
“I have been wanting to try a place in Millburn, NJ called Common Lot for a while now. I checked out the menu online and it was intriguing. The idea that it is an open kitchen also got me. I love when you can see what they are cooking. I decided to give it a try for lunch. I know dinner is always the star meal, but figured, if they can get lunch right, I would certainly go back for dinner.” Read More…
EHREN RYAN IS A RISING TALENT, SERVING A TASTE OF THE WORLD TO THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY WITH HIS NEWLY OPENED RESTAURANT, COMMON LOT.
Born in Sydney, Australia, the young chef was inspired by his high school teacher to pursue a culinary career. Accepted into The Hotel School, Ehren Ryan spent his college years gathering real-world experience, working for popular Sydney restaurants while attending class once a week. Graduating with a degree in commercial cooking after four years, Ryan was hungry to build on his foundation. Traveling to Europe, Ryan began making a name for himself by working in upscale restaurants across the continent.
In a recent interview, Ryan explained how valuable his time in Europe was, specifically crediting his experience with renowned restaurant, Sketch in London, established by master chef Pierre Gagnaire: “I was never exposed to that type of food before, the foie gras, the truffles…the rich food and plating.” The high-end work in Europe taught Ryan discipline, precision and the demanding responsibilities of running a restaurant. Familiar with the industry and confident in his abilities, Ryan set out to open his own restaurant with his wife and partner, Nadine.