Laurel & Sage | A Spectacular Dinner
It was Friday night after the Montclair State hosted UPitch NJ competition. Everyone from the event split up for the evening.
Being central to Montclair, I decided to adventure into town to try one of the restaurants on my list.
Laurel & Sage | Their story
As I read from their website, Laurel & Sage is named after the Chef's daughters. They've been in business for three years, having recently celebrated their anniversary.
The menu is influenced by Chef Shawn's background in "seafood, farm-to-table, Italian, Asian, Mediterranean and American fare." The beautiful dishes rotate to include local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible.
A Friday Dinner Crowd
Luckily I timed my entrance for 7 o'clock. Since I was one person, I was able to get the last booth seat, on the back wall, looking out across the whole restaurant.
I silently cheered that the hostess didn't put me smack in the middle of the dining room.
A Warm & Elegant Design
Laurel & Sage's interior decor speaks to me as a designer. The walls were light grey with white trim. The tables were wood-topped to match the hardwood floors.
I sat in a deep-orange booth at a two-top table. In front of me, in the center of the room, were four-top tables, symmetrically aligned to give the illusion of one, giant 20-person table.
Hanging above the tables were two large chandeliers with crystals that looked like giant bubbles. Large windows covered the walls overlooking the street. White flower vases sat on the window sill.
As reflected in the space, Laurel & Sage's menu was a thing of beauty: one page, one side.
What appetizer did I order?
My waitress Charlene was amazing -- friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient. She answered all of my questions about the menu and shared the specials that she memorized.
I knew I wanted to try an appetizer (as always). Yet I didn't want something that would be so filling that I wouldn't enjoy my dinner. I opted for the Parsnip Soup.
Parsnip Soup | $12
Parsnip-based with a splash of cream, this soup also has artichoke hearts and white truffle oil on top. Charlene asked if I wanted to include Foie Gras (fattened duck or goose liver) on top. I thought: What the hell, I've never tried it.
I wasn't waiting long when my colossal soup arrived.
At first, I couldn't imagine how a soup could cost $12, but this was basically a meal!
I tried the soup on its own first, to see its flavor. Even though this soup used luscious ingredients, it was not heavy (like a bisque or clam chowder). You could taste the parsnip flavor right away and the texture was smooth.
If you don't like parsnip I suggest you try it anyway because the flavor combinations were amazing!
The white truffle oil is what makes this soup unique. I have no way to describe it on paper. The oil flavor reminded me of the seasoned oils that go into ramen. The artichoke must've also contributed to the soups delicate flavor.
But the foie gras...guys, I was trying to inconspicuously take notes while I was eating this and let me tell you: mind blown.
The foie gras was so buttery and tender. I used my spoon to slice through and take a piece. It dissolved in your mouth, it wasn't like a steak or piece of meat you had to chew. There weren't any tough or fibrous pieces, just rich flavor.
What was an exciting surprise is that I got a pop-over to accompany my soup.
Despite being a foodie, there are many dishes I've yet to try. Pop-overs were one of those items.
This pop-over is a traditional, airy, egg-based dough. It was light like a croissant and had air pockets like pizza dough. This particular one had a slight sweetness to it but also had some pepper and herbs on the top.
This bread was perfect to dip into my soup. It came with an adorable square of butter drizzled with honey and lavender. The honey was a clever addition that I'm going to try at home.
The small cup on the right was the chef's creation for the evening. I'm calling it a gravy. It tasted like a stew-gravy without any meat or veggies in it. I also used it to dip my bread into and was glad to have a combination of flavors to start my meal.
I saved 3/4 of my soup to take home. As I waited a short while for my dinner to arrive, I observed the room.
There seemed to be two bus-boys (they were adults, not teens) who were in charge of cleaning and resetting tables or refilling drinks. There were three other waiters and waitresses circling the room. The hostess by the door also helped when needed.
Why I remembered this, is the fact that attention-to-detail and a focus on hospitality creates an even more spectacular dining experience. The wait-staff was amazing and professional.
They were quick to remove unnecessary dishes from the table, the moment they were done (which I so, so, so appreciate #PetPeeves). And they always made sure my water glass was full (I drink a ton of water, and my glass was only empty 1/4 of the way down, before being refilled).
I could talk about restaurant service for days. Try to notice this the next time you go out to eat and see the differences between the staff and restaurants.
Now -- back to the food.
Special | $40
I don't normally order fish-based dishes because they don't impress me. But as Charlene described this special, I was intrigued. The cooking process involved a lot of culinary terms, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I decided to order it anyway.
You're going to laugh, but despite Charlene repeating it to me twice, I'm still not 100% sure I can name what's in this dish.
To start, I thought for sure she was saying "Jon Buri" to describe the fish. I was thinking, "I've never heard of that before..."
A google search confirmed that I was correct, "Jon Buri" is not a type of fish. From what I read, I believe what Charlene was referring to is the cooking method of the fish:
Donburi -- is a Japanese "rice bowl dish" consisting of fish, meat, vegetables or other ingredients simmered together and served over rice.
Either way, this fish (which was white and meaty) was served over this bright green risotto. What was unique is that the risotto had an apple-citrus flavor. It was al dente and included peas.
Alongside the plate was steamed asparagus. I also think the yellow orbs were cooked tomatillos. They were bright and sweet. On top of the fish (which had crispy, skin) was citrus grinds to give it a pop of acidity.
Drizzled around the plate was this beautiful orange and green sauce. According to Charlene, this was a herbaceous lobster sauce with Pernod wine (which has a licorice flavor). Chef Shawn is a finessed chef. I could not pick out any of these flavors on their own. All I know is that it made a delicious sauce for the fish.
Yes, I ordered dessert
By now you should know that I always order dessert.
I only ate half of my fish, so it joined my parsnip soup as leftovers. Charlene then gave me the single-sheet, dessert menu.
I loved the variety of desserts. Having seen the couple one table down from me order the hearty, blackberry pot pie, I knew the desserts would be just as good as the meal.
Charlene answered my questions about the desserts, all of which are made on-site, except for the ice cream.
I debated ordering the beignets, but after hearing another special, I decided to order a dessert that might not always be available: baklava.
What made my decision on this was the following information. One of the chefs in the kitchen was from Syria. His grandmother shared her baklava recipe with him, which he decided to make.
His baklava is different from the Greek baklava which you may know. Charlene said his recipe is made with rose water, cardamom, and walnuts. It is crispy and not as soaked with honey.
The baklava was as promised, crisp and crunchy with fresh walnuts. I personally didn't taste the rose water in the phyllo-dough, though the walnuts did have a hint of cinnamon to them. The ice cream was delicious, and I spread it across the baklava to make a little ice cream sandwich.
A Warm Addition
I told Charlene that I loved food. As I was waiting to eat my dessert, she gave me a tasting sample of a Carrot-Ginger Soup.
The ginger in this soup is what makes it memorable and different from other carrot/squash soups you've had.
It was great to try a free sample! Now I get to recommend it to you, and I may remember to order it next time I visit Laurel & Sage.
My Favorite Montclair Restaurant
After just one dinner at Laurel & Sage, I can easily say they're my favorite spot in Montclair. I could write a novel about my experience. From the thoughtful, beautifully crafted food, to the wonderful service and atmosphere. Foodies will gain many memories from the eating at Laurel & Sage