I have been trying to get to this restaurant for a couple years. When it first opened, we tried to make a reservation for a couple days ahead and were told you had to book one weeks in advance! Weeks!?!? So no go…
Then, it turns out, I am someone you have to book weeks in advance with too. I don’t know how this started to happen. I guess marriage does that to a person. I don’t know I like that so much- the business, not the marriage part. I guess that would be another blog altogether. So when I insisted that Michael was taking me here finally for my birthday, he made sure to book waaaaay in advance!
Anyway, CulinAriane, for those of you who don’t know this, is owned and operated by Ariane Duarte. She was a contestant on Top Chef Season 5. It was probably the most watched series and produced the most ‘celebrified’ (is that a word?) group of up and coming chefs. Ariane made it pretty far too. She was voted off episode 8 of 14. Not bad! And she won two challenges!
I don’t know why I get so anxious about dining in fancy restaurants. Maybe it’s because of the class of people I think dine there. Restaurants like this are a ‘not all the time’ experience, mainly because our wallets hate good food. I look around and think that everyone in the place treats this restaurant like a diner or something. Meanwhile, I’m savoring EVERY morsel. I guess it’s like buying a Coach Bag- you know you can spend the money on other things, like bills, but you treat yourself every now and then. All the time knowing there are woman who think Coach is the McDonalds of purses or something.
WHAT AM I RAMBLING ABOUT?!?!?!?!
Decor- 3.5 Taste Buds
There really isn’t anything frilly about this place. Prehaps on purpose? Because you really don’t need any of frills for a good meal. Just a good meal. The tables are white linen. There’s a few italian inspired paintings on the wall. Even the sign outside is pretty average. Nothing visual screams GOURMET about this place. However, it wasn’t until dessert that I noticed something really neat- this sugar bowl.
I was so intrigued, I had to ask the manager about it. It turns out, the chefs were in the restaurant business and have quite a collection of vintage pieces. Most of these items come from the turn of the century. Seeing this sugar bowl reminded me of my Nana. She would have something like this in her home. A bunch of Victorian utensils that had only one use. Very Dowton Abbey!
Service- 5 Tastebuds
It goes without saying that at a place like this, you’re going to get amazing service. And that we got! The staff is well versed on every part of the menu and specials. She probably makes them all eat everything too, so they can attest. But the thing that blew my mind away was that I quietly mentioned something about gluten, not even saying I was allergic, and when he brought out our bread, he gave me gluten free bread!!!!! Waiter, I love you!
The manager ( suspect her husband) came and greeted us, wishing me a happy birthday at the end of the meal. He’s the one that told us about the special serving pieces on the tables. He was very kind, generally caring about what our thoughts on the meal were.
Food- 5+ Tastebuds
Let me start off by saying, this was the best meal I’ve had in a really long time. I know that many of you praise me for my cooking skills, but I would be nothing more than a grain of sand in Ariane’s Ocean when it comes to her meals. We ordered a special appetizer- a mango citrus shrimp ceviché. It was a perfect way to start spring (technically, but NJ is still a winter box). It was refreshing to say the least. For dinner I ordered the sea scallops with wild mushrooms. Might I mention that 75% of the menu is gluten free??? Well, I just did. And it’s kind of surprising, since she has Italian influence in her cooking. I will admit I’m kinda bummed I can’t partake in any of her pasta meals. I was secretly hoping Mike would get a pasta dish, so I at least could have a bite… However, I was MORE than pleased with my meal. The scallops were HUGE and the mushrooms were earthy and rich- one would not think you could get full on such a meal. Well, I did. I had to force myself to finish it!
Mike ordered the half chicken and ricotta gnudi (really large gnocchi). I didn’t quite get it at first, but they were gnocchi made from ricotta cheese and spinach! So good! Interesting! His chicken was cooked Coq au Vin with a side of mushrooms. He adored the meal.
For dessert I had the Gluten-free Chocolate Peanut Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich. It was to die for!!! Mike was totally jealous!
Overall, I would DEFINITELY recommend this place to anyone. It caters to everyone and every diet. And here’s what I’m most impressed with: SHE STILL DOES THE COOKING! Many of these restaurants have their head chefs on book tours or publicity tours. Not Ariane- she’s in the back sweating it out. Knowing my meal was cooked by her means more than saying I ate there. That’s important to me- I can duplicate any recipe myself, but the taste the love that went into the food makes it worth its weight in gold…