It is another night of our staycation, getting to know the city right next door, Jersey City. We did a lot of research on places to go, really trying to plan our adventure, and the Light Horse Tavern is on the top of the list.
Walking in to the space is stultifying, a beautiful two storey restaurant, wooden and heavy, dressy but still relaxed, with large windows opening onto the quiet residential street in Jersey City. The second floor is small, and opens onto the ground floor, many feet below. Walking in the large door, the spread of tables maze ahead and the solid, old fashioned looking bar, decorated with men in suits and women chatting lay to the right. The hostess leads us forward, and we catch not so subtle glimpses of dishes on tables and quiet couples and merry groups. We are excited. The air smells inviting and rich, making me hungry for something new and decadent.
She brings us upstairs, narrow wooden stairs that seem to give her difficulty in her heels. The narrow stairway leads us to what is the second floor, like a little loft, looking over the seating below. It is a little quieter up here, less bar chatter and less tables. We sit at a table for two, positioned right along the railing for the stairs, and it feels private, except for the waiters that bounce up and down the stairs.
Even the menus look luxurious, large, glossy and clean, mimicking the heavy lines of the architecture. It lists many options and specials for each day of the week. We ask our waiter, the first of our waiters, for advice. I read so much about the lobster gnocchi, so I (my mouth) was already watering for it, and I am smitten with the idea. My date, more skeptical, asks for the soup of the day, a lobster bisque, that our server prefaces as a cream based soup.
We hold hands and laugh, looking around marveling in the luxury and odd balance of the old and new situated in the Light Horse Tavern. The walls are sprinkled with photographs, black and white and color; and impressionistic paintings, portraying landscapes; and odds and ends. Trying to portray a history--- a mix of Americana and European influence, setting an importance in the place.
Our appetizers arrive, just as we grow impatient. The plates are even beautiful, simple crisp white, muttering a kind of nonchalance and class. Our expectant mouths are ready, and we taste. The lobster bisque is nothing we dreamed of. It is overly salty like tomato soup with a generous sprinkling of aggressive soy sauce. The lobster is scant, and the salt is overwhelming, unpalatable. The next time we see our server, we let him know. He whisks the soup away with apologies and promises to take it off the bill, while asking if we wanted to try something else.
We turn our attention to the lobster gnocchi that I had to have. The dumplings lay heavy in my mouth, and the aroma of the truffle oil outshines and outperforms all other components. The dish is overwhelmed by the decadence of truffle oil, which packs an initial punch while drowning out the other elements and then vanishes, leaving no remnants. More pancetta is desired by the tongue to balance out the intensity of the truffle. The lobster adds another texture, contrasting with the heavy, doughy gnocchi, helping with the balance. Dispersed green chives lighten the load of the creamy truffle and dense gnocchi. The acidity and diversity is welcomed as the truffle oil mutes all other potential flavors.
We order our main courses, and because they had run out of the lobster special of the evening, my date had to tweak his order. We decide to share a full raw bar (our first) and the short rib ragu. Time lingers heavy with small disappointment after our appetizers, but the live music ringing from below fills the void. It is a little loud, sound wafts easily up to the second level.
Unfortunately our ragu and raw bar arrive at the same time. A large part of us wishes one came before the other. This is my first time really consuming raw shellfish. Three different sauces are planted in the center of the large aluminum shallow bucket of ice; horseradish, cocktail and red wine vinegar. Oysters, clams, steamed muscles and shrimp cocktails, all slimy, plump and fresh, dance around the sauce.
The short rib ragu is excellent and the hot dish contrasts nicely to our cool raw sea creatures. It is a chunky ragu, not the fine saucy kind, allowing the ingredients to be tangible and perceptible. The bed of homemade pappardelle pasta laps up the juices of the cooked vegetables--the coarsely chopped onions and cubed carrots-- as well as the fats of the short ribs stringy with perfection and time. Though the portion is not large, it is hearty, with heaping meat and large vegetables.
Dessert is a requisite, and as always, it is hard to choose. We once again call on the guidance of our server (number two?), and we stumble on the crème brulee and a compact bread pudding. Our desserts are both top notch, to the point that we keep eating just to eat, knowing full well that our bellies are satiated. Our bread pudding is dense and custardy, layers of breads and sugar and eggs melting in our mouths. A lovely mound of sweet caramel ice cream melts discretely atop the warm pudding, creating that dynamic of contrasting temperatures. The crème brulee is adorned with a small dish of a magical berry compote, dancing with acidity and fruity notes, that pair perfectly with the heavy vanilla custard. The tartness of the stewed berries cuts the cream and creates a balance that all desserts need and our mouths longed for.