Hudson County Restaurant Week Food Diary: Light Horse Tavern

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Another day another restaurant to cross off the list... another late lunch, and some not so great impressions.... But this was our last stop for this round of Hudson County Restaurant Week. A food celebration full of adventures, new tastes, new places, and tons of fun. Can't wait until the summer installment! 

Monday, February 4, 2 pm: Light Horse Tavern, Jersey City
Just like the Madison, we have been to the Light Horse Tavern before  almost a year ago. We were not severely impressed with the food, but we had a really great time there for a late dinner. The atmosphere, the staff, the live music, all really had a beneficial impact on our dining experience; sometimes it’s not just the food.

This time it was a late lunch. Unfortunately, the restaurant did not list its prix fixe menu on the Hudson County Restaurant Week website, so we went in blind and consequently were disappointed; no prep, no decisions made, no idea at all. And probably if we had known what they were offering beforehand, we might have chosen a different location. There the lunch prix fixe was $18 for only two courses (none of which were desserts, sadly), and it felt a little limited; 2 salad appetizers, a soup and a raw option, and for mains, three sandwiches and a pasta. It felt like the cheap and easy-way-out items on the menu.

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To start we had the winter kale salad with pickled cherries, candied pecans and some parmesan cheese. The salad looked pretty bleached, pale and devoid of color, because the winter kale was not the plush dark green we are used to, but the sickly bright white green of a plant grown underground. The white cheese and heavy white dressing did not add color only a Caesar flavor. The only color was a dark brown, produced by the maple pecans, and a similar hue with a tinge of red from the tart pickled cherries. Not every bite was always in synch or harmonized, as the cherries provided sparse and random bursts of tart juiciness. 

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The oysters, however, were delicious. The appetizer was a tasting of three really different preparations (déjà vu?). The plate was starkly beautiful; three grey oysters on a white white plate, each dolloped with either an electric green, a light yellow orange, or a rich dark green. The first raw gem was topped with candied citrus rind, sweet and tart like oranges, highlighting the natural sweetness of the oyster. The next preparation was like a honey wasabi, bright with the spiciness of the root, but then muted with the golden tones of honey. I almost forgot that this topped a raw oyster, but the subtle saltiness of the oyster, heightened the sweetness of the honey. The last, was a salty, herby like pesto, sprinkled with the crunch of pale sesame seeds. This was the only preparation that really offered another pronounced texture to battle the smoothness of the oyster. 

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Once again the mains were almost less than interesting. The spaghettini with Maine shrimp, kale and xo tomatoes was a real dud. It lacked flavor and inventiveness. The dish in its entirety felt uniformly bland. Even bites containing shrimp, or kale or even tomato all tasted the same. There were chunks of garlic floating throughout the liquidy mess, and that was perhaps the only flavor. However, it lingered unpleasantly in the mouth for far too long. There was also a tortuously briny saltiness present as well. Unfortunately, nothing held this pasta dish together.

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The cod burger main, on the other hand, was much more appealing, featuring a patty of chopped, flavored and manipulated cod. It was topped with what was like fancy ketchup, a tapenade with roasted tomatoes, sweet and tangy. The bun also included a healthy dose of tartar sauce, red onion and frisee lettuce. The flavors were nice and harmonious, however, the bun was a dry flat line and brought the sandwich down. The accompanying chips were thin, crisp, and salty with what felt like a hint of Old Bay seasoning. They were a nice counter point to the soft textures in the sandwich.

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Even though dessert was not part of the prix fixe, we indulged, mostly because I was so dissatisfied. Of the three offered, we picked the two which sounded the most interesting; a gingersnap bread pudding, and a butternut squash dessert. Both arrived and looked gorgeous well plated and inventive in a sharp contrast to the humdrum we had seen.

We were most definitely skeptical of the butternut squash dessert, but intrigued at the same time. This was a prime example of a savory dessert, where the sweetness relied on very mild vanilla gelato and a pumpkin seed brittle, as well as the few fresh blueberries that lined the plate. It was a very disjointed dish, which our server claimed to be very good. It was lacking the sweetness that we were longing for after our not so great meal, and that could have been injected into the dessert as it was. The meatiness of the pumpkin seeds overwhelmed the brittle, but when the kiss of sweetness come through it was nice. The butternut squash was in difficult chunks, almost too hard and large to manage. Softer and smaller would have been more enjoyable. Perhaps if even the ice cream was a little sweeter the dish would have morphed into something more pleasant. It was a little too experimental, lacking an element to meld all the different pieces together.

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The gingersnap bread pudding was perhaps the best thing we ate at the Light Horse that day, other than maybe the wasabi honey oyster. It was all the sweetness the other dessert lacked, and it had spice in the ginger snap crumbs as well as the cinnamon gelato that came with it. The tiny bread pudding circle, though did not have any perceptible ginger flavor, but it was moist and decadent. It was topped with bright red stewed apple slices, cinnamon infused and spicy with the cookie crumbs, followed by a sweet scoop of the gelato. The apples added some tartness to the sweet dish, varying the balance, though their skins were hard to manage in contrast to the fall apart custard and the melty ice cream. This dessert was delicious, and it felt like the colder seasons, with homey flavors.

We decided we did not really need to eat a full meal at Light Horse Tavern again, too many missteps and discomfort. Once again, we were less impressed with the food, but still longed for the ideas. And just like the first time, dessert was the redeeming factor, so we decided we could stop by another time for dessert and a drink, but their savories felt under developed. The atmosphere was not the warm cozy one we remembered, though the interior was beautiful in the late afternoon light. Sadly, this trip was not what we hoped it would be, it was not the time we fell in love with The Light Horse Tavern.
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