Hudson County Restaurant Week Food Diary: Elysian Cafe

RER 2.4.13
Friday, February 1, 8ish pm: Elysian Café, Hoboken
It was a double date this time, but the wait was long. I called earlier that day to make some kind of reservation for the restaurant, but unfortunately, they do not take reservations for under six on the weekends, however, I was assured over the phone that if I came with my party around 8, we could be seated pretty quickly. That was a dream that did not come to fruition. We all spent the preamble less than comfortable with our coats on in the narrow space between a long bar and a slew of crowded tables in the front room of the Elysian Café. At least there was a decent time wasting movie on the television over the bar and the amaretto sour was sweet.

This place is the younger sister, and it feels like it. The Flinns own one of the gems of Hoboken, Amanda’s as well as this French inspired Elysian Café. Elysian, has a completely different feel, more trendy, with more of a transporting effect, you feel like you are somewhere else, and the outside city kind of vanishes. Maybe it was the dim lighting (that could be Friday night), or the noise, and the bar, and the television and the trendy people drinking drinks and eating or waiting to eat. It was probably all of that, a whole different vibe, more casual and less refined, obviously the younger sister.

After waiting what felt like forever, the four of us were seated in the second room of the restaurant. The walls radiated blue because of the setting lighting, were deeply patterned with rococo florals, twisting and turning stems. The black and white tiled floor mimicked the color of the walls, and the dark booth. It was a little quieter back there, but not quite peaceful enough to carry on detailed, content heavy conversations.

RER 2.4.13
I am going to preface this all with… I was very disappointed from the beginning, the wait, the people there, the service, and eventually the food. I suppose I had high expectations, basically being raised on the delicious adultness that is Amanda’s, Elysian Café was a far fall down.

The $35 prix fixe had four options for each of the courses, something for almost everyone; a soup, two salads and a starch, as starters, some fish, pork, chicken and meat, hot, cold and chocolate desserts. A nice range, hearty enough, playing with the winter season; butternut squash soup, winter vegetables, apples, pumpkins and blueberries. This prix fixe menu kind of gave a glimpse into some of the more profound dishes on the regular menu.

RER 2.4.13
To start, there was one butternut squash soup, one smoked salmon, and two rock shrimp risotto starters. All of which were pretty weak. The uniting theme was a lack of balance. The butternut squash soup, was thin and too finely pureed to the point where it felt like tomato soup. Just from making a soup employing a butternut squash just a little while ago, I have learned that they are somewhat resilient squashes. This soup eliminated every glimmer of that, and manipulated the gourd into a sweet juice. The smoked salmon appetizer too, was overrun, invaded by the bitter frisee and not enough of anything else to combat it. The frisee visually disguised almost all the other ingredients, only at times the bright red blood oranges would peak through, but the salty smoked salmon was hidden until grabbed onto in the mouth. It was a light appetizer, somewhat cleansing and refreshing because of the juicy citrus, but mildly weighed down from what was like lox (an upgrade of course from the bagel store). And the risotto was a complete let down. It wanted every characteristic and adjective I would ever use to describe risotto. Basically it was very lemony rice, sprinkled with green herbs, and pale pale shrimp. There was not the creamy element that we all think of when we hear risotto. It was both under and over cooked at the same time. And one of the four described it as a heavy appetizer. That it was, heavy and disappointing.

RER 2.4.13
We only really sampled the braised short rib, and the rosemary brined pork chop. When I see “short rib” on a menu it is extremely difficult for me to pass up. In some ways I am glad I didn’t this evening, but in others, I wish I had. The meat was not as succulent and juicy as I was hoping or dreaming of. This short rib was not quite as good as the one I had just a few days before (link). The grits however were classic deliciousness. Of course the slow cooked hunk of meat needs a starch base to drink up the juices created with time. But these grits were sweet and salty, and most definitely not of the quick variety. The stewed winter vegetables were nice; carrots, turnips, and mushrooms, heavy and filling. All in all it was ok, but I have had better short ribs elsewhere (at home…). 

RER 2.4.13
Now the pork chop was too dry, like all of its life was depleted from it because of cooking or perhaps even the “brining” (brining generally makes the meat or poultry in question cook faster, therefore timing in cooking is key). The accompanying brussel sprouts were great color, but just the classic baby cabbage. And the apples served the vital role of moisture and chaser for the pork chop. Unfortunately, the sauce on the plate, meant to help in that was too bitter to even want to eat, and its spread poisoned the sweet potato rosti which could have been intriguing and delicious. Both of these mains suffered from what felt like technical mishaps and oversights, but not intentional. 

RER 2.4.13
 Of the four desserts offered, one (the apple blue berry crisp, which I really was hoping to try) was sold out (it was about 10:15pm at this point), the sorbet and ice cream never too interesting, and there was the chocolate molten cake, and the pumpkin cheesecake. The pumpkin cheesecake was really lovely, as the pumpkin flavor was mild but present, and the texture smooth and creamy, until the tongue encountered the crunchy sweet and almost salty graham cracker crust. This rather large slice of cheesecake was served with a rather large dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. The caramel sauce on the plate played up the natural sweetness of the cream, and heightened the seasonal sensibility of the pumpkin. And the chocolate cake, was like many molten chocolate cakes; warm, moist, gooey, and above all, severely chocolaty.

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And here it is. The food was not so great considering the restaurant’s relatives; the lack of balance and preparation was quite shocking to me.  Also the service was not so great. Don’t get me wrong, our guy was really nice, friendly, but also seemed a little overwhelmed. He confused my drink order (just the size of the pour), but also a dessert; one of us got one, when he ordered another. Just in an environment like the one that Elysian was trying to create calls for a higher attention to detail like that of the décor, in all aspects.

The trick is not to drink.
RER 2.4.13

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