I want to like A Toute Heure. It’s the type of place I should like. With a garden down the street where they pick produce to feature on the ever-changing menu, this New American bistro has all the markers of a restaurant I should love. However, my first visit to this acclaimed New Jersey restaurant left me disappointed.
Now I should start by saying that I don’t mind paying for great food. I’ve spent a LOT of money over the years on some truly fabulous restaurants, and I don’t regret it. I think that supporting local, organic, and sustainable food is important, and I go out of my way to buy from farms in our area. However, I found that a Toute Heure did not live up to my expectations.
The meal started with a chicken meatball amuse bouche with yogurt sauce, which was light and tasty. Out of the appetizers, I thought mine was the best of the bunch: crispy pig tails, chili glaze, toasted cashews + mint greens. I love fried pig tails, which are crispy, meaty, and fatty in all the right ways. While the sauce tasted like bottled sweet chili sauce, the mint greens brightened up the dish and plus, I got to convince my family that pig tails are delicious. So, overall, still a win for me.
My dad’s braised bulich farm mushrooms, heirloom beans, fava beans, anchovy, parmesan + a cold zucchini salad did the best to highlight the quality of the produce, and was a lovely light and fresh appetizer. However, the most disappointing was the sweet pea + ricotta stuffed squash blossoms, over whipped lardo, grilled toast, + an herb-shallot vinaigrette. It was a single squash blossom, under-seasoned, with an un-necessary lardo covering a thick slice of brioche. It would have been better as a salad, with a few squash blossoms stuffed, lightly battered & fried, and a tangy vinaigrette.
The main courses were hit or miss, with my sister’s pan seared sea scallops, spring greens sauce, creamy barley “risotto”, braised baby hakurei turnips, garden greens being the best, and my hand-made cappelletti, roast zucchini, sumac + curry oil, minced spring garden beets, + pickled mustard seeds being the worst. My sister was really happy with her perfectly seared scallops, and thought the creamy risotto was fabulous, but my pasta was a let down. If it was outrageously delicious, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at $30, but 4 pieces of overly thick stuffed pasta and five pieces of zucchini, that couldn’t be saved by the sumac and curry oil, were not worth the price tag.
The problem with my mom and dad’s main courses is that they were both forgettable… literally. My mom ordered the fulton fish market catch of the day over some sort of couscous and beet sauce (I think), but honestly, we couldn’t remember. My father’s local beer brined, roast chicken, shmaltz potatoes, creme fraiche, mashed sweet spring peas, roast garlic + chili oil, pecorino sounds like it would be packed with flavor, but it was lackluster. Up until this point, we all thought that the meal was ‘eh’. There were positives and negatives, but it was dessert that pushed us over the edge from good to bad.
Now the waitstaff had been ok during our meal. Not terribly knowledgeable, but friendly, albeit slow to clear the table (except for our earnest and enthusiastic 16-year-old server who was desperate to refill our water glasses). So when the waitress had to check with the chef twice, because my mom asked for a bowl of berries and a scoop of ice cream, we were all a bit baffled. She finally agreed to it, but my mom felt a bit embarrassed by the ordeal.
My father’s spring fruit cobbler, with lattice crust top and a scoop of sweet cream ice cream was tasty, though the server couldn’t tell us what fruit was in it, or that it contained tapioca pearls, was a bit strange to me. My scoop of strawberry + balsamic ice cream was forgettable, but the garden mint chocolate chip was smooth and creamy with a lovely bright flavor, so I felt redeemed.
By far, my sister got the worst dessert: s’mores trifle: brownie pieces, fudge sauce, graham cracker ice cream, marshmallow brûlée. It sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? Yea, it was pretty awful. Aside from the fact that it wasn’t actually brownie pieces, nor was it brûléed, the dessert itself was just terrible. It takes a lot for a member of our family to be disappointed by a dessert, but it really was that bad. There was enough gelatin in the marshmallow to bounce it off a wall, and you literally couldn’t get a spoon through it. The brownie didn’t taste like chocolate (or anything, really) and was as hard as a rock. We were all surprised. The only good part of the dessert was the graham cracker ice cream, which was completely melted by the fudge sauce by the time you could get to it.
When clearing our plates, the staff asked how we liked the dessert, and I nudged my sister to be honest. She said that she was really disappointed, and they said “I’m sorry to hear that. What did you have?” She told them the s’mores trifle, and the two staff members looked at each other like they’d been down this road before. I fully expected them to say “I’m so sorry, we’ll remove that from your bill. Can we offer you something else?” But instead, they walked away.
So when our bill came to $230 for 4 people (including the $12 s’more dessert), it was disappointing. (this was not including tip and it’s byob). It was a golden opportunity for them to end the meal on a positive note, so when nothing was done, I just thought that was poor judgement. Honestly, if they had removed it from the bill, I would have considered coming back, but there were just too many missteps. Perhaps we caught the restaurant on the wrong night, but it was just too hot and cold for me to consider coming back.
A Toute Heure
32 Centennial Avenue
Cranford, NJ 07016