Mistral: Another Winner from the Elements Team

I’m a huge fan of Elements and Scott Anderson, their executive chef. It is my favorite restaurant in New Jersey. The food is creative, elegant and just damn good. But, Elements is more of a special occasion restaurant, not somewhere you (or at least I) would go a couple of times a month. With the opening of Mistral, they’ve now got the more casual, frequent dining end of the market covered with food that is notches above most places.

From their website – “Mistral: The name evokes a sure Mediterranean wind bringing clear water and fresh weather to those sailing upon the sea. Now, Restaurant Mistral offers chef Scott Anderson the chance to create ever-changing, seasonal offerings that can be adjusted to the prevailing winds of his unsurpassed creativity and taste.” Scott Anderson is the executive chef, though he spends most of his time at Elements with the driving force on a daily basis being Ben Nerenhausen, the chef de cuisine who joined the team from The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena. Both chefs made the semi-finalist list for James Beard Awards, justifiably signifying their pedigree.

The concept of Mistral is global tapas/small plates. This concept is so right now and so perfect. I love the idea of trying a few bites of lots of different things. It’s pretty much the way I eat now when I go out or entertain at home. The global part of the concept relates to both chefs international experiences. The melding of all these international flavor elements is so uniquely American – essentially it defines what new American cuisine is about, making the food scene really exciting.

I’ve been to Mistral a few times now, and every time I come away raving about the food. While everything isn’t perfect, the bulk of items are outstanding. I really don’t have enough superlatives for the food. The menu is constructed by origin – fields, land, water and changes frequently. If it’s on the menu you have to try the36 hour beef cheeks with bone marrow. It’s unbelievably tender and tasty. A true experience. Also the southern cassoulet with prawns, andouille and corn bread is really good, with the prawns in the dish especially memorable. I’m also a fan or the French onion custard – I’d call it an experience but I already said that about the beef cheek. Now some of the misses – I’m a huge fan of pork belly but the Hungarian pork belly with the smoked potatoes and braised cabbage doesn’t work for me. The potato has too strong of a smoke floor which overpowers the dish.

My preferred seat is at the counter in front of the kitchen where you can see all the action. It’s theater. You can literally reach out and touch the cooks. The whole restaurant is modern and casual. It’s become such a popular destination that the restaurant is crammed all the time. Fortunately they are building a covered outdoor patio which should be ready for the warmer weather. I can’t wait to spend frequent spring, summer and fall evenings there.

The restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license yet but I hear that it’s coming soon but the hostess says that bringing your own bottle of wine even after they get their license won’t be frowned upon. They do have some interesting juices at present to make up for the lack of alcoholic drinks.

Service is great, the servers are knowledgeable and eager to please without fawning over you. At my last visit with my son a few complimentary items were sent over by the hostess and kitchen to make up for having to wait for our table. A really nice gesture.

Mistral along with Elements are two restaurants that not only have elevated the dining scene in Princeton, but also in New Jersey.

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