Daryl, the upscale dining spot located in the base of the Heldrich Hotel, reopened last month with a new executive chef and menu.
Gone is the small plate, wine-driven approach that Daryl's previous form embodied. Executive chef/co-owner Zod Arifai told New Brunswick Patch last month that the new approach is a restaurant that serves an extensive list of quality and affordable wines to compliment the food. The food comes first.
So let's get down to complimenting the food.
Daryl's menu is varied. Arifai, executive chef and owner of Montclair hot spots Restaurant Blu and Next Door, has created a menu of contemporary continental, Italian-influenced pastas and several Asian-inspired dishes.
Octopus with fennel, olive puree and red bell pepper sit on the same appetizer menu as seafood dumplings in a spicy coconut broth and buffalo chicken, boneless thigh, celery root and blue cheese, an interesting twist on the traditional "wings".
Dry-aged steaks with a choice of bernaise, au poivre, horseradish, or mushroom-soy sauces are served with potato gratin and range from $28 to $38. Other meats include veal short ribs, crispy chicken, duck, and seafood offerings of salmon, monkfish, tuna, salmon and mahi-mahi.
The pasta section of the menu boasts chicken liver agnolotti with sage, balsamic and caramelized onions ($16), spaghetti carbonara with crispy duck ($18) and fettucine with lobster, pumpkin and almonds ($26).
The duck meatballs with yogurt and apricot ($12) were soft and meaty. The yogurt sauce over the top was very light and fresh tasting, and the diced apricot gave little tastes of fruity freshness.
Creamy polenta with wild mushrooms and hazelnut ($10) was perhaps the more flavorful of the two appetizers, creamy and savory and crunchy all at once. The polenta was perfectly cooked, creamy and firm, the mushrooms tasting dark and earthy. Each mouthful was enhanced by the crunch of the hazelnuts. It was a fun dish to eat.
Fettucine with pulled short ribs, onions and gorgonzola ($22) was delicious but heavy. The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, topped with the shredded meat, also cooked to the proper consistency and seasoned well. The gorgonzola sprinkled atop the dish gave a sharp, salty ping to each bite.
Goat cheese ravioli with wild mushrooms ($22) was topped with delicate greens and a mushroom reduction sauce. Each ravioli was stuffed with a little package of goat cheese, bursting with that familiar tangy flavor. The reduction was earthy and delicious, and after the pasta was consumed, mopped up with pieces of bread.
As for wine, Arifai made a point of offering a selection of wines that were varied and affordable. "50 50 50" includes 50 reds and 50 whites, all available by the bottle for no more than $50.
Wines by the glass are available in two, four and six ounce pours.
Service was near perfect. After a 10 minute wait to order wine, the server came over apologizing profusely for the wait - due to the restaurant being short a server that evening - followed by very attentive service throughout the evening by several Daryl staff, from the bussing staff to the manager. Water and wine glasses stayed full, food came out quickly, and empty plates were whisked away.
Everything was cooked well, and was brought to the table in reasonable time. Daryl's one weak spot is the layout of the restaurant itself.
Arifai kept the decor of the restaurant similar to what it was when it closed its doors last year, aside from converting the wine store into a tasting room and some housekeeping changes.
This writer was never a fan of Daryl's look. It lacks warmth. It's a good date night place - low lights, intimate tables, soft acoustics - but maybe not a place to bring a boisterous crowd of friends. Food lovers may not even notice it however, as they delve into their plates of Arifai's delicious food and everything else melts away.
Daryl is located at 302 George St. in New Brunswick.
Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, visit www.darylrestaurant.com.