Last month, our executive editor Deborah Smith passed along an invitation to an intimate press dinner at the Liberty House in Jersey City that I jumped at the chance to cover. You may remember my post last year about their Mac ‘n’ Cheese Meltdown (which they may be bringing back, fingers crossed!), and ever since then, the restaurant has been on my radar for unique American comfort food cuisine with one of the most spectacular atmospheres on the Hudson.
The press dinner was held to celebrate the new fall menu of their new Executive Chef, Ken Trickilo. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Ken is the former longtime executive chef at Napa Valley Grille in Paramus and a veteran of the South City Restaurant Group. His previous expertise helped him revamp the new Liberty House menu into a culinary explosion of flavor, evident by the elaborate seven-course tasting menu that I was lucky enough to partake in.
After a warm welcome by Chef Ken and Jeanne Cretella, President & Creative Director, we settled into our table anxiously awaiting the first of the seven courses. We had just enjoyed a few sips of a sparkling Bisol Jeis Prosecco when the first course, a roasted red and gold beet terrine, arrived. To be honest, this was the one item on the menu that I was unsure about. I’ve never been a beet-lover, but was very thankful that this dish proved me wrong. Prepared with Mache lettuce, fresh goat cheese, and aged sherry vinaigrette, this dish was sweet, savory and salty all at the same time. The colorful beets were sliced paper-thin and placed into a tartine shape, with the goat cheese and Mache lettuce assembled to the side. The creativity and presentation of this dish set the tone for the rest of the dinner (which would last over three hours!) and I couldn’t wait for the next course.
Next, we were presented with braised littleneck clams in a white wine and garlic broth, accompanied by Lopes chorizo sausage (selected locally from the sausage company in the Ironbound section of Newark), delicately roasted tomatoes, white beans and peppery Mizuna greens. My favorite parts of this stew-like dish were the additions of the chorizo and roasted Jersey tomatoes. The clams were incredibly fresh and even my guest, who never liked clams before this, devoured them. This course was also paired with a deliciously crisp Chardonnay (Ferrari Carano, Alexander Valley 2009) that will be making quite a few appearances in my wine rack this winter.
The other seafood creation on the menu, the pumpkin seed crusted Alaskan halibut, clearly stood out as one of my favorites. The fish, paired with a Californian Sauvignon Blanc (Manifest, 2009), was incredibly fresh and held up like a steak with big, chunky pieces that were served with a baby brussel sprout hash, Austrian pumpkin seed oil, and a red pepper coulis. The pumpkin seeds provided a crispy coating to halibut and gave it an almost breaded effect. Anyone looking for a health conscious entrée choice should consider this one their winner with its high protein content, combination of omega-3 fatty acids from the halibut and influx of vitamins and minerals provided from the pumpkin seeds.
The dinner then transitioned into heartier proteins, with a crispy Long Island duck breast decorated with warm autumn lentils, sweet cippolini onions, savory butternut squash, and a cranberry and apricot chutney. This was another great menu addition that focused on fresh fall produce and evoked a cozy, winter feeling. Having recently discovered duck as a favorite, I appreciated the tenderness of the meat and again, as with everything on this menu, it paired perfectly with its sides and wine selection, a pinot noir (Bear Boat, Russian River, 2007). As an exciting bonus, we received the cranberry and apricot chutney in a twine-wrapped box to take home with us at the end of the night.
Before each course was served, Chef Ken would visit our table to personally explain each dish and answer any questions we had (he was open ears to compliments too, which were freely flowing!). As soon as he appeared to introduce the next entree, you could see the excitement on his face. “This is a good one!” he exclaimed. “One of my favorites.” I glanced down to find a juicy Niman Ranch braised pork cheek with a mustard spaetzle, green apple-pomegranate slaw, patty pan squash, and calvados jus. I can’t stress enough how extraordinary each course of this tasting was, but this course went above and beyond. Every single ingredient was independently fresh and delicious, and together, even more so. I even abandoned my usually gluten-free diet for a brief moment and dove headfirst into the mustard spaetzle, which was a decision I did not regret! It was one of my favorite accompaniments of the night, and I could have eaten an entire bowlful if he put it in front of me (thankfully, he didn’t). This course was served with one of my favorite wines, a 2008 Tuscan Chianti (Castello di Meleto).
I didn’t think anything could top the pork cheek, but was pleasantly surprised when the all-natural Meyer New York strip steak appeared next with a glass of traditional Cabernet sauvignon (Sterling Vintners, 2008). This was probably the course, along with the beets, that I thought I would be the least excited about. We have all tasted a NY strip steak before, right? WRONG. Very, very wrong. You have never tasted Chef Ken’s NY strip steak (and if you have, feel free to leave comments below about how amazing it is!). Cooked to a perfect medium, this steak literally melted in my mouth like butter. Served with roasted fennel, salsify, cremini mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and crispy, salty onions with a cabernet demi-glace, this was another course that I loved and will be returning back to try again and again.
After six courses and six glasses of wine, I was ready to go home and fall into a deep, wonderful, food-coma induced sleep…and then the dessert plate arrived. With a flute of Moscato d’Asti. OK, I thought…maybe I can make some room.
The dessert tasting plate was brimming with options including a pumpkin and Oreo cookie miniature cheesecake and a pistachio crème brulee, flanked by stewed chestnuts and cornmeal biscotti. Again surrendering my gluten-free diet, I inhaled each item, having suddenly found room to fit them all. The pumpkin and Oreo combination was surprisingly perfect, with the flavors oddly complimenting each other. Crème brulee is one of my favorite desserts, and I didn’t mind the pistachio flavor, which was perfectly offset by the cornmeal biscotti. Even the soft, chewy and sweet stewed chestnuts were a flavorful surprise. I savored each and every bite, seriously disappointed that this adventure had come to an end.
After experiencing seven courses, it was clear that this meticulously planned tasting menu resulted in a table of happy, incredibly full, and overly satisfied guests.
Throughout the tasting, the most distinct feature of Chef Ken’s menu was his consistent use of fresh and local ingredients. He stressed, at multiple points, the importance of finding his produce from local NJ-area farms, which makes a clear different in every dish. Also to be noted were the expert wine pairings created by general manager Carlo Santini, which were excellent compliments to the already outstanding menu.
Chef Ken spoke wonders about his culinary team who he relies on to help brainstorm and test out the creation of each and every dish. The creative process was evident in some of the surprising pairings they designed, like the pumpkin seed crust on the halibut, the cranberry and apricot chutney on the duck, and the pumpkin and Oreo cheesecake combination. Trust me, if you find yourself at the Liberty House questioning a pairing and hesitating to order it—just do it. While each of the courses will be living as individual plates on their current fall menu, the team plans to make a handful of changes for the winter menu, so look for that in the upcoming weeks.
Set on the backdrop of the Hudson River with views of the Manhattan skyline, the statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, this restaurant has one of the best views you can find in North Jersey. Featuring live music year-round on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as Sunday brunch, Liberty House is also spicing things up with a series of events including monthly cocktail classes (check their website for the schedule).
If you’re looking for a warm and inviting meal with the atmosphere to match it, stop into the Liberty House and tell Chef Ken hello from JerseyBites! Thank you to the team at diaz • schloss for the invitation, and to Chef Ken, his team, Jeanne and Frank Cretella, and Carlo Santini for an excellent night!
The Liberty House
(Inside Liberty State Park)
76 Audrey Zapp Drive
Jersey City, NJ 07304
DISCLAIMER: I was invited to partake in this press dinner, which was provided to my guest and I free of charge (but did not have an influence on my opinions…the food really is THAT good!)
Melissa Yurasits is the Jersey Bites Regional Editor for Jersey City. Melissa grew up on the Jersey Shore and returned to the Garden State after four years of living in Boston for college. Works in publicity/promotions by day but at night loves checking out new restaurants or cooking up new recipes with her boyfriend in their Jersey City apartment. Can’t name a favorite food, except for anything and everything cooked by her Dad, who doesn’t believe in recipes (but it turns out amazing everytime!).