Chef/Owner Francesco Palmieri opened The Orange Squirrel in December 2008 in Bloomfield where he grew up and currently lives. The story behind the restaurant’s name varies depending on the chef’s mood. The version my party received on the night we dined was that squirrels scurrying for nuts to stash for the winter remind Chef Palmieri of restaurant cooks scurrying to serve their guests and, orange is his favorite color (for additional karma, the restaurant is also located on Orange Street).
Prior to launching his culinary career, Chef Palmieri attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, which accounts for the unique style of his restaurant. The space, with its 50 seats, is a blend of modern with bright orange, plastic-yet-comfortable Italian chairs and whimsical with its squirrel mementos.
After attending the Culinary Institute of America in 2000, Chef Palmieri worked under the tutelage of executive chef Michael Lomonaco at Windows on the World, before its unfortunate closure following the events of September 11th. From there, Chef Palmieri honed his craft at Pino Luongo’s, Coco Pazzo and at Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town.
I dined at The Orange Squirrel last week at the invitation of the popular restaurant’s staff and truly enjoyed every morsel. Chef Palmieri and his Chef de Cuisine, Andy Watterson, also a CIA-graduate, have a creative and innovative culinary style that propels them to use quality ingredients that do not need elaborate garnishes to shine. I enjoyed a sublime evening special starter – duck leg confit with trumpet mushrooms that Chef Palmieri also stated he lightly confited. The duck was decadent and melt-in-your-mouth and the tangy reduction drizzled on the dish balanced out the flavors beautifully. My dining partner had the tuna tartare, a light, fresh and flavorful serving of mousse-like, homogenously-textured tuna served with heirloom cherry tomatoes.
An entrée my party particularly enjoyed was the whole bronzini, cooked in the restaurant’s wood-burning oven and served in a cast iron skillet with blood orange beurre blanc. The hot oven creates a super crispy skin while keeping the fish’s white inner flesh moist and flaky. A dish highly recommended by our server is the restaurant’s signature bone-in, dry-aged rib eye steak, also served sizzling hot in a cast iron skillet. The ultra-tender steak is served with whole roasted garlic cloves and rich chipotle butter and the portion is nearly enough for two guests.
In season, many of the produce and herbs used at The Orange Squirrel are harvested from Chef Palmieri’s nearby organic garden, ensuring freshness for his contemporary American cuisine.
All entrées, except for the chicken pot pie, are accompanied by one side dish. We shared generous portions of Irish cheddar mashed potatoes and Fontina macaroni and cheese. Both were outstanding and served in iron ramekins. Other popular sides are the roasted pancetta Brussels sprouts and the caramelized Cippolini onions.
A dessert we could not pass up is Chef Palmieri’s wife, Elaine’s Three Dirt Tasting, a flight of three small parfaits whose mousses, flavors and ‘dirt’, pastry and cookie crumbs, change monthly based on the season or the mood.
The wine list at The Orange Squirrel is compact yet offers an interesting compilation of both affordable and smartly-priced gems. There are several wines by the glass and bottles at around $30.
I am already working on the dishes I will try on my next visit. Perhaps the Truffle Pizza, a personal-sized pizza graced with baby spinach, pine nuts, white truffle oil and black truffle shavings, the acclaimed, pastry-topped chicken pot pie or the lamb chops with mint and pomegranate glaze. The options are tempting and perfectly-prepared by a staff with an inventive mind.
Lunch: Monday – Friday: 12PM – 3PM
Dinner: Monday – Saturday: 5PM – 11PM
Late night fare: Monday – Saturday: 11PM – 1AM
412 Bloomfield Avenue
Bloomfield, NJ 07003
Veronique Deblois, Food & Wine Chickie: Veronique is a food and wine writer based in Morris County, NJ. As the author of the popular blog, Food & Wine Chickie Insider, Veronique shares recipes, wine and restaurant reviews and insight into the travel industry of which she’s a 15-year veteran. Follow Veronique on Twitter or like her Facebook page.
Disclosure: Food and beverages were provided to all media attendees free of charge. All opinions and ideas for this post are my own. No reviews or mentions are ever promised in exchange for invitations to dine at any establishment.