After searching for the right location for months, Escape Chef / Owner Bryan Gregg has finally opened in the space that had been home to True North Osteria on Bloomfield Avenue. “Fine dining is becoming a way of the past. People want to have the ability to have the same fine dining experience but not in the same atmosphere. That is what we are trying to do here at Escape”, stated Gregg during a recent interview.
One might think that the last thing Montclair needed was another restaurant, but after dining at the already well-received restaurant this week, I can say that I disagree with that notion. What Montclair doesn’t need is another run-of-the-mill restaurant. That’s not how Escape will be described. The décor isn’t grand and the lighting is quite bright, perhaps to spotlight the beautiful dishes exiting the kitchen, but the food is some of the best in the area.
Chef Gregg brings the ultimate farm-to-table experience to Essex County with Escape. Gregg, whose résumé features Ho-Ho-Kus Inn and Michael Anthony’s as previous employers, is joined by George Mandakas as Chef de Cuisine. Also joining the duo in the front of the house is Wayne Birner, formerly of nearby Blu. Wayne ensured our visit was a pleasant one and was enthusiastic about joining former colleague Gregg at his new venture, “Bryan is very talented”, exclaimed Birner during our visits. We agree.
The team describes its new endeavor as “…an innovative, locally-sourcing restaurant that specializes in southern fine cuisine”. What this translates to is using pristine local ingredients and presenting them in an upscale, low-country fashion. The menu changes weekly and is showcased on blackboards in the dining room.
Our meal began with a beautiful amuse-bouche of salmon tartare topped with a beet chip. What a super way to provide a glimpse into what the talented chef might send our way next. Soon after our clean plates were taken away, a basket of house-made breads was brought over. Tucked in the basket were corn bread Madeleines and two other kinds of bread of high quality. “We cook everything in-house which means bread too. Jessica Goodrich, who worked for me at the (Ho-Ho-Kus) Inn came aboard to help us with breads and sweets”, said Gregg. “We make the brioche, breads for cheese plates, corn Madeleines and biscuits as well as all the mignardises we give out with the check at the end of the meal”, continued Gregg.
For our starters, we selected the Pickled East Coast Oysters ($15) and the Pickled Beets ($8). The oysters are from New Jersey and served with dill, horseradish and fennel pollen. Fresh sea water mixed with the horseradish in the oysters to create a delicious combination. The beets were presented beautifully in cubes topped with diced golden apples and blue sheep cheese and nasturtium.
On the night we visited, there were three entrées “from the sea” and three “from the land”. There’s a 4-course, Prix Fixe Tasting Menu for $45 that’s an amazing value and might be a good option for folks with larger appetites as the entrée portions are on the smaller side. We opted for the Black Cod ($24) and the Scallops ($29). The cod was of the highest quality and Chef Gregg expertly crisped the skin to crackling deliciousness. The fish is simply served with a sunchoke purée, tomato jam and lightly fried zucchini blossoms. I’m praying Escape starts selling its jams as promised, the tomato version was very tasty. The scallops were presented with morel mushrooms, red cabbage and a mustard seed sauce. The scallops were nicely seared and their delicate texture paired beautifully with the earthy mushrooms and tart red cabbage.
In lieu of a traditional dessert, we chose to order five cheeses ($12). Guests can order a cheese plate with one ($3), three ($8) or five cheeses. All the available cheeses are listed on a blackboard and I was thrilled to select a variety from Bobolink Dairy and Valley Shepherd, two of my favorite local dairies. Our meal ended with a freshly-brewed cup of Black River Roasters coffee.
As far as what’s next for Escape, Chef Gregg hinted “I am working on putting together a monthly dinner series with fellow farm-to-table chefs who will come to Escape and cook alongside us”. I say “sign me up”.
Escape is a BYOB so be certain to bring a bottle you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Escape is definitely that, very special.
345 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042
Daily Hours: Monday – Thursday: 11:30am – 9:00pm, Friday – Saturday: 11:30am – 10:00pm
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.