When a restaurant is consistently busy, even on a random Tuesday night in the fall, you know the food must be good. One 53, a Euro-American bistro located just north of Princeton, in the charming borough of Rocky Hill, hits this mark. Opened in 2006 by Caron Wendell and Joe McLaughlin (owners of the popular Lucy’s Kitchen and Market in Princeton), One 53 has established a devoted following for its simple, seasonally inspired menus, extensive wine list, and exceptional service.
Removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown Princeton, the warm glow of One 53’s dining room invites guests through its doors like an old friend. In traditional bistro-style, seating is close, creating a vibrant atmosphere when the restaurant is at its busiest. On my latest visit, I had the opportunity to speak with Katie Vetere, the assistant manager. Like all of One 53’s staff, Vetere is knowledgeable and passionate about Executive Chef Juan Mercado’s menu, and food and wine in general. She speaks with pride of their focus on using the freshest ingredients, locally sourced whenever possible from suppliers such as Ralston Farm in Hopewell.
Dinner at One 53 begins with a basket of assorted artisan breads and their signature white bean spread (also available for purchase at Lucy’s). On this visit, Chef also treated us to an amuse-bouche of squash, ricotta, and honey crostini. The light, smoky char of the grilled baguette was a lovely contrast to the sweet flavors of creamy, fresh ricotta, silky butternut squash, and mint. A wonderful autumnal bite.
For our starters, my dinner guest and I shared the beet salad and blue cheese arancini. The salad contrasted the sweetness of red and golden beets against peppery arugula and bright sherry vinaigrette. Chef finished the salad with a dollop of toasted goat cheese, pistachios, and a balsamic drizzle for a thoughtful pairing of flavors and textures. One 53’s delicious twist on arancini paired piquant blue cheese with a traditional creamy risotto base, delicate breading, and a splash of marinara to finish.
I’m weak in the face of braised short ribs, so there was no question of what I’d be ordering for my entrée. Served on the bone with creamy polenta, roasted root vegetables, and a rich reduction of the braising liquid, the presentation was comforting on a cool fall night. The tender beef paired well with the Hoopes Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley), which Vetere recommended, for a main course that was hearty and elegant.
I decided to take home half of my entrée so I would have room for dessert, and Vetere’s recommendation of chocolate bread pudding with caramel bourbon sauce did not disappoint. With a deep, earthy chocolate flavor and just enough sweetness, the pudding was a decadent end to a memorable meal.
Other highlights of One 53’s current menu include an Oktoberfest-inspired pork schnitzel with herbed spätzle and braised cabbage, the butternut squash ravioli (made fresh at Lucy’s), and a deconstructed s’mores dessert. A selection of grill items is always available, served casually with field greens and crispy, hand-cut fries (don’t miss the truffle mayo for dipping!).
Given the restaurant’s popularity, dinner reservations are recommended, especially during the weekend. Seating at the bar is also available, and on occasion, in the wine cellar. Since the menu changes with the seasons, there’s always something new to tempt first time guests and frequent diners alike. This is the heart of dining at One 53: a celebration of quality, fresh, creatively prepared food amongst friends.
153 Washington Street