Last month, I had the pleasure of being invited to Serenade for dinner with an intimate group of food enthusiasts. Serenade is the lovely and successful establishment owned by the dynamic husband-wife duo, James and Nancy Laird. While this year marks the 20th anniversary of Serenade, the Lairds have managed to keep the space and food fresh and inviting.
Upon arriving, we made our way to the bar where award-winner mixologist, John Jansma, who’s the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier, crafted a couple of delectable and creative cocktails—the Mayweather and the Saints and Zingers. Jansma, who creates seasonal signature cocktails, also teaches cocktail classes for the restaurant’s guests. In 2014, he won the Iron Shaker award by beating the rest of New Jersey’s best mixologists in the competition. The drink John made for me was the Mayweather: a modern interpretation of the classic drink, milk punch—Jim Beam Bourbon, Mt. Gay Rum, Hennessy VS, pineapple—very different from the milky, boozy drink I’ve had previously. And it was delicious. My husband’s Saints and Zingers featured vodka, grapefruit simple syrup, St. Germain and fresh lemon juice. Both drinks are worthy of their own future visit.
The Space and Clientele
Serenade offers several spaces within its Chatham location. The dining room has a contemporary vibe with clean lines and neutral colors punched up with yellow upholstered chairs. An understated welcoming atmosphere appropriate for business get-togethers, celebratory affairs or romantic meals.
Beyond the bar is a room that showcases a giant, floor-to-ceiling arched window, which brings lovely natural light to the space. Deeper into the dining room is a space that’s warm and welcoming with a beautiful fireplace and beamed ceiling.
For parties of up to 30 people, the “Loft” room is definitely worth considering. Set apart from the rest of the dining room, it’s the perfect place to have a dinner or lunch meeting, celebration, or to wind down after a day of meetings and seminars. For private parties of 50 or more, the entire restaurant can be booked.
The Chef and the Food
Chef Laird, named by the New York Times “one of the best classically trained chefs in New Jersey,” greeted us and gave us a bit of information about the history of Serenade and what’s kept the business at the apex of New Jersey dining for two decades. His secret: reinvention of his dining concept as times and economic situations evolve while keeping the food creative and approachable. “I learned long ago to cook food my guests want to eat versus jumping on the various trendy bandwagons,” said Laird. “I pay my staff well and in return, I have cooks who’ve been with us for many years—one who’s been here 12 years. No server has been here less than two years. That’s how we maintain consistency in food and service.”
Jersey tomatoes were in the peak of season when we visited so I ordered what turned out to be one of the best burrata and tomato salads I’ve had: room temperature heirloom tomatoes from a local farm paired with milky, soft burrata drizzled with a pesto dressing. Outstanding. My table mate ordered the lobster bisque, which was velvety, bursting-with-seafood flavors, and gilded with tender morsels of lobster—a classic executed very well.
Our entrées were fish-driven—sea bass and king salmon. My partner’s dish was the sea bass served with lobster-tomato risotto, baby leeks and haricots verts. The bass was perfectly seared with flaky, moist flesh and served as a smart match to the rich, velvety risotto. The grilled king salmon was mine and absolutely divine. It was accompanied by red quinoa risotto, French beans, oyster mushrooms and tomatillo salsa. If salmon was of this quality and this expertly prepared at other restaurants, I’d order this popular fish more often.
Our table shared several desserts and our favorites were the house made ice cream sampler and the blueberry pie with expertly made, flaky pastry.
One thing Serenade does, which I find to be a great idea, is a dessert wine flight: one-ounce pours of Graham’s 10, Moscato d’Asti, Malvasia delle Lipari. This option carries an affordable $14 cost.
On our next visit, we’d like to order the lobster chowder featuring brandy, Kaffir lime, sweet corn, the potato gnocchi made with lemon ricotta, truffles, fava beans and morel mushrooms and the roasted Nova Scotia lobster with chanterelles, new potatoes, asparagus in an herb broth, if available, from the often-changing dinner menu.
The popular restaurant also serves lunch during the week and has a prix-fixe menu on Saturday evenings.
Serenade is one of the finest dining experiences in the area with its excellent bar program, attentive and professional wait staff and outstanding food.
Don’t just think of it for special occasions. The smartly designed menu offers affordable specials and even a bar menu equally enjoyable on a weeknight, a weekend or a celebration.
Hours of Operation (subject to change)
Mon to Thurs
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Prix-Fixe (dinner only): 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
6 Roosevelt Avenue
Photo at top courtesy of Serenade.