[review] We don’t often wander out of Manhattan into Jersey, but when we do, we like to make sure it’s for a good reason…and elements restaurant in Princeton is a damn good reason.

Less than a decade ago this elegant, fresh fine dining establishment was an unassuming auto-repair garage…next to a gas station, it’s hard to believe a five star restaurant is hidden inside. Once you enter with Narnia-esque trepidation all the buzz and grime of the outside world is forgotten, an amuse bouche appears and suddenly nothing else in the world matters.

elements princeton menu wine

The beginning of a chef’s tasting menu at elements restaurant. Photography by Jenna Davila.

Executive Chef Scott aptly chose the name “elements” to be the very essence of what this place is all about. Not sticking to traditional, tried and true and (often) overdone dishes that you find in so many restaurants these days. Scott is all about sourcing fresh, local, organic ingredients and sustainably raised meats and seafood. He wants the very elements of your meal to play a major role in the taste of it. Then he and his team work to reveal the complementary flavor dimensions inherent in the elements by skillfully combining them in innovative new ways. The menu is constantly changing, each dining experience is something new and it never gets boring.

One of the innovative serving techniques at elements. Photography by Jenna Davila.

One of the innovative serving techniques at elements. Photography by Jenna Davila.

Attention to detail is exquisite – it’s one thing to serve pretty food, and it’s one thing to serve delicious food, but for the perfect symphony of unique plating and truly innovative flavor combinations is extremely rare. Every dish, as ever changing though they may be, is plated in a fashion unique to it’s flavor profile. Our sauteed mushrooms arrived in an actual mushroom tree, the foie gras torchon ‘cookies’ with pistachio and pink peppercorn were served in old fashioned tins, the ‘egg’ caviar dish was still in an intact shell…it’s a playful way to serve the food and make sure nothing goes to waste, not even the sea shell holding your scallop. And still, it’s not gimmicky – it simply ad

Farm to table sauteed mushrooms at elements in Princeton. Photography by Jenna Davila.

Farm to table sauteed mushrooms at elements in Princeton. Photography by Jenna Davila.

If you’re a foodie, you want to know where—and how–your food grew. It’s fascinating, it’s a good health practice and it provides extra pleasure from everyday experiences, like a meal with friends. elements is the American restaurant serving local steak and seafood, but with global influences in seasoning and cooking methods. That’s our favorite kind of gastronomic adventure.

The ambiance is crisp and clean, but to be honest, don’t bother sitting in the main dining room. The only place to be is at the chef’s table, which is less of an intrusive table in the kitchen and more of a private dining space adjacent to the culinary genius going on. It’s an escape from the typical dining experience with the pressure of watching—and being watched—at a more intimate traditional chefs table.

Salmon tartare with cucumber, seaweeds, rice chips. Photography by Jenna Davila.

Salmon tartare with
cucumber, seaweeds, rice chips. Photography by Jenna Davila.

Don’t bother ordering a la carte either. Why would you? Open yourself to Chef Scott’s creativity and go for the chef’s tasting—and come hungry. Each dish is perfectly portioned at one or two bites each, but the tasting menu is very unstructured and can go up to as many as 19 dishes. That’s how many we counted anyway—the wine pairings were spot on too so we may have missed one or two.

The tasting menu at elements starts with a ‘menu’ (we’ll use that word loosely) word cloud letting you know the general ingredients, inspiration and notes of the meal—then you start the adventure.

Have fun, enjoy the ride, and don’t have anywhere to be. That’s the best way to truly appreciate the entire experience at elements.

Princeton chanterelles with garganelli, poached egg, parmesan.  Photography by Jenna Davila.

Princeton chanterelles with garganelli, poached egg, parmesan. Photography by Jenna Davila.