As promised, I decided to take Zoe out for a fancy meal right in our own backyard at The Picnic Restaurant located at 14-25 Plaza Road North (in the Plaza Building), in the Radburn section of Fair Lawn. I am embarrassed to say that this was our inaugural trip to this now well-established eatery that is located seriously down the street from my house. As a foodie, I should be ashamed of myself for allowing a restaurant such as The Picnic to exist in my very own neighborhood, for now two years, without taking its menu for a spin, but such is life.
The Picnic is located in the historic and unassuming clock tower building in the heart of Radburn, which for everyone that does not speak Fair Lawnese, is located within Fair Lawn. From the outside you never expect a top-notch restaurant to be contained in this small strip mall which also contains a liquor store, which is the perfect place to buy your own bottle (Wink-Wink Nudge-Nudge), a dry cleaner, and a deli. But once you enter The Picnic, you will feel as if you were whisked away to a contemporary New York City Restaurant thanks to the competent designer that created the interior décor.
The Picnic is not a large restaurant by any means. In fact, part of its charm is the intimate dining area that they offer their patrons. As with any high end restaurant you are going to want to make a reservation before strolling in off the street, and I would also suggest a business casual dress when dining at this restaurant as most of the guests will be dressed to impress. Their reservation system is quite unusual as well, mostly because their hours of operation in the summer are only Tuesdays through Fridays from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m., which means when attempting to call for a reservation you will most likely get the answering machine. No worries though, if you leave a message stating that you want a reservation for 2 at 7:30 on Wednesday, they will call you back and confirm or deny your request when they arrive to prep for dinner.
Once Zoe and I entered The Picnic our server opened our wine bottle and gave us our menus as well as explained the specials that were being offered that day. We actually went to The Picnic to partake in the special Anniversary prix fixe menu that The Picnic was offering, I was happy to see that the regular menu was just as reasonable as the prix fixe menu so we were able to order whatever we wanted. While perusing the menu, Zoe and I discussed the offerings, which from what I am told vary day-to-day.
On this specific day, Zoe decided upon the Classic wedge salad with bacon, crouton, cukes, tomato, egg and Thousand Island dressing for $7.00 and the Pork Milanese with peach, sugar plum and mustard compote atop for $26.00 as her entrée. I decided to go with the BLT salad, which was described as sliced tomato, bacon, crouton, chopped egg, micro salad, with a cream dressing for $8.00 and the big bowl of Prince Edward Island Mussels, swimming in a creamy Provencal sauce, served with a baguette “to sop up the goodness,” for $20.00.
As stated above the Menu changes day to day, which is great for variety but can cause some issues when dining at this establishment the first time. We were unsure if the entrees came with sides considering under the entrée portion of the menu there was a listing a sides to order. If there is one thing I have learned from years and years of eating at Restaurants is never be shy about asking your server questions about your meal before ordering it. There is nothing worse than ordering something that you think is going to blow your mind and receiving a dish that is not what you expected, it can really ruin your dining experience and leave a bad taste in your mouth. With a little helpful clarification from our server we had our answer and were satisfied with our order.
Once our order was submitted to the kitchen, our server returned to our table with a plate of bread and butter. It is relatively amusing to say, but I feel that you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the bread they serve before the meal. If they lack bread all together you most likely will be disappointed by their portion size, if they serve a plain loaf of bread that is uncut, it most likely means the food will lack the individual attention most fine dining needs to reach a level of greatness, and if, as The Picnic does, they serve individually sliced and seasoned pieces of bread, there is a decent chance that you will impressed by the upcoming meal.
After a short time our appetizers arrived and the plate presentation was superb. The Wedge Salad that Zoe ordered was larger than I expected and was full of fresh vegetables overflowing from the bowl it rested in. My BLT Salad appeared to be meticulously constructed by the chefs within the kitchen of The Picnic and looked as if it was a piece of artwork. Lucky for me it was edible art and with my first bite, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients that graced my plate. I savored each bite, but, alas, before I knew it my plate was empty and the taste of bacon lingered on my tongue making all my taste buds smile. Zoe must have liked her dish as well because after noticing my plate was bare, I also observed that every last scrap of salad had disappeared from her plate as well.
With one course down and another course still to come, I filled our wine glasses and we began to converse about our daily activities. Within minutes our entrees arrived and were placed in front of us. Zoe’s pork chop was thin and delicately fried to a golden brown color that almost made me wish I had ordered what she did. Then my attention turned to my meal and that thought floated from my head as I investigated my giant bowl of Mussels. As you already know, I can eat, so I was concerned about the portion size of the entrée that I chose to order, but I was happily surprised when the dish arrived, it was much larger than I expected. Now, I have had my fair share of mussels, as they are my second favorite shellfish, and I believe with conviction that, I can say that these mussels were close to the best mussels that I have ever had in my life. With food, as with sports, I can be a, “what have you done for me lately kind of person,” but I think if all the mussels I have eaten tasted like this, they would have claimed first place in the shellfish category years ago. The sauce that they were served in merely added to the wonderfulness that was this dish, and I fully understood why they served it with bread, because wasting any bit of this nectar would be heresy.
As for Zoe’s pork, not only was the pork done just right with a crisp out coating and a deliciously moist inside, the compote on top made my taste buds do back flips. The combination of peaches and plums offered the proper amount of sweetness to the dish and the juxtaposition of the mustard created the perfect balance. I was only able to wrestle one bite of this fantastic dish away from Zoe, but it was enough to taste the complexity and yearn for more. Zoe’s pork chop came with a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes and a summer squash medley that created the perfect meal.
As the keys of my keyboard go clickity- clack, I am already anticipating the hate mail I, The Blue Collar Foodie, will receive for reviewing The Picnic Restaurant. Some of you might think that The Picnic’s pricing is too high to be included in my blog, but I can assure that this is not the case. The Picnic offers remarkable cuisine that can easily compete with any of the renowned pompous New York eateries that will end up costing you double if not more than what the Picnic charges.
Still not convinced? Let’s do the math shall we. However you get into the city, you are paying a toll, because remember you always pay to leave Jersey. We will use the George Washington Bridge as an example for this equation, which costs $12 to cross. Once on the island of Manhattan, you might notice that every single restaurant, bodega, corner store, gas station, and lemonade stand has a liquor license, unlike New Jersey. This at first seems splendid, until you realize that the restaurant you are attending is going to charge you $40 bucks for a carafe of Carlo Rossi, whereas The Picnic allows you to bring your own bottle of wine, thus saving you at least $30.00.
So now I say to all my fellow frugal foodies, I believe the Picnic has saved you $42.00, before you even entered their establishment, so what are you waiting for an invitation? Well here it is, a call to arms directed at all the Foodies in Bergen County, visit The Picnic Restaurant and I guarantee that you will be pleased with what you find there. It is not every day that a world renowned Chef, like Christine E. Nunn opens an eatery in your back yard, and we should all flock there to show her our gratitude.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Taste: 4.5 out of 5
Presentation: 5 out of 5
Value: 3 out of 5