1 Mill St, Bernardsville
The skinny: Classic simplicity and chic sophistication set at a charming tavern.
When the cold winter chill sends you searching for indoor comforts, look no further than Equus Tavern in the heart of Bernardsville.
The restaurant’s three-story building, a former hotel that dates back to 1848, was most recently the tired-looking Old Stone Tavern. Three years ago, after an extensive renovation, the space became home to chef/owner Scott Cutaneo’s current restaurant.
The mid 19th-century landmark was gutted, its vinyl and plywood façade removed to reveal a stone interior that was sandblasted and repainted. The ceilings were raised, and an upscale bar was created, and Equus firmly established, Cutaneo recently re-opened the former Petit Chateau site as Claremont Tavern.)
Cutaneo brings to Equus a commitment to good, fresh ingredients that are simply prepared. Yet the chef also surprises diners with his innovations; Cutaneo improves the classics, with adventurous yet subtle twists found in the sauces and accompaniments.
For example, a fresh corm waffle appetizer serves as a throne for an avocado salad and two big fresh shrimp lightly grilled over hickory with a spicy buttermilk drizzle. The lobster salad, another unique appetizer, is an unusual combination of flavors with al dente Romano beans, swirls of caviar cream, and a coral sauce.
Main course fish, meat, and fowl are cooked simply, with sauces and side dishes that supply style. The roasted duck breast is enhanced by a sweet and sour combination of its accompanying pear-blueberry-ginger salad and sour cherry jus; and pan-seared sea bass is served with a creamy leek fondue as sweet as candy. Cutaneo’s house-made linguini is served with an earthy Carbonara sauce featuring Applewood-smoked bacon, wild oyster mushrooms, truffle oil, and goat cheese in place of the typical cream.
Cutaneo formerly served as Michel Guérard’s pastry chef, so don’t skip the dessert menu. Try the lush and creamy cheesecake, or the deep-dish berry tart, loaded with fresh fruit in a velvety sauce with a crisp thin crust.
Adjacent to the airy two-story dining area is a relaxed, upscale bar that features cocktails that pay homage to the tavern’s equestrian past. The Clydesdale combines Plymouth gin, sugar, bitters and lemon peel; and the Draft Horse features Patron Anejo, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and lime juice.
Equus’s dining area seats 74: 44 downstairs, and 30 on the quieter mezzanine. The restaurant is open for lunch from noon to 2 pm. Dinner is served from 5:30 to 10 pm, and the bar stays open til 2 am. On Sunday, brunch is served from noon to 3 pm.