Part of an occasional series reviewing local restaurants that promote ethical eating.
Ask someone what ethical eating or conscious eating means and no two responses will be the same: supporting sustainable agriculture, organic community gardens, or food pantries; buying fresh and local food from farmers’ markets; thinking about what you put into your body (see King Corn); or how food choices intersect with ecosystems, the treatment of animals, and the quality of your food (see Food, Inc).
Ethical eating is a Unitarian Universalist Association congregational study/action issue. This November, a UUA commission will release a draft statement of conscience on ethical eating, to be voted on at the 2011 General Assembly.
Sophistication down south
“Fresh and local” could be the signature of the Harvest Moon Inn. Housed in a rustic 199-year-old fieldstone structure with hand-hewn ceiling beams, this Ringoes, Hunterdon County, establishment sports its own organic garden. There, chef Stanley Novak culls vegetables, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, and lettuce for the day’s clientele. The freshness is evident from your first course to the end.
Our tongues danced with the first dishes on our table. The flavors of a grilled chicken breast and mozzarella cheese appetizer ($8.95) — sandwiched between slices of grilled marinated Japanese eggplant — balanced nicely with a sweet tomato and mascarpone cheese cream fondue. Julienne Belgian endive was a classy touch to a seasonal-green salad tossed with red onions and diced tomatoes in a balsamic herb vinaigrette ($8.95 or complimentary with entrée).
Entrées were the star of the show, however. A generous grilled New York strip steak with roasted red and yellow peppers and grilled portabella mushrooms, draped in barbecue sauce and served over crisp polenta and melted jack cheese ($34.95, pictured), was up to the billing; the sweet sauce did not overpower the dish. The steak was generously sized and had neither a chewy nor fatty square inch to it. Feta sprinkles rounded out this flavorful combination, while a dusting of sweet corn kernels from nearby Sweet Valley Farms gave the medley a sophisticated texture.
Pan-seared tuna with pickled ginger, julienne cucumber, and seaweed salad in a red pepper miso puree and lemon wasabi vinaigrette ($29.95) offered just enough kick, though the tuna was a little fishier tasting than I would have liked.
Be sure to leave room for dessert. My wife’s warm peanut butter brownie with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with dark chocolate syrup and served on a criss-cross of caramel sauce ($8.95), was decadent but not too much so. Strawberries and plump Jersey blueberries decorated the edge of my phyllo-shell-and-ice cream creation, a crispy treat topped with a football-shaped dollop of homemade whipped cream and a fresh mint sprig sprouting from the top ($8.95).
You can order the chef’s daily vegetarian creation off the rack or as you please; Novak will create anything your vegetarian heart desires. Having developed his culinary point of view as executive chef at New Brunswick’s Frog and the Peach — famous for its local organic produce, Jersey seafood, and Griggstown poultry — Novak knows how to turn vegetarian fare into haute cuisine, at least from what we could see around us.
Service was attentive. The wine list, at 32 pages, was unwieldy and difficult to navigate, but offered ample selections for the budget-conscious and the well-heeled alike. A tavern offers casual fare, including sandwiches.
If you live in the slice of Jersey between Interstates 78 and 195, the Harvest Moon Inn is worth the drive for a romantic evening or other special occasion. And its commitment to ethical eating would get a thumbs up from just about any Unitarian Universalist.
Between now and the 2011 GA vote on the statement of conscience, we’ll review North and Central New Jersey restaurants that promote ethical eating. If you have a favorite to nominate for a review, please comment below or send me an e-mail.
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