CulinAriane, as the name suggests, is all about graduate, Chef-Owner Ariane Duarte’s culinary prowess. The staff is courteous and knowledgeable, the space in foodie mecca, Montclair, is warm and inviting, but the reason patrons are drawn to this cozy spot is the fabulous food.
On a recent visit, my party was offered an outdoor, curbside table. The evening was warm and this seating arrangement was perfect for a group of six guests interested in catching up with one another. Right upon arriving, guests know the dining experience at CulinAriane will be special. From the great glassware (nice touch for a BYO), the fine china and flatware and the antique serving pieces, attention to detail is not spared and helps set the mood for the coming evening.
The menu is creative, albeit condensed. Each starter and entrée is more appealing than the next, and the nightly specials encompass amazing combinations.
Some outstanding starters ($12 – $16) my group sampled are the Sashimi Tuna Flower ($14), the Venison Carpaccio (nightly special), the Cornmeal Crusted Oysters ($12) and the Tempura Rock Shrimp Salad (nightly special). The tuna sashimi flower is a signature dish, and absolutely beautiful, fresh and delicious. The venison Carpaccio was more than seared causing it to be somewhat dry and grayish in appearance. The fried oysters with a horseradish sauce were crisp, juicy and succulent. The rock shrimp salad featured lightly fried Tempura shrimps over perfectly-dressed greens.
The entrees ($30 – $42) were not overshadowed by the starters. Some stellar choices are the Pan Seared Scallops ($30), the Grilled Bronzini ($30) and the Focaccia-Crusted Hake (nightly special). The scallops were perfectly seared and of the highest quality and the forest mushroom ragout they were paired with were an ideal match. The portion of Bronzini served was considerable and the fish was masterly cooked. The pan-fried hake was served over fiddleheads, broccoli rabe and fingerling potatoes and a great dish.
Not to be outdone by wife Ariane, Pastry Chef / Co-Owner / Gracious Host, Michael Duarte, also a Culinary Institute of America graduate, completes the top-notch foodie experience with his dessert creations ($8 – $10). Can’t-miss finales are the Callebaut Chocolate Ganache Tart with Orange Whipped Cream ($10), the Maple Syrup Crème Caramel ($10) and the Lemon Meringue Martini ($9). Don’t skip on coffee which is strong, bold and a perfect accompaniment to the super desserts.
Word of warning, reservations are challenging to secure at this uber-popular restaurant, so plan in advance.
Yes, Chef Ariane amassed a cult following through her appearance on Bravo’s Top Chef series. Is CulinAriane all media hype without culinary substance? No, it is not. It’s about quality ingredients, skillful preparation and clever presentation.
33 Walnut St
Montclair, NJ 07042
Social Side of CulinAriane:
Ariane’s blog: http://blog.dinnertool.com/