"Visiting American Bistro was a shade nostalgic for me, located as it is on my hometown's main drag. I grew up in Nutley's neighboring town of Belleville. It's an area with strong Italian-American roots -- a place where mama's kitchen-style manicotti and meatballs are easily found, but " portobello" and "radicchio" are words rarely heard.
A restaurant with the name American Bistro seemed quite unlikely...and quite promising. My high hopes for inspired fare were not dashed.
To be sure, Italian favorites are not ignored; I doubt you could succeed in that community without them. But chef-owner Kenneth Mahon has found a way to keep everybody happy: He injects the ethnic mainstays with freshness and creativity, and he lets his real passion for contemporary American cuisine shine through in daily specials that please more sophisticated palates.
A perfect example is chicken pecan, a succulent breast of chicken crusted with subtly sweet ground nuts. A platter of side dishes, served family-style, included this delightful surprise: seven-layer potatoes, alternating slices of white and sweet potatoes, baked in a casserole with cream, maple syrup, and brown sugar. The result is a tender, colorful square of potatoes in a silken, nutty-sweet sauce. Unforgettable.
It's clear that someone who cares about food is in the kitchen. Upon ordering chicken Savoy, I was warned that it takes 30 to 40 minutes to prepare. No problem.
In the meantime, I indulged in grilled portobello, two perfectly charred, meaty mushrooms accompanied by fresh tricolor salad dressed in a whisper of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. When the chicken did arrive, infused with pungent garlic and vinegar, it proved to be worth the wait.
All the starters we sampled were excellent, especially a wild mushroom bisque, that was thick & savory, without excessive richness. A tangy mustard sauce accented the crab cakes, chock-full of sweet, fresh crab meat. Artichoke hearts oreganato were large, tender and topped with well-seasoned, buttered crumbs.
A main course of potato crusted sole was impressive -- the fragile fillet was somehow wearing a jacket of shredded, golden fried potato. This is the sort of thing I know I could never duplicate in my kitchen. The delicate flavor of the fish shone through an unnecessary lemon-butter sauce.
A foray into the pasta offerings proved consistent with Mahon's progressive philosophy. The alfredo sauce adorning cheese tortellini, was a far cry from a heavy, salty cheese concoction; instead it was light and lively with an intriguing hint of nutmeg.
I learned afterwards that of all the pasta dishes, only the ravioli -- spinach and cheese -- are hand-made by Mahon.
That's just one more item on my list of reasons to return.
Top-quality ingredients make these dishes so successful. The chicken is free-range, the veal is milk-fed, the vegetables are market-fresh. The menu lists heart-healthy entrees as well. Including veal paillard, poached salmon and whole wheat linguine primavera.
American Bistro features many of the little touches that set a restaurant apart.
Featured wines -- perhaps a trendy California merlot or a fruity pinot gris -- are available by the glass.
The bread basket contains a variety of treats including homemade, crunchy garlic rounds.
Complimentary plates of sliced fresh fruit and assorted biscotti are presented at the close of the meal.
That last treat should not deter you from sampling the chef's homemade desserts -- the creme brulee and cannoli, are particularly good. Not everything is made in-house, however, so be sure to ask.
American Bistro is a refreshing & welcome addition to the dining scene in its corner of Essex County. Chef Mahon deserves kudos for being bold enough -- and talented enough -- to break the mold and succeed".