When chef Kevin Pemoulie opened Jersey City’s Thirty Acres (500 Jersey Avenue, Jersey City; 201-435-3100) with his wife, Alex, nearly three years ago, he did what so many chefs who defect from the Momofuku empire do: He served exquisite seasonal small plates beneath a punk rock soundtrack. Over the years, that concept’s been reinterpreted and replicated around the country by his former colleagues, including, with varying precision and rivaling prices, at every new opening in Jersey City, from Park & Sixth to Third & Vine. Last Friday night, Thirty Acres committed to stepping up and away from the pack, reopening after a brief closure with a new $75 tasting-menu-only concept, featuring five proper courses among eleven plates of food altogether. The meal starts with a trio of canapes commencing with a chicharron of salt-and-vinegar salmon skin, and ends with a final bite familiar to regulars, paired with a mug of Mod Cup.
“They bring us a seasonal coffee that pairs well with later courses,” Pemoulie says of his decision to team up with the Jersey City Heights roaster, a partnership that extends beyond dropping off the beans. “We have customized boards made to bring out the mug and filter, scales in the kitchen, and a heater that keeps water at 208 degrees specifically. A server brings out a little metal kettle and pours over the coffee, and everyone gets a fresh-brewed cup. I’ve never seen that in a restaurant.”
New additions leading up to coffee service include house-made bread and butter and a rotation of granitas, sorbets, and ice creams that appear in palate-cleansers and desserts. But not everything new at Thirty Acres has never been here before. Some prior dishes are reinvented in a more luxurious way, like a bowl of thickly sliced scallop sweetened with horseradish.
“I’m fine eating at Sushi Yasuda and eating 40 pieces of sushi, but a lot of people neglected the raw dishes here before,” Pemoulie says. “They avoided them because they didn’t want to commit, so now it gives me the opportunity to give a little bite and do what I want.”
Meanwhile, multiple courses receive a significant upgrade. Turnips fiery with urfa biber are piled under black truffles, while three tender wedges of charred dry-aged strip are paired with a single Belgian endive leaf. The star of the menu is a hefty skate wing bursting with pine oil and paired with black trumpets. Creamy tendrils of the fish dragged off the bone blend with plush mushrooms to melt in your mouth as easily as the celery root purée–stuffed capitelli that follows it.
“I wanted a format that could incorporate what we had been doing — having a vegetable, meat, fish, pasta — but lets me tweak things differently,” Pemoulie says.
If you’d rather have more glasses than plates set in front of you, head to the bar, where the wine list has significantly expanded with a strong focus on domestic bottles you’ll find nowhere else in town — and selections top out at $90. To complement them, the bar menu features à la carte plates of house-cured meats, beef tartare, and the pickles from the previous menu, plus daily specials to come.
Just don’t confuse the bar scene with a preview of Pemoulie’s other talked-about projects.
Pemoulie says he pulled out of a deal to open a new bar concept in the Silverman development opposite city hall, and despite all the media hype late last year surrounding the all-star chef lineup behind 55 new dining options at Newark Liberty International Airport, which blogs reported as new restaurants from chefs like Mario Carbone, Alex Stupak, and Dale Talde, among others, the project is nothing more than a consulting gig.
“We have nothing to do with that,” Pemoulie says of his involvement beyond developing an initial menu of salads and sandwiches for Oeno Wine Bar, which opened December 15, replacing Vino Volo in the United terminal. “My name’s not on it, but I was happy to help.”
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Follow Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.