Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
Delicata Squash photo courtesy of Rat’s
Picture an open air museum where the natural environment vies with contemporary works of art for admiration; where the paths you walk on are as inviting as the massive sculptures you spy on broad lawns or secluded in stands of trees or partially obscured between natural rises in the landscape, and you will be seeing the vision of sculptor and philanthropist J. Seward Johnson, come to life.
Picture a couple frolicking on the grass, or sitting in front of a boat, or at a table set for a romantic tête-à-tête and you will be seeing Johnson’s dedication to the art of French impressionist Claude Monet in full size reproductions of his well-known paintings and the garden at his home in Giverny, France. All this presents an opportunity for a delightful outing in the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey with the added incentive of a gourmet feast at Rat’s Restaurant to round out the experience. Grounds For Sculpture is a 42-acre sculpture park and museum located near the university town of Princeton, on the former site of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, just a short drive from the major cities of Philadelphia and New York.
For enchanting viewing from the on-site Rat’s Restaurant there is a gorgeous garden with myriad flower beds - including a pond with floating water lilies so famously painted by Monet - over which the famous bridge from Giverny is reproduced. Don’t be put off by the name; Rat’s refers to a leading character in Johnson’s favorite childhood book Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. The entrance to the restaurant charmingly reproduces the caravan that was home to Ratty. Inside and out Rats offers some of the most delightful eye candy to add to the conversation and enhance the dining experience. There is also a popular bar that attracts locals and visitors alike.
Starr Catering Group manages Rat’s as well as other high-end restaurants attached to cultural institutions with the express purpose of providing dining experiences as creative and enjoyable as the facilities they are attached to. For a listing of their other venues visit http://www.starrevents.com/
We arrived at the Grounds For Sculpture on a perfect early-fall day when the garden was still in full bloom and the bright blue sky painted an elegant backdrop for the massive sculptures scattered throughout the property. The day was so perfect that we concentrated our wanderings in the park and left the museum buildings for a future visit. After working up an appetite we reluctantly left the park and meandered to the restaurant for dinner. We stopped for a short while at the Patio of the Lounge at Rat’s Restaurant to admire the view of the pond thinking we might have a cocktail, but stomach won over view, and we proceeded to one of the delightfully decorated dinning rooms for dinner.
Here we were greeted by an elegantly set table and wait staff attentive to our every wish. The menu is fairly French ProvenÃ§al, with a few North African accents in the appetizers and some Asian highlights in the main courses, but the majority of the dishes are solidly Classic Country French.
An unusual dish, described in the menu as “Delicata Squash” with summer squash slices, sliced black figs, bacon lardon, and grated cheese, surrounded by a maple syrup dressing was one of the appetizers and we thought it was refreshing and the sweet and tart contrast exceptional.
The main course was a Roasted Short Rib with a red wine Bordelaise, peppercorns, chopped broccoli and horseradish. The meat was slow cooked for a considerable time so it melted in the mouth.
We had Ratty’s own house wine from a New Jersey vineyard, a 2012 vintage that paired nicely with the short rib.
Finally dessert was an individual Tarte Tatin with a dollop of ice cream on the side, and the dinner ended in a high note indeed.
After dinner, we had a chance to visit the kitchen. It is a large, impressive space, separated in different stations, where a large number of people can comfortably work to prepare meals and desserts for both the restaurants and catering. The wine list is rather short, but the wines I saw on the controlled environment shelves were rather remarkable.
We plan to go back sometime in the spring, to visit the museum buildings and explore the exhibits there. We will be revisiting Rat’s perhaps for Sunday brunch or we will explore the other restaurants scattered throughout the garden.
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