Story and photography by Manos Angelakis

Serenade Façade

6 Roosevelt Avenue
Chatham NJ 07928

Many times I get information from restaurants that claim their dishes have “No Gluten” or “No butter and No cream”. And, after having tasted food from many of these establishments I mentally add “And NO Taste”.

Well… this time I stand corrected… big time.

We were invited to visit a restaurant in Chatham, New Jersey that also promotes itself as “Gluten Free, No Butter, No Cream” which, as I found talking to the chef, is only partially true because butter and cream are used when absolutely required, such as in the made in-house ice cream which is heaven on earth. Of course the seafood dishes they are renowned for are naturally gluten-free. Serenade has been around for 20 years since Chef/Owner James Laird and his wife Nancy opened the restaurant. Prior to that Chef Laird had worked in some of the best New York City restaurants before moving back to his home state of New Jersey. Serenade has been touted as among the best of the Garden State’s dining emporiums.

And I would like to add my personal recommendation to our readers, as this restaurant has excellent food and a wine list so well designed that you can get a number of exceptional world-class wines, even by the glass!

The restaurant is located in a mostly residential part of Chatham, an upscale town in Central New Jersey.

Serenade Garden Room

One enters through the bar area, which was busy when we arrived, with patrons occupying the bar stools plus the 5 or so tables in the bar area. Reservations are necessary except in the bar area which has open seating with no reservations, providing of course that there is room. To the left is the entrance to the dinning section, three good sized rooms. There is an upstairs “Loft” to be used either for private dinning and functions or to accommodate dinner overflow on very busy evenings.

We were seated in what I would call the garden room, a large high ceiling room surrounded by windows looking out on the pleasant tree lined street. When the menus arrived we took a quick look at the offerings, but I spent considerably more time studying the wine list which was fascinating. John Jansma, the general manager and beverage director has a very refined palate and his wine list includes 18 wines (a number of world-class bottles) by the glass, plus an additional 9 wines kept in a Coravin dispenser; amongst the very large number of wines available by the bottle.

For example, I ordered a glass of Riesling for my companion. What was available was the 2014 Dr. Thanisch (Erben Müller-Burggraef) Bernkasteler Badstube Kabinett, one of the best Rieslings grown by the Mosel River.

Another extraordinary wine that is also available by the glass, but is in the Coravin dispensing system, was the 1999 Château d’ Yquem Sauternes, from a 750 ml bottle (if you are willing to spend $70 for a glass) and even a 1983 Château d’ Yquem from a Magnum at $93 per glass.

Other Coravin highlights include reds from Bordeaux’s Château Malartic-Lagravière, Napa’s Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, and from Montalcino a Brunello La Gerla.

There are also numerous very good half (375 ml) and full size (750 ml) bottles from France and California, and a very limited number from other part of the world (Italy, Spain, Argentina, British Columbia, etc.). If you are a wine geek, like me, you can go through the list and find little known gems, like the Morellino di Scansano Anima Libera that I found and ordered in the “by the glass” section, which is one of the better Sangiovese wines from the Maremma Maritima, the westernmost part of Tuscany.   

Serenade Octopus

Now to the food… for starters, the yellow fin tuna tartare for my dinning companion and the grilled octopus for me.

I love octopus, but I find that in the US most restaurants that feature it have no idea how to cook it well, ending with over-softened, mealy tentacles. This appetizer dish was exceptionally well cooked, with the proper consistency. When you add the boiled red new-potato large dice, two pools of parsley emulsion, the preserved lemon and paper thin radish slivers, Niçoise olives and fruity olive oil, the dish is irresistible.

The yellowfin tuna tartare on a bed of cucumber rounds, sprinkled with microgreens and diced yellow tomato, in an Asian marinade with phyllo crisp rounds, was also an excellent choice.

Serenade Gazpacho

Serenade offers a Market Menu that changes nightly. When we were there, it included a Gazpacho – fresh tomato, grilled watermelon and paprika dusted shrimp with diced cucumber, tomato, watermelon and microgreens. The meal also included a Red Butter Lettuce salad with pistachios, peaches, goat cheese croquette and orange honey vinaigrette. The main course was grilled Hawaiian Swordfish, brunoise tomato gazpacho, local bok choy and zucchini flower tempura. It finishes with American Coffee or Tea.

We tried the Gazpacho from the Market Menu, and it was deliciously tasty.

Serenade Nova Scotia Lobster

Our main course choices came from the ala carte menu selections.

A Nova Scotia Lobster with roasted chanterelles, new potatoes, sweet corn and lobster broth was delivered to my companion and she was delighted. The Lobster is roasted and removed from the shell and beautifully presented. It actually tasted as good as it looked and when we asked Chef Laird how he came to design this most unusual dish he said “it’s all about the vegetables”. He uses only local seasonal ingredients and they “speak” to him, perhaps that is why he was rated by the New Jersey Monthly magazine as among ”the best of the best”.

Serenade Lamb Chops

I ordered the Lamb rack, a pair of rare roasted chops grilled to perfection. They were served with spinach strudel, artichoke barigoule and crisped onion crumbles. I decided on the lamb dish because I knew it would pair well with the Morellino, which I had tasted during my last trip to the wineries of the Maremma.

Serenade Tarte Tatin

It came time for dessert. I love a Tarte Tatine, and the Serenade version was made with caramelized plums and apricots instead of the traditional apple. Scrumptious! The little ball of peach ice cream that accompanied the Tarte Tatine was made in-house with real cream, as Chef Laird informed me. There is a suggested pairing of the dessert with a difficult to find on the East Coast ice wine from Mission Hill in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Well worth getting the pairing. To be honest I did not, only because I will be visiting the winery next month and I plan to bring a few bottles of their wines, including the fabulous ice wine, back with me.

Serenade Brownie

My dinning companion ordered the Brownie, covered with Valrhona chocolate fudge and accompanied by vanilla and chocolate ice cream profiteroles. It magically disappeared within seconds!

A cappuccino for her and double espresso for me finished this delectable meal. The final offering was a tray of luscious petit fours. 

Get a reservation! It’s well worth the trip.




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