Pairings Palate + Plate


By Dane Feldman

Photo by Dane Feldman.

Pairings Palate + Plate is located on Walnut Ave in downtown Cranford, NJ. In a town packed with surprisingly conceptual restaurants (100 Steps is one as well), Pairings Palate + Plate still manages to stand out from the (eclectic) crowd.

The food
Pairings offers several different menus: a Wednesday night prix fixe menu, a standard dinner menu, Thursday tapas, Saturday night parties of eight or more, dinner parties on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, dinner parties on Saturday afternoon, as well as brunch and lunch parties for 30+ people. Already, Pairings is doing something entirely different from any restaurant I have been to.

In any case, my first trip to Pairings was on a Saturday night with just two others—my parents. Their dinner menu isn’t just your average dinner menu, however. Pairings’ whole concept is to match dishes and serve them as one, rather than serve an entree with a side dish. The side dish at Pairings is no afterthought.

To start, we ordered the heirloom summer gazpacho + prosecco: heirloom tomato gazpacho with sour cream, jalapeno, and mint oil. My folks and I make a mean tomato watermelon gazpacho with almonds, but this gazpacho certainly rivals ours. The jalapeno adds the perfect amount of heat.

But before the gazpacho arrived, our waiter brought out an amuse bouche: blueberry watermelon smoothies served with pickled watermelon rind. As usual, my first thought was, “who thinks of this?” followed by “I need to learn how to pickle.”

For my main course, I ordered the Honey Lacquered Ribs + Mediterranean Watermelon Salad: St. Louis style pork ribs topped with quince gastrique and chili roasted peanut dust. The dish is served with corn-edamame succotash and watermelon salad with feta and pistachios. These ribs are hands down the best ribs around. The meat falls right off the bone as if these are short ribs (they aren’t) and can be eaten with a knife and fork, though the knife is hardly necessary. Chili roasted peanut dust? Again, who thinks of this? The watermelon salad wasn’t too shabby either. The pistachios add a nice touch and really elevate the flavor.

The drinks
Rumor has it that Pairings initially intended to pair dishes with wine, but because it is so difficult to obtain a liquor license in the great state of New Jersey, the chefs had to do some rethinking. Instead, Pairings Palate + Plate is a BYO establishment, but there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Patrons can, however, order an assortment of coffee, tea, or soft drinks.

The service/ambience
I could go on for hours about the service at Pairings. Our waiter was one of the best waiters I have had the pleasure of meeting in my lifetime. He was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and even convinced me to try the ribs after my several moments of agony deciding between items. I am so thankful for that. He was friendly, talkative, attentive, and honest. At one point, while waiting for our entrees, he came out of the kitchen to apologize to our table: the chef had dropped my father’s fish and was cooking a new piece. I don’t know that I have ever been to a restaurant where a waiter admits something like that. But he did more than just admit to a mistake: he brought out an intermezzo of passion fruit sorbet to hold us over until the new fish was finished cooking.

The space itself is quite nice with both indoor and outdoor seating. Some indoor tables are paired with large booth-like, white-upholstered couches, while others have wooden chairs. Unfortunately, I found the wooden chairs rather uncomfortable, but I would stand and eat at this place if I had to.

Pairings Palate + Plate feels like a special occasion kind of restaurant, but the food is far too good not to become a regular.