Jersey City continues to creep higher and higher on the list of foodie destination cities, and the bulk of that reputation has been fostered from the uprising of talent in the downtown area. But Orange and Olive Caterers and Chef’s Table, located on Central Avenue in the Jersey City Heights and run by owners Sam Fertik (Executive Chef) and Aaron Nemani (Director of Operations), is poised to be part of that ascendance. What started as a catering company in 2011 has now expanded to a Chef’s Table with a 10-course tasting menu.
The big, earthy table is located right in the kitchen and can be booked for up to twelve people. That’s where you sit to enjoy seasonal, local dishes dreamed up by Chef Sam and his team. It’s a food nerd fantasy come to life: relinquishing all control over your dinner and sitting in the very space where the dishes are prepared. I am guilty of being that person who will eat a good meal and describe every detail to the first nine people I see, though I’m aware of the fatigue this can cause. Too many syllables, like too much salt, can kill a perfectly nice dish.
But I’m gonna tell you about this party anyway.
The food. The food, the food, the food. Ingredients can be maneuvered to do a lot of things (in some movies, they even come to life and talk), but in the end, they have to taste good. And this food tastes real good. A few highlights from the night: Soup with a Story, inspired by an artichoke soup Chef Sam ate at a chef’s tasting during his travels through Paris. The short rib—served with with turnips, fennel, lemongrass and kaffir lime—was braised for 72 hours, and you could taste every minute. A bite of butter poached Maine lobster with lemon gelee and brown butter sabayon was as delicious as it sounds and beautifully plated:
My favorite dish of the night was Ducks in a Row (named on-the-spot by the chef), a duo of duck confit and seared duck breast. I didn’t know which bite to save for last, which I suppose is the most you can hope for with a duo.
Chef’s Table sounds like it translates to “a place where you sit up straight and smell your wine before you sip”, but Orange and Olive not that. This is more like you’re hanging out with your buddies and one of them says, “Hey, I have a few truffles and some gorgeous seafood if you wanna try them.” It is dinner and a show, but the show is a relaxed play about the dinner itself —interactive and fun and in a kitchen so clean with a group of people so relaxed, it dashed many preconceived notions I had about kitchens. (Even when I’m crushing garlic at home, the imaginary cooking show I have in my head involves near-constant yelling and mishaps.) At one point during dinner, I was eating a piece of amazing fish with Miike Snow on in the background and a glass of wine in my hand, and things were just right with the world, you know?
If it seems like I’m painting a picture of something precious, I’m not. “It’s supposed to be fun,” Chef Sam said. “It’s not supposed to be pretentious.” There were descriptions of the food, but they weren't too long. The ingredients were seasonal and local, but there weren’t fifty of them in each dish. The whole experience reinforced that my favorite kind of foodie is the one who appreciates fancy and fun, who can make a craft cocktail with a Bud if need be, but who will also drink it out of the can without any irony.
Dinner at the Chef’s Table has perks that go beyond food and atmosphere. That you pay for the dinner ahead of time by way of a ticket system (meal, tax and service charge included) is a practical element that might seem small, but can make a big difference when you want to treat your parents to dinner, or when you want to cover the cost a few days early while your paycheck is still warm in your checking account. No splitting the bill with a phone app. No deciding who should go break a twenty dollar bill. There’s also the beautiful freedom from menu scanning and ordering debates. As my dining companion Olya put it, “It’s nice to have someone else decide for you.”
Especially when those decisions include root beer floats in little glass boots.
Orange and Olive Caterers and Chef’s Table, 398 Central Ave., Jersey City, NJ 07307. The restaurant is BYOB.