NoLa—and We’re Not Talking New Orleans

Operated by chef-owner Brian Held, NoLa’s restaurant name is short for “North of Lambertville.” The BEST crab cakes I ever had nearly a decade ago were at Brian’s, his other restaurant in Lambertville, NJ, and while few places have come close, no one has ever surpassed those perfectly crafted patties. That’s why we were excited to see he opened a new establishment last summer, and we were looking for a chance to visit.

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Finally over July 4 weekend, we rounded up friends Rosanne and Gary Zarrilli to make the trek with us, agreeing to meet there shortly before the 7:00 Saturday night reservation. As we rounded the corner to park the car, Rosanne and Gary were seated at an outside bistro table at the infamous Stockton Inn across the street from NoLa.

Referred to as a restaurant you might find in the Hamptons, it has clean lines and amazing food. The streamlined menu is bursting with originality, with “dishes that dazzle and dance” as one reviewer put it. Although I thought the decor was too bland and would benefit from some artwork for pops of color.

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Russ and Gary getting jiggy with the wine!

You may fondly remember it as the former home of Meil’s, one of the most popular weekend breakfast places in the region. Now NoLa’s 40-seat BYOB outpost is minimalist contemporary in style with white walls, where along one, bench seats are buffered with pillows (where Rosanne and I sat.) These pillows offering the only color to the otherwise completely white palette.

After being seated by our friendly waitress, we were served a dish of two flatbreads—a welcome change from the typical dinner roll that is commonly served. The baked whole wheat rounds were delicately seasoned with sea salt and fresh thyme, and accompanied by a mascarpone spread that tempted our tastebuds, in a good way, a positive omen for what was to come.

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Our “amuse bouche” of two flatbreads and a mascarpone and olive oil spread.

Being in the height of the season for certain produce, we knew a salad this time of year should be fresh and crisp, harvested within hours of eating. No disappointment there for the two guys who ordered one. Russ couldn’t help but get the Duck Confit Salad with pine nuts, fried capers and greens. Gary selected the Mixed Organic Greens comprised of walnuts, grapes and gorgonzola. It was clear that the chefs cared, as each element of the two salads was thoughtfully layered, presenting something as attractive as it was delectable.

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Russ’s Duck Confit Salad.

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Gary enjoyed his Organic Mixed Greens.

The ladies on the other hand both opted for the luscious Wild Mushroom Soup with braised leeks and a drizzle of truffle oil. It was so full of flavor and seemed to pair well with our bottles of red wine, both coincidentally of the Spanish persuasion.

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Rosanne and Lynn both loved the Wild Mushroom Soup.

NoLa’s menu changes often, and tonite’s hand written list was completely different from what showed online as a sample menu. But that made it all the more exciting to review their offerings. Of course I mentioned those crab cakes from Brian’s which clinched my decision, and also that of both Rosanne and Russ.

I was hoping that my glowing memory of crab-cakes-past would live up to their expectation in tonite’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cake entree. Let’s just say, none of us were in the least disappointed! Each plate consisted of one ginormous pattie with bits of red pepper and chives woven in and topped with a silky mustard emulsion glaze. No filler could be discerned—Russ thought maybe they used a binder of pulverized shrimp, a trick we’ve used in the past.

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The Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with a mustard emulsion glaze.

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The gorgeously plated Lasagne Bolognaise.

The entree calling Gary’s name was the Lasagne Bolognaise, and what a pretty presentation it was, so artfully plated in a round Americana bowl with blue stars adorning the perimeter. How apropos. And according to Mr. Z, not only was it pretty to look at, it was darn tasty as well!

With no room for dessert, and the Zarrilli’s needing to make it home to meet an air conditioner repairman (at 9:30 p.m. on a holiday weekend, yikes), it was time to bid adieu

NOTE: Keep in mind if you do go, they still only take cash or check, no plastic.

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