On the Menu: Blue Bottle Cafe

On the Menu: Blue Bottle Cafe

When Blue Bottle Cafe, a new American eatery in the town of Hopewell, N.J., became a media sensation just two months after its debut in March 2006, the phone started ringing off the hook.

The owners, husband-and-wife team Aaron and Rory Philipson, were thrilled, nervous and challenged. Luckily, the Philipsons, who share a passion for both restaurants and roller coasters, have sought out those feelings all their lives.

APPETIZERS

Pan-Seared Crab Cake, Roasted Corn Polenta and Oven-Dried Tomato Pesto $12

P.E.I. Mussels with Whole-Grain Mustard, White-Wine Broth, Roasted Fennel and Baby Tomatoes $11.50

House-made Butternut Squash Ravioli with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Sautéed Spaghetti Squash and Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette $10

SOUPS AND SALADS

Baby Spinach and Frisée with Roasted Rutabaga, Beets, Carrots and Parsnips with Citrus-Cider Vinaigrette $8.50

Purée of Porcini Mushroom soup with sautéed Mushrooms, Truffle Oil and Chives $7.50

PASTAS, MAIN COURSES

Pan-Seared, Day Boat Sea Scallops with Sautéed Fingerling Potatoes, Leeks, Shiitake Mushrooms, Crispy Bacon, Leek Emulsion Sauce $26

Slow-Braised Lamb Shank, Saffron Risotto Cake, Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Kalamata Olive Lamb Jus $29 Pan-Roasted Loin of Venison with Purée of Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, and Dried Cherry Venison Reduction $29

Ancho-Dusted Marlin with Roasted Zucchini and Tomato, Sautéed Spinach and Poblano Tomatillo Sauce $24

DESSERTS

Blackberry and Almond Financier with Blackberry Cream Sauce and ‘Bent Spoon’ Earl Grey Ice Cream $8

Orange Blossom Pavlova with ‘Bent Spoon’ Peach Cassis and Lavender Sorbet $8

Pumpkin Roulade with Cream Cheese Frosting studded with Walnuts, Caramel and Pumpkin Anglaise, and Pumpkin Gelato $8

“Opening a restaurant is a lot like getting on a roller coaster for the first time,” says Rory Philipson, 29, Blue Bottle’s pastry chef. “You’re taking a chance, and you’re scared out of your mind, but you know it’s going to be an exciting ride.”

Aaron Philipson, 29, the restaurant’s executive chef, says early success was challenging, but manageable.

“That’s something Rory and I have in common,” he says. “We’re both self-motivated and face things head-on.”

When the restaurant garnered glowing reviews shortly after opening, within a week business doubled, Aaron Philipson says.

“We went from being steadily busy to being very steadily busy,” he says. “People were booking weeks in advance.”

Though they thrive on the thrill ride of operating a restaurant, the Philipsons didn’t enter the business on a whim.

AT A GLANCE

Cuisine: new AmericanWebsite:www.thebluebottlecafe.comLocation: 101 East Broad St.Opened: March 2006Seats: 70Average Saturday night covers: 135Average check: $25, lunch; $50, dinnerBest-selling items: mussels, scallops, gnocchi, game meats, braised dishes Slowest-selling item: chickenExecutive chef: Aaron PhilipsonPastry chef: Rory PhilipsonOwner-operators: Rory and Aaron Philipson and Joyce MacKayFrequency of menu changes: four times per year

“We’d been training for it, working toward it and wanting to do it for years,” says Rory Philipson.

They’re currently renting the 2,000-square-foot space but hope to be proprietors of their own restaurant someday.

Aaron Philipson, a 1997 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America [3] in Hyde Park, N.Y., had an externship at La Côte Basque in New York as well as jobs at the Trellis in Williamsburg, Va.; Kinkead’s [4] in Washington, D.C.; Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, N.J.; and Rat’s in Hamilton, N.J.

He says working at Piccola Italia, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Ocean, N.J., owned and operated by his CIA roommate, Brian Gualtieri, was a turning point. As the restaurant expanded, acquiring a liquor license and doubling in size, so did Aaron Philipson’s desire to follow in his friend’s footsteps.

Rory Philipson, then Rory MacKay, also a CIA graduate, met her husband during her externship at the Trellis, where she worked as a cook, host, sommelier and manager. After a stint at Todd English’s Olives [5], she joined Aaron Philipson at Kinkead’s, then worked as a pastry chef at Piccola Italia.

For their own restaurant venture, the Philipsons decided on a property in Hopewell discovered by Joyce MacKay, a partner in the business and Rory Philipson’s mother. They took over the lease on Feb. 20, 2006, and after extensive renovations—including 30 gallons of white paint to cover the previously red walls—the Blue Bottle Cafe opened for business March 23, 2006.

Seating 70 in three distinct dining rooms, the restaurant is adorned with Joyce MacKay’s collection of blue bottles. The kitchen is approximately 200 square feet, with two ovens, 10 burners and walk-in refrigeration added in the rear.

Aaron Philipson’s new American cuisine keeps the place hopping. Unexpected combinations of flavors and ingredients are his signature, including an appetizer of house-made ravioli with roasted butternut squash, sautéed spaghetti squash, black-trumpet mushrooms and pumpkin seed vinaigrette for $10. Among the entrées are a slow-braised lamb shank with a saffron risotto cake, roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted garlic and a lamb jus for $28, and a celiac-friendly, ancho-rubbed marlin with tomato, zucchini, onions, sautéed spinach, and roasted poblano-tomatillo sauce for $24.

What’s next for the Philipsons? “We’ll decide that on our January vacation,” says Rory Philipson. “As far as changes in the restaurant, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We want to make little improvements. Aaron wants new sauté pans. We just got a new slicer. Little stuff, really.”