Princeton Gem Worth the Trip

Delicious, Quirky Fare at Elements in Princeton

By Craig LaBan, Inquirer Restaurant Critic

Is the dining world ready to pluck wrinkled brown mushrooms off a mossy branch? How about a crispy chip of fried poultry skin (dabbed with two-year-old fermented mole) perched on a wiry mesh of chicken wire? Or maybe a premeal quail egg, cured in wine lees and smoked, then brought tableside nestled inside a baby bird’s nest?

Such “New Jersey Naturalist” presentations – especially at a restaurant like elements in Princeton serving tasting menus from $79 to $125 and beyond – are just the kind of gestures that have divided my friends into two distinct camps. On one side are the gastronauts who’ll travel the globe to eat the unique and revel in a witty chef or rare cuisine that can reshape the notion of dinner. On the other side are my traditionalist friends who find the whole sweep of modern-dining movements – molecular foam, New Nordic moss, and 30-bite deconstructed menu marathons – to be supremely tiresome and silly.

I can empathize with both, having witnessed the highs and lows of such experiences. But elements, with its flexible approach allowing diners to tackle anywhere from four courses (weeknights) to 20-plus (for the $185 Grand Tasting), may well be a happy compromise.

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