Thursday, July 12, 2012


Raritan, NJ
Final Grade: A

            I must admit I am not a beef eater. In fact, hardly do I consider myself a carnivore since I probably eat red meat once every six months. But even someone like me, every so often, craves a steak. Now for someone also like me, who lives/breathes/loves the culinary world, finding a place to satisfy this need should be easy. Eh, not so I must say. I can find pasta, seafood, Chinese and burger places in a snap, but finding me a top-notch steakhouse is not an easy task. And although I do know of a few, the atmosphere they elicit is a little, say, dark and mellow. Now I do not blame them for their “manly” vibe, I just wish for a brighter, more lively steak place. Well, this wish just came true…. Char, off 202 in Raritan, NJ, combines both contemporary and vibrant décor with downright mouthwatering steak.  Oh yes, time to ritz it up and step out for a steak dinner!

            Char, a restaurant a friend of mine has been pushing me to try for quite some time now, is not only a place where you can enjoy a hearty meal but also a place where you can enjoy the surroundings. The waterfall entryway and oversized granite bar quickly transport you from the highway just outside, while the dining rooms are large with dramatically high ceilings filled with both tables and booths. Not to mention, for those who prefer a more "natural" setting, the outdoor area is a perfect option.

            Although the space had an “unsteakhouse-like” feel, it certainly delivered on the steakhouse promise. Yes, I know I’m jumping ahead here in the meal, but I feel obligated to bring you the “beef” right away. We both ordered the Filet Mignon, mine an 8 ouncer and my husband’s a 12 ($29.95/$33.95) and both went with a medium-rare temperature request. To say it simply, they were divine. Each was cooked exactly as we ordered and accompanied by a whole roasted and seasoned head of garlic. The steaks’ edges were seared and glistening with their own sense of pride. Our knives cut through each portion with not a bit of effort, I’ll have to tell our waiter to keep the steak knife next time. And for a salt and pepper on everything-kinda-gal, I still don’t even know if they were present on the table. The only negative: I should have known to order the larger option as watching Matt continue to enjoy was not exactly fun.
My 8 ounce steak
            Luckily though, the more time he spent on his main course, the more time I had to eat up our sides.  And while I know nothing beats a good steak, I also know what comes pretty darn close: great potatoes. That is of course, great potatoes piping hot, layered with a creamy cheese sauce bubbling over in magazine appearance. For sure, our Potato Gratin ($6.95) had looks to kill and fortunately flavor to back it up. It was browned so expertly in that the cheese made for a buttery crust all around the top, while the insides were silky and rich layer upon layer. It was, by far, the best rendition of this dish I have ever had. More on the conservative side, we split the grilled vegetables ($6.95) as well. I can’t say they were the best ever, as I eat more grilled veggies than most I know, but I can say they could take the place of my version any day.
Potato Gratin
            Again moving in an odd order here, we ordered the Crab Cake Appetizer ($14.95) and Mixed Green Salad ($7.95) to start our meal. The crab cake was undoubtedly the second-best thing we ate that night, next to the steak of course. To be even more honest, it rivaled some of the many crab cakes I’ve eaten in while too! The lump crab meat was not only abundant but ridiculously juicy. Additionally, I loved the textures within the cake from the corn, peppers, and spices.  The patty was simply seared and sported its meat under no coating whatsoever. It was as if the chef knew this meat was good enough to take center stage. And if the plate was its stage, the foam circling the cake was a great participant as well. The dish, as a whole, was eclectic in design, fresh with ingredients, and delicious in deliverance.
Crab Cake Appetizer
            And so to get back on track here, let’s end with dessert. After being almost filled with the night’s eats, we somehow made room for sweets! The Strawberry Shortcake ($8.95) was just the thing we needed to end our visit to Char. The clouds of mascarpone filling paired rightly so with the large hunks of fresh berries and sugary crust of the biscuit. Our forks seemed to be at war while trying to enjoy our last course. Fortunately, as he always does, Hubby let me have the last bite. But for the record, I hope it’s not really the last bite as I’m already salivating to go back.
Strawberry Shortcake

Char is located at 777 Route 202 South, Raritan, NJ 08869. They will be opening a new location in late August in Red Bank, NJ. Check their website,, for more information including hours, private parties and special menus.

Total score 23/25
Final Grade: A
A: 21-25    B: 16-20    C: 11-15   D: 6-10    F: 0-5
Restaurant Rubric

Food Taste
Bland, boring, overcooked, underdone
Very little flavor, not much aroma
Flavors apparent, basic ability to please palates
Flavor worth discussing, chef’s use of ingredients impressive
Great flavor, taste lingers and leaves diner wanting more
Restaurant service
Inattentive staff, no regard for wait time
Staff average in helpfulness, timing alright, either more/less needed
Staff knowledgeable and attentive to needs without asking, timing very well executed
Remarkable and noteworthy, service so good you forget it is ever an issue elsewhere
Food Presentation
Cover it up please
Sloppy and the eater can tell little thought went into it
Descent presentation: looks alright, not worth a picture but enough to make you hungry
Admirable, it is apparent the chef plated with a consideration for presentation
Presentational talents are here. Looks beautiful and too good to dig in
Prices match quality
Prices are too high for quality
Prices are still too high but not outrageously
Some items are priced accordingly but not all
Most items are priced accordingly
All items are matched accordingly
Would I go back?
Not a chance ever
Looking forward to it
What time should I arrive?!?

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