The Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn dates back to 1937, and is rich in history. It has been patronized by both town and gown over the decades, but its apparent relationship with Princeton University is evident based on the photos of famous grads on the wall. The recent addition of First Lady Michelle Obama’s photo joins Brooke Shields as the only two females hanging in a sea of famous faces.
The rustic tap room has booths along the walls with oak tables that have names and initials carved into them, which is a reminder of the 19th century traditions of the university. On my recent visit I sat at the booth where Einstein carved his name. Even as a resident, it never gets old for me. I love the history here, and this restaurant is a great place to be surrounded by things like the original Norman Rockwell mural behind the bar given to the tap room by the artist.
The Yankee Doodle Tap Room was included on New Jersey Monthly’s list of “The Top Tap Rooms: Great Jersey Bars for Beer Connoisseurs”. That’s probably due largely to the 19 craft beers on tap, and they’ll be adding more kegerators to boost that number to 22!
I was invited to sample the new spring menu, which hasn’t been listed yet. As we sat waiting for the first dish to arrive, I was told that the executive chef, Michael LaCorte, had recently returned. CIA grad LeCorte worked at a few restaurants, including The River Cafe with celebrity chef David Burke before working at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room. He left to start the (now 4-star) restaurant Verve in Somerville with a friend, and is now back to share his skills once again with the Princeton crowd. Not only do we get a new menu for spring, but also a “new” chef.
Five dishes were brought to the table, one at a time. The New American cuisine featured wonderful colors, varying textures, comforting and classic flavors, and were beautifully plated. Despite the cozy atmosphere, make no mistake, they offer fine dining.
First up was a crab cake over apple slaw. This will be listed under small plates. After the first bite I knew I was in for a treat the remainder of the sampling. There was no heavy filler. This was mostly crab held together by a golden crust. The seasoning didn’t overwhelm the flavor of the crab. I enjoyed the soft center and crunchy exterior paired with the crisp and slightly tart slaw that cut the richness of the crab cake. One of the best I’ve eaten!
Next, a spring mix salad including arugula was served. There were fried medallions of goat cheese, slices of strawberries, and a sprinkling of sliced almonds on the salad, and a drizzle of a balsamic reduction. It was delicious! The combination of sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy, warm and cool, and the peppery undertones of the arugula were balanced nicely by the strawberries. I was told that shrimp, chicken, or hangar steak can be added to this salad.
I LOVE mushrooms, so I couldn’t wait to dig in when I saw the wild mushroom risotto. It was perfectly creamy and the risotto was cooked through (one of my pet peeves). There was a touch of white wine in the dish, and it was topped with shavings of Reggiano Parmigiano, plus there was a drizzle of demi glace. It was heavenly, and I’ll announce it as my favorite. The risotto will be under starters.
Then came a cracked peppercorn crusted pan seared salmon filet on top of green beans, topped with a tarragon sauce, with orange segments and a side of basmati rice with chick peas. The salmon was perfectly cooked. It was moist and buttery accented by the tarragon. The orange segments added the necessary brightness to balance the rich fish and sauce, and the crunch of the green beans was a nice contrast. The rice and chick peas were a good accompaniment to this entrée.
Last but not least were the pan seared sea scallops served with sautéed baby spinach, a tomato marmalade, and basmati rice with chick peas. The scallops had a nice golden crust (but could’ve been just a tad bit crisper for me), and were perfectly moist inside. The flavor was pure and delicious. The tomato marmalade provided a good acidity against the scallops. This is also under entrées.
Perhaps I’m a little biased because this dishes are amongst my favorites, but then again, I might also be more critical because of this. No matter how you look at it, I thought these would be fantastic additions to the Yankee Doodle Tap Room spring menu. It’s a pity they’re tucked inside the Nassau Inn, because they’d get more exposure if it would have a street entrance like the other restaurants in town. I think this will be a restaurant to watch with Chef LeCorte being back, especially since I hear he’s working on a killer burger.