In spite of all of the chic restaurants and haute hangouts we take for granted in Greenwich, we’ve been lacking one thing: an over-the-top fabulous place to sit outside and eat. Yes, there are a few restaurant patios and sidewalk cafés—fine if you don’t mind street-side dining—but none that even come close to the open-air scene at the new J House boutique hotel in Riverside. With its LA-meets-South Beach sensibility, the expansive outdoor dining and bar area boasts sleek sofas for lounging, a huge bar adjacent to a glass-enclosed fireplace and a system of trellises and heaters that make the whole area enjoyable even when the weather’s not cooperating. Spend an alfresco hour or two here, sipping a rare vintage from the 2,000-bottle wine cellar, and you’ll feel transported to a vacation destination miles from home and light years from the HoJos that once occupied this spot.
Outdoor seating area of eleven14Kitchen is the perfect spot for warm summer nights
The scene inside sizzles too. A contemporary and art-filled space created by D-Ash Design, J House houses eighty-six modern hotel rooms, the Chocolate Lab (a sweets shop and café serving homemade gelatos, chocolate truffles, espresso and made-to-order coffee drinks), several event rooms as well as the main dining room and bar for eleven14 Kitchen. We peeked into a few of the hotel rooms, courtesy of a tour by general manager John Sheedy, and the glimpse I got of the iPad-controlled rooms, fifty-five-inch flatscreens that double as mirrors, Frette linens and cool patios was enough to prompt me to reconsider the staycation.
Back downstairs in the eleven14 dining room, attention to stylish details continues and puts the food-prep on display with a wood-fired open hearth and a glass-fronted pastry kitchen. Comfortable seating includes numerous leather banquettes and smaller tables, with chairbacks covered in cableknit sweaters; in the center of the room, a giant branch chandelier acts as a focal point. In the midst of all this eye candy, how can the food possibly compete? Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo, formerly of Spago, ensures seasonal American cuisine as creative as its surroundings.
“We don’t call ourselves farm-to-table because we think everyone should be farm-to-table,” explains Sheedy. From the roasted local beets to the rhubarb cobbler, the menu reflects this regard for the freshest produce. Among the starter salads, an Artichoke and Avocado salad with lime vinaigrette and Parmesan shavings delivered crunch and earthy flavors, while the Red Endive and Blue Cheese salad blended salt, tart and sweet, with big pieces of apricot and fresh pear on the plate. Signature small plates include the Spicy Prime Beef Tartare with Quail Egg (I liked the sauce but not the chunky texture), but I preferred the Tuna Carpaccio with Soy Ginger Vinaigrette, laced with chives and avocado, and also the Homemade Spicy Lamb Sausage—love the smokiness and the German-style potatoes on the side.
Red Endive and Blue Cheese Salad; Artichoke Risotto
I don’t often order pork chops when I’m out, but the chef’s version served with a superb fennel-rhubarb chutney, spinach and onion rings was another smoky standout. A well-prepared Roasted Black Bass entrée with crispy skin was elevated by its pairing with a tomato and sea bean salad with hints of citrus. Why opt for chicken at a restaurant when you eat it so often at home? This Roasted Half Chicken is incredibly tender and juicy and plated with fingerling potatoes, though meat lovers may gravitate toward the Grilled Bone-in Rib Eye with Bone Marrow.
Sweets are definitely not an afterthought here; in fact, next time, I might stick to appetizers to leave more room for these special pastries. The congenial chef himself brought us a ricotta cheesecake that I’m still dreaming about: extremely light with a crispy sugar coating and on a plate covered with strawberries and blueberries. Equally swoonworthy is the Fresh, Fresh Strawberry Cake with a creamy filling, big slices of strawberry and a scribble of chocolate sauce. Fruit lovers also can’t go wrong with the gingery Peach and Rhubarb Cobbler served in a cast-iron skillet or the Madelines made with olive oil, mandarin and fennel and served with a fruit salad. For the ultimate indulgence in chocolate—sourced from Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa, where the chef was raised on his grandmother’s cocoa farm—try the chocolate cake, with a layer of mousse and peanuts on the side and brittle, chocolate wafer and gold leaf on top.
Fresh, Fresh Strawberry Cake; Chocolate Cake
As we were leaving the restaurant that night, I was quietly humming the last song I heard in the dining room. Stuck in my head was the Ella Fitzgerald version of “Cheek to Cheek,” “Heaven, I’m in Heaven…when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek.” I passed the projected art in the lobby, stepped outside and into my valet-fetched car, feeling a bit disoriented. Yes, we’re still in Riverside and we didn’t go dancing. But having a night on the town at such a luxurious spot only a mile from home, now that’s heavenly.
eleven14 Kitchen at J House
1114 East Putnam Ave. Riverside
Cuisine: Seasonal American
Breakfast: 7–11 a.m. Mon. to Fri.
7:30– 11 a.m. Sat. and Sun.
Lunch: 11 a.m.–5 p.m. daily
Dinner: 5–10:30 p.m. Sun.–Thurs.
5–11:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.