The modern dining room felt warm and inviting as I was led through the restaurant by the waitress. Christmas lights and contemporary art on the wall followed me to my seat. As I got settled, I peered over the counter, decorated with cookbooks and seasonal fruits, and into the kitchen. I felt like I was back home in my grandma’s kitchen.
Turtle + The Wolf is a small American bistro style restaurant located in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. It’s the perfect spot to take someone out on a first date or to grab a quick meal with friends.
The name comes from the two clan symbols of the Lenape Indians that originally lived in the Montclair area. The owner thought this would be a cool way to give the restaurant some historical context.
Weekends are normally crowded so it is best to make a reservation ahead of time. They offer patio seating and eight countertop seats for walk-in guests.
Lauren Hirschberg, the owner and chef of the eatery, has had years of experience in the food industry from his previous employment with Craft located in Manhattan.
The menu offers a variety of American bistro-styled dishes with a creative flare carefully developed by Hirschberg. Many of their ingredients come from local farms around New Jersey. Their menu changes occasionally depending on the ingredients available, all while keeping the bones of the menu intact.
“We try to work with people and farmers who are doing things the right way and try to make most of our stuff in house,” Hirschberg said. “We even buy our burrata year-round at the farmers market.”
The dishes at Turtle + The Wolf range from shaved fennel salad to shucked oysters and Spanish octopus terrine. If you’re not sure what something is, just ask one of the servers nearby, they are very helpful.
Most of the entrees are averagely priced, but some are more on the expensive side. However, I think the money spent is totally worth it, especially since the chefs cook everything with high quality ingredients shipped locally to the restaurant.
“We also offer family style meals designed for six or more people,” Hirschberg said. “We accidentally became known for our fried chicken. It’s super popular. People know you have to call ahead and plan for that.”
I ended up ordering the beef brisket tartare with crostini. I knew I liked beef brisket but I never had tartare before so I figured I’d try something new. I’m so glad I did.
The crunchy crostini bread coupled with the soft smoked brisket meat created a balanced texture. The meat tasted fresh with a good blend of spices. The egg yolk and black garlic aioli formed a perfect pairing on top of the brisket.
When my meal arrived I was surprised at first because I was expecting something a little larger, since the tartare barely covered half of the plate. However, at the end I was actually stuffed and could not think about eating anything else.
Actually, that’s a lie. I got dessert too.
The dessert menu is simple with just three options to choose from so I chose the powdered donuts with blueberry glaze. After my delicious entree, I had high expectations and the donuts did not disappoint. They were light, airy and sweet combined with the blueberry glaze drizzled on top.
I’ll definitely be making another visit here very soon to try more of their unique dishes. If you’re an adventurous eater and like trying new things, check out Turtle + The Wolf. You won’t be disappointed.