By Kira Moriarty
New menu at Salt Creek Grille a six-month project
Changing a menu is never an easy task for any restaurant. But for a large, high-volume restaurant like Salt Creek Grille, Rumson, the recent, major revisions to its menu represent a monumental undertaking months in the making.
The popular eatery at the foot of the picturesque and historic Oceanic Bridge recently rolled out its reinvented menu, which features fresh, lighter fare, an emphasis on local farms and products, and new, bold flavors.
For guests, the arrival of the new menu may have seemed like an overnight event. But the introduction actually required nearly six months of planning, rigorous testing and extensive tasting by a team of restaurant veterans that included a leading consulting chef. His mission was to create a menu that, while staying true to Salt Creek Grille’s grill concept, reinvented it to reflect a fresher approach using natural beef, chicken and local produce and products. Once it met the approval of the owners and the company chef, the menu was introduced to each of the site’s executive chefs, managers and servers for feedback.
Finally, it was rolled out at each of the restaurants.
The Rumson site is one of five Salt Creek Grille restaurants: three in California – Dana Point, El Segundo and Valencia – and two in New Jersey – Rumson and Princeton. Each features classic Craftsman architecture, outdoor fireplaces, an extensive wine list and a menu built around an authentic mesquite wood grill. Both the Rumson and Princeton sites seat approximately 250 guests in a main dining room, bar/lounge, and provide a private dining room.
“Our guests are loving the changes,” said East Coast Operating Partner Steve “Biddy” Bidgood. “There are always some fans who want everything to stay exactly the same, but we are known for staying ahead of the curve by providing high-quality fresh products at affordable prices in a happening, comfortable atmosphere. To remain competitive and to provide our guests with a great dining experience, we have to change it up.”
The reinvented menu represents the biggest change the popular waterfront grill has implemented since opening its first two locations – in Dana Point in 1997 and Rumson in 1998.
“This was a process of lightening up our menu without betraying our legacy as a grill with great steaks and pork chops,” said Tim McCune, who co-owns the popular eatery with veteran restaurateur Pete Truxaw.
“Our chefs are culinary wizards. When they developed this menu, it was all about balancing out the flavors. We still have the ribs and classic pork chops that people know us for, but this is the most significant change to our menu in 16 years.”
The new menu is the creation of consultant Chef Brian Black, formerly of the famed St. Regis Monarch Beach and the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, along with Salt Creek Grille Co. Chef Scott Green. Rumson’s Executive Chef Bob Belt and Princeton’s Fabio Quiros both traveled to California to work with Chefs Black and Green to gain a full understanding of the ingredients, execution, flavor profiles and presentations. The chefs convene annually either in California or New Jersey to ensure quality and consistency. Comprehensive training of its staff is one of the key components of the Salt Creek Grille restaurants and has helped the sites earn numerous awards for food, service and atmosphere.
“We love the menu,” Belt said. “It’s ambitious and definitely offers challenges to my staff.
“But, it also infuses us with a new perspective, something different, exciting and puts us in touch with our food sources. That’s something that chefs always aspire to.”
The new, reinvented interpretations intentionally utilize a variety of cooking methods and foods that are healthier for both guests and the environment. For example, the sauces now rely less on cream and butter and more on a time-consuming, yet healthier reduction processes. “Super foods” such as kale and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa are now featured on the menu. The beef is all-natural and sourced from Creek Stone Farms and the chicken, which is organic and raised without antibiotics, is from Bell and Evans. Both of these sources adhere to sustainable farming practices.
The new menu reflects the best of contemporary casual and traditional cuisine at affordable prices combining new specialties with classic Grille favorites. Guests will find wood-fired, Smoked Ahi Tuna with Citrus, Shaved Celery, Red Grapes and Sherry Vinaigrette on Baby Greens ($14.95); Teriyaki Burger, using all natural beef with Teriyaki Sauce, Bacon, Roasted Red Peppers, Hot Mustard and Herb Salad ($14.95); Rock Shrimp Risotto with Corn and Basil ($15.95); Citrus Glazed Swordfish, Baby Tomatoes, Citrus Segments and Avocado Mousse ($24.95); Porterhouse Fusilli with Sliced All-Natural Filet and New York Steak, Seasonal Vegetables Over Locally Sourced Lucy’s Hand-rolled Pasta ($23.95); Coffee Encrusted New York Steak with Baby Arugula, locally sourced Great Hill Blue Cheese, Oven-Roasted Potatoes and Bourbon Caramel ($28.95); Grilled Vegetable Wrap with Baby Wild Arugula, Portobello Mushrooms, Heirloom Tomatoes, locally sourced Bijou Buttons Goat Cheese, Hummus with Sweet Potato Fries ( $12.95).
The menu includes an extensive wine list and an array of palate-pleasing seafood, chops, creative salads, classic side dishes and delectable house-made desserts. Several Salt Creek Grille signature dishes remain, such as the Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Shrimp and Grille’s signature double-cut pork chop and the made-to-order chocolate ganache soufflé.
The Salt Creek Grille partners are also known for their philanthropic endeavors. They have spent years supporting and hosting events to benefit local charities. The Rumson site has held an annual fundraiser event for the past nine years with 100 percent of the profits going to nine charities. To date, more than $560,000 has been raised for nine local charities serving children’s needs. Big Brothers Big Sisters will be the restaurant’s 2013 charity. That is also the Rumson location’s 15th anniversary.
Reinventing the popular Salt Creek Grille’s menu with a more local, farm-to-table fresh focus was an expensive, labor-intensive undertaking that the owners, chefs – and now guests – all agree was definitely worth it.