With the sad passing of Jim Hamilton, we lost a legendary man. Jim was admired and respected, both for what he created and for all he contributed to our area. Many local chefs started in Jim’s kitchen or under his tutelage, going on to make names for themselves – carrying on our region’s foodie tradition by propagating Jim’s legacy. Not to mention his famous daughters, Gabrielle and Melissa, each known globally for their culinary contributions.
Many worried about what would happen to Hamilton’s Grill Room without Jim’s presence. But that fear turned to excitement when we heard that Jim had passed the baton to Chef Brian Held (of Brian’s restaurant and Bistro Rouget).
If you read my post about Brian’s, you know how much I respect Chef Held. In a region with hundreds of restaurants, Chef Held’s restaurants consistently rank among the best. But can he do it again at Hamilton’s?
For those of you who haven’t been to Hamilton’s, it is truly a “hidden gem”, located down a tiny alley across the street from the famous Finkles Hardware store. You’ll notice a sign that says “the Porkyard” with the only hint of Hamilton’s being the tiny crosshatch logo of Hamilton’s affixed to the brick wall.
Strolling down the alley, you’ll come to The Boat House on your right and Hamilton’s on the left. Many stop in at the funky-chic Boat House for drinks before dinner. I should do a post on the Boat House as it’s worthy of its own “hidden gem” award!
When you enter Hamilton’s, you’re transported to another era. Each room has its own theme. My favorite is the front “Garden room”, adorned with tiny lights and sticks on the ceiling. Words don’t do it justice. It makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy-tale wonderland. This is pure “Jim” who was a set designer of some repute. His hand is seen in every room. During the warm weather, you can eat al fresco on their lovely patio.
We started our meal with a lovely tuna tartare, accompanied by ruby grapefruit, greens and house potato chips. Flavors were bright and complex, with fresh tuna and a sauce that reminded me of its Japanese origins.
Our second starter was a deconstructed salad (pictured at the top of this post), called “Vegetable Antipasto.” The mixture of flavors presented was truly delicious, preparing us for the great entrees that were to follow. Chef Held’s culinary chops were definitely showing. I’d love to see what he would do with a Caesar Salad… (hint, hint)
We moved straight from the appetizers to our entrees – the “Spit-roasted duck breast” and the “Barnegat Sea Scallops.”
The Duck and accompanying crepe were delicious. Flavorful and juicy with light jus. If you like duck (and I do) you’re in for a treat.
This brings me to the scallops. Described on the menu as: “Barnegat sea scallops w/porcini broth, wild mushrooms, and mascarpone ravioli.” As soon as I saw it on the menu, I KNEW what I was ordering for dinner. Good scallops are hard to come by. Great scallop dishes are rare, indeed.
From my first taste, I was utterly sold. This was, by a good measure, the best scallop dish I’ve ever eaten. It immediately earned a place among the top entrees I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. Seriously, if I had to choose a “last meal,” this would be it!
The scallops were beautifully caramelized (see Chef Held’s secrets, below) and perfectly cooked inside. They were fresh, sweet and delicious. That itself is good, and coupled with the flavors of the porcini broth, wild mushrooms and hand-made pasta ravioli, I was utterly blown away. I savored every bite and couldn’t stop remarking just how delicious it was! I’m afraid my grunting and moaning may have disturbed diners at nearby tables…
Unfortunately, the meal came to an end too soon, leaving me anxious to return to try more of Chef Held’s creations. But it’s going to be difficult to order anything other than the scallops. Hopefully my dining companions will share so I can work my way through the menu while enjoying the scallops again and again!
Based on my first meal at Hamilton’s under Chef Held’s leadership, I know somewhere, Jim Hamilton is smiling, seeing his legacy carried on in loving hands.
Bucks County Taste – A Conversation with a Chef: Brian Held
Stockton Market – Brian shares his secrets for perfect caramelized sea scallops
New York Times – A Review of Brian’s in Lambertville