It doesn’t take a seasoned foodie to see that the restaurant scenes in New York and New Jersey are thriving. But what’s lost among food movements like poke bowls and purple yams is the idea of dining as an experience—one that’s devoid of catching the latest trends and more focused on bringing people together for unique encounters like fine dining and private events inside a first-class wine cellar.
At Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, NJ, the property’s Executive Chef Anthony Bucco has been working hard for the past two years to refine a unique culinary experience: dining as a destination. Crystal Springs Resort at its essence is a scenic getaway for those who want to play some golf, ski or just blow off some steam, but the resort offers so much more than just the culmination of these activities. Thanks to Bucco and his team, you can add dining to the list of reasons to visit.
“There’s not a lot of places like Crystal Springs in our state, yes there are hotels, and there are some other places to experience fine dining, but what we can bring here is such a unique product for the New Jersey market,” Bucco told me during my latest visit. “For us, it’s about continuing the uniqueness of who we are and what we do in New Jersey. A lot of it is dictated by where we’re doing business because this is such a unique place.”
At Restaurant Latour, the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Chef de Latour Martyna Krowicka says that the average guest sees about seven plates. But it’s not just the courses, fine dining at Latour means pulling out all the stops such as wine pairings, frequent silverware changes and service that leaves one astonished—lengthy (and welcomed) experiences that don’t happen everyday in New Jersey.
“We’re trying to recapture that element where, dining is theater. It’s a night out. You can get in and out in 40 minutes at the [Crystal Tavern], but Latour is an experience. We have a six figure wine list, and with that, we’ve positioned ourselves as a destination restaurant. You should have high expectations. We want you to be respected as a guest and know you’re being taken care of,” Bucco explained.
But when it comes to food at Latour, the chefs aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but rather make the best wheel possible, and that means sourcing the best ingredients possible. For Bucco and his team, it’s all about being a good neighbor. “I’ve got a farmer that has about 80 acres six miles from here. When you’re in the middle of SoHo there’s no farms, maybe you’ve got an herb planter outside your kitchen window … here it’s almost taken for granted because there’s so much to work with,” Bucco said. “Our contribution to the culinary scene is our ability to support the small farmer in the area and show tremendous respect for those ingredients … give them the proper showcase.” Bucco, Krowicka and their team are focused on cultivating and foraging, ingredients that help to tell the story of an area, and this really comes out when you sit down at Latour and go through each seasonal course. It’s not uncommon to find options like muscovy duck or venison on the menu, but overall, the dishes fall into categories such as harvest, aquatic, grazing, cheese and dessert—whether you choose five courses or the chef’s tasting menu (seven courses).
While Latour is certainly their apex, there’s more options at Crystal Springs Resort than just fine dining. The philosophies and ingredients extend to all of their dining options housed in and around the Grand Cascades Lodge, particularly the Chef’s Garden and Crystal Tavern which are culinary stages in their own right. Their overarching goal is to make sure that they’re reflecting the area in the way that they are presenting and cooking the food, getting their inspiration from local farmers and what’s going on in the woods each season.
“We’re not doing something that no one else has ever done,” Bucco said. “Our approach is to be respectful of the area, use the finest ingredients we can source. That carrot better be really good, it better be perfectly juiced and it better be fresh. That cucumber slice better come from the garden and if it’s 87 degrees outside, the cucumber should be 87 degrees until it hits the cocktail and comes down to residual temperature.” With most of the ‘back of house’ at Crystal Springs Resort being linked by elevators, Bucco and his team can easily move pieces around, and operate under a single synergistic mentality. This makes playing to their personnel strengths that much easier—and a shared, on-property chef’s garden further benefits those players in each of their respective kitchens.
While the resort is certainly a destination for eating, the property’s wine cellar is comprised of some of the best vintages in the world, and is a reason in and of itself to take the 55-minute ride from Manhattan. Beneath Latour sits an extensive wine cellar of over 75,000 bottles, headed by Wine Director Robby Younes and Sommelier Susanne Lerescu, who came to Crystal Springs Resort 14 years ago. A tour of the cellar is also an experience, one that showcases nine wine rooms and a Château Latour that dates back as far as 1863 (currently listed at $57,000). The collection, started 55 years ago by original Crystal Springs Resort founder Gene Mulvihill as a personal hobby, is said to be worth upwards of $15 million and is known globally. The cellar also features private rooms for dinner parties which Lerescu leads by providing suggestions for pairings.
All of these culinary elements mesh together to make Crystal Springs Resort a true culinary destination, but what really keeps things exciting for the property are their events. Most are familiar with the New Jersey Wine & Food Festival at the resort (which runs from March 31st to April 2nd this year), an event that brings together some of the area’s best chefs and wines. In addition to the festival, there are many other food and/or beverage events happening, and this includes the resort’s ability to bring in major brands. After experiencing the resort’s dining options, and an intimate scotch tasting with Glenfiddich which was paired with meals made by Chef Bucco himself, it’s safe to say that Crystal Springs Resort will continue to be a major player in destination dining in the state for New Jersey. www.crystalgolfresort.com