Dan’s on Main

Undergoing transition, this Metuchen restaurant with an ‘Italian slant’ shows the beginnings of what promises to be a fine-dining establishment.

By:Antoinette Buckley

Dan’s on Main

426 Main St.


(732) 549-6464


Food: Good

Service: Good

Prices: Moderate

Cuisine: Continental with a Northern Italian emphasis

Vegetarian Options: Chef Jimmy Trabelsi will accommodate vegetarians and vegans

Ambience: Comfortable

Hours: Lunch: Tues.-Fri. noon-2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues.-Sat. 5-10 p.m.; Brunch: Sun. 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Essentials: Major credit cards accepted; wheelchair accessible; BYO; no smoking; reservations suggested.


   There seems to be a little confusion as to what type of food is served at Dan’s on Main in the heart of Metuchen. In separate conversations with owners and members of staff, I was told, "American continental," "trendy" and "continental with an Italian slant."
   The restaurant’s Web site refers to it as "European" and then again as "American bistro."
   So what’s the story here?
   Dan’s has been around for eight years, serving a continental menu. About three months ago, the restaurant changed ownership. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the new owners are using the old continental menu as a springboard to launch their own style that incorporates a Northern Italian emphasis. Therefore, "continental with an Italian slant" seems most fitting.
   While management is still figuring things out, you can expect a good, solid meal without being blown away. Given the upscale prices, I expected more out of the food… more charm, more intricacy, more drama. The menu weaves the traditional and somewhat outdated standbys with contemporary brainstorms. Ditto for the dining room’s décor.
   Colored in a contemporary, warm rusty red with exposed beams and a green tray ceiling, the embracing feeling is lost when your eye catches the busy floral carpet from days of old and a big floral centerpiece in the middle of the room that is indiscreetly fake. Bright lighting, despite candles on the table that could have been lit, breaks any creation of a mood.
   The appetizer section of the menu highlights cured meats and run-of-the-mill starters like "baby squid, lightly floured and fried, served with marinara and saffron aioli" ($8.75). From the genteel description, we hoped for something with a bit more style than the standard fried calamari, but that is precisely what comes.
   The Web site seems to mention a number of items to choose from that are not on the actual menu I was shown at the restaurant. Where was the prawn with asparagus ($9) appetizer that evening? And how about the grilled octopus salad that was featured exclusively under the Christmas Eve Web site menu? Now, that’s more like it. I might have even taken the chance on a bizarre concoction of avocado, grapefruit and tomato in black truffle vinaigrette, although it would have been solely for the challenge.
   As starters of fried calamari go, however, this one is nicely done. Crispy with a traceless amount of oil, this big portion shies away from elegance, as sharing is a must. Cured beef bresaola ($8) is thinly sliced like prosciutto. Multiple slices are arranged in a circular pattern, covering the plate. A sprinkle of shaved Reggiano, a refreshing touch of slivered celery and arugula chiffonade in the center combine to form the very best complement to the salt-driven and abundant bresaola.
   The surf and turf risotto ($21.50) incorporates lobster with porcini mushrooms. This ambitious rendition relies heavily on the fabulous mushroom sauté that is nestled in the center of the risotto mound. The mushrooms cannot work magic on their own, however. The risotto itself must be delectable in taste and texture and this one needs improvement in both.
   Under the entrée category, I was attracted to a delightfully described plate of crispy Long Island duck breast with butternut squash and Asian pear puree, spinach and a ginger-cranberry sauce ($22.50). Instead, I ordered the sautéed sea scallops meunière ($22.75) since they came highly recommended by a knowledgeable server. Indeed the carmel-colored skin of the scallops is a testament to the tender flesh within. But it is the onion tart that truly makes this dish, with its lovely pastry foundation and savory onion and tomato spread, layered with zucchini. Bean sprouts and bright green snow peas add freshness. The citrus-flavored butter sauce indicative of a meunière has body, but fails to synchronize with the rest of the dish.
   Roasted filet mignon ($24) is thicker than it should be and cuts more like meat than butter. A medium-rare cook time inevitably yields a center that is too rare. The accompanying mashed potatoes are pleasant as is the garlic flavored sautéed spinach, and the peripheral green beans and carrots are excellent in color, texture and taste.
   Desserts follow a similar hit-or-miss pattern. The pumpkin bread pudding ($6.50) beautifully releases the warming flavors of cinnamon, caramel and sweet pumpkin, but the apple-pear tart ($6.50) could stand to be a bit more irresistible. The flaky crust is wonderful as it is in the onion tart served alongside the scallops, but the topping seems to be little more than finely sliced apples and pears with a dusting of sugar and cinnamon.
   We had two servers on the evening of our visit. One connected with us immediately as she was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the restaurant and its food. The other lacked all those extra touches, but the service part of the role was handled without a hitch with both servers.
   Management intends to change the name of the restaurant sometime soon, an indication that this is still a work in progress. For now, moments of excellence in the food lead me to believe that Dan’s has potential.
Editor’s Note: Owners Fern and Jimmy Trabelsi plan to change the name in spring and reinvigorate the décor.