We are big fans of chef Ariane Duarte and were so excited when we heard news of her opening a new type of place after years of success at CulinAriane. We rushed to Ariane Kitchen and Bar a couple of days after they opened, enjoyed cocktails, some wine and small plates at the bar. AKB is everything we hoped for!
The Wine: Three from an exceptional wine by the glass list.
The Food: Delightful small plates and one badass burger
The Place: The new and exciting Ariane Kitchen and Bar – AKB – in Verona, NJ.
The bar is bright and very well stocked, great brands of hard liquor, an exceptionally well chosen list of wines by the glass, and good beers on tap. We are also looking forward to tasting AKB's specialty cocktails on our coming visits.
Of course there is the obligatory LCD TV which we try and avoid but we were happy that it was tuned to the Turner Classic Movie Channel not ESPN.
At AKB you can enjoy snacks and a drink, or some small plates, or a full dinner if you choose.
I love deviled eggs and was anxious to try Ariane’s take on them. These were delicious, savory, creamy and spiced just right.
AKB is divide into two rooms, the bar room that includes the bar of course, communal high top tables, and a lounge like area in the back, a very inviting setting. Off to the east is a formal dining room, if that is your pleasure, perhaps a little calmer. Reservations appear to be required for the dining room. We prefer the bar or one of the high tables where the action is.
The place is beautifully done with bright yet not intrusive lighting and a hip comfortable ambiance. Folks who knew the former tenant O’Neill’s Restaurant and Pub will be hard pressed to believe this is the same space.
Back to the important part, the food and wine. We finished our cocktails and went on to wine. Paired a Mas de Daumas Gassac Estate Languedoc Grenache Blanc with the exquisite Sashimi Tuna Flower, with wonton crisps, wasabi crème fraiche, pickled cucumbers. It was as beautiful to gaze upon as it was to eat.
The tuna indescribably fresh and flavorful with the just the right accompaniments.
Also had some of the delicious Forest Mushroom Ragout with cheesy grits and rosemary oil. A fantastic dish but it was not all that photogenic so no pic.
As we prepared for a taste of AKB Burger, we had our bartender pour two red wines. These were a delightful Primitivo from an up and coming wine maker in Southern Italy called Ginuzzo and a satisfying Malbec Reserve from award winning Bodega Tamari of Mendoza Argentina. Both very food friendly wines that would pair nicely with many AKB dishes.
This is one serious burger that takes it’s name from two “AKBs”, Ariane Kitchen and Bar and the scrumptious American Kobe Beef, that it is made with. In a wonderfully tasty role the AKB Burger is adorned with fried green tomato, pickled shallots, cheddar, harissa aioli.
It is bursting with flavors, subtle, delicate and bold. Served with some of the best fries you have ever tasted, crispy on the outside mashed potato smooth on the inside, and curious sweet tart pickles.
There are many special touches here, like the way they pour the wine out of little carafes and serve finishing salt in a little bowl.
But if you know Ariane and Michael Duarte you would expect nothing less.
On the third night since opening AKB was beginning to run like a well oiled machine, a state many new restaurants take months to achieve.
One critique, which would only come from a cocktail fanatic like me, the bartenders, while as friendly and pleasantly outgoing as they were, need to get themselves a copy Jerry Thomas's "The Bartenders Guide" and study it. While we enjoyed our two drinks I had to instruct our bartender on how to make them. I am sure they make the AKB Specialty Cocktails just fine, but you have got to know your basics as well.
Many will miss CulinAriane in Montclair, with its exquisite white table cloth excellence, but Ariane’s love of her customers inspired her to open a place that would delight a broader patronage. Here you can have a beer and snack for under $15 or lavish yourself with exotic cocktails, expensive wine, and fabulous multi-course meal. The choice is yours.
Ariane told us that while she loved the popularity of CulinAriane it had become just a special occaision restaurant for many, she wanted a place where you can be happy to dine at every week. She and Micheal have succeeded in doing just that.
706 Bloomfield Ave
Verona, NJ 07044