The Star-Ledger

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Enticing Jersey City bistro draws inspiration from European cuisines
By Peter Genovese/The Star-Ledger

Satis Bistro in Paulus Hook, Jersey City

When the real estate bubble seemed about to burst several years ago, Michael Garcia knew it was time to make an investment — and career — move.

“We wanted to diversify,” he said. “We found the restaurant business rewarding, almost recession-proof.”

Tell that to restaurant owners forced to close up shop in recent years. But Garcia and partner Geza Gulas seem to have found a niche with Satis, a bistro/cafe in Jersey City’s Paulus Hook neighborhood. The two are no strangers to JC; they also own Lucky 7 Tavern.

“We opened something we wanted and we liked,” Garcia said of Satis, Latin for “enough.” “Nice delicious fresh food, imported meats and fine bread. European cuisine, but not just French or Italian. We wanted to do a mix — Italian and Spanish favorites, put a casual, homestyle twist on them.”

It’s a handsome space with hardwood floors, brick walls, seriously high ceilings and abundant light. An earthy, meaty Old World aroma wafts from the salumeria, where you can get jamón serrano (Spanish cured ham); speck (dry-cured smoke ham) and finocchiono salume (Tuscan-style cured meat seasoned with fennel).

Prices may seem high, but you know the old saying: you get what you pay for. Take the Satis burger ($11), eight ounces of Angus beef, perfectly cooked, with shallot marmalade, Boston lettuce and roasted garlic aioli. What does it have over that $6 burger at your neighborhood sports bar? You mean, besides better taste?

The braised short rib with chorizo and goat cheese mashed potatoes ($20) features terrifically tender meat and a perky sauce you’ll want to dip bread, or a spoon, or your fingers into.

The housemade ricotta gnocchi with escarole, white beans and roasted garlic ($18) bear no resemblance to any gnocchi I know — they’re more like square ravioli — but the creamy sauce makes for a pleasing pasta.

The grilled spicy lamb merguez sausage, with saffron rice, tzatziki, sweet tomato and red onion chutney on a grilled pita ($17) is less successful; the lamb is on the greasy side. And the salad with Boston lettuce wedge, shredded pork belly and apple and celery root slaw ($14) is drenched in a too-tame house-made gorgonzola buttermilk dressing.

Other entrees include mariscada (grilled lobster tail, mussels, clams, calamari and rock shrimp stewed in white wine, garlic and tomato broth, $34); filet mignon (sherry-glazed 10-ounce Angus filet with celery root, creamed spinach and crispy shallots, $29); and farmer’s market paella (saffron bomba rice, local farmer’s market vegetables, sweet baby tomato and Castelvetrano olives, $22).

The sandwiches — all with high-end ingredients and a swirl of seasonings, spices and dressings — are uniformly excellent. The house-roasted all-natural turkey breast comes with brie and a sweet little apricot mustard ($8). The Tuscan BLT with crisp pancetta, arugula, heirloom tomato, roasted garlic aioli and potato onion levain ($7.50).

I found myself picking off the pancetta — Italian bacon — one by one. Then I remembered my promise to bring food back to the office. Whereupon I picked off some more.

Other super sandwiches: the grilled chicken paillard with piquillo pepper and red wine goat cheese on toasted, tasty, multigrain bread ($7.50) and the grilled beef tenderloin with crispy shallots, horseradish mayonnaise and watercress ($9).

Dessert? De-lish. The German chocolate cake sundae ($8), with milk chocolate gelato, almond joy gelato, toasted coconut, candied pecans and warm butterscotch sauce almost disappeared on the short ride from Jersey City to Newark.

The apricot creamsicle ($8), with apricot sorbet, Madagascar bourbon vanilla gelato, vanilla wafer cookie, whipped cream and mandarin orange coulis, is equally swoon-worthy.

Next time back I’ll probably go straight for that German chocolate cake sundae. And eat it there, outdoors, on a warm summer day. No more quick, furtive scoops in the car.

Satis, 212 Washington St., Jersey City. (201) 435-5151, Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (brunch) and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. (dinner) Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday. BYOB.