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A pan-Asian restaurant that is serving truly inventive cuisine; hard-to-find items like crispy pork buns and soup dumplings, pho and ramen; spectacular Thai curries and some of the best sushi in Mercer County; Dim sum breakfasts and fusion crepes. Where on earth could you find all this?
Look no further than Roots, which opened its doors in the Windsor Shopping Center on Route 1 South (most think of it as the Whole Foods shopping center) in February, 2015. The brainchild of the owners of Elements Asia, Roots serves a more traditional cuisine than its restaurant cousin, and the results are magnificent. What is most surprising is that they seem to be expert in flavor, whatever the cuisine.
The Thai compares favorably against any other local Thai we’ve found (sure, we’ve had better in NYC, but not often and not for nearly these prices). The sushi is the among the best in Mercer County, with the exception of Social Sushi (which is only available once per month). The Chinese is lovely, offering items that you can’t get anywhere else in the region (such as soup dumplings and the delicious ramen bowls that you can find now in every major city); while they don’t offer the breadth of menu (or quite the magic touch) of our favorite, Szechuan House, it’s still some of the best Chinese we’ve had in the area. And there currently are only two other restaurants where you can find pho (a Vietnamese specialty) in Mercer County (and only one that we recommend).
If Roots has a guiding philosophy in their cuisine, it seems to be delicious, elegant, comfort. They serve food you want to eat, cooked to perfection and served exquisitely. Their ramen warms the soul, the vegetarian version served with a spectacularly poached egg, soft and pliable white with an oozing yolk, filling the bowl with tongue-coating richness. The dim sum and greens are astonishing little bowls of flavor and delight–with care and precision even in the plating of the smallest items. We’ve sampled many of the noodles (including the street noodles, the drunken noodles, and the pad thai) and they are superb. The sushi is served with perfectly seasoned rice and elegant care. The soups are rich and belly-warming, with waves of flavor that wash over your tongue. Even the house-made kimchi is astonishing. The pho was nourishing and hearty, with the requisite accompaniments to dip into the steaming hot broth. The only disappointments so far have been in the dim sum section of the menu–we loved the Shanghai buns (and even got to sample an off-menu vegetarian version featuring shiitake mushrooms and avocado), but the bean curd and vegetable dumplings were only middling, as were the soup dumplings (good, but we expect more layers in the flavor of a soup dumpling).
Though the menu is just a page, there are more options than meet the eye. About half of the items are designed to be customized. For instance, the Thai Coconut Bowl (one of our favorites) can be served with fresh ramen or with purple, brown, or white rice. Then, it is topped with either chicken, beef, shrimp, or bean curd and vegetables. That’s one dish that can be served 16 ways. Each is utterly delicious, with a creamy sauce, full of rich coconut and fragrant hints of lemongrass and ginger. It will transport you instantly to Thailand. Probably to a beach in Thailand. It’s really really good. We relished it with ramen on our first two visits, but we hear from trusted friends that it’s even more remarkable with rice.
Prices are reasonable, especially considering the portions (which are generous), though they’ve been creeping up (December 2016). Several of the main lunch plates now break the $10 mark. You’ll want to order appetizers and sides because they’re so good–but you’ll certainly have an entirely filling meal without them. Roots is incredibly friendly for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free patrons–their menu is well-marked with a large array of options for everyone. The environment is casual, though the décor is modern and welcoming. The restaurant design is a mix of wood planks and swooping gray walls. When the light comes in from the giant windows facing the parking lots, it is almost ethereal. Their lunchtime is a hybrid of sit-down and counter-style, you order and pay at the counter, and then a waiter will bring out your food (and fill your water glass, etc.). The end result is that you get out the door a little quicker (though this isn’t always desirable in a restaurant!) and save a bit of money on tip. But still, it looks nice enough that you could bring a work colleague or even a date. I’ll go anytime. Bring me. Dinner is a more traditional table service.
Brunches are served Saturday and Sunday, and feature their standard menu as well as crepes (both traditional French ones and with Asian-inspired ingredients). Prices are higher for dinner, with “large plate” entrees in the $19-32 range (though still with some items closer to $10). They offer a few more options for dinner, and we haven’t sampled all of them yet.
Roots rotates specials periodically. If you happen to be there when they are serving the blistered shishito peppers, buy them immediately and devour them while they are still hot. Just be careful–one out of every ten shishito peppers is spicy, and you never know which one it will be!!