A lady who’s lost her clothes in the middle of a forest. A fairy pathway through silvery-thin trees, their orange tips burning under an amethyst sky. A woman clutching a parasol on a hill of plastic poppies, red as the flowers in dreams. These are just some of the sights you’ll find at the Grounds for Sculpture, a meandering sculpture park near Princeton, New Jersey, which features both original works and full-scale sculptural reproductions of famous paintings. And when you get hungry from strolling through the great scenes of world art (or get lost looking for Rousseau’s “The Dream”), you can hop over Monet’s “Water Lily” bridge and enjoy a meal in Rat’s Restaurant, an upscale dining experience that pays homage to the famous French Impressionist.
Rat’s is inspired by Claude Monet’s hometown, Giverny, and its decor resembles a French countryside tavern. Its chefs take advantage of local New Jersey produce to create a distinctly French menu, including specials such as trout amandine, the fish luxuriously dripped with brown butter and almonds, and roasted duck breast on a bed of farro, piquant with tart cherries and chili walnuts. Despite the high-brow food, the restaurant’s name comes from a rather quainter reference. No, it’s not inspired by the movie Ratatouille—though rumor has it that the restaurant houses, somewhere on its premises, a delightfully bawdy sculpture of an actual rat. Instead, the restaurant is named after the rat from The Wind in the Willows, the children’s book about rats, toads, and moles who enjoy chilling out by a river under the titular willow trees, and downing a few after dinner.
You, too, can relax in the sweet green shade of swaying willow trees, part of a recreation of Monet’s “Water Lily” pond. And you can down—or, rather, slowly savor—a couple cocktails from Rat’s menu, including Rat’s shandy—smoky-tart with charred lemon—and the peach-and-pecan Old Fashioned. Just watch that you don’t get too intoxicated, or you may end up falling into Monet’s pond—or, in another grand French tradition, sidling up to the park’s reconstruction of Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,” au naturel.
Know Before You Go
The menu is seasonal, so frequent visitors can expect regular updates. The restaurant offers a regular series of events, including Restaurant Week specials and periodic comedy nights, so check the website for any upcoming fun.