By BY CODY KENDALL FOR THE STAR-LEDGER, January 01, 2006

New Jersey fine dining had a mini-renaissance in 2005, as an exciting number of top-notch restaurants made impressive debuts during a banner year.

Casual elegance seems to be what's working with great meals offered in a stylish, but unpretentious, atmosphere. Stuffy and formal definitely are out, while creative cooking and artful presentations are in.

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Our number two restaurant of the year and our other 4-star rating of 2005, Lorena's (168 Maplewood Ave., Maplewood, 973-763-4460), got off to a running start in the building occupied until May by the much-loved Jocelyne's.

Chef-owner Humberto Campos Jr. kept the understated French atmosphere, but added his own masterful voice to the menu.

One of our favorite dishes there was the seared Hudson Valley duck foie gras ($18), with a vanillascented dried fruit relish and a Banyuls wine reduction.

An interesting entree involves medallions of pork confit ($24), sweetened with caramelized apples, chestnuts and baby carrots. For dessert ($8) you can still have "traditional" creme brulee, but those who want something a little different should try the warm pear tarte tatin, with a warm quince sauce and vanilla bean ice cream.

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