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New Jersey Restaurant Review

3 West
665 Martinsville Road
Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey
(908) 647-3000

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
March 24, 2003

You cross the threshold and leave the stereotypical standard issue strip-mall exterior far behind. 3 West's inner sanctum is a handsome, beautifully designed space replete with rich woodwork, hardwood floors, glowing fireplaces, and a striking glass-enclosed kitchen. The latest project of Chester Moore Associates, also proprietors of the Trap Rock Restaurant and Brewery in Berkeley Heights and the Huntley Taverne in Summit, exudes a definitive touch of class.

Your first stop will undoubtedly be the attractive, bustling, and exorbitantly smoky bar, which has quickly become "the" place to unwind after a significantly less than edifying day laboring on behalf of corporate America. The wine list, you quickly note, is quite extensive -- and also quite pricey -- but there are still a few bargains to be had. The first-rate '01 Pinot Grigio from Italys Alois Lageder is a steal at $25.00... ditto the '00 Australian Cabernet Sauvignon from the ever reliable Rosemount Estates, also priced at $25.00.

The restaurant also serves up some very nice reasonably priced vintages by the glass. Particularly noteworthy are a crisp 2001 Italian Pinot Grigio from Concillio ($6.95), a racy 2000 German Riesling courtesy of Slatestone ($7.95), and a luscious 1999 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon ($9.95). And beer drinkers have not been neglected. They may choose from a number of excellent Trap Rock drafts, as well as a diverse assortment of bottled brews.

The urbane ambiance and convivial bar scene may be the initial drawing cards... but it is the superlative innovative American cuisine that will keep knowledgeable diners coming back for more. Bruce Johnson -- whose credits include Trap Rock Brewery, 28 in Montclair, and Bouley in New York City -- demonstrates an acute sense of culinary savvy and savoir-faire. His menu, comprised of just eleven appetizers and nine entrées augmented by a select number of daily specials, is both concise and clearly focused.

As well as being a most appropriate prelude to a fine dining experience, soup is inevitably a good test of a chef's capabilities... and Mr. Johnson's offerings receive top marks. His purée of white bean soup ($5.95) is both subtle and satisfying, effectively embellished with a zesty sage pesto and Parmesan crisp -- the perfect culinary companion on a chilly evening. And the special split pea soup ($5.95) is equally enjoyable. Delicately textured and imbued with morsels of tasso ham, potato, and baby kohlrabi, it possesses just enough seasoning to tease and titillate the palate.

If you enjoy the bountiful fruits of the sea, however, you would do well to begin with the perfectly seared honey-spiced shrimp ($12.95). Exhibiting just the proper interplay of sweetness and spice, the meaty crustaceans find a most hospitable home on a seabed of yellow split pea salad invigorated with fried shallots. On the other hand, who can resist the exhilarating point/counterpoint of plump Prince Edward Island mussels ($9.95) swimming in a pungent sea of spicy coconut milk, lemongrass, and cilantro? The Maryland lump crab cake ($12.95) is also quite good; but, for a change of pace, why not choose the road less traveled? The sautéed squid ($9.95) is outrageously tender and beautifully complemented by a zippy roasted pepper salsa.

Among the other possibilities, the ingeniously presented baby beet salad ($7.95) is highly recommended. A luscious epicenter is adorned with creamy shallot goat cheese and lovingly embraced by a slender circle of toasted bread. Baby spinach salad provides a note of contrasting color, and a smattering of pungent balsamic vinaigrette adds a decided touch of excitement to the proceedings.

... And after sampling such a marvelous array of opening moves, there's no need to fear a sudden letdown, as Mr. Johnson's entrées are every bit as engaging as his appetizers. As a general rule, for example, I prefer fish to fowl... but the chef's roast duck breast ($19.95) is truly benchmark. Prepared medium-rare, succulent slices are presented on a bed of black pepper spaetzle. The ethereal diminutive dumplings bestow just a touch of heat, which finds a delightful antithesis in an enticing nectar of seared diced apples and honey.

Moving on to matters piscatorial... the beautifully seared sea scallops ($22.95) disport a rich and meaty taste & texture and are accompanied by a delicious quinoa grain salad, baby carrots & baby fennel, and are finished with an ingratiating touch of truffle vinaigrette. The moist and flaky roasted cod ($22.95), a daily special, reclines on a luxurious pillow of creamy polenta and is garnished with grape tomato halves, cauliflower florets, and a sprinkling of basil. Another sure winner, the perfectly pan-roasted Atlantic salmon ($19.95), arrives on a ragout of diced celery root, cippolini onions, torn spinach, and tasso ham, and is spruced up with a zippy Pommery mustard sauce.

As adept as Mr. Johnson appears to be with the inhabitants of Davy Jones' locker, the kitchen at 3 West specializes in meats and chicken grilled over hardwood charcoal; and the addition of assorted bits of wood to the flame enhances the flavors immensely. Choices include: a succulent 12-ounce pork chop in the company of roasted Yukon gold potatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, and mushrooms ($18.95); breast of chicken spiked with chorizo sausage and a zesty pomegranate sauce; or 10-ounce sirloin steak with roasted Vidalia onions ($22.95). In my opinion, however, the velvety beef tenderloin accented with a fabulous roast shallot potato purée and heady red wine sauce ($29.95) clearly steals the show.

All of Mr. Johnson's presentations, it should be noted, provide the proper number of ingredients to engage the diner in a meaningful dialogue without resorting to culinary demagoguery. There is just enough going on to assuage the eye and the palate without overwhelming them.

But don't rush off... desserts ($6.95) -- courtesy of Amrita Aste, who is also the pastry chef for Ciao, 3 West's more casual sibling located just next door -- are worth lingering over and well worth the additional calories. When it is available, I highly recommend the delightfully decadent apricot-chocolate tart garnished with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and chocolate-dipped dried apricots. The ganache tart, sporting an elegant chocolate graham cracker crust and center of rich butterscotch, and the sour cherry tart filled with orange crème fraîche and partnered with a proportionately piquant pineapple-lemon granita are equally extravagant.

If you would prefer a somewhat lighter conclusion to your meal, the poached pear with port wine sauce makes a delicious alternative to more filling denouements. My favorite in this regard, however, is the wonderful assortment of house-made cookies -- apricot-walnut shortbread, cornmeal-raisin, chocolate, and almond meringue -- which matches up exceptionally well with a cup of potent espresso.

From the casually sophisticated ambiance, to the knowledgeable and personable staff spiffily attired in black chef's jackets, to the lively bar scene, to the top-notch wine list, to Bruce Johnson's extraordinarily creative American cuisine, 3 West is a class act, indeed... and a most welcome addition to the Basking Ridge dining scene.

Just one caveat... Although this eye-catching eatery has been open a scant four months, it is already tremendously popular. Reservations, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, are de rigueur.

Cuisine: Creative American
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:30 - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar/lounge area only.
Reservations: Recommended; absolutely essential on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Price: Inexpensive/Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

Web site: www.3westrest.com

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