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
... 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
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
Web site: www.3westrest.com
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
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar/lounge area only.
Reservations: Recommended; absolutely essential on weekends
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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