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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Café Colore
4095 Route 1 South
South Brunswick Square Shopping Center
South Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey
(732) 355-0410

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
December 24, 2001

The brothers Momo, Raoul and Carlo, are certainly no strangers to the restaurant game. In point of fact, they own a stable of eateries in the Mercer/Middlesex County area -- including Princeton's ever-popular Mediterra and New Brunswick's bustling Nova Terra, just to name a few. In many respects, however, their latest venture (number eighteen, to be precise) is, in my opinion, the most exciting of all. I say this because, its humble shopping center location not withstanding, Chef Michael Coury is making magic in the kitchen.

I have fond memories of Mr. Coury's incredible culinary efforts at the late and much lamented nodo, the sophisticated and short-lived trattoria that once graced Princeton's Witherspoon Street. Here, this talented young chef sought to fuse the very best of the Garden State's locally harvested comestibles with a wondrous variety of regional Italian cuisines. The result: some of the most exciting cookery that I'd sampled in a long, long time. A bit too exciting for more conservative Princetonian palates, I'm afraid -- and for a few professional hired bellies as well. They simply scratched their heads in bewilderment and shuffled on back to their innocuous Neapolitan nirvanas and remedial red sauces.

But Princeton's loss is surely South Brunswick's gain. And in his new domicile -- simply adorned with striking black and white framed photographs taken by his wife -- Mr. Coury is turning out an auspicious array of offerings that fire the imagination as well as inspire the palate. He restlessly prowls the diminutive dining room, as does the restaurant's manager, warmly greeting his patrons, demythologizing the menu, explicating the always intriguing daily specials, or introducing a particularly provocative vintage from the select wine list. And his purpose is not merely to ingratiate but to educate... as the glossary of Italian food terms on the back of Café Colore's menu clearly attests.

The antipasti here are exceptional across the board, and there are always one or two additional daily specials in this category to tempt the taste buds. You will, for example, undoubtedly find the arancini ($7.00) -- breaded and fried rice balls filled with vegetables and cheese -- completely irresistible. The stuffed eggplant ($8.00) could very well be all-too-mundane, but Mr. Coury's presentation is a classy, delicate affair punctuated with wafer-thin slices of zucchini, Parmesan shavings, and a light marinara. Should you be in the mood to share, however, I would heartily recommend the special appetizer for two ($12.00). Prosciutto de Parma is served with cacio cavallo (a sharp aged cow's milk cheese), green and kalamata olives, and a tempting assortment of grilled and marinated peppers and mushrooms.

On the other hand, the Zuppa del Giorno ($6.00) also deserves a look-see. On one occasion it may be a positively delightful Italian wedding soup; on another, you will be treated to a robust white bean dotted with spinach and pancetta. Soups always comprise a most suitable yardstick in the evaluation of a kitchen's culinary capabilities (or lack thereof), and those offered up here are clearly indicative of the good things yet to come.

If you happen to be primed for pasta, you will discover an excellent variety from which to choose. Of particular note is the penne matched up with luscious chunks of fennel sausage and a scintillating red wine reduction ($14.00). Add a smattering of sautéed wild mushrooms, shavings of Parmesan, top with an arugula chiffonade, and you have a marriage made in heaven. And speaking of gastronomic bliss, the lasagna special ($19.00) is definitely not your ordinary bill of fare. Ground veal and pork are layered with carciotto (aged sheep's milk cheese) and homemade mozzarella and topped with porcini mushrooms and white truffle shavings.

The secondi demonstrate an equally innovative flair. The special tuna ($23.00) is served rare and is aided and abetted by spaghetti squash and porcini mushroom salad. The interesting note here, however, is not only the contrast of tastes and textures, but also of temperatures. The tuna is served warm and is set on a seabed of piping hot squash seasoned with cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg and crowned with a cool porcini salad. A definite winner.

The grilled salmon gremolata ($17.00) served up with a shiitake mushroom, orzo, and sun-dried tomato nage is also quite good, as is the fascinating spin on the veal saltimbocca ($19.00). Alternating spokes of prosciutto/Fontina-embraced veal strips and goat cheese mashed potatoes emanate from an epicenter of braised treviso (a tasty cross between radicchio and Belgian endive), which adds just the proper pungent counterpoint to this otherwise sumptuous entrée.

The only downer proved to be the special grilled swordfish ($19.00). Set on a bed of turnip risotto and topped with a portobello mushroom cap, this seemed a rather ill-conceived combination of ingredients. Additionally, the presentation appeared rather dark and dreary, not particularly attractive to the eye, and tasted decidedly "fishy." It should be noted, however, that any chef, no matter how creative, will occasionally overreach; and, apart from this one faux pas in three visits, Mr. Coury's culinary batting average has been exemplary.

... And desserts continue his good work. The white chocolate and almond semifreddo terrine ($6.00) is pure delight, as is the tiramisu ($7.00); and the chocolate brioche bread pudding with whiskey sauce ($7.00) is decadence personified. And, although listed under antipasti, the selection of imported Italian cheeses with fresh fruit ($9.00) is a most civilized denouement and also quite suitable for sharing.

Despite its somewhat ignoble circumstances -- sandwiched between a dentist's office and a vacant storefront -- good things are happening at Café Colore, and Michael Coury is cooking up a storm in the kitchen... Catch him while you can!

Cuisine: Innovative Italian
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 4:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V,
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: Select wine list
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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