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Bordentown Sussex County New Brunswick Princeton Colllingswood

Due Mari Pesce e Vinoteca
78-80 Albany Street
New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey
(732) 296-1600

By The Artful Diner
April 27, 2009

As much as I've thoroughly enjoyed my dining experiences at Due Terre in Bernardsville -- and my recent review speaks for itself -- I have found it somewhat difficult to warm to its younger sibling, Due Mari Pesce e Vinoteca in New Brunswick. Despite the fact that the same management/culinary team -- general manager/partner François Rousseau, consulting chef/partner Michael White, executive chef/partner Bill Dorrler, and executive pastry chef Denise Cinque -- is in place and that both establishments major in contemporary Italian cuisine, Due Mari, in toto, simply doesn't set off the same bells and whistles.

Let's begin with the food. It is good, yes; but, in my opinion, it seems to lack the same incredibly sharp focus and execution that was so evident at Due Terre. Exhibit A: a starter of "crispy calamari." In point of fact, the squid wasn't crispy at all but decidedly soggy... and inordinately chewy. And the accompanying Sicilian lemon crema overwhelmed the palate with entirely too much of a good thing.

Other appetizers included mussels teamed with green onion purée, bits of pancetta, and tomato. And, although the mussels were of excellent quality, plump and succulent, the broth wasn't terribly exciting. The Parma Prosciutto with roasted peppers and buffalo mozzarella, on the other hand, was a first-rate effort. Conversely, the Caesar salad was strictly pedestrian. And the starters flew out of the kitchen at the speed of light, putting in an appearance at table before we'd barely had opportunity to begin a conversation or enjoy a sip of wine... Never a good sign in my book.

When it comes to entrées, pesce, fish, as the restaurant's full name implies, plays an important role. And the Mediterranean branzino (European sea bass), sublime in its simplicity, strikes me as the cream of the crop. It is grilled to perfection, the delicate white flesh moist, flaky, and rife with subtle nuances, and companioned by sautéed escarole, over-roasted tomato, fresh Caribbean white shrimp, and consummatory black olive vinaigrette.

I wasn't as enthusiastic about the organic salmon, however. It was nicely grilled, but certainly not the most illustrious representative of this particular species I have ever had the pleasure of ingesting. The accompanying risotto was good but not outstanding, and the taste of the organic beets enveloped in agrodolce (an Italian sweet/sour sauce) seemed more in conflict than in harmony with the natural flavor of the salmon.

Another denizen of the deep, a member of the jack family of fishes, kissin' cousin to hamachi, was prepared to a right-on-the-money medium rare, thickly sliced, and exhibited a texture somewhat akin to tuna. It was teamed with an appetizing combo of julienne celery root, spinach, capers, mustard, and tarragon. Unfortunately, all this good work was somewhat nullified by an exceedingly salty seabed of celery root purée. And a side order of sautéed spinach suffered from the very same malady.

Like its elder sibling, Due Mari places a great emphasis upon pastas, particularly those with a seafood emphasis; and many of the presentations are identical... the lump crab & saffron ravioli, for example, or the fresh chitarra spaghetti adorned with lobster, shrimp, fresh tomatoes, garlic & chilies.

My favorites, however, remain the robiola cheese agnolotti teamed with fresh tomatoes, torn basil, and artistic circumscription of basil oil and the ricotta gnocchi companioned by wild mushroom ragu, spinach, Parmesan, and truffle oil. On the other hand, a side dish of the latter came swimming in pomodoro that was entirely too watery.

Desserts, courtesy of Denise Cinque, the pastry chef at Due Terre, also seem to suffer from an inexplicable case of the blahs. The tiramisù, for example, is undeniably delicious... but it is huge and not particularly subtle in its presentation. The lemon soufflé cake and banana tart just seem to lack pizzazz. My advice... stick with the homemade gelati and sorbets or the selection of artisanal cheeses.

Like the cuisine, the service, in comparison to Due Terre, simply lacks the same degree of poise and professionalism. During our first visit, our party was seated by a young woman fetchingly garbed in what may only be described as -- to use a somewhat dated term -- "hot pants." Attractive...? To be sure. But such attire also sends a specific message to patrons, which is neither subtle nor terribly sophisticated.

Once seated, it took an inordinate length of time for our server to put in an initial appearance and even longer for our preprandial libations to arrive at table. And, given all the hoopla over sfizi the restaurant's offering of diminutive pre-appetizers designed to be enjoyed while sipping cocktails and perusing the menu, they were never offered... nay, nor even mentioned. Strange, indeed. Well... maybe not so strange. The service here is young, enthusiastic, and basically well meaning... but it obviously needs more polish.

The Bottom Line: No question... New Brunswick is not Bernardsville; and it obviously attracts a different restaurant crowd. And, just as obviously, an establishment must cater to the needs, priorities, and expectations of its current clientele. Be that as it may... despite the stylish circle bar and well-appointed and attractive dining area -- that is significantly less noisy than that of Due Terre -- with regard to both cuisine and service, Due Mari is not, as of this writing, in the same league as its more sophisticated elder sibling.

Cuisine: Contemporary Italian with an emphasis on seafood
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Street parking; nearby parking garages
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: http://www.duemarinj.com/

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