Due Mari Pesce e Vinoteca
78-80 Albany Street
New Brunswick, Middlesex County, New Jersey
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
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. -
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Parking: Street parking; nearby parking garages
Alcohol: License; extensive wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes