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Due Terre Enoteca
Note: Osteria Morini now at this location.
Osteria Morini

107 Morristown Road (Route 202)
Bernardsville, Somerset County, New Jersey
(908) 221-0040

By The Artful Diner
November 10, 2008

The longer one rides the dining circuit as a professional reviewer -- and this reviewer has been in the saddle for over a decade -- the more difficult it becomes to rouse one's gastronomic passions. It's not that there aren't any good restaurants out there. There are... and they are legion. On the other hand, a truly exceptional dining experience is a rarity, indeed. And, after a while, all the food begins to look the same... taste the same. One can almost feel one's taste buds slipping into stasis.

However, every so often, just when all hope has been abandoned, a unique restaurant succeeds in restoring one's faith; a restaurant that manages to fire the imagination... and, at the same time, send the culinary libido into overdrive. Due Terre Enoteca does both -- and with a heady sense of style.

The contemporary interior -- replete with sumptuously high ceiling, Mission-accented woods, and cushy oversized chairs -- may strike one as slightly masculine in tone. But the apparently testosterone-driven décor is beautifully counterbalanced by other sensuously sophisticated touches: the subtlety of subdued lighting, the majestic wall of wines and spirits buttressing the equally impressive bar, the knowledgeable and personable service and, above all, the finely controlled finesse of the cuisine.

The menu is au courant Italianesque, with handmade pastas playing a prominent role. Ingredients are alluringly integrated and presentations are feasts for the eye as well as the palate. The robiola cheese ravioli is adorned with fresh tomatoes, torn basil, and artistic circumscription of basil oil. The quill-shaped garganelli is endowed with a smattering of cremini mushrooms and an earthy white truffle butter infused with salty slivers of Parma prosciutto. And the picture-perfect pappardelle is caressed by a seductive, slow-simmered benchmark Bolognese that is as urbane as it is irresistible. And for those who simply can't get enough of a good thing, a pasta tasting menu is also available.

But there is infinitely more than pasta going on in this kitchen. The intriguing menu was created by executive chef/partner Michael White in collaboration with executive chef Bill Dorrier, who is also the power behind the stove on a daily basis.

Piscatorial offerings, for example, are superb. The roasted Scottish salmon is set on a seabed of Tuscan barley salad, crowned with a colorful tiara of mixed greenery, and encircled with a stream of heady Sangiovese wine sauce that proves the perfect match for the distinctive flavor of the salmon. The special pan-seared ocean perch is incredibly moist and flaky, set on a pillow of orzo salad imbued with delicate morsels of cauliflower, zucchini, and tomato, and finished with splashes of a superlative lobster reduction sauce. But if you prefer bivalves, the sea scallops, gently seared, are rich, meaty, and perfectly counterpoised by butternut squash risotto and splash of brown butter sage.

On the other hand, red meat is also well represented... and equally well prepared and presented. The rosemary roasted loin of lamb is an incomparable effort -- tender, succulent, and packed with flavor -- with the vin cotto (literally, "cooked wine"; reduced red wine imbued with spices and sweetened with honey) providing a heady consummatory touch. Beef lovers also have their way... The marinated skirt steak is arranged around a bed of peppery wild arugula and embellished with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan shavings; and the grilled rib eye finds perfect traveling companions in robust Tuscan potatoes and a scintillatingly assertive red wine reduction.

As good as the entrées may be, however, appetizers and desserts are every bit their equal. Among the former, the Tuscan bean soup -- awash with barley, pancetta, tomatoes, escarole, and splash of rosemary oil -- is homey and immensely satisfying. And the crispy Point Judith calamari is inordinately tender and finds a remarkable counterpoint in a ramekin of Sicilian lemon crema.

Salads also make excellent starters. A special in the greenery department consisted of chopped escarole leaves tossed with diced salami, aged Parmesan cheese, and chopped olives and piquillo peppers. A winning combination of tastes and textures... But the coup de grâce was delivered by a zippy piquillo pepper dressing.

Sweet endings, courtesy of pastry chef Denise Cinque, have their own unique rewards. Particularly noteworthy is the incredible tartaletta, a dark & decadent chocolate cream-filled tart companioned by rich chocolate gelato. And the yogurt panna cotta is just the right consistency and crowned with a dollop of blueberry sorbet and smattering of Sicilian pistachios.

The selection of artisanal cheese would also make a most suitable conclusion to your evening at table. One may choose three, five, or seven cheeses, all paired with artistic accompaniments of candied walnuts, fig halves, balsamic strawberry jam, and orange fennel.

Enoteca literally means "wine library" and also refers to a collection of wines. And Due Terre surely embodies that designation. The restaurant counts 170 boutique Italian wines, as well as American and International choices among its oenological possibilities. In addition, approximately 20 vintages are offered daily by the glass. Recently sampled were a splendid 2007 Cortese di Gavi from Michele Chiarlo ($10.00 glass/$40.00 bottle) and an outstanding red, a 2005 Ruffino "Modus" ($15.00/$60.00). Both are highly recommended.

The restaurant's name , which means "two lands" in Italian, originally referenced the owners, Daniele Sbordi and Francois Rousseau, who hailed from Milan and Toulon, France, respectively. With Mr. Sbordi's departure, that partnership has since been dissolved. Be that as it may, there is absolutely no question that Due Terre remains one of the most exciting culinary properties to hit the Garden State in quite some time.

And there is more good news... the same proprietor and management team just recently opened Due Mari Pesce e Vinoteca on the site of the old Nova Terra, 78 Albany Street in New Brunswick. Needless to say, I am looking forward to a most rewarding visit in the very near future.

Cuisine: Contemporary Italian
Hours: Mon - Thurs, 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; excellent wine list majoring in boutique Italian vintages
Price: Appetizers, $7.00 - $16.00; Entrées, $17.00 - $34.00; Pasta Tasting Menu, $52.00; Tasting Menu, $56.00
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: http://www.dueterre.com/

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