73 Mine Brook road
Bernardsville, Somerset County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
December 10, 2007
If there's one restaurant every town needs, it's a free-wheeling
bistro that serves up generous portions of solid, unpretentious eclectic fare
at reasonable prices. You don't expect any great gastronomic revelations, just
comfortable and comforting cuisine that somehow manages to soothe the soul as well
assuage the appetite. Owned by members of the Berisha Family, who also preside
over the upscale Vine in nearby Basking Ridge, for the most part, Grill 73
more than fulfills these modest expectations.
The atmosphere -- red and gold banquettes, closely spaced bare
limestone-topped tables, and silverware rolled in white cotton napkins -- is
quintessential bistro. And the service, which seemed downright hostile during
my first visit two years ago, is now the epitome of pleasant efficiency.
Evidently the offending parties -- who were nowhere to be found -- decided that
serving the public simply wasn't their bag... for which the public should be
Ambiance and congenial servers notwithstanding, Chef Edgar Ramirez's food is
certainly the major draw here. To start things off at dinner, for example, you
might consider the Greek salad ($8.00). Pristinely fresh leaves of chopped
romaine are arranged in a small bowl and buttressed by cherry tomato halves,
red onion, pitted kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese. The accompanying
red wine-shallot vinaigrette is simple yet seductively satisfying.
The fresh mozzarella tower ($8.50) is as eye-catching as it is delicious.
Thick slabs of mozzarella alternate with slices of grilled zucchini and a portobello
mushroom cap and are bathed in a basil-infused olive oil. Roasted red peppers
arranged around the periphery and a cherry tomato tiara add engaging splashes
My personal favorite among the appetizers is the fried cheese and spinach
dumplings ($7.00). Five beautifully textured pockets are filled with blue
cheese and presented with a zippy Thai dipping sauce. And this proves a perfect
culinary marriage, as there is just enough heat in the sauce to counterpoise
the rich creaminess of the blue cheese.
Seafood also holds a prominent place among the starters, including such
traditional preludes as pan-seared Maryland crab cake with fresh tarragon
remoulade ($11.00), fried calamari sided by spicy marinara ($8.00), and
littleneck clams swimming in a light tomato-garlic broth ($9.00).
When it comes to entrées, there are several standouts. The fish & chips
($22.00) is absolutely the best version I've sampled anywhere. The tilapia is
embraced by an ethereal tempura batter and companioned by excellent crispy,
lightly battered fries ($4.50 as a side dish). The presentation is accompanied
by ramekins of ketchup, malt vinegar, and tartar sauce. Definitely first-rate.
And the tilapia piccata ($23.00) -- generous filets set atop luscious garlic
mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach -- was also quite good, although the
extremely salty spinach ultimately marred the dish.
Continuing in the seafood vein, the grilled wild Pacific prawns ($24.00)
also hits all the right notes. The crustaceans are at the peak of crunchy good
health, set on a creamy seabed of mixed vegetable risotto, and embellished with
Thai dipping sauce.
Within bistro precincts, pasta is usually a good bet, and that is also true
at Grill 73. The penne Bolognese ($15.00) is exemplary. The pasta is al
dente and the meat sauce has just enough cream to soothe the palate without
overwhelming it. And the Mediterranean orecchiette ($15.00), featuring kalamata
olives, feta cheese, grape tomatoes, and sweet Italian "Tuscan"
peppers tossed with garlic and splash of olive oil, is also up to the mark.
The only pasta dish that didn't quite make it, in my opinion, was the
eggplant lasagna ($15.00), which I sampled several years ago during my initial
visit. This was a free-form affair that arrived in a large blob and offered
layers of mixed vegetables and ricotta. The dish was definitely
"over-cheesed," and the "light pink sauce" displayed a
rather strange orange hue. Thankfully, it is no longer on the menu.
In point of fact, I much prefer lunch here. The kitchen puts out a
first-rate burger ($8.50) -- smothered in melted cheddar, garnished with
lettuce, tomato & red onion, and accompanied by more of those deliciously
crispy lightly battered fries -- and a more diminutive portion of the
aforementioned penne Bolognese ($9.00).
And salads and sandwiches are highly recommended as well. The harvest
vegetable salad ($9.00) -- mixed greens, julienne carrots, grilled zucchini,
gorgonzola, cranberries & candied walnuts tossed with a zesty Dijon
dressing -- is excellent... ditto the Cobb salad ($9.50), which comes in a
crisp tortilla shell splashed with red wine vinaigrette. Sampled sandwiches
include a special oven-roasted turkey wrap ($9.00) and a generous grilled chicken
quesadilla replete with guacamole, caramelized onions, shredded mozzarella
& tomatoes, and salsa and sour cream dipping sauces ($10.00).
Desserts ($7.50), with the exception of the chocolate lava cake, are all
made in-house by the pastry chef from Vine and include a homey Granny Smith
apple-cranberry crisp, top-notch bread pudding crowned with a dollop of vanilla
ice cream, and an OK Key lime tart.
Like any popular bistro, Grill 73 can be quite noisy when it's going
full tilt. Children are both seen and heard... and, from what I've experienced,
occasionally allowed to run free while parents do their best to ignore their
obnoxious antics. This is yet another reason why I prefer a relatively quiet
weekday lunch to a free-for-all weekend dinner.
Cuisine: International Bistro
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sat,
4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Brunch: Sun, 11:00 a.m. -
2:30 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Accepted for parties of 6 or more only
Parking: Street parking and nearby lot
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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