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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Tre Vigne

Restaurant now called Vine. Go to 4/23/2007 review of Vine.
95 Morristown Road
Basking Ridge, Somerset County, New Jersey
(908) 221-0017

Domiciled in the stately brick edifice that was Giraffe, a culinary trendsetter for nearly two decades, the four-year-old Tre Vigne is well on its way to setting a few trends of its own. Presided over by Afrim Berisha and members of his family -- the same management team that brings you the ever-popular Aquila in New Providence -- this elegant establishment has already succeeded in significantly raising the bar for fine dining in the central New Jersey area.

The interior is stylish and sophisticated yet charmingly understated. Tuscanesque in tone -- replete with walls of muted brown and beige, soft recessed lighting, fresh flowers, and cushy upholstered chairs -- it resonates with the subtle, pervasive romanticism of a small European hotel. And service is completely commensurate with the surroundings: pleasant, personable, unobtrusive, and uncompromisingly professional.

Should you arrive early for your reservation, be sure to pause for a leisurely libation at the cozy, diminutive bar. You will discover some very nice vintages available by the glass, along with a first-class wine list that emphasizes top-notch (albeit somewhat pricey) selections from Italy and California. The 2001 Glass Mountain Chardonnay ($7.00 per glass) is an excellent value and not too heavy on the oak. But even more to my liking is the lean and luscious representative from Sonoma-Cutrer ($11.00)...

If red is more appealing, it's difficult to top the power and finesse of Beaulieu Vineyards 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon ($13.00). Feel like splurging on a bottle...? I highly recommend the 1997 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico ($90.00). Definitely worth the expenditure for that special occasion.

Once settled in at table, the amuse-bouche puts in a well-timed appearance. On one occasion, it may be sweet mini crab cakes, on another, bacala -- tiny morsels of salt cod invigorated with a light tomato sauce -- or, perhaps, smoked salmon with an ethereal goat cheese mousse. All are exquisite.

The menu itself is a reasonably compact chronicle, the current bill-of-fare boasting just ten appetizers and nine entrées supplemented by a limited number of daily specials. Executive Chef Eric Gomez gives you just enough choices to whet the appetite without causing a cerebral meltdown. Even with the limited number of options, however, decisions will be difficult.

So permit me to offer a few suggestions... If you enjoy clams, I would urge you to start things off with the littlenecks simmered in a sea redolent of garlic and tomato ($10.00). The broth is delicate but alive with flavor, and the bivalves are marvelously plump and tender and completely devoid of sediment. The baby spinach salad ($8.00) adorned with generous chunks of Gorgonzola cheese, pear slices, and a host of candied walnuts also has a great deal to recommend it. The honey Dijon dressing applied too liberally and/or too assertively seasoned could be the kiss of death... but the greenery is gently coated rather than inundated, and the dressing itself is imbued with just the proper interplay of sweetness and spice.

You can't help but be impressed by the chef's judicious utilization and integration of ingredients. Mr. Gomez seems to know instinctively when he has just enough of a good thing... and I have yet to see him overplay his hand. Take the humble anchovy, for example. Diminutive of stature but rather ornery of disposition, it has been know to wreak havoc with the taste buds if employed too aggressively. You either love it or hate it... and I freely confess that I tend to be of the latter inclination. And yet... when the chef adjoins tiny morsels of this pugnaciously pungent denizen of the deep to his "Penne Tuscan" ($8.00) -- penne pasta tossed with tiny cauliflower florets, slices of zucchini, toasted pine nuts, and fresh bread crumbs -- the resultant commingling of flavors is nothing short of extraordinary. The anchovy adds just the proper pizzazz to the dish without usurping center stage.

Even if it is not to be found on the regular menu or listed among the daily specials, the kitchen can usually whip up the duck confit ($13.00) without a great deal of difficulty... and it is well worth the pointed inquiry. Rich and succulent, it is perched atop a pillow of braised spinach, accompanied by crisp salsifies, and finished with an incredible Barolo/blood orange/balsamic reduction. Utterly superb!

With so many prodigious preludes in the offing, you can't help but wonder if disappointment is destined to arrive with the entrées. This, of course, is true of many restaurants, establishments that have cultivated an infamous reputation for teasing you with gastronomic foreplay only to let you down at the moment of truth. But I can assure you that this is not the case at Tre Vigne. The main courses demonstrate the same care in preparation and presentation as do their predecessors.

Finny fare is treated with great affection and a decidedly gentle touch. The striped bass ($25.00), for example, is pan seared, its natural essences mellifluously mated with a seductive artichoke and root vegetable pesto sauce; and the Chatham cod's ($25.00) crisp golden brown crust yields to a moist & flaky interior and is beautifully complemented by morel mushrooms, roasted red pepper coulis, and potato gnocchi so supernal they seem to defy the laws of physics. The special salmon is also of exceptional quality. This is one fish that I prefer cooked through, not translucent at the center, and Mr. Gomez does precisely that, placing the wild king filet ($25.00) on an ethereal bed of artichoke ravioli.

Lovers of the sea may be in their element... but so, indeed, are those who revel in meatier matters. The braised lamb shank ($25.00) paired with an addictive mound of truffle whipped potatoes is simply incomparable, the flesh so mouth-wateringly tender that it literally falls off the bone. Rather than disguising the lamb's own inimitable flavor, which I truly appreciate, the chef succeeds in bringing it to the fore with a mesmerizing natural jus reduction... And the veal tenderloin ($33.00) is every bit as tender and succulent and also marvelously well matched with sweet potato gnocchi and a potent port wine reduction... ditto the grilled filet mignon ($33.00) paired with colcannon potatoes, a compelling coalescence of potatoes, pancetta, onion, and Savoy cabbage.

Desserts ($7.00), in the talented hands of pastry chef Julie Casey, like their antecedents, show a definitive sense of style without being architecturally or constituently abhorrent. And, when it is available, the special triple chocolate mousse cake -- three luscious layers of white, dark, and milk chocolate accented with a chocolate almond crisp spoon -- epitomizes her finespun approach to sweet endings. Chocoholics will also celebrate her "Chocolate Symphony" orchestrated in three sensuously satisfying movements: white chocolate macadamia nut tart, mini chocolate gâteau, and chocolate gelato.

The "Cheesecake of the Day" -- in my encounter, a creamy orange -- and a marvelously moist three-nut banana raisin bread pudding may be more down-home of disposition but certainly no less delicious.

Seldom have I been treated to such appealing and comfortable evenings at table. If you enjoy exceptional cuisine served in warm, romantic surroundings with impeccable service, I am certain that Tre Vigne will meet -- and exceed -- your lofty expectations. Once seduced by its considerable charms, this is one restaurant that will surely woo you back again and again.

Cuisine: Mediterranean with Italian subtitles
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 12:00 noon - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. (Labor Day thru July 4th)
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Business Casual
Smoking: Smoking is permitted at the bar only.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; excellent wine list
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: www.trevignerestaurant.com

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