Undici Taverna Rustica
11 West River Road
Rumson, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
July 26, 2010
The building that now domiciles Undici (which means
"eleven" in Italian, after the establishment's address at 11 West
River Road) was, since 1934, home to a Rumson mainstay, the Hook, Line &
Sinker. But what was a casual neighborhood eatery and happy-tappy has been
transformed into a replica of a rustic Tuscan farmhouse replete with attractive
rectangular bar, massive beams, wide-planked floors, medieval archways, and
plethora of brick and stone.
The restaurant -- which is owned by the family of designer Pamela Diaco, who
is responsible for the interior décor, and Victor Rallo, proprietor of the
immensely popular Basil T's Brewery and Italian Grill in nearby Red Bank --
boasts not only a decidedly upscale ambiance but a menu of pricey innovative
Italian offerings and (an equally pricey) all-Italian wine list that is just
slightly more diminutive in scope than War and Peace. Pricey the cuisine
may be... but it is up to the mark in every respect -- as is the service -- and
provides a treat for the eye as well as the palate.
Salads are a class act and the perfect prelude to your meal. The pomodoro,
for example, intersperses thick slices of grilled ripe tomato and sections of
mozzarella, sprinkles them with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and then
throws in a splash of Ligurian olive oil and wedge of perfectly grilled country
bread. The result is simply and sublimely delicious.
The roasted beet salad is a more sophisticated presentation and an eye
pleaser as well. Thinly sliced golden beets serve as a foundation for an open
dome of red beets containing a luscious tangle of arugula and red onion
embraced by a combo of red wine vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil. The
crowning touch is a tiara of Coach Farms goat cheese. Everything is in
harmony.... The beets are perfectly roasted, the arugula is pristinely fresh,
the vinaigrette is light but just assertive enough to complement the peppery
greenery, and the dollop of creamy goat cheese provides a delightful textural
On the other hand, if you're incurably carnivorous, you will find it nearly
impossible to resist the considerable charms of the superlative bresaola.
Air-dried salted filet mignon is sliced wafer thin and then anointed with
extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. A sprinkling of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
provides the consummatory touch, as do shavings of fresh artichoke.
When it comes time to select your main course, you will find that there are
just enough printed possibilities (plus a limited number of daily specials) to
peak your interest without causing your brain the anxieties of over-choice.
Matters piscatorial predominate here; so if you happen to be a seafood
lover, this is the perfect spot to indulge. The East Coast halibut, for
example, is teamed with plump clams, fresh artichokes, red potatoes, tincture
of garlic & parsley, and a first-rate broth tinged with extra-virgin olive
The grilled salmon, a daily special, was particularly noteworthy. For
starters, it was cooked through -- not translucent at the core -- precisely as
I prefer it and precisely as ordered. It was then teamed with ratatouille and
finished with a light white wine sauce and splash of balsamic.
When it is available, meat lovers can't go wrong with the osso buco, a
benchmark effort... However, such quality comes with quite a price tag
attached. At $45.00, it will put a significant dent in your wallet. On the
other hand, the succulent roasted baby chicken and classic pork chop Milanese
priced at $26.00 and $36.00, respectively, both highly recommended, will treat
your budget more kindly.
Without question, dining at Undici can be an expensive proposition.
But the restaurant also offers some more reasonable alternatives. The handmade
pizzas are excellent and all are priced in the mid-teens. And the pastas, which
are house-made and exquisitely prepared and presented, do not exceed the $24.00
mark. The "ruffled" fettuccine comes with a sumptuous slow braised
meat sauce and topping of ricotta cheese; sautéed eggplant is teamed with Jersey
tomato sauce, fresh basil, hand-rolled mozzarella and parmigiano, and
then baked in the oven and served with rigatoni pomodoro; and the simple
but seductive house-made spaghetti is companioned by fresh zucchini,
caramelized onion, and fresh tomatoes with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil.
Desserts, all $9.00, are more than worth the added expenditure. The
lemon-glazed zucchini & walnut cake is served with lemon mascarpone gelato
and fresh cream; the house-made biscotti arrives with cannoli cream and Nutella
mascarpone for your dipping pleasure; and the chocolate tart is embraced by a
crispy polenta crust.
The only down side of dining at Undici is the noise. Hard surfaces of
wood and stone conspire to form the consummate acoustical nightmare. And on a free-for-all
Friday or Saturday evening when the place is packed, the decibel level can be
frighteningly formidable. Our server literally had to shout to make herself
heard over the conversational din... On the other hand, lunch on a quiet
Wednesday or Thursday can be an unmitigated joy.
Cuisine: Casual and
Hours: Mon - Thurs, open at 4:00 p.m.; Weds - Sun, open at 12:00 noon
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Alcohol: License; world-class wine list
Handicapped Accessible: Yes