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9 Mt. Bethel Road
Warren, New Jersey
(908) 834-8194

By The Artful Diner
March 26, 2010

Proprietors Andrew and Catherine Farro worked closely with the Riscala Agnese Design Group to create a restaurant interior that would be bold, modern, and, yes, downright sexy. They obviously aimed high... and they hit the mark.

Uproot's color scheme encompasses different wood tones and vibrant reds, while the walls and ceiling highlight dramatic wood trimming, including an extraordinary tree sculpture. The space is au courant but not audacious... contemporary but exceedingly comfortable. It succeeds in gently caressing the eye rather than assaulting it.

All this enterprising architectural eye candy, of course, would be for naught if the cuisine failed to deliver the goods. Fortunately, however, this is definitely not the case. Executive Chef Anthony Bucco and Sous Chef Mark Farro -- both formerly of Stage Left in New Brunswick -- serve up innovative New American offerings that are as sensually stylish as the décor. Yes, everything looks positively stunning on the plate... but there's substance here as well as form. The food is as much a feast for the palate as it is for the eye.

But where to begin...? Soup always makes an excellent starter. Recently sampled, for instance, was an exceptional butternut squash. Ethereal of countenance -- neither too viscous nor too watery -- the soup was blended with just the proper hint of seasoning and topped with a splash of crème fraîche. Superb in every respect.

Equally satisfying was a salad constructed on a pillow of mizuna (feathery, delicate greenery of Japanese origin), which adroitly integrated wafer-thin slices of heirloom pear, crumbles of bleu cheese, golden raisins, and a subtle infusion of vinaigrette. A first-rate prelude to any meal... ditto the (up) root salad blending frisée, fines herbs, and acacia honey.

But for the more adventurous of palate, there is certainly no shortage of appealing possibilities. Exceptionally tender segments of wood stone-roasted octopus, for example, are teamed with Cara Cara oranges and propelled into orbit with a shot of chorizo; celestial nuggets of potato gnocchi are companioned by baby arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano, and the distinctive flavor of surryano ham (the American version of Serrano); and an absolutely decadent torchon of foie gras is spruced up with an incredible black currant bread pudding.

Entrées are no less intriguing and well balanced than their predecessors, admirably succeeding in the assuagement of one's aesthetic sense as well as one's appetite. And matters piscatorial, which hold a prominent place on the restaurant's bill of fare, are handled with a daringly deft and discerning hand. The verjus-glazed Chatham cod -- ingeniously accompanied by grapefruit segments, salsify, and celeriac -- was prepared to a mouth-watering translucence, while the Arctic char reaped the benefits of a light dusting of black trumpet mushrooms.

In my opinion, though, the most enticing entry in the seafood sweepstakes was the steamed red snapper... Not because of the fish itself, which was marvelously flavorful in its own right, but because of its somewhat unusual -- but, as it turned out, perfectly complementary -- traveling companions. Two snapper filets were set on a colorful and sumptuous seabed: diced beet & hazelnut tapenade; and, adding a vibrant splash of contrasting color and texture, an attractive bundle of cucumber "fettuccini," which, as it turned out, was comprised of slender stands of cucumber in the shape of the aforementioned pasta.

Interestingly enough, however, of all the entrées sampled, it was the venison that caused the greatest seismic activity on the gastronomic Richter scale. Sporting an appropriately appealing hint of gaminess, the flesh was incomparably tender and prepared to just the proper shade of pink. And, once again, the chef's choice of accompaniments -- a luscious rutabaga gratin and what may only be described as a kind of huckleberry "ratatouille" -- was nothing short of inspired.

Desserts continue with style and provide some innovative twists to traditional favorites. The Uproot "Twinkie," for example, is composed of carrot cake, cream cheese filling, and candied carrots, while the "Tasting of Huckleberry" incorporates shortcake, soda, gelée, and garnish of vanilla ice cream. And the kitchen's variation on the cheesecake theme is a picture perfect presentation commingling an ethereal texture with sweetened crème fraîche and slices of caramelized apple. Also offered are a chocolate soufflé, tasting of house-made ice creams & sorbets, and selection of artisanal cheese. All, it should be noted, are worthy of consideration... and the additional calories & expenditure.

Certified sommelier Jonathan Ross serves as both the restaurant's general manager and its sommelier; and his carefully chosen wine list includes international selections that are both eminently approachable and reasonably priced. Approximately a dozen vintages are available by the glass and over one hundred by the bottle, sixty percent of which are offered for under $50.00. And, as an added inducement, even if you are only having two courses plus dessert (as opposed to the tasting menu), Mr. Ross, after inquiring as to your oenological preferences, will personally select wines by the glass to accompany each course.

Stylish and sophisticated, but decidedly unpretentious, there is absolutely no question that Uproot has added significantly to the depth and breadth of the central New Jersey restaurant scene. It is certain to become -- if it has not already -- one of the Garden State's premiere dining destinations.

Cuisine: Casual & innovative American
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Fri, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License; interesting wine list and specialty cocktails
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: uprootrestaurant.com

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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