Monmouth and Middlesex counties are home to some of New Jersey’s finest restaurants. Undici aspires to join the elite, and at least it looks the part. The antique floorboards and roof beams were salvaged from old American barns by Pamela Diaco, who co-owns Undici with Victor Rallo, owner of Basil T’s in Red Bank. They are trying to update the feel of a Tuscan farmhouse. The kitchen has its moments, but the only thing you can count on is overpaying.
To reach the front desk, guests have to circumnavigate the enormous bar. Pull up a stool and sample the excellent Italian cheeses and salumi. Choose from among more than 40 wines by the glass. You can also order from the dinner menu, but that’s where the problems begin.
A pizza originale from the prominent wood-fired oven just off the dining room was doughy, bland, and an affront at $17. The mozzarella was better cold in a pomodoro salad with tomato, fresh basil, and a hefty slice of ciabatta. Both the tomatoes and the ciabatta were grilled—perhaps to justify charging $15 for bread and cheese.
A constant on the menu (which changes frequently depending on the seasonal availability of ingredients) is Undici Tramezzino—a panino made with pizza bread and stuffed with grilled chicken, goat cheese, and roasted peppers, slathered with pesto ($14). It was flavorful, but you can find its like in an upscale sandwich shop. Artichoke hearts stuffed with ciabatta, pignoli, parsley, and Romano tasted mainly of burnt garlic.
Pasta is made fresh daily and is generally excellent. Mafaldine, a broad, ruffled fettuccine, made the perfect vehicle for a rich sauce of braised pork, veal, and beef, enlivened by carrots, celery, and onion, topped with a dollop of creamy ricotta. House-made gnocchi came with an excellent meat ragù, but were oily. Fusilli better approximated the fresh Italian fare the restaurant purports to offer—sweet, plump rock shrimp nicely paired with broccoli rabe florets and fresh tomato sauce.
Many entrées fall short—like rubbery veal saltimbocca, and a skewer of tough, grilled jumbo shrimp. A $46 dry-aged New York strip steak pizzaiola was buried under a fresh tomato sauce that masked any depth of flavor the meat might have had.
Ricotta cheesecake was bland and dry, and strawberry gelato suffered from freezer burn. But the sting of ice crystals in the gelato was nothing compared to the sting of the check.