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This week Rosie tells us about Osteria Morini in Bernardsville, Gaffer’s Pub in West Orange, the Monet’s Palate documentary by NJ producer Aileen Bordman, and much more news about NJ restaurants.
OSTERIA MORINI, BERNARDSVILLE
What a night! We were invited to a press dinner at Osteria Morini (previously known as Due Terre), 107 Morristown Road, Bernardsville, and were treated to a dinner prepared by none other than executive chef/co-owner Michael White (co-owner of Marea, Osteria Morini SoHo, Al Fiori, Nicoletta, and Al Molo in NYC and Due Mari in NJ), chef de cuisine Bill Dorrler from Osteria Morini in NYC, and chef de cuisine Kevin Knevals of Osteria Morini in NJ. They certainly impressed us, and we look forward to returning to this restaurant. Emilia-Romagna-inspired cuisine using seasonal ingredients, top-quality meats purveyed from Pat LaFrieda (seen on Food Network’s Meat Men), an approachable wine list, and attentive service all added to the enjoyment of the evening.
The dining room at Osteria Morini.
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein.
What we appreciated about the menu is that you can come here to have a pizza, a dish of cured meats or cheeses, a bowl of pasta, or just dessert, or you can order a full-fledged dinner. For starters we tried the meatballs, which got their flavor from prosciutto and mortadella. Fennel sausage, tomato, and mozzarella topped the crunchy brick-oven pizza, always a favorite. House-made pastas got an A-plus and are available in two sizes. We tried the ricotta gnocchi with fennel sausage, artichokes, and escarole; lumache (giant snail-shaped pasta) with lamb neck ragù, fava beans, and shaved pecorino; gramigna (small curls) with pork sausage ragù, cream, peas, and black pepper; and, our favorite, lasagna made with spinach pasta. A platter of simply grilled meats comprised pork belly, sausage, lamb, and skirt steak, perfect for sharing or for the hungry diner. Not to be missed either is the 21-day dry-aged sirloin with artichoke and bean purée and green beans, or the crispy duck breast with mushroom farrotto and grilled ramps. In a beautiful presentation, moist, oven-baked branzino was topped with bread crumbs and accompanied by a colorful arugula salad. If it’s available, try the dark hot chocolate cake or the chocolate almond torte for dessert. A citrus-scented panna cotta would be a lighter choice.
The international wine list is heavy on Italian reds and whites, with many options in the $30 to $40 range. The dining room is casual, the bar is long, and the place was full when we left. Reservations: 908-221-0040.
Osteria Morini branzino.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein.
We ended up at Gaffer’s Pub, 440 Main Street, West Orange (973-731-1373), by default. The evening started with our walking out of a restaurant where we were expecting a sushi menu but found a bar with ten TVs and a menu that had some sushi items but also paella, chicken wings, burgers, and fries. The food may have been good, but the waitress was pushing the drinks and we didn’t like the menu, so we abandoned ship. Now we had to decide where we were going to have dinner, and we had to get in and out fast, as we needed to be someplace in an hour. So the decision was to try Gaffer’s Pub, which we used to frequent for the burgers but hadn’t been to in years. It turned out to be a pleasant homecoming. The thick burgers, eight ounces each, were juicy and char-grilled—delicious. Available in many styles, they come with the choice of steak-cut fries or a small salad. Mine was a Classic with lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, pickles, and pub sauce. Lowell had the Bleu Ring, with an onion ring and blue cheese. Other options are grilled chicken, sandwiches, soups, finger food, salads, and pub specials such as NY strip steak, BBQ baby-back ribs, and fish and chips. A kids’ menu is offered, with selections such as grilled cheese and fries and chicken fingers and fries, which also come with a drink and a small ice cream. And of course this is a pub, so you’ll find a large selection of beers on tap.
Cielo (“sky” or “heaven” in Italian) has recently opened at 168 Passaic Avenue, Fairfield, under the direction of chef/owner Anthony Pucciarello. If the address sounds familiar, that’s because it used to be Crave Restaurant. A large menu is supplemented with specials written out with their prices, as well as some recited without. Diners will find the usual Italian choices, including rice balls, imported buffalo mozzarella with fire-roasted peppers, spaghetti and meatballs, and veal parmigiana. We opted to start with a side of sautéed broccoli rabe and spicy rock shrimp arrabbiata. An entrée of homemade spinach and egg linguine tossed with asparagus, shrimp, and oven-roasted tomatoes, with a touch of brandy cream, contained large, fresh-tasting shrimp and al dente asparagus, but the sauce had a floury taste. House-made orecchiette with caramelized cauliflower, sweet sausage out of the casing, white northern beans, garlic, and olive oil, topped with toasted bread crumbs, was a filling, well-proportioned dish. Portions were big and prices reasonable, with pastas ranging from $15 to $19 and entrées under $30. Grandma’s icebox cake made with graham crackers, sliced bananas, chocolate pudding, and whipped cream was shared for dessert. Service was not as attentive as we would have liked, as our waiter was busy talking to other staff. There’s a large bar area where happy hour is celebrated on weekdays from 4 to 7 PM, and there’s live music on weekends. Reservations: 973-808-1414.
Spinach and egg linguine with asparagus, shrimp, and oven-roasted tomatoes.
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein.
“MONET’S PALATE” AT NY BOTANICAL GARDEN
New Jersey producer Aileen Bordman’s documentary Monet’s Palate, featuring artwork and delectable dishes created by Claude Monet, will be shown at the New York Botanical Garden at 3 PM on Saturdays and Sundays from May 19 through October 21, as part of the Monet’s Garden exhibit. For more information and tickets, log on to www.nybg.org. To purchase a DVD of the film, visit www.monetspalate.com/film/film_monets_palate.html.
FOOD TRUCK WARS AT MONMOUTH PARK
On May 27, Food Trucks Wars will be held at Monmouth Park, 175 Oceanport Avenue, Oceanport. A panel of guest judges will evaluate the trucks’ food for taste, quality, and innovation, and attendees can cast their votes for People’s Choice Awards throughout the day. The event will also feature an array of crafters, vendors, and live music, as well as activities for children. Gates open at 11:30 AM, thoroughbred racing begins at 12:50 PM, festival hours are noon to 5 PM. Grandstand admission, which includes admission to the festival area, is $3. Children twelve and under enter free. Food prices vary. For more information, visit www.monmouthpark.com or call 732-747-4449.
NJ JAMES BEARD AWARD WINNERS
The James Beard Foundation Awards were announced on May 7 in NYC, and we congratulate Maricel Presilla, the owner of Cucharamama, Zafra, and Ultramarinos in Hoboken, for being named Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of Prune in NYC who’s originally from Lambertville, for receiving the Writing & Literature Award for her autobiography, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.
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