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This week guest blogger Melody Kettle tells us about Terre a Terre, an "artisanal market, eatery and culinary center" in Carlstadt.
Terre a Terre: Down to Earth
Chef Todd Villani couldn’t have come up with a more perfect name than Terre a Terre (312 Hackensack St, Carlstadt, 201-507-0500), for his Carlstadt “artisanal market, eatery and culinary center.” Reflecting more than his farm-to-table ethos, Terre a Terre, which translates to down to earth, is a perfect way to describe the humble, gracious chef.
Terre a Terre is rustically refined. Upon entry, shelves in the foyer are stocked with products from local purveyors and artisans. In the main dining room, as well as in the comfortable chef’s table room right off the kitchen, Ball-jar light fixtures hang above intimate tables, draped in burlap tablecloths. Wood-framed chalkboards, and pastoral photography, all sourced from local artists and craftspeople, line the walls, while the frequently updated menu is posted on bark-bearing, wooden planks.
The service staff is young and, of course, local, too. Unpretentious, they don’t try to dazzle with amazing feats of memorization, and are not ashamed to check their notes about the specials, They’re quick to respond, “I’ll ask the chef,” and return promptly with the right answer. Our server recommended Four Point Zero mango-and-cilantro-flavored seltzer. Despite the seemingly bold flavor combo, I was pleasantly surprised with its mild palatability.
There are only two cooks in the tiny Terre a Terre kitchen. Villani is one of them. Yet, he maintains his front-of-the-house tendencies, and frequently appears in the dining room to greet tables, serve the amuse, and sauce dishes.
And about those dishes: everything Villani cooks is sourced within a 300-mile radius, including farms like Roseland, Rosenkrans, La Belle, Shibumi, and more. Now that we know where our food comes from, let’s eat it.
Beef tartare is not for the faint of palate; it’s hardcore food porn: raw beef, onions, capers, it’s the pinnacle of strong flavors for those who like it raw—like me. Villani’s Roseland Farm beef tartare incorporates white anchovy, micro-greens, fried quail egg and shaved grana padano cheese.
In the afterglow of the indulgent tartare, I couldn’t resist taking a bite of my husband’s empanada. The pastry on the Rosenkrans Farms braised-beef short rib empanadas with root veggies, was perfect: golden, light, flaky, rich, and above all, buttery. The empanada would have benefited from more short rib and less root veg, but, the richness of the bechamel, along with a touch of truffle, was more than satisfactory.
Entrees followed and demonstrated Villani’s talent for using flavors to enhance, not obscure, the inherent characteristics of the respective proteins. One of the specials of the evening was a La Belle Farm lavender duck breast with leg, purple potatoes, and pomegranate sauce—applied by Villani in the dining room. The lavender didn’t muddle the duck flavor, and revealed itself gently, more prominent as a finishing note on the palate, than upfront on the nose.
The sea bass, served with a verdant, peppery arugula puree, and confit of young carrots, was accompanied by an aromatic ginger and licorice emulsion—again, judiciously sauced by Villani in the dining room. The distinctive licorice and ginger didn’t mask the flavor of the fish, or compromise the crisp of its skin, but played along, as an enhancing accompaniment.
Of all the desserts we tried, including the sweet-potato tart, cinnamon brioche bread pudding, and blueberry panna cotta, the strangest dessert—gorgonzola gelato with candied pecan and rosemary—was my favorite. Oddball ice creams and strange cheesey desserts usually leave me in regret, but, Villani’s gorgonzola gelato was brilliant and balanced, demonstrating, again, moderate and masterly use of herbs and flavors. On a final note, even the coffee is worth getting, bold with a long finish. Villani, is a certified diamond in the Meadowland rough, and Terre a Terre is a go-to-now restaurant.