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New Jersey Monthly Magazine
Restaurant Review
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Mama Tucci

Reviewed by Valerie Sinclair   
Posted February 8, 2008

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When you enter Mama Tucci, it’s a bit like stepping into Aunt Rosalie’s house—if you grew up with an Aunt Rosalie. The tiny restaurant seats only 26, with a few extra tables out on the pavement when weather permits. Mama Tucci is named for the grandmother of pastry chef Adele DiBiase-Flores, who owns it with her husband, Rocco Flores. Photographs of Mama Tucci in her wedding finery are on the walls, watching over everyone. The executive chef is Marc Bruzzio, previously the chef at Riga in Fairfield.

There’s a small menu and three or four blackboard specials each day. Service is rapid and pleasant, and the restaurant is already so popular after a year and a half that most tables seem to turn over at least once every evening, even on weeknights.

After being seated, diners are served a side plate containing a bread roll and a mound of garlicky white beans flecked with red pepper, a nice twist on an amuse-bouche. Of the appetizers, I’d definitely come back for the four crunchy yet soft fried artichoke hearts, served with a pungent lemon-flavored aioli studded with capers. I also like the tender breaded and fried calamari, accompanied by a good balsamic-marinara dipping sauce. A salad of mixed greens with goat cheese, dried blueberries, toasted almonds, and blueberry balsamic vinaigrette is refreshing. Crisp polenta points topped with Gorgonzola cheese and mushroom gravy is indeed crisp but a little dry.

I like most of the pastas, including a hearty veal Bolognese served over fusilli and pappardelle with vodka sauce, blue cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes. The sole exception is the rounds of homemade lune (little moons), filled with pumpkin and swimming in a thickened brown butter-and-sage sauce with pine nuts—just not my taste.

Of the main courses, pistachio-crusted scallops, served with a mixture of white and sweet smashed potatoes and crisp green and white beans, boast excellent flavors, but the connecting muscle hasn’t been removed from the scallops. A grilled veal chop with roasted asparagus and a heavy gravy tasting of garlic, basil, sun-dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar is fine. Pork cutlets coated with herbs and walnuts and topped with apples and blue cheese are dry and too salty.

The pumpkin-and-pecan croustade and open rustic pie with ice cream each provide an excellent finish that’s not too sweet. A fresh-blueberry croustade is also good, as is the orange-flavored cheesecake with a nut crust. Chocolate soup, which tastes like a cross between thick chocolate sauce and hot cocoa, is exceedingly rich and sweet and would be better served in a demitasse instead of a large bowl.

 

Reviewed in: January 2006

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