In opening Eno Terra, its new Italian restaurant devoted to locally produced, sustainably farmed foods, the Terra Momo restaurant group might seem late to the “locavore” party. In fact, Eno Terra’s “eat local, drink global” credo actually dates to 2000, when the property was acquired. Then followed seven years of postponements and delays.
“It was a nightmare,” says Carlo Momo, who owns Terra Momo with his brother, Raoul. “Kingston is a historical village important to the founding of this country, but it’s at the intersection of three counties, and it’s run by all of them. It’s a bureaucratic mess.”
George Washington marched his troops through Kingston after trouncing Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Princeton. The nineteenth-century structure that houses Eno Terra—originally the Fisk Grocery, overlooking the Delaware and Raritan canals—is a relative baby, but Terra Momo has restored and adapted it, enlisting the talents of local architects, landscape designers, masons, and artists.
Like Washington before him, executive chef Chris Albrecht brings an impressive résumé to Kingston. After graduating from the CIA, he worked as saucier under Tom Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern and later as sous chef at Colicchio’s Craft. In 2002, Albrecht was tapped to open Craftsteak Las Vegas.
Even in the desert, Albrecht obtained his meat and produce from the kind of conscientious, family-run providers who now surround him in his home state. Eno Terra is one of only six restaurants in the state to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association, which considers environmental practices as well as food sources.
Start with the excellent salumi and formaggi platter that mates prosciutto di San Daniele (softer and slightly sweeter than its cousin from Parma) with artisanal cheeses from Jersey’s Cherry Grove and Valley Shepherd farms. The accompanying bread is baked by Terra Momo’s acclaimed Witherspoon Bread Company. Witherspoon’s excellent baguettes anchor the selection of bruschette—heirloom tomato; mixed marinated mushrooms and ricotta; and fava bean purée topped with sliced watermelon radish. (The purée with radish was bright and refreshing on one visit, oddly metallic on another.)
Favas returned in a salad with toasted hazelnut pesto served over San Daniele prosciutto and garnished with slices of young pecorino, just sharp enough to bring the dish together. Kingston Casalinga (housemaid) onion soup had a rare depth of flavor and smokiness thanks to the Madeira glaze and pancetta that accompany the caramelized red onions.
Pastas are Italian-Italian. Tagliatelle were tossed with grilled onions, sorrel leaves, and house-made garlic sausage. On one visit, the house-made noodles were ethereally rich and soft; on another, they formed an oily clump. The hand-cut borsello made up for it—delicate pouches of pasta stuffed with unctuous sheep’s-milk ricotta and fava-bean purée under a heady tomato sauce.
The best dish from the “Pasta and Grains” portion of the menu was a risotto made with farro (a spelt-like grain with a firm yet chewy texture and faintly nutty taste) cooked in thyme-infused pork stock and chock-full of sweet white corn, cippolini onions, and cherry tomatoes.
Entrées from the wood-fired grill are well prepared. It’s here that Albrecht’s stint at Craftsteak serves him best—the man knows how to cook a piece of meat. Still, compared to the rich and complex ingredient pairings in the first and second courses, the entrée components seemed to speak less clearly and compellingly to one another.
A slab of big-eye tuna was punched up by the smoke of the grill, but the grilled tomatoes and escarole didn’t pair well with the fish. While a combination of grilled peaches, mustard greens, and beets was as pleasing to view as to eat, the salmon that was meant to be the centerpiece seemed a sideshow—wan and underseasoned.
For dessert, vanilla panna cotta was dry and gummy but fruit crumble shined. When I visited in September, the fruit was nectarines from nearby Terhune Orchards that had a mouth-filling richness, complimented by a crisp crust.
Eight years in the making, Eno Terra could prove to be pretty sustainable itself.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Italian