When Uproot opened in 2009, critics praised its high-concept, modern interior and its ambitious menu by chef Anthony Bucco. But recession-stressed customers shied away except on Friday and Saturday nights.
From the outset, the plan was for sous chef Mark Farro, a CIA grad and the son of the owners, to succeed Bucco. That happened in late 2011 when Bucco joined the team reviving the Ryland Inn.
At that point, “we recognized it was essential to embrace what the local community, our customer base, was looking for,” Uproot’s current manager, Danny McGill, told me in a phone call after my visits. The stylized sculpture of an uprooted tree still hangs from the domed ceiling near the entrance. But the menu’s exotic music has been transposed to a more familiar key.
There’s easy-to-like bar fare, such as panko-crusted mac and cheese “pillows” to dredge in smoked tomato aioli and truffle fries with a trio of pungent sauces. The spicy Maker’s Mark sauce on chicken wings had no detectable trace of the bourbon. (Speaking of alcohol, the cocktail list is undistinguished.) The menu (basically the same at lunch and dinner) always includes a cheeseburger (made with excellent beef from John’s Meat Market in Scotch Plains) on a sadly squishy bun. A grilled salmon club on pretzel bread was run-of-the-mill; tuna tartare was bland and a bit gummy; and taking lavishness too far, an individual pizza was topped with goat cheese, sour cream, bacon, caramelized onions and rosemary.
On a menu that includes a throwback like baked brie in puff pastry, you don’t expect exceptional Asian steamed buns. Yet Farro’s, properly moist and puffy, are stuffed with unctuous, crisp-edged pork belly happily jangled with pickled carrot, cooling cucumber and a hint of hoisin sauce. The grilled baby-octopus starter was unexpectedly nuanced, paired with creamy navy beans, nubbins of chorizo, mandarin-orange segments and frisée in a subtle citrus dressing. Chicken pot pie, another winner, was served piping hot in a black iron skillet.
Appetizers and small plates seem pricey ($13.95 for the steamed buns; $11.95 for the truffle fries; $13.95 for guacamole); at least the portions are big enough to share. The value equation works less well for the eight entrée-like “specialties.” Many hover around $30. At those prices, you’re entitled to shellfish stew in which you can actually taste the lobster and saffron promised in the broth. An adobo marinade infused a flavorful hanger steak that came with a good mole sauce on the side. But a ponderous, over-creamed potato-and-butternut-squash casserole nearly sank the dish. Similarly, an overly dense Bolognese sauce trampled fresh, hand-rolled garganelli pasta.
Farro’s oversize desserts beg to be shared and are so good everyone will happily have at them. Exhibit A: four big cinnamon-sugar donuts, to be dipped into coffee pot de crème topped with salted caramel. Exhibit B: a towering wedge alternating layers of red velvet cake and cheesecake.
Virtually the entire menu is available as takeout. Saturdays rotate between a chef’s tasting menu; a beer-pairing menu; a wine tasting menu; and live entertainment. On and off the menu, the move to a more comfortable key seems to be helping Uproot put down roots.Click here to leave a comment