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Feb 21, 2012 05:11 PM

Osteria Morini, Bernardsville - review based on 2 dinners

I have dined here 2 times in the past week. It has been good-great. The first time we ordered the following:
Appetizers: The seafood salad with shrimp, calamari, scallops, I think frisee lettuce, lemon and capers - it was very fresh and nice. We also got the ricotta and spinach gnudi. They were pan roasted and tasted good but I expected gnudi a la Spotted Pig - boiled, light, fluffy pillows - and these failed totally in matching that greatness. I didn't know gnudi were even prepared pan roasted and the menu did not mention this.

Dinner: Crispy black sea bass was very fresh but as much as I want to like fish prepared with the skin on, I just cannot. The skin leaves too much fishy flavor for me. I thought the "crispy" was from pan roasting the top of the skinless filet but it was from crisping the skin (I don't know the method). You may love this dish, it was great and I was able to appreciate it. I just don't like the flavor of the skin. My dining companion got the pork chop and loved it but I didn't try it.

2nd dinner
A different companion basically got a Due Terre dinner. The mista salad and the chicken. Both looked like before, both were excellent before, both were excellent now. I got a calamari with lettuce and citrus salad which despite coming out fried (which there was no mention of in the description), was wonderful! Great balance of flavors and tastes - juicy, crunchy, sour, sweet. I loved it. For dinner, I substituted gnocchi for spaghetti with pomodoro sauce and it was also excellent with full bodied tomato sauce and chewy homemade pastas. This dinner was a home run.

Also, focaccia doesn't get much better than what's served here. It is perfect.

In comparison to Osteria Morini in Soho NY, I find the NY location to have much more interesting and exotic ingredients. It also leans much further to the comfort side of rustic Italian cooking. I was disappointed but not shocked to find White's much celebrated porchetta did not make it across the river. Osteria Morini Bernardsville is a very good restaurant but is definitely not a Morini in my opinion because of the more nutritionally balanced, suburban-taste leaning menu. The decor in Bernardsville is rustic but the food and it's presentation is still more Due Terre.

I found the local dining scene to be cluttered with fine dining and I grouped Due Terre in this. I did not care for the dining room especially. Despite the food experience at Morini NJ being closer to Due Terre than Morini NY, I think they made very relevant changes and created something better. I will return to Morini NJ often.

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  1. My husband and I were so excited to try the new Osteria Morini in Bernardville. We have been to the New York one and loved it so we were overjoyed to find out it would be in our backyard. We finally got a chance to go on Friday and I'm ashamed to admit we went back on Sunday. The Focaccia bread was melt in your mouth DELICIOUS.......I could make a meal out of that alone. On our first trip there we ordered the stracotto sangiovese braised beef short rib with the potato and carmelized root vegatables.. It was "FANTASTIC" . It was everything I hoped it would be. The portion was perfect. It was presented perfectly. The taste and tenderness was awesome. My husband ordered the grigliata mista which was the mixed grill of side pork, lamb, skirt steak and sausage. He "LOVED IT" ....somuch that thats what we order on sunday when we went back.
    We loved the changes in the restaurant and love the open kitchen. We can't wait for friends or family to come and visit so we can go again. I am sure we won't wait for them to visit to go back because wwe are already dying to go back. OUR NEW FAVORITE PLACE!!!!!!!!!!

    2 Replies
    1. re: chefl

      OK we have now had two dinners and one take out from OM plus have had feedback from neighbors and some of the other restaurant owners in the area.

      I was hoping to pop into OM in Soho so I could make an equivalent discussion but that has not happened and is not on the horizon over the next few weeks so sorry to the OM Soho fans but I cannot do a compare.

      First – the space – what a dramatic change. The restaurant has gone from elegant to casual, the ceiling is now exposed with industrial painted light fixtures hung in black from teh high ceiling. The booths are gone, the step up to the dining room from the bar is gone, it is just one big open dining area with 4 top tables painted in rustic tones.

      The tables are unusually high – I like it but I am a big person. The table next to us the first night was complaining and in speaking with the dining room manager he is debating raising the chairs or lowering the tables. The tables are high as they each have extensions in them so the room can be configured to handle pretty much any size party. The bar area has been redone with a beautiful deep white marble bar, same length just broader. Same open kitchen in the back but a huge and what have must have been outrageously expensive pizza oven in the corner.

      No tablecloths - paper napkins are used , but high quality paper napkins. Water glasses and wine glasses are the same round ones from Due Terre, and all the place settings and cutlery create a modern mix that integrates with the rustic theme to the tables and wall hangings to make a very appealing setup, albeit it different than before and wow have I heard Due Terre regulars complain about that.

      OK the food – overall it is exceptional. Starting with the best focacia I have had outside of Italy.

      The bread is crispy with a toasted olive oil snap that gives way to melt in your mouth layered semolina bread that is enough to have me at that bar a few times a week with a nice glass of Chianti. The menu is pretty simple, salads, pastas, pizzas and a few meat and fish dishes. So far the pizza and the lasagna were both the best we have had - The lasgana and all of these type of foods have a different take on classic “red sauce” Italian restaurants.

      The primary difference is the lack of sauce, very minimal on teh pizzas and teh pasta and the pasta on the lasagna is obviously homemade and enveloped with cheese and spinach - really a great dish. My wife likes traditional Italian and when she asked for more red suace there was not a problem and a huge bowl of rich marinara was immediately brought over.

      The elephant ear pasta in a mushroom sauce provided a huge bowl of chewy homemade pasta with a rich mushroom sauce with 5 different types of mushrooms. The branzino was fresh, grilled over arugula and fennel in a truffle balsamic. The chicken was relatively the same dish as Due Terre’s old chicken – great news as that was one of the best chicken dishes in the state – pan roasted flat to a salty, crispy perfection in an au jus that is a leftover that had to stay on the menu according to the owner.

      Prices are much lower than before but not cheap - $11 to 18 for pizza; $22 to $34 for meat and fish. The salads were ok and we never tried the deserts.

      The wine list is the same as Due Terre, great selection of Italian red and white wines and a list of 10 by the glass, all reasonably priced.

      All in all a great place - I am not sure if it will meet its mark of attracting families and a broader audience than Due Terre. The objective is to see if they can fill the spot up early with families and later with the townspeople who support all the high quality restaurants in the area.

      I give them credit for trying something new and testing out the market. If they could not increase their covers there is no way they could afford the expansion into the old supermarket next door they wnat to accomlish this summer.

      I really believe if they did they would find the their audience anyway, the biggest limitation has always been the location that is impossible to see from Rt 202.

      As a long time Due Terre fan I am quite pleased, not sure if everyone will agree – I know quite a few who do not.

      On a side note the place is being called locally either ”the old due terre” or the place “with the unpronounceable name” . But it is packed each night so far, impossible to get in on a Friday or Saturday night – but let’s see how it fairs as it stops being the shiny new coin everyone wants to see

      1. re: chefl

        Chefl, welcome to Chowhound; I see this is your first post.

        There aren't many hounds in this part of NJ, and since Osteria Morini is in your backyard, I would be interested in knowing which other restaurants in the area you particularly like and which you would recommend.

      2. Also I spoke with Michael last night via text - he said they are going to open a third OM in Washington DC later this spring

        3 Replies
        1. re: carlylecat

          What kind of work/investments are you involved in that you have Michael White's cell phone number? Your review seemed objective enough but I'm just curious.

        2. This looks like something special, and it's in NJ!! Amazing that it doesn't get a lot of buzz on Chowhound. Anybody been more recently? Looks like one of the top restaurants in the State! I gotta get there soon!

          1 Reply
          1. re: lemarais

            Yes, I've gone many times since. The prosciutto/mortadella meatballs and pastas are what I return for. The mare salad is also very good. I don't like one thing about the pizza - I can make a better one at home out of an Ellio's box. White received extremely harsh criticism for the pizzas in his newly-opened SoHo pizzeria-restaurant Nicoletta. I was shocked not at all. Morini is a local restaurant for me so I enjoy having it. I don't know how far of a drive it is for you, but if NY is closer, Morini SoHo is FAR superior. The quality is high in Bernardsville, but the menu is limited and boring compared to NY. Octopus, smoked trout, veal crudo, beef cheek ragu, duck liver mousse, duck breast, the famous porchetta... These items featured in SoHo are not and will never be featured on the made-for-suburban-palates Bernardsville menu. The SoHo location definitely wouldn't feature pizza (cop out). They are two different experiences. But compared to other NJ restaurants, Morini in Bernardsville is doing some nice things.