By Bob Sacks |
Can a casual restaurant with a humorous name, located in a strip mall, serving breakfast and lunch to a shopping crowd by day, with takeout and catering too, pull off a very credible dinner service at night as well? Yes, for sure, if that restaurant is d’Jeet? in The Grove at Shrewsbury.
A bit of a split personality is evident when perusing the regular menu and the ‘Specials’ listings. There is still an ample selection of sandwiches and burgers available once the sun goes down, but there is also a sheet of daily specials featuring very tasty seasonal, local cuisine. By day, the line is out the door; by dinnertime the pace slows and the bright, cheerful atmosphere of this BYO is mellow and relaxed, all the better to enjoy the creative dishes of chef/owner Casey Pesce. There’s even live music on Friday nights.
While perusing the menu, we thoroughly enjoyed an order of Baba Ghanoush ($8); a creamy blend of roasted eggplant, tahini (sesame-based sauce), parsley, sumac, olive oil, lemon and garlic, with triangles of toasted pita bread for dipping.
A generous bowl of Local Heirloom Tomato Salad ($12/14) featured hunks of farm fresh tomatoes, cucumber, shaved onion, local greens, Frico (thin, crispy pieces of baked parmesan cheese), fennel and a sprightly lemon basil vinaigrette. A very tasty combination starring juicy New Jersey tomatoes!
Local New Jersey Button t($15), served in a deeply flavorful tomato-saffron broth, with toasted sourdough bread, was a home run – named DOTN (dish of the night) by two of my guests. A bit smaller than littlenecks, these clams were sweet, tender, grit free, and had absorbed a hint of the smoked paprika in the broth, making for a dish of surprising complexity, and one which required sopping up every last drop of that broth.
We liked the Soup D’Jour ($7/9), a Vegan Vegetable, tomato-based, fennel and Couscous combination, for its fresh taste and chunky texture, but would have preferred the couscous to have been cooked a little less.
I didn’t expect the Crab Toast ($14) to be as impressive as it was. A bountiful portion of lump crabmeat with roasted garlic aioli, sat atop grilled sourdough bread, and was dressed with slices of heirloom tomatoes and fennel fronds. This deceptively simple dish was elevated to a whole other level by the purity and freshness of the sweet crabmeat. Bravo!
Crispy Calamari Salad ($16); chicory, oven-roasted tomatoes, pickled red onion, shaved pecorino cheese, in a lemon-caper vinaigrette, was tasty, but would have been better balanced, and more enjoyable, with less salad and more calamari.
Fish D’Jour, Grilled Local Bluefin Tuna ($38), presented two smallish squares of perfectly seared rare tuna, which had been marinated in chermoula (cumin based), with whipped labne (thick-strained yogurt) sauce, toasted pistachio pieces, and a side of sliced local yellow and green squash.
All of the pastas are homemade and the Traditional Cheese Ravioli ($24), filled with mozzarella and ricotta, and topped with pomodoro sauce, basil and shaved pecorino was superb. Plump, tender, packets of al dente pasta, were bathed in a slightly chunky fresh tomato sauce, which had just the right amount of zip.
A special of Grilled Rib Eye Steak ($36) was dressed with carmelized shallot butter, and shared the plate with wedges of skin-on steak fries, and sautéed local kale.
Francois Raveneau is one of the best producers of Chablis in France, and his bottle of 2009 Foret Premier Cru was further proof that his sterling reputation is well deserved. Undercurrents of lemon-lime citrus mingled with tropical fruits, made for good minerality, with a trace of fullness, which worked well with the appetizers, especially the button clams and crab toast.
We opened two reds: on the leaner, crisper, and lighter side (think Barolo or Burgundy), a 2013 Cos Cerasuolo Di Vittoria from Sicily, a blend of native Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes, was bright and cherry-like, with a long finish, and paired well with the tuna and pasta. Some in our group preferred the 2014 Cameron Hughes Lot 530, matched with the tuna and rib eye; a California blend of Syrah and Grenache, which had more weight (bigger mouthfeel) and was far fruitier and richer, but had no secondary characteristics and seemed a bit monochromatic. In the end it was simply a matter of personal preferences.
Homemade Ice Cream ($8) for dessert? No way could we resist sampling some flavors! I really liked the Oatmeal Cookie and the Vanilla Bean. Toasted Marshmallow had a nice caramelized flavor, and the Chocolate-Covered Strawberry was very fruity.
Sure, you can go shopping at The Grove and have a great lunch at d’Jeet?, but you really should go back one night to explore their sophisticated Specials! It’s a totally different experience!
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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