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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July

15, 1998. All rights reserved.

Dining Destination: Tre Piani

The lay of the land may feel familiar, but visitors

to the new Tre Piani restaurant at Forrestal Village who knew it

as Castaways, or even Characters before that, will be surprised by

the cream-colored elegance, Mediterranean ambiance, and adult

sophistication of the new premises under owners Vincent Farro and

Joseph Maltese. No children’s menus or crayons here. At Tre Piani,

Chef James Weaver ventures into some intriguing culinary territory,

with an upscale profile that most closely resembles the first eatery

to occupy the premises, Woodrow’s.

But Woodrow’s was sparsely elegant. Tre Piani’s decorator has

festooned this rather cavernous space with murals, draperies,

statuary, and knicknacks using a Roman-era theme. Downstairs, in the

airy, two-story new Bistro where French doors open out onto an outdoor

dining terrace, there are murals of shepherds and shepherdesses draped

in cream-colored chiffon above the wood bar, and a cream-colored baby

grand piano stands ready for action.

Upstairs, the formal dining room is carpeted and quiet, clearly

designed for a relaxing and luxurious experience. The textured walls

are painted a rich cream, and here, too, the high ceiling lends drama,

with exposed beams festooned with branches to resemble a grape arbor

hung with tiny lights. Although fairly intimate in size, the formal

dining room gets a more spacious feeling, opening, as it does, onto

the two-story space below. Here too a cozy oak bar stands ready for

service.

Tre Piani — the name means three floors — boasts four dining

areas (two on the first floor), each with a different atmosphere,

and three menus. The lunch menu is served in all rooms from 11:30

a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; the Bistro menu is served on the outdoor patio

and first-floor dining room; and the fine dining menu is served in

the second-floor formal dining room and in the third-floor banquet

room.

The lunch menu includes pizzettas and focaccia, made to order, from

$9 to $11, a choice of salads priced $6 to $7.50 (to which, for an

additional $4, grilled chicken can be added), and hot and cold

antipasti. Entrees feature pasta, and lunchtime versions of the crab

cakes, mixed shellfish grill, grilled vegetables, or tuna entrees

served on the evening Bistro menu.

Of the two evening menus, the downstairs Bistro menu

seems to offer more sparkle and variety. This casual and contemporary

fare includes a choice of pizzette ($10 to $13) and an array of

inventive entrees, all priced from $12 to $16.50. These range from

risotto with asparagus and shrimp, Moroccan lamb tagine with couscous

and chives, and a grilled tuna steak with Sicilian-style eggplant

relish, to filet mignon tips sauteed with wild mushrooms. The

excellent shrimp and scallion pancakes with spicy harissa sauce

(offered as an appetizer upstairs for $9), are $8.50 on the Bistro

Tapas menu.

On the formal dinner menu upstairs, entrees range from $17 for

Milanese-style meat-filled tortelloni, to $27 for Osso buco in tomato

and basil sauce with herb risotto. Although the heritage is European,

the big portions are scaled for New Jersey appetites. The

Moroccan-seasoned grilled tuna is $24 and comes with portobello

mushrooms and a tomato stuffed with spinach and couscous. There is a

pan-roasted French hen with gnocci, and grilled soft shell crabs in

spicy peanut sauce (each $24). A new addition to the menu is the

paella with lobster and corn. Dinner begins with crusty Italian bread

served with seasoned olive oil. Dinner for two with wine quickly

approaches the $100 range.

It pays to plan ahead and enjoy a dessert from pastry chef Susan Osif.

There is refreshing homemade gelati and sorbetti, plus wickedly rich

macadamia nut baclava, lemon-scented cheesecake, and a creme brulee

that could become the envy of chefs for miles around.

— Nicole Plett

Tre Piani, Forrestal Village, behind the Marriott Hotel.

609-452-1515. Tre Piani has a full liquor license. Reservations for

parties of three or more and credit cards are accepted.


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