FOOD: Global eclectic
AMBIENCE: Modern bistro
SERVICE: Efficient, approachable
WINE LIST: BYO
DINNER FOR TWO: $76
HOURS: Dinner: Tuesday through
Saturday, 5 to 10 PM; Sunday, 4
to 9 PM. Lunch: Tuesday through
Saturday, 11: 30 AM to 3 PM.
AX, MC, V, D; X AX, MC, V, D
73 Minebrook Road, Bernardsville
When I first picked up the menu of this Bernardsville
BYO, I thought, Here we go again. Do we
really need another collection of crab
cakes, pasta Bolognese, braised short
ribs, steak frites and chocolate lava cake?
Several visits changed the thought
to, This is what a global bistro should be.
Its French onion soup reminds me why
I fell in love with this classic years ago.
It draws intelligently from today’s international larder to enliven a Maryland
crab cake with avocado salsa and caper
remoulade, and to update sautéed cod
with baby bok choy, white bean purée
and spinach pesto (a recent special). And
does so at a reasonable price.
A veteran team conceived and owns
this popular spot. Afrim Berisha, a partner in Vine, the bistro’s Mediterranean
cousin in nearby Basking Ridge, ran what
was known as Grill 73 for seven years before he and his partners sold it in 2009.
It went through several incarnations and
didn’t prosper, so Berisha and his partners “decided to give it one more try,” he
told me in a phone conversation after my
visits. Buying it back in 2010, they renovated the space, introduced a new menu
and dubbed it Bistro Seven. Three.
Two handsome storefront rooms
with large windows seat 90 and suggest
an updated French bistro. Lively bands
of red and cream paint and running mir-
rors offset dark wood floors. Despite
acoustic tiles, this is one buzzing space,
its close-set tables usually full. At least
my table for four managed to commu-
nicate over the constant thrum without
suffering raspy throats the next day.
Chef Edgar Ramirez, 39, has worked
for Berisha and partners for years. Originally from Guatemala, Ramirez came to
America 25 years ago and cooked in a
number of New Jersey restaurants, along
the way learning French, New American, steak house and seafood styles.
At Seven.Three, Ramirez’s kitchen
turns out toothsome house-made manicotti with roasted tomato sauce and
equally reliable coq au vin, the chicken’s
skin varnished with a Burgundy sauce
of immense depth and flavor. Ahi tuna
crusted with white and black sesame
seeds is lightly seared, preserving its
sushi-like interior, and served on a light,
crisp rice cake. Good, garlicky grilled
hanger steak—crowned with a medallion of melting herb butter that mingles
with the beef juices—comes with terrific
frites. Ramirez’s capellini with crabmeat
puts some Italian restaurants to shame.
Several of the best dishes build intense sauces from classic French stocks.
These include recurring specials like
beef stroganoff and a lamb shank so
tender I could have eaten it with a
spoon, as well as items ranging from the
French onion soup to velvety wild-mushroom bisque.
There were a few surprising letdowns. Short ribs braised in Barolo
tasted more like overcooked pot roast.
Despite an outstanding baby arugula
salad and a fine endive with candied
walnuts and feta, the Caesar was inexplicably bland. In perhaps the only truly
misconceived dish, spinach-and-cheese
dumplings oily from the deep fryer were
jarringly matched with Thai chili dipping sauce.
Desserts, from pastry chef Vicente
Cabrera, more than made up for the few
glitches: seasonal pear and cranberry
crisp; rich but not cloying tres leches
cake; flavorful almond biscotti that, correctly, need dunking in the (very good)
coffee to soften. I even warmed to the
“Not only hard work,” she says. “It
has to be smart work.”
Three months after they opened the
Moghul Room, the Mehtanis’ son Shaun
was born. In 1991, recognizing a fine
dining opportunity in the growing Indian
community of Edison, they opened Mo-
ghul. The location, concealed from the
street in a strip mall behind a supermar-
ket, seemed unpromising.
“If the food and service are excellent,” Satish prophesied, “people will
find it.” Twenty two years later, Moghul
is still going strong in that same spot.
Other restaurants followed, including
the Indo-Chinese Ming in Edison in 2001
and the shared-entrance trio of Mehndi,
Ming II and SM23 in Morristown in 2007.
For many years, Sneh was known as the
“Tigress” of off-site catering, pulling off
as many as 20 weddings in a weekend,
some with as many as 600 guests.
Next year, Dartmouth MBA Shaun
turns 30, gets married and ascends to
the leadership of the company after a
two-year transition. “I pass on a good
baton,” says Sneh, with a smile.
Shaun laughs. “My mother is already
quote-unquote retired,” he says. “She still
calls me every day with questions and
ideas. And God forbid I don’t pick up.” ■
WONDER WOMAN: Shaun Mehtani pays tribute
to his mom, Sneh, who’ll be honored for the Indian restaurants she created with dad Satish, right.