Martial Foodie’s Joy of Fine Dining Guide: BLUE MOREL, Brilliant New American in Morristown, NJ

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Blue Morel shines with the treasurers of the sea and land: 1. Soft Shell Crab; 2. Duck Confit & Frisée Salad; 3. Cinnamon-Chili Glazed Chilean Sea Bass; 4. Handmade Radiatore Pasta; 5. Rack of Lamb; 6. “Oreos.”

“Joy of Fine Dining Guide” is Martial Foodie‘s in-depth reviews of very favorite restaurants around the DC area and the nation in order to help diners maximize their culinary experiences.

What makes it fine: Executive Chef Kevin Takafuji, the former Chef de Cuisine and driving force behind 2941 Restaurant’s rise to Washington, DC area’s culinary apex, brings his captivating culinary dynamism to the Westin Governor Morris Hotel’s Blue Morel.  The restaurant’s moniker symbolizes Chef Takafuji’s impeccable touch with the bounties of the sea (“Blue”) and land (“Morel”), which he sources from local/regional, organic, and sustainable farms.  What sets his cooking apart from his peers is his ability to incorporate excitement with an interesting twist of flavors—notably with seafood—while keeping them subtly in the background to let the pristine central ingredients shine.  Accompanied by knowledgeable, warm service and set in a spacious, elegant interior, Blue Morel is a dining destination only 30 some miles west of Manhattan.

Cost (per person before tax/tip/alcohol): $14-$74 for lunch, $28 for Sunday brunch ($14 for children 5-12), $24-$79 for dinner, Sunday Nights are $29 for 3-course Sunday Supper-only.

The Occasion: For celebrating a special occasion or savoring a spectacular Manhattan-quality foodie experience without the crowds or next-to-impossible parking (there is ample free parking at the Westin Governor Morris Hotel), go to Blue Morel for an incredible gastronomic experience courtesy of star chef Chef Kevin Takafuji.

Favorite Dishes: While the menu features mainstays like a Romaine (Caesar) Salad and Strip Steak, the more thrilling dishes are what tempt my palate—particularly the seasonal features.  Born and raised in Hawaii, Chef Takafuji is very much at home with seafood—preparing a wide selection of sea treasures including raw bar and sushi.  His incomparable finesse with fish dishes was one of the biggest reasons why 2941 Restaurant rose to the top echelon of restaurants.  His signature incorporation of fresh herbs and spices added fascinating notes of excitement to his perfect preparation of the fish’s texture, which thus, maximized its glorious medley of inherent flavors.

As he did at 2941 Restaurant, Chef Takafuji makes piscatorial magic at Blue Morel with Chili-Cinnamon Glazed Chilean Sea Bass.  The fish’s inherent buttery texture and sweet notes gently coats the entire tongue while the sweet and herby glaze titillates the surface of the taste buds: think a Broiled Black Cod with Miso but with a spicier cinnamony kick rather than the fermented soybean flavor.  Served with a subtle ginger lemongrass nage and balanced with tender baby bok choy, the dish’s harmony of flavors and textures rise to a dramatic crescendo with a sweet and tender jumbo shrimp wrapped in a slinky helix of fried shoestring potato.

Another exemplary seafood dish is the Tapioca Crusted Soft Shell Crab.  Perfectly seasoned and fried, the crustacean jewel of the late spring-early summer is prepared to a thinly crisp outside and creamy innard/tender meaty inside.  Accompanied by lightly bitter crispy fried Brussel Sprouts, meaty toasted hazelnuts as well as cooling mint and cilantro, the variety of components are tied together by a chili and turmeric-inflected toasted coconut vinegar.  Symbolic of Chef Takafuji’s style, this dish encompasses a spectrum of colors, textures, aromas, and flavors from tart, spicy, sweet, herby, and savory while letting the crab’s flavor shine.

Not to be out-done are the dishes of terrestrial origin.  Chef Takafuji’s Rack of Lamb is a blissful transport of the gustatory and olfactory senses to North Africa by way of Persia.  Juicy, tender, and lusciously textured, the generous portion of lamb also features ample amounts to nibble off the bone (for those of us who enjoy the flavorful meat, fat, and fascia on the bone!) and a hypnotic fragrance coming from the Espelette pepper, garlic, and sumac as well as the herby house made Merguez sausage.  The crisp outside-tender inside chick pea panisse (almost like a fried silken tofu in texture), gently bitter and lightly charred broccoli rabe, refreshing cucumber yogurt, and zippy Romesco sauce provide a wonderful range of flavors and fun components to play with the exquisite lamb.  Like the crab and fish, the Rack of Lamb is also gluten-free.  Simply put: one of the best lamb dishes I have had the pleasure of experiencing!

While pescatarians and omnivore/carnivores are sure to be blown away, the vegetarians will find a dazzling and satisfying entrée in the Handmade Radiatore Pasta with ramp pesto, morels, asparagus, sugar snap peas, shaved carrots, chili, parmesan, and poached egg.  This pasta brings together the bounty of spring in a truly creamy, earthy, nutty, sweet, and herby fashion with a touch of fiery heat.

For dessert, the most intriguing is the “Oreo’s”—dark cocoa shortbread cookie sandwiching coconut panna cotta and a swab of dulce de leche accompanied by a brush of lime curd and toasted coconut ice cream.  The cookie sandwich was well-composed and fun to eat—alternating between holding between fingers versus cutting pieces off using a spoon.  While the panna cotta could have been more fragrant and flavorful, the ice cream shined by giving off ample fragrance, texture, and flavors of coconut.

What to Avoid: Nothing to note.

Special Tips: Sunday Supper features a focused selection of more comforting food at a tremendous value.  To enjoy the full offering of exciting selections from the à la carte dinner menu, dine in Monday through Saturday (especially Friday or Saturday).

Blue Morel is located on the lobby level of the Westin Governor Morris Hotel on 2 Whippany Road, Morristown, New Jersey (973-451-26-19).  For further information on Blue Morel, click here.

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