It's New to Us by Jean Stratton

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DELICIOUS DINING: "We offer fine dining, and we always emphasize the freshest products. We focus on using local ingredients in an Italian style." The owners of Tre Piani in Princeton Forrestal Village are very proud of their restaurant. Shown left to right are John Micalizzi, Jeanne McNulty, and in the foreground, chef/owner Jim Weaver.

Fine Dining Is Key to Tre Piani In Princeton Forrestal Village

When people dine here, they dine!" says Jeanne McNulty, one of the three owners of Tre Piani restaurant in Princeton Forrestal Village.

She is delighted about the new tone of the restaurant, which opened in 1998. With her partners, chef Jim Weaver, who has been with Tre Piani since its beginning, and John Micalizzi, Ms. McNulty looks forward to an exciting future, while continuing to emphasize the quality that has been the restaurant's hallmark.

Tre Piani has consistently received positive press coverage, from the Trenton Times to the New York Times. "Elegant, innovative cuisine," reports the latter.

"There is a lot of positive energy here now," points out Chef Weaver. "Customers can count on the consistency and quality we have always been noted for and the comfortable atmosphere. We are also taking the restaurant to a different level, including an expanded wine list, new dishes, and special presentations. In addition, we have wireless internet access, and on Friday nights from 8 to 12, live music."

The new owners, who took over in March, are very much in agreement about the restaurant's future, adds Mr. Micalizzi, who has a corporate background. "The three of us have such a great connection, with the same vision and goals."

They each have their areas of specialty and expertise, he notes. Mr. Weaver is the chef, and Ms. McNulty, also a chef, who has been in the hotel business for 20 years, is in charge of banquets and special events. In addition, the restaurant's very popular maitre d', Gian Carlo Squitieri, originally from Naples, is on hand to welcome customers.

Dramatic Setting

Tre Piani (which translates to three floors in Italian) is elegant and spacious, with three floors of separate dining areas. Noted for its attractive decor, featuring copies of Pompeian frescoes, and a variety of antiques and Italian pottery, it offers a dramatic setting in which the ceiling soars over the dining room and bar.

The downstairs dining room, the Bistro, features informal dining, with a separate dinner menu. It is family-friendly and provides a relaxed atmosphere for diners of all ages.

The fine dining room on the second floor is noted for its sophisticated menu, and offers a more formal setting. The third floor is the location for private corporate and social functions, including wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, bar/bat mitzvahs, holiday parties, etc.

In all, Tre Piani can accommodate 300 people, with ample room for 110 guests upstairs. The restaurant's reputation for fine food has attracted regular customers from the area and beyond, report the owners, with some happy diners coming three and four times a week. Fresh ingredients, high quality, and expert preparation are the keys to Tre Piani's success, and in addition, the restaurant is a strong supporter of the Slow Food organization – the opposite in every way of Fast Food!

"Slow Food is an international grass roots movement," explains Mr. Weaver. "It began in Italy, and I started the New Jersey Chapter. It has now grown to 500 members in the state. There are 160 chapters and 100,000 members nationally, and it is in 58 countries.

"What it does is to promote, preserve, and protect conviviality, local food, flavor, and tradition. It is a return to the table as a source of pleasure. We support local farmers, fishermen, and cheese and meat people. We also feature specific breeds of animals, including some that are rare."

Rare Breed

Among the rare breed entrees are Tre Piani's special BBQ heritage breed pork spare ribs, seasoned with Guajillo honey and special spice rub, with baby vegetables and sausage-stuffed double baked potato. Another rare breed specialty is braised Navajo Churro lamb shank with sweet corn, tomato, chipotle, and roasted garlic-basil polenta.

A traditional Tre Piani favorite of many customers is red snapper filet, sauteed in a pignolia nut crust, served with honey lemon beurre blanc, baby vegetables, and home-fried fingerling potatoes.

Grass-fed American bison carpaccio, served with arugula, shaved parmigiano, garlic chips, and black pepper is another favorite, as is the chef's Seafood Panzanella salad, including little neck clams, scallops, and calamari quickly sauteed with garlic, fennel, vine-ripened tomato, cucumber, and basil with bread.

"Last June, Jim went to New Orleans for the Great American Seafood Cook-Off," says Ms. McNulty proudly, "and he made his Garden State Panzanella salad."

In Demand

A popular seafood antipasto dish is the Delaware Bay Oysters on the half-shell, served with cilantro mignonette and traditional cocktail sauce, she adds.

A medley of desserts is available to complete the meal, and the restaurant's special hot chocolate cake, white peach creme brulee, and classic tiramisu are always in demand.

The menu changes seasonally, and the chef points out that he is interested in introducing people to new dining experiences, as well as offering the old favorites.

"I enjoy preparing the food, using new, fresh ingredients, and creating new recipes. I always like to put a spin on things, and I also do feel some responsibility to educate our customers regarding the food."

The versatility Tre Piani offers as a dining out experience, as well as an enjoyable environment for special events sets it apart, says Ms. McNulty. "We are not a cookie cutter hotel. We can do things in lots of ways. We're a big place, but we are independent, so we have flexibility in what we can do and offer.

"When people are planning a wedding or other special event, it's a happy time. And I want the results to be just what they hoped for. Then it is really a happy time for everyone!"

Tre Piani is open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2:30; for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 9:30, Friday and Saturday until 10. Reservations are strongly recommended. (609) 452-1515



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