I had high hopes for this place after reading positive reviews in both the New York Times and the Princeton Packet and I was not disappointed.
We went last weekend for my mother's birthday. I'll get the two negative things out of the way first so I can focus on the positive. (1) parking is abyssmal. There is a lot behind the restaurant but if you don't want your car to get hit, don't park there. I saw one guy plow right into the dumpster trying to back into a spot. There is plenty of on-street parking but you'll have to walk a few blocks. (2) service was lackluster at best. Granted, the place was packed and it was a Saturday, but our waiter all but pushed us out the door despite knowing we were there to celebrate a birthday. He couldn't have been less interested in us throughout the night. We were seated at 7:30 and left at 9:45 - not what I would call a long, drawn out meal. He didn't even offer us dessert. I think his exact words upon clearing the last of our dinner dishes were " So you guys don't want anything else, right?"
But those two things aside, this is a stellar restaurant. We were seated downstairs in the wine cellar, which had a great ambiance with the exposed beams and all the wine bottles lining the walls. There are two long tables that could easily seat about 15 people each. We had five in our group so we sat at one end of a table while a party of 4 had the other end. It was very cosy and not nearly as noisy as the upper level.
We all tried a variety of dishes and everything was amazing, well seasoned and expertly prepared. And the plating itself was gorgeous...someone in the kitchen had a real eye for detail. There was not a bad dish in the ones we tried. For the appetizers, the eggplant rollatini was rich without being too much so and the caprese salad was made with roasted tomatoes that were sweet like candy and creamy mozzarella. The arugula and goat cheese salad with beets was better then other renditions because they actually dressed the arugula with an assertive lemon vinaigrette that complimented the rich cheese. The soup special was a velvety smooth cream of asparagus with plenty of earthy flaovr. I think our favorite appetizer was the polenta fries with a trio of dipping sauces. The fries were creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside with a heavy perfume of rosemary. The dipping sauces were quite assertive - a horseradish, garlic aioli and some kind of tomato-based sauce. All were well flavored and even spicy.
It should be noted that you can order a half portion of all the pasta dishes, which two of us did. The angel hair with garlic and shrimp was excellent, but the pasta was most certainly not angel hair. It was bordering on linguine-size. Still an excellent dish, with plump shrimp and chunks of roasted garlic in a creamy sauce. A half order with the grilled caesar salad was more food then I could comfortably eat. The grilled salad was also wonderful, with a slight char on the leaves and a smokey flavor from the grill. The dressing was assertive with garlic and anchovies. The scallops over lentils was better then I could have imagined - perfectly cooked scallops sitting on a bed of the best lentils I have ever eaten. I could have eaten an entire bowl of just those. I've never encountered lentils that were well seasoned before. Even the burger was good, although almost too large for a normal mouth to fit around. It came with a huge pile of crispy fries.
Desserts were not varied at our table since everyone wanted the chocolate bread pudding with hazelnut gelato and a caramel bourbon sauce. This is an excellent dessert and one that should not be missed, although the blood orange panna cotta sounded good too.
I should also mention that they have a full bar in addition to the wine. Someone behind the bar has a very heavy hand with the alcohol, which I guess is good considering they charged $12 for a whiskey sour. For the five of us the bill was $275 including tax and tip (and 5 cocktails). I thought that was a pretty good value for the amount and quality of the food.
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