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Underground Cafe in Princeton Report (longish)


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Underground Cafe in Princeton Report (longish)

claire | Feb 1, 2006 09:47 AM

The food safarists had to eat local tonight, as a pressing hair color appointment forced them away from the Metuchen-Edison ethnic eats corridor. Intrigued by the sort of recent opening of the Underground Café, in downtown Princeton, we decided that would be our safari destination of the week. We arrived around 8:15, to discover the restaurant empty save for one father-son two top. The menu arrived and we were a bit perplexed by its wide geographic range; we’d been informed by friends that it was Ukranian, but we saw Italian, Middle Eastern, Greek, and breakfast(a food group unto itself). Further, we’d been told that kebabs were the way to go, however, the menu neglected to note the price of those. We asked…$25!! Sure, in an upscale restaurant, in say, New York, $25 is entry level entrée price, but in Princeton? And for kebabs?? We therefore quickly changed our plan to chicken skewers, a mere $15, and chicken risotto. We started off with an app of grilled eggplant with diced tomatoes and goat cheese. I figured this would be the oil-saturated express, as eggplant does tend to be served that way. It was, but driven by our relentless hunger, we tucked in happily nonetheless. The eggplant was mushy, not a tinge of the grill about it. It contrasted, well, weirdly, with the soft, slightly tangy goat cheese. The tomatoes added a bit of crunchy texture, but the overall effect was simply one of mush. This didn’t stop us from eating all of it, but as mentioned above, we were ridiculously hungry and would’ve probably eaten just about anything but Velveeta.

On to the entrees. The waitress had told us that beyond being $25 the beef kebab wouldn’t be big enough to share, so that put the extra kaibosh on the kebabs. Turned out that the chicken skewer was more than an ample serving. There were two of them, with about 5-6 decent sized chunks of chicken. But there were flavorless, as was the rice (Uncle Ben’s anyone?). Theoretically, according to the menu, there were to be stewed veggies with the skewers, pero no, they were not in evidence. Instead, we got chopped iceberg lettuce—the yellowy interior parts no less—garnished with tomatoes and cucumbers in a yogurt sauce, with a sprinkling of dill. I thought longingly of Aladdin’s Palace and their spicy chicken kebab and excellent, though simple, lettuce, cukes, and tomato salad, but alas, we were underground. A few of the chicken pieces were a bit pink, but given that it was approaching 9pm, we were in no mood to send it back. More fools us…though as yet we are salmonella free.

The risotto was another Uncle Ben’s special, Arborio rice was clearly not an ingredient. The chicken was well-browned, perhaps a bit too much. Tossed in with the rice, which was a curious shade of brown, were chunks of button mushrooms, a few pieces of soft yellow pepper, and some diced onion. I think the dominating flavor of this was salt and butter. I know, I know, we ate just about everything. But more because hunger drove us to it.

We wouldn’t go back, and really, we wouldn’t recommend this place. It’s got a sort of cool-hip décor thing going on and the waitstaff is definitely nice and trying hard, but the food is not at all worth the prices! Sure, you are paying for their downtown location and fun atmosphere (though given that there was only one other party there, it wasn’t exactly happening), but the prices are higher than Teresa’s and the food isn’t even at the level of ho-hum. We didn’t expect the greatest food ever, but would’ve been happy with something approaching flavor! It’s too bad, because Princeton really could use an inexpensive yet interesting new restaurant.

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