Posts Tagged ‘Italian’

Campo Fina – Healdsburg, CA

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 by virginia


By Thursday, all of our friends had arrived in Healdsburg for the wedding festivities. First we stopped at the Healdsburg Bar & Grill for a group happy hour on the back patio, and then we walked along Healdsburg Avenue in search of a restaurant for dinner. Campo Fina drew us in with it varied Italian menu and immediately available seating.

At first we were crowded around a small round booth by the door, which was cozy and intimate and perfect for conversations, but not practical for the amount of food that would wind up on the table. Fortunately some more tables opened up in the front and we were able to spread out more comfortably.

Because we were all couples with different food preferences, we decided to order our own dishes rather than share with the table, even though the menu is pretty conducive for sharing. Josh and I decided to split two appetizers and a pizza so that we could try several dishes.

First up was the burrata cheese with grilled bread, prosciutto, and aged balsamic. It was a twist on our favorite mozzarella/tomato/prosciutto dinners that we indulge in almost weekly during the summer. The burrata was soft and milky in the middle and while the prosciutto was very lean, it still melted in mouths. The aged balsamic was intense in flavor and very sweet, which contrasted nicely with the salty prosciutto. There was arugula on the plate as well, adding a bit of bitterness to cut through the richness of the burrata. The grilled bread doused with good olive oil was the perfect vehicle for the ingredients. Even though it was a simple appetizer, we enjoyed it so much that it inspired us to grill our bread and eat more burrata all summer long.

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Burrata with grilled bread, prosciutto, arugula, and aged balsamic

Our second appetizer was pork belly sliders. We had enjoyed the pork belly biscuits at Chalkboard the night before so much that we were in the mood for more pork belly. These were served with fig and red onion marmellata, sauerkraut, and pickled mustard seed. The pork belly wasn’t as crispy on the outside but it was still tender and deliciously fatty. The fig and red onion added a sweet glaze to the pork, while the sauerkraut provided a tangy contrast and crunch. The mustard seeds were a nice touch, adding a little extra burst of flavor with each bite. My only complaint was the bread, which was just toasted white bread buns. They were soft and squishy and pretty mundane, especially compared with the delicate biscuits from the night before. Plus there was too much of it, which detracted a bit from the delicious pork belly.

Pork belly sliders

Pork belly sliders

For our main course, we split the salsiccia pizza, which was topped with sausage and roasted spring onions. I liked the mellow onion flavor that the roasted spring onions brought to the dish, and the sausage was also pretty mild, which I prefer. I would have liked a little bit more cheese (it was definitely on the saucier side), but overall it was a pretty tasty pie. The crust was nicely browned from the wood-burning oven and had good flavor and chew to it. We also traded slices with other people at the table and tasted a fantastic spiced lamb pizza (it was a special that night) as well as pizza calabrese, which was unfortunately did not have enough calabrese salame on top.

Pizza salsiccia

Pizza salsiccia

We were wavering on dessert but after hearing what the special of the day was, we couldn’t pass it up. The dessert special was grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, topped with olive oil and sea salt. The grilled peaches had a nice savory quality to them, which made them the perfect pair for the sweet gelato. The fruity olive oil bound the two components together, and the sea salt just put the whole combination over the top. As someone who doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, it was the ideal dessert for me.

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Grilled peaches with vanilla gelato, olive oil, and sea salt

Overall, we enjoyed both the food and the atmosphere at Campo Fina. While it was a more casual and warm environment where we were at the front of the restaurant, we discovered a huge crowd out back in the garden area where it was more like a boisterous party, complete with a bocce ball court. The dishes we tried were well prepared and flavorful, though nothing extraordinarily complicated or fancy. The prices were pretty reasonable, and I liked the “smaller plates” aspect that would allow you to share dishes. Service was friendly, and our waiter introduced us to a local trousseau gris wine that was fruity yet crisp – definitely one of the favorite wines we tasted during our trip. I would happily go back there again.

Campo Fina
330 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA

Bistro Mezzaluna – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


Whenever Josh and I are away on vacation, we prefer to eat the local cuisine rather than at places where we could find similar food at home. In Hilton Head, that usually means low country cuisine, seafood, barbecue, or Southern style food. Sometimes, though, usually towards the end of the week, we crave a little bit of comfort food. For us, that typically means Italian food. However, we haven’t found an Italian restaurant in Hilton Head yet that we really love (we’ve tried Michael Anthony’s and Antonio’s, among others in the past). Bistro Mezzaluna was a new place for us.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry that evening so I passed on an appetizer. Josh ordered the caesar salad, which looked really good. Unfortunately, there were raw eggs in the dressing so I wasn’t able to try it. Josh enjoyed it though, and said it wasn’t overdressed.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

For his main course, Josh had chicken parm, which is usually our Italian restaurant barometer. It was a decent sized portion of chicken, though I wished it was pounded a little bit thinner. But if you prefer thick cut chicken parm, this was the way to go. It wasn’t overly cheesy, but had the right amount of mozzarella melted on top. It was served with penne pasta and a pretty solid red sauce that was sweet and tangy.

Chicken parmiagiana with penne pasta

Chicken parm with penne pasta

I ordered the linguini bolognese, which was unusual in that it included both ground meat and meatballs. The menu said it was ground veal, and it was served in a light pink sauce. The meatballs and the meat sauce were both pretty coarse, and slightly tough. I also wish there was more tomato sauce in the dish, as the pink sauce was pretty thin and runny, so there was nothing binding the meat and the pasta together. The linguini was nicely al dente though.

Linguini bolognese with meatballs

Linguini bolognese with meatballs

Overall we thought that Bistro Mezzaluna was a fairly solid red sauce Italian restaurant. The menu offers all of our standard favorite Italian dishes, though there wasn’t anything in particular that excited or wowed us. Prices are reasonable, with most apps and salads under $10, chicken and pasta under $20, and seafood and veal mostly under $25. The restaurant was spacious and pretty accommodating for our large group, though we still had to split up into two tables. It’s a place we could take or leave – if we went back, I’d be fine with that, and if not, I wouldn’t be upset.

Bistro Mezzaluna
55 New Orleans Rd. Ste 106
Hilton Head, SC

Casa Bella

Monday, December 12th, 2011 by virginia

We used to go to Little Italy all the time for our weekly Sunday night dinners with Josh’s family. We had our favorite standby, Buona Notte, but went there so often everyone eventually got tired of it. We bounced around a few other places, like Angelo of Mulberry Street and Pellegrino’s, but nothing else stuck. The annoying part about walking down Mulberry St. is the people standing outside each restaurant trying to get you to go inside. They can be quite obnoxious, and we tend to avoid the pushier places. Since we didn’t have any real idea of where to go, we just looked at a few menus posted outside and picked a place that seemed to have a lot of people dining. That’s how we ended up at Casa Bella.

The restaurant is pretty big and has both indoor and outdoor seating (weather permitting, of course). They gave us a nice round table next to the window so we could people watch a bit, and it wasn’t too loud inside so we could still carry on a conversation. Our meal started off with a basket of Italian bread, which was pretty standard but tasty with butter. It had a nice crispy crust and a chewy inside.

Basket of carbs

There were five of us at dinner so we decided to share a caesar salad for two and a margherita pizza for our appetizer course. The caesar salad was well prepared, with lots of crisp romaine tossed in a creamy but light caesar dressing. There was lots of grated parmesan on top and some crunchy croutons.

Caesar salad

The pizza was pretty good for a place that doesn’t specialize in it. The crust was thin and crispy, with good color on the bottom. The sauce was tangy, not too sweet, and the cheese on top was browned and bubbly.

Margherita pizza

Underside shot

For our main course, I chose rigatoni alla vodka while Josh had chicken parmesan. The vodka sauce was a touch too creamy for my preference, but the flavor was there. The tangy tomato sauce helped cut through the richness, and the sauce was well seasoned. The rigatoni was cooked nicely to al dente.

Rigatoni alla vodka

Josh’s chicken parmesan was a massive piece of pounded chicken that was well breaded and nicely fried. The edges were browned and crisp, and the breading stood up under the thick covering of melted mozzarella and tomato sauce. I stole more than a few bites off his plate but luckily he didn’t mind since the portion was so big.

Chicken parmesan

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by the food at Casa Bella. We had initially written it off as just another Little Italy tourist trap but the food was solid. The menu is extensive and features the usual classics, and the red sauce is tasty enough to carry a lot of the dishes. Prices are average, with apps around $10-$12, most pastas around $15-$18, and regular mains in the $18-$22 range. Definitely not cheap, but reasonable, especially given the location. It’s not a special or spectacular place, but it’s one of the better places we’ve tried in Little Italy. I’d be happy to return.

Casa Bella
127 Mulberry St. at Hester St.
New York, NY


Thursday, October 6th, 2011 by virginia

Gnocco is an Italian restaurant in the East Village that I’ve read a lot of good things about. The menu is pretty extensive and there were many things I wanted to try. We ended up going there for a small birthday celebration on a Friday night, early enough that we could get a last minute reservation but still at a pretty decent time.

The restaurant is broken up into two long narrow rooms, and there is a nice garden out back with several tables. The place definitely filled up but it wasn’t so loud that we couldn’t carry on a conversation across the table. After we placed our orders, we settled in and munched on the bread they brought us, along with some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. The bread had a decent crust and a chewy interior. It had a slightly sour tang to it, which paired well with the olive oil/vinegar combo.

Bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

We decided to get a few dishes to share as appetizers. First was the Affumicata pizza, which was topped with Italian sausage. The menu said the pizza had smoked mozzarella on it, but we asked them to switch it to regular mozzarella, which they did without any issue. The pizza was probably about 12″ in diameter, a decent size. The sauce was sweet and tangy, and there was plenty of mozzarella on top. The sausage was mild in flavor, which I actually preferred since it didn’t overwhelm the rest of the pizza. The crust had a nice char along the edges, though the middle got a bit soggy under the weight of the sauce, cheese, and sausage.

Pizza with mozzarella and sausage

Since we were at Gnocco, we decided to get an order of the gnocco appetizer. It featured homemade deep fried dough that was served with assorted Italian cold cuts. We were not quite sure how to eat the gnocco fritto, since some were puffier than others, but we ended up draping the cold cuts (it looked like an assortment of prosciutto and salami) over them and eating them like crostini. The dough had a nice crispy exterior and a slight chew to them. Flavor-wise, they reminded me a bit of the fried wonton noodles that you get at Chinese restaurants, but they were pretty good with the salty cold cuts. It was an interesting dish, nothing spectacular, but still tasty.

Gnocco fritto - deep fried dough

Prosciutto and salami to be eaten with the gnocco

Lastly, we got a plate of gnocchi to share as well. The gnocchi was served in a tomato sauce and topped with dollops of buffalo mozzarella and strips of basil. The potato gnocchis were just slightly dense but still pretty soft and fork tender. The tomato sauce was on the sweeter side but not overly so. The mozzarella added a rich creaminess to the dish, and the fresh basil really elevated the flavors of each component.

Potato gnocchi with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil

For our entrees, Josh and I shared  the orecchiette pasta and the tartufata pizza. The pasta, which was perfectly al dente, was tossed with spicy Italian sausage and broccoli. There really wasn’t a sauce for the pasta, so most of the flavor came from the sausage. The only detracting component was the broccoli, which was mushy and bland. I wish they had used broccoli rabe instead, which typically has a better texture and a slight bitterness that pairs well with sausage.

Orecchiette pasta with spicy sausage and broccoli

Even though we had already ordered a pizza as one of our appetizers, I couldn’t resist ordering the tartufata pizza as one of our entrees. The pizza features fresh mozzarella, truffle sauce, mushrooms, and speck. Yes, I’m a truffle freak. Truffles and mushrooms are an unbeatable combination, and the pizza did not disappoint. The aroma of the truffle sauce was wafting off the pie but taste wise, it wasn’t overwhelming. The speck, a salty cured and smoked ham, helped cut through the richness of the truffle sauce and the cheese. The crust on this pizza was better than the sausage one we had earlier. It was light, slightly crispy on the bottom, and held up better to the toppings. My only complaint was that there wasn’t a whole lot of mushrooms on the pizza, and they were pretty unevenly distributed. Nevertheless, this was a terrific pie and I would definitely order it again.

Tartufata pizza with fresh mozzarella, truffle sauce, mushrooms, and speck

Underside shot

Overall I was pretty impressed with the food at Gnocco. The pastas that we had were well prepared and tasty, as were the pizzas. I wouldn’t say they’re the best pizzas in NYC, but the tartufata was excellent and is definitely something that I’m still craving. I thought the gnocco appetizer was a bit weird, though there was nothing really wrong with it; I just found it slightly boring, but the cold cuts were good. Service was efficient, although the waiter was a bit heavy handed with the wine pouring. Nevertheless, prices are pretty reasonable and the menu has a lot of variety on it. It’s a good place to go with a small group, as everyone will find something they like. It did get a bit loud though when the place filled up later in the evening, so go earlier if you want to be able to hear each other talk. I would definitely go back again, as there were other things on the menu I wanted to try.

337 East 10th St. between Ave. A and B
New York, NY

Rocco Ristorante

Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by virginia

Rocco Ristorante is an old school Italian joint down in the Village that’s been around for years. It has become one of our more standard destinations for Sunday night dinner with the family, as the restaurant serves solid food at pretty reasonable prices. The atmosphere is warm and homey, with lots of pictures hanging on the wall with all of the famous people who have dined there.

Our meal always starts with a round of bruschetta on the house. Thick slices of toasted Italian bread are covered with chopped tomato, a little bit of chopped onion, some garlic, basil, and a healthy dose of olive oil. It’s a simple dish but always perfectly seasoned and delicious.

Tomato bruschetta

The regular bread is decent, though it’s better when served warm. It has a somewhat crispy crust but the insides are a bit dense. I like the chewiness though, and it’s slightly sweet, perfect for slathering with salty butter.

Bread basket

Josh and I went halfsies on a caesar salad and the beef carpaccio. The menu says that the caesar is served for two, but they never give us any problems when we order for just one person. The dressing is really well prepared, creamy but not gloppy or overwhelming. I like the homemade croutons, which add a nice garlicky crunch.

Caesar salad

The beef carpaccio is a huge portion of thinly sliced raw beef on top of a bed of arugula. There are big chunks of shaved parmesan cheese on top, which I love. It’s lightly dressed with just a little olive oil and salt, and I always squeeze some lemon over the top and get a nice crank of freshly ground black pepper. The beef always tastes fresh and slightly sweet, pairing perfectly with the salty parmesan, bitter arugula, and tangy lemon juice.

Beef carpaccio

Linguine with white clam sauce is one of Josh’s favorite dishes, and they prepare it very well at Rocco. The pasta is always al dente, and there are lots of big, juicy clams scattered on top, still in their shells. The sauce is heavy on the garlic, which we enjoy, but is still light and not overly greasy. The flavor of the clams definitely takes center stage.

Linguine with white clam sauce

I usually get the chicken parmesan but on this particular evening, I decided to go with the veal. Both renditions are very good, with thick cutlets pounded out a bit and nicely breaded and fried. There’s lots of mozzarella cheese melted on top, and the red sauce is definitely a high point – sweet and tangy. I actually don’t have a preference between the chicken and the veal. Both are flavorful in their own way, and the meat is always tender. I just wish the restaurant would serve the dish with a side of pasta instead of the boring, mushy, buttery vegetables (carrots and zucchini this time) that come on the plate.

Veal parmesan

We don’t always get dessert but we’ve tasted the tiramisu before, which is always good. The zabaglione with fresh strawberries, however, is incredible. The zabaglione is thick, creamy, and rich, not too overpowering with alcohol flavor, and goes perfectly with sweet strawberries. Josh’s sister was tempted to lick the bowl clean, that’s how delicious it was.

Overall we always leave Rocco full and satisfied. The food is uncomplicated but solid Italian fare. The menu has all of the classic dishes, and nothing is ever a surprise. They have a great red sauce, which is important for any Italian restaurant. Service is always warm and accommodating, and the atmosphere is low key. I’m sure the restaurant will continue to be a part of our Sunday night tradition.

Rocco Ristorante
181 Thompson St. between Houston and Bleecker St.
New York, NY

Ralph’s Ristorante Italiano

Thursday, December 16th, 2010 by virginia

Ralph’s is another neighborhood restaurant that I’ve walked past many times and never got around to trying. One Saturday night we were looking for a new Italian restaurant to eat at with Josh’s family and we decided to check out Ralph’s. We looked at the menu and it looked like they served a lot of classic red sauce Italian dishes at pretty reasonable prices so we decided to give it a shot.

While we were looking at the menu trying to decide what to order, the bread guy came around and gave each of us a slice of warm rustic peasant bread. It had a nice crispy crust and a slight sourdough tang to it.

Slice of rustic Italian bread

Josh and I decided to split a caesar salad and crostini di mozzarella to start. The romaine in the caesar salad was nice and fresh, and it was tossed with just the right amount of creamy dressing. There was lots of parmesan, which I love, but it was still light and refreshing, not too rich or heavy.

Caesar salad

The crostini di mozzarella was fried wedges of breaded mozzarella cheese. Each wedge was pretty large so it was a generous portion. The cheese perfectly melted in the middle, with a gooey, chewy texture that I had been craving. The accompanying tomato sauce was slightly spicy, giving it a nice kick but wasn’t overwhelming in heat.

Crostini di mozzarella

I usually get chicken parmesan whenever we try out a new Italian restaurant but I wasn’t in the mood for it. Instead I tried my other standard dish, pasta with bolognese sauce. The pasta was rigatoni with lots of ridges, which helped the meaty sauce cling to it better. The bolognese had a rich, deep flavor, and even though the portion wasn’t super big, I had trouble getting through half the bowl. I thought it was really tasty, however, and took home the leftovers for lunch.

Rigatoni bolognese

Josh got the veal saltimbocca alla romana, which was veal covered with spinach and mozzarella in a brown sauce. I know that doesn’t sound appetizing, but it didn’t look that great either. The veal was nicely cooked but the dish lacked flavor and seasoning. It was surprisingly bland, and definitely needed more salt and acid to perk it up. Josh was pretty disappointed with his dish, as was his dad, who ordered the same thing.

Veal saltimbocca alla romana

Josh’s veal dish came with a side of pasta, which was spaghetti with marinara sauce. The spaghetti was al dente and the sauce was sweet and tangy.

Spaghetti with marinara sauce

Overall we were pleasantly surprised by both the food and ambiance at Ralph’s. The outside of the restaurant isn’t much to look at but the inside was surprisingly warm and cozy, with an understated decor. Food-wise, the red sauce is definitely the way to go. The only disappointing dish of the evening was the veal saltimbocca but all of the pasta dishes we had were really flavorful and well prepared. Josh’s mom ended up ordering the chicken parm so I did get to taste it and thought it was a pretty good version. Prices are very reasonable, portions pretty generous, and I definitely think it’s a viable option for our traditional Sunday night dinners with the family.

Ralph’s Ristorante Italiano
862 9th Ave. at 56th St.
New York, NY

Hilton Head Day 3 – Antonio’s

Saturday, August 21st, 2010 by virginia

Before we arrived in Hilton Head, someone recommended that we go to Antonio’s, which they said was the best Italian restaurant on the island. Since we’re always on the lookout for new places to try, and we all like Italian food, we decided to give it a shot. There’s a bar area in front where people sat watching preseason football and the Yankees game, and a more formal dining room that is slightly separated. The lighting was a bit dim but it wasn’t too stuffy or upscale.

We ordered some garlic bread for the table but it was pretty standard, not very crispy, garlicky, or flavorful. We were better off sticking to the regular bread, which was slices of a flat peasant loaf that had a sturdy crust and a chewy interior. It came with a bean spread that was a little sweet but still pretty tasty.

Slices of peasant bread

There were only a few appetizer/salad options but none really appealed to us so Josh and I decided to have sampler portions of some pasta dishes as our first course. We split the pasta carbonara and an orecchiette with clams and pork. The carbonara was chock full of sweet peas and diced pieces of pancetta. The pasta was cooked al dente and it had a nice balance of sweet/salty. I just thought there was too much cream in it, so that the pasta at the bottom of the bowl resembled an alfredo rather than the silky richness of a carbonara.

Spaghetti carbonara with peas and pancetta

The orecchiette had a generous serving of clams and lots of pieces of tender pork mixed throughout. The sauce was light but savory, and the pasta had a really great chewy texture. There was also a healthy sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs on top that added a nice crunch to the pasta. This was my favorite dish of the evening.

Orecchiette with clams, pork, and toasted breadcrumbs

For our main courses, Josh and I shared the veal parmesan and the stuffed chicken. The veal parmesan was a huge portion with two large pieces of breaded veal served over angel hair pasta. The veal was pounded thin but not too thin, and there was a good coating of melted cheese on top. However, the pasta was really wet and mushy, and it hadn’t been properly drained so that the excess liquid made the tomato sauce really watery and thin. The sauce kind of ruined the rest of the dish because it made everything soggy and diluted the flavors of the other components. I was pretty disappointed with it.

Veal parmesan

The description of the chicken dish made us think it would be more like a chicken milanese, but it was actually a thick piece of chicken on the bone stuffed with spinach and served on top of a small bed of arugula and grape tomatoes. The chicken was tender and the dish was well seasoned but it lacked pizazz. The dressing was a simple honey mustard sauce that really didn’t add much to the dish. It was a good dish, but not great.

Stuffed chicken over arugula and grape tomatoes

Overall we were all pretty disappointed with our dinner at Antonio’s. None of us were wowed by any of the dishes, and while we thought the pastas were pretty good, they weren’t spectacular. Service was pretty bad, especially considering how empty the restaurant was at the time. There were only a handful of other tables at most, yet we waited a long time until we could even place our orders. When they brought out our entrees, they forgot Jess’ lasagna and we sat there waiting for a good 10 minutes before we could finally flag someone down to ask about it. They went to get it from the kitchen and handed it off without any real apology.  The lasagna she got had clearly been sitting in the oven the whole time because the cheese on top had browned completely and hardened.

Portion sizes were also all over the place. The sampler portions of pasta were pretty hearty, but the salads were laughably small. Alice’s beet salad came with approximately five pieces of baby arugula. It was more like a garnish than a component of the dish. The caesar salad had good flavor but was way overdressed, with the creamy dressing weighing down all of the romaine, rendering it gloppy and heavy. Unfortunately, with one misstep after another, I don’t think this is a place we will return to the next time we’re in Hilton Head.

1000 William Hilton Pkwy.
Hilton Head, SC

Fontana di Trevi

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by virginia

Josh’s parents had heard good things about a new Italian restaurant in Leonia called Fontana di Trevi so we decided to try it out for dinner one Saturday night. When Josh tried to call to see if there was a wait, he got an answering machine message that said no tables were available until after 8:45 PM. So we waited until after the specified time and tried to call again but it was the same message. We decided to head over to the restaurant and check out the situation in person.

Josh went inside first and he said that they told him it would only be a 10 minute wait, which didn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room to stand in the restaurant so we hovered by the doorway, feeling very conspicuous and bad that we were pretty much right next to the first table in the front. But we figured it would only be a short wait so we just tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. The restaurant is split into two rooms, separated by a short hallway, and the hostess stand is in the smaller room.

So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Meanwhile, they never did fix the phone message because while we were standing there waiting, Josh called the number again and he got the same message. The phone by the hostess stand didn’t even ring. How do you operate a restaurant like that? How do people make reservations if they never pick up the phone? But we continued to wait, getting increasingly more agitated. We had been waiting for over half an hour, and no one came by to check on us. The hostess basically ignored our imploring looks and carried on a conversation with a table that had already paid for over 10 minutes. We were seriously annoyed by the time she finally came by and said that they were getting our table ready, and she kind of jerked her head towards the other room.

Another 10 minutes later (by now we had been waiting for almost an hour), they finally did get our table ready – the same one where the hostess had been chatting with the previous patrons. It was not in the other room, as she had indicated, and we were pretty much disgusted with the level of service (or lack thereof) that we had received. An hour wait is certainly unacceptable when you’re told that a wait would only be 10 minutes. The only reason we stayed was because we were starving, and because the restaurant was packed. Surely the food had to be fantastic, right?

They started us off with pieces of focaccia bread that was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. It had good texture with a nice olive oil flavor, and things started to look up for the meal.

Focaccia bread

Alice and I both opted to have the Caesar salad for our appetizers. The salad is prepared tableside – always a nice touch. Anchovies, egg yolk, garlic, breadcrumbs, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and a few other ingredients were combined in a bowl to form a thick paste, which was then loosened with olive oil. The dressing was tossed with bite-sized pieces of fresh romaine. The flavor was great but the dressing was a tad too thick and clumped on some of the leaves, leaving some bites overwhelming with dressing while others totally bare. Dressing dispersion issues aside, they do top it with lots of grated cheese, which I liked.

Caesar salad made tableside

Josh had the spinach salad with cremini mushrooms and pancetta. It was tossed with a warm white vinegar dressing, and Josh seemed to enjoy it a lot. He thought the pancetta wasn’t too salty or overwhelming, and it was a light and refreshing salad.

Spinach salad with cremini mushrooms and pancetta

For his main course, Josh had the linguine with clams. The pasta was nicely cooked to al dente and the sauce packed a nice garlicky punch. There were lots of whole clams on top and was definitely the best dish of the evening.

Linguine con vogole

I had to go with the chicken parmesan, of course, which is always my test of a new Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t that good. The chicken itself was fine but the “famous” marinara sauce (as it says on their menu) was overly sour and too acidic. The cheese was melted but runny, not browned and bubbly like I prefer. Instead of a side of pasta, it came with some mushy, buttery vegetables and mashed potatoes. Those reminded me of bad hotel food. Harsh, maybe, but I expected better.

Chicken parmesan

Since we ended up eating later than we expected, especially with the super long wait, we just wanted to get home and decided to forgo dessert. Overall we weren’t all that wowed by the food we had at Fontana di Trevi, and we were less than thrilled with the service. Maybe because they were new was why they had so many issues, but I still don’t understand why they don’t even answer their phone. It doesn’t seem to hurt business though, as the restaurant was packed the entire time we were there. Nevertheless, the food was not so impressive to overcome the problems we had, and I don’t think we’ll be going back. Sad, because we’re still looking for a good Italian restaurant near our home in NJ, and this one was also a BYO.

Fontana di Trevi
248 Fort Lee Rd.
Leonia, NJ

Pre-Theater Dining at Carmine’s

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 by virginia

One of my favorite pre-theater destinations is Carmine’s in midtown. I’ve written about the uptown location before, and the midtown location seems even busier but still serves up the same great food. One night before going to see Hair the Musical, we managed to get an early dinner reservation for a large group of people. As usual, I stuffed myself silly with delicious wedges of tomato focaccia, which I’ve dubbed “pizza bread.” I even requested a basket of just focaccia (both the tomato and the onion), since there are never enough pieces of them in the regular mixed bread basket.

Basket of focaccia bread

We started off our dinner with two salads that were simply ginormous. The first was the Carmine’s salad, which is kind of like an antipasto salad. There are cubes of ham, salami, and provolone mixed throughout a huge pile of lettuce. There are also sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onion, and olives on top, and the entire thing is tossed with a tangy Italian dressing.

Carmine's salad

We also ordered the special salad of the day, which was mesclun greens tossed with a tasty balsamic vinagrette and topped with cranberries, walnuts, and goat cheese. Both of the salads were very different but equally delicious.

Special salad with mesclun greens in a balsamic vinaigrette

We also ordered some hot appetizers to start. First was fried calamari that was lightly breaded and fried to a beautiful golden brown. The calamari was crispy on the outside, tender and not too chewy in the middle, and great for dunking into the tangy and sweet marinara sauce.

Fried calamari with marinara sauce

Last but definitely not least was my favorite appetizer, the stuffed artichoke. This is the artichoke that I keep trying to replicate at home, and although I’ve come close, it’s not quite there yet. This artichoke is garlicky, lemony, and very addictive. Part of the appeal is that I love the process of eating artichokes – dipping the leaves in the yummy sauce, scooping up some bread crumbs, and eating it all together. After peeling off layers and layers of leaves, getting rid of the spiny choke, you finally get down to the creamy heart. It’s a lot of work but also a lot of good eating along the way.

Amazing stuffed artichoke

For our entrees, we got an order of spaghetti with white clam sauce. As you can see in the picture, there are tons of clams on the spaghetti, as well as many cloves of garlic. This is definitely a dish for garlic lovers, as the flavor permeates throughout. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente, and this is always one of my favorite dishes.

Garlicky spaghetti with white clam sauce

The lasagna, like everything else, is a huge portion, and is basically a brick of pasta layered with lots of meat, cheese, and sauce. While it still tastes good, I miss the browned bubbly cheese layer on top, and it does get a bit messy to eat. It tends to fall apart when you try to cut pieces from it, and the proportion of pasta to sauce and cheese kind of gets thrown off. Personally, I prefer the other pasta dishes offered at Carmine’s.

Brick of lasagna

We also got veal parmesan, which was pounded thin and breaded. There’s a good layer of cheese on top but I wish that they had browned it more. It’s still quite tasty though, and the meat is always tender and perfectly cooked.

Veal parmesan

Our last entree was chicken scarpariello, which is one of our favorites so we always get two orders, as everyone wants multiple pieces of chicken. I think they deep fry the pieces, as it’s always crispy on the outside and moist and juicy in the middle. The chicken is covered in a lemony, garlicky sauce that is flavored with rosemary. It’s different from other versions of scarpariello, which usually feature sausage and peppers, but I vastly prefer this version.

Chicken scarpariello

We also got a side dish of escarole, which is sauteed with garlic in oil. Squeeze some lemon over the top and it’s refreshing, a good complement to all the rich, saucy food that we eat.

Sauteed escarole

Even after all the food and several magnums of Carmine’s house wine, we still saved some room for dessert. We got the massive Titanic, which is basically a chocolate brownie covered in scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, paired with bananas, and covered in whipped cream, strawberries, nuts, and chocolate sauce. Like all the food at Carmine’s, it’s over the top but delicious.

The Titanic

Despite all the signs that point to a cheesy tourist destination, Carmine’s is, in my opinion, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. It never ceases to amaze me how much food the restaurant churns out every day, and all the dishes we get are consistently well prepared. It’s hearty, homey, comforting red sauce Italian food, and lots of it. The value is good, and it’s a great place for accommodating large groups. The midtown location really gets hopping during pre-theater hours but service was great. Our water glasses always stayed filled and a server was always nearby to comply with any of our requests. When the waiter brought one of our magnums of wine, he accidentally spilled a bit from the full bottle and immediately went to fetch us a new one, even though the amount spilled was negligible compared to the size of the bottle. It’s little things like that which make you realize that they do care about service, despite the fact that they would probably still be packed every night even with lousy service. That’s what makes the experience so great every time, and I’m always happy to go back again and again.

Carmine’s (multiple locations)
200 West 44th St. between 7th and 8th Ave.
New York, NY


Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by virginia

Josh left for one of his business trips on a Sunday morning, which was a bit unusual as he typically has weekends free even with all the traveling he does. Luckily for me, Josh’s parents kept up the Sunday night dinner tradition even though both Jess and Lisa were out of commission that particular Sunday as well. Instead of eating in the city, however, they picked me up earlier in the evening and we decided to try out an Italian restaurant in NJ called Tomaso’s, in Edgewater.

The restaurant is kind of in an awkward location, as its parking lot entrance is on River Road but the restaurant itself is set further back, away from the main road. The building is a bit nondescript from the outside but the décor on the inside had an understated elegance to it. We were given a basket of bread to munch on while we looked over the menu, and it was really good, crispy bread that bode well for things to come.

The bread was served warm and had a crust that shattered nicely. The inside was chewy, and when spread with a little bit of butter, it was totally addictive to eat. I think we went through three baskets before our meal was over, which is impressive considering there were only three of us.

Crispy and chewy bread

There was kind of a mix-up with our appetizer order, as we all wanted to try the antipasto caldo that featured clams oreganata, shrimp, eggplant rollatini, mozzarella en carrozza, and stuffed mushrooms. Lloyd ordered “the hot antipasto for three”, and our waiter said that there was only one of each item in one order, and we said it was fine, but we wanted it for three people. I guess he misunderstood what was said and thought that we wanted to share one antipasto order with three people, instead of three antipasto orders, so they only brought one dish. Sure enough there was only one of each item except for the clams oreganata, which came with two, but the eggplant rollatini and mozzarella en carrozza were big enough to share. Realizing the mistake, we quickly placed an order for another antipasto dish, seeing that two orders would be enough for the three of us, and divvied up what was already brought.

Antipasto caldo

The mozzarella en carrozza was my favorite, with a light, crispy outside and gooey cheese in the middle. It was better than any frozen mozzarella stick, for sure. The eggplant rollatini was really tasty as well, tender and cheesy, and the restaurant definitely makes a really good red sauce that is tangy and not too sweet. While the clams tasted predominately of bacon, the stuffed mushroom was flavorful and earthy, and the shrimp was perfectly cooked.

We also ordered a Caesar salad to share between the three of us, which might have added to the confusion regarding the hot antipasto order. The salad was lightly dressed but packed a good garlic punch, and we all enjoyed it a lot.

Caesar salad

Since it was our first visit to this restaurant, I had to get my chicken parmigiana tester. And fortunately, it passed with flying colors. The chicken was pounded thin, had a nice crust, and was covered in a good amount of sauce and cheese. The red sauce here is really exemplary, one of the best that I’ve had. The chicken came with a side of spaghetti that was cooked al dente, and the portion was quite generous.

Chicken parmigiana with spaghetti

Alice went with the meat lasagna, which was also a large portion. The meat sauce was flavorful and there was lots of cheese throughout, making the dish very rich overall. I ended up taking home both my leftovers and hers, which I ate for lunch the next two days.

Meat lasagna

Lloyd had the veal saltimbocca, which was thin pieces of veal topped with prosciutto and sautéed in white wine. The veal was served with spinach and mashed potatoes that were ok but we all thought that the meat was a bit tough, and there was too much prosciutto on top. It wasn’t terrible, but definitely not as good as the dishes that featured red sauce.

Overall we thought our meal at Tomaso’s hit some pretty high highs and not too many lows. We loved the red sauce they served, and the wonderfully crispy bread. I think your best bet would be to stick with classic Italian dishes, like parmigiana and pasta. The portions are large and the food is comforting and hearty. Aside from the early mix-up regarding our appetizers, service was attentive and efficient. Prices are pretty reasonable, and its proximity to the city is always a bonus for us. I’m sure we’ll be back here, especially since most of the Sunday dinner crew missed out on this enjoyable meal.

163 River Road
Edgewater, NJ