Friday, June 27, 2008

Not much avanti at Avanti restaurant, Pennington, NJ

After a long frustrated discussion of where to go for dinner to celebrate AREA's participation in a Teen Arts show, we decided on an Italian restaurant we had never been to before. It all sounded good and it got good reviews. When I called an made a reservation I got a tiny but hesitant though, because the person answering the phone could not tell us if there was a table available or not until she has asked someone else, and what should have been an easy phone call and question turned into a complicated one. But we got a reservation and we were off.

The Avanti restaurant is in Pennington, a cute little New Jersey town, in a separate building on a back lot. It is small, very small in fact, and the kitchen is even more miniscule. The menu was great, lots of Italian dishes (but no pizza for kids). We ordered fried calamari (squid) and mozzarella sticks for appetizers, and all main courses came with salad. Now the problems started. The salads came out quickly, but there was a mixup with AREA's salad, and no bread arrived until we asked for it (much later). There was nothing remarkable about the salads, good, but nothing special. Oh, there was another problem with providing oil and vinegar for the salads too.

From where I sat I could see the waiters trying to get in and out of the narrow door to the kitchen, and the crowded areas inside. Very crowded... Appetizers arrived, and they were OK but not great. The mozzarella sticks were laying in a pool of tomato sauce which made them soggy. The calamari wasn't crisp, and the tomato sauce was just regular tomato sauce. I think it was missing seasonings, like herbs and pepper, but then I am used to food that has fresh pepper and fresh herbs in it all the time. But considering that this is a fancy Italian place, I expected much better.

Then the waiting started. And continued. Finally our entrees arrived - veal for PP, baked ravioli for AREA, linguine with meat sauce for LA, and fresh pasta with mushrooms for me. It was all good, but still, not exceptional. Our waiter disappeared for a while, and then showed up with a large band aid around her whole lower arm. "What happened", we asked. "Oh, just a burn ", she said. Well, half her arm was covered up, so it didn't look like 'just a burn'. Before this we had seen two waiters crash in the flip-flip door, causing a plate with tomato sauce get all over the kitchen door.

In the beginning our water glasses were refilled quickly, but then it was like they forgot about us. We asked for more bread to soak up the good sauce, but never got any. The pasta dishes were good, but nothing like the ones at La Casa Bianca, another Italian restaurant in the area. Once again I thought that my dish was unseasoned. It was good, but not fantastic. It needed pepper and herbs, again. And dried parmesan on the table is not the same thing as fresh cut parmesan.

Time to pay. Oops, they only take cash or American Express, no VISA or Mastercard, which I think was very unusual. Even more unusual is that this was not stated anywhere on the menu. We were lucky to have enough cash with us, usually we don't.

In conclusion, the service was poor, but I don't blame our waitress for most of this. It appeared that they had too many tables for such a small kitchen, or that their routines weren't good and this has more to do with management than a single waitress. The food was OK, but not worth the money. I can make better pasta at home. If you want to eat for about the same price around here in central NJ, go to these places instead: Za, Brothers Moon, The Blue Bottle, Sergeantsville Inn, Origin, Makeda, etc. Maybe the restaurant had a bad evening, but it wasn't even full. I wonder how it is on a night when all the tables are occupied. Are people waiting 2 hours for their main dish then? Maybe I am too critical, or maybe I am just comparing this restaurant to the amazing places we have found. In any case, I don't think I want to go back here when there are so many places that are so much more appetizing around here. (NY Times review of Avanti, this is the only link that works on their website to supposedly 5 reviews.)

PS. The photo is of the Studebaker Avanti, PP's Dad's favorite car.


PP said...

no not too critical. Not at all!

LS said...

Summary of review: no pepper, late food, no parmesan, no water, no bread, injured waitress, food on furniture, no VISA... ouch. I didn't realize it was so bad until I started to write this up this morning.

LS said...

PS. I felt bad writing such a bad review of this restaurant, but I think the review is fair. I really wanted to like this place, since it is a family-owned local business in a nice area, but all the problems we encountered was just too much.

AREA said...

I thought it was too critical. I liked it more than you said. The wait was forever, and yes, the food wasn't ace, but you make it seem horrible.

JAYD said...

What does the size of the kitchen entrance have to do with anything? LS you felt bad about writing a bad review of this restaurant... can you say vindictive? PS NONE of your other restaurant recommendations serve pizza.

LS said...

JAYD, Check out the pizza at Via Ponte in Stockton. It is reviewed on this blog, and their pizza is fantastic.

The size of the kitchen and its entrance caused the waiters to crash into each other and get hurt, so I think that has something to do with it. We might have been there on a very bad night, and such nights happen, but we should be allowed to write about bad nights as well, right? Hopefully what we experienced was an exception not a rule. But it was what we saw, ate, and felt at that time. I was just being honest, not vindictive, because I have nothing to be vindictive about with regards to this restaurant. I don't know the owner, I am not a competitor, just a first-time customer. I really wanted it to be good and pleasant, but it didn't live up to its reputation by a long shot. Feel free to disagree, and I hope you have better experiences from Avanti than we do. Take care!

PP said...

JAYD, "NONE of your..." where do you get that?
Vindictive? Give me a break.