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Bluegill Café
Restaurant Now Closed.
Ritz Center
Haddonfield-Berlin Road
Voorhees, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 566-4225

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
10/23/2000

Ensconced in the heart of yet another strip mall/mega-movie complex, this bustling BYOB is the latest thoroughbred addition to the Lamberti stable of stylish eateries. Cross the threshold, and you immediately know what this place is about: the decor -- a bright and airy combo of colors, shapes and textures -- screams "Wolfgang Puck Slept Here" from every ostentatious corner and banquette. Billed as a "California Seafood Grille," Bluegill is the perfect spot for a casual chow-down before checking out the latest flick. Just be forewarned... the flashy, contemporary cuisine doesn't always live up to its advance publicity, the noise level can be formidable, and the service is a bit on the amateurish side. But, hey, this is a fun place...

So crack open your own wine or beer and feast on taco chips in the company of a luscious dollop of chickpea purée seasoned with saffron, tumeric & garlic and a helping of juicy diced tomatoes spruced up with cilantro. This is one fabulous freebie that is guaranteed to tantalize your tired taste buds.

The menu continues where the "California Cliché" decor leaves off... All items (with the exception of desserts) are named after Hollywood personalities. The Arnold Schwarzneggar appetizer, for instance, is a conglomeration of oven-roasted mussels and clams with herb-infused olive oil and natural juices ($6.95). The Antonio Bandereas is the char-grilled Chilean sea bass tucked into taco shells and dressed with smoked Gouda, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes and citrus salsa ($14.95 dinner/$6.95 lunch). Talk about type casting! Welcome to "gimmicksville." But the gimmick seems to work. The food, which majors in creative seafood and other healthy fare, for the most part, acquits itself reasonably well.

The Marlon Brando ($6.95) is a gem among the starters. Layers of mozzarella and tomatoes are wrapped in an attractively delicious Parma prosciutto package, encircled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with fresh basil. Several variations on the mock sushi theme are also quite good. The Michelle Pfeiffer ($7.50) consists of sushi rice, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, carrots and wild mushrooms in a nori seaweed wrapping; the Julia Roberts ($8.50) incorporates poached lobster, pineapple, cilantro and wild mushrooms; and the Cameron Diaz ($7.50) features grilled wasabe salmon, alfalfa sprouts, roasted portabello mushrooms and carrots.

A somewhat less successful opener is the Gyweneth Paltrow ($7.25), a grilled portabello mushroom cap piled with braised spinach, crumbled cashews and feta cheese. Unfortunately, both fungus and greenery were slightly scorched, successfully submerging any possible interplay of flavors beneath a disagreeable sea of acridity.

There's an interesting take on Caesar salad here. The large rendition is the Robert DiNero ($5.95), its diminutive brother the Danny DeVito ($3.95). Cute, right. Problem is, unless you have the appetite of a ravening hyena, you will find the small version quite large, and its larger sibling downright humongous. You are likely to encounter nearly an entire head of romaine lettuce, all of one piece, circumscribed with a bread ring and drizzled with an excellent dressing. A novel idea... but ultimately self-defeating. Given this mode of presentation, it is impossible for all the leaves to be properly coated; thus, you run out of dressing long before the gargantuan greenery has been depleted.

The entrées are quite copious and, like their predecessors, tend to have a rather entertaining slant to them. The Rolling Stones ($11.95 dinner/$6.95 lunch) is a generous portion of battered cod accompanied by fries and spruced up with malt vinegar. The Pamela Anderson Lee ($17.95/$8.95) is salmon, julienne potatoes and veggies poached in parchment. Nicely done, but the bland Key lime and vanilla fish stock only succeeds in lulling the palate to sleep. Continuing on with this piscatorial theme, the Jack Nicholson bouillabaisse ($19.95/$9.95) was something of a disappointment. The description promised lobster pieces, shrimp, mussels, fish and clams. What materialized was one minuscule lobster tail... and both shrimp and fish were conspicuous by their absence. The natural broth tasted of the sea but was overshadowed by an unpleasant amount of grit.

On the whole, chicken dishes seem to fare somewhat better than their finny compatriots. The Al Pacino ($12.95/$7.95) is a pan-roasted boneless chicken breast presented on a mound of yummy garlic smashed potatoes and embellished with tomatoes and julienne strips of zucchini. The bird can be a bit on the dry side, but it is quite palatable nonetheless. The special on one particular evening, however, was even better. In this case, the chicken breast was herb-encrusted and topped with spinach, mozzarella, roasted red peppers & a grilled portabello and set atop a mound of those same delectable garlic smashed potatoes. Very, very tasty... But I consider the $22.95 tariff a bit on the steep side, especially since our server failed to mentioned the price during his enthusiastic recitation.

Confirmed carnivores may choose from either the John Wayne ($19.95/$8.95), char-grilled Black Angus sirloin with the aforementioned garlic smashed, or the Frank Sinatra ($24.95/$11.95), char-grilled Black Angus filet mignon with herb-roasted. If I were you, I'd stick with "Old Blue Eyes."

In search of a quick snack before or after the show? Be sure to check out the interesting array of lighter fare. My recommendations would include: the Aerosmith pizza topped with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic and smoked Gouda, feta and Parmesan cheeses ($7.95); the Britney Spears wrap, char-grilled tuna with citrus tomato salsa, alfalfa sprouts and Chilean mayonnaise ($6.95); and the Jennifer Aniston veggie burger topped with sprouts, tomatoes and wild mushrooms ($5.95).

Desserts ($4.95) are all made off campus, but still have a great deal to recommend them. The white chocolate mousse cake, chocolate tart and strawberry cream cake are sure winners. Top honors, however, go to the sweet and sensual Oreo tart. Finish things off with a potent cup of espresso ($1.95) or, better still, make it a double ($3.50).

If your dining experiences have become somewhat humdrum, business-as-usual affairs of late, the Bluegill Café is guaranteed to add a little pizzazz to your gastronomic pursuits. It doesn't always hit the mark... but it comes close enough.

Cuisine: California/Seafood
Hours: Mon - Thurs & Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 midnight
Credit Cards: All major except Discover
Attire: Anything goes
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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