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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@verizon.net.

New Jersey Restaurant Review

Catelli Ristorante & Cafe
Plaza 1000, Main Street
Kresson & Evesham Roads
Voorhees, Camden County, New Jersey
(609) 751-6069

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online

From the moment you enter the foyer, you sense an air of elegance--and the restaurant proper does not disappoint. Accents of dark wood enrich the tastefully appointed walls and high ceilings; green linen napkins add just the right splash of color to crisp white tablecloths; and carefully arranged racks of polished crystal shimmer above the diminutive bar. All seems as it should be.

As in most establishments, particular perches are more desirable than others. There are several booths in the nonsmoking section, to the right as you enter, that are quite cozy and comfortable. Even more agreeable is the small alcove located just behind the bar area that accommodates a scant twenty-five diners. If possible, prevail upon your hostess to settle you in at one or the other of these primo locations. Better still, since this is an immensely popular restaurant (especially on a madcap Saturday night), make your preferences known at the time of reservation.

Once seated, be sure to take a gander at the compact wine list (unfortunately, lacking vintage designations) containing selections from Italy, France and the U.S. Prices range from $18.00 to $80.00, with several very nice house and premium wines going for $4.50 and $6.00 per glass, respectively.

In addition to the copious menu, you will also be treated to a noble recitation of the various and sundry daily specials--all without benefit of tariffs. Be forewarned. Specials are significantly more expensive than those items that appear in printed form. Generally I don't get too bent out of shape by all this cryptic culinary nonsense; if something strikes my fancy, and I want to know the count and the amount, I simply ask. Here, however, the practice is rather blatant and more than a little frustrating. No matter how many times I inquired about fiscal matters, the narrator return to his original monologue... sans prices. During one visit, the gentleman in question actually became rather testy with regard to my pecuniary pursuits. Tough. If you should find yourself in a similar situation, let your server seethe away. I mean, we're not talking State secrets here; you are perfectly within your rights to know precisely how much of your ill-gotten gain is about to ride off into the sunset.

Apart from this minor glitch, however, you will generally find the tuxedoed waiters both smooth and professional. Even the busboys seem to understand their raison d'etre in the ultimate scheme of things. You don't find them slouching conspicuously in dark corners waiting to pounce; on the other hand, they always seem to be around when you need them.

But even if the service were beneath contempt (which is certainly not the case), the superior quality of the cuisine would still, in my view, justify your continued patronage. Chef Lou Imbesi's distinguished Northern Italian fare is just innovative enough to stimulate the salavaries, just homey enough to soothe the soul. Ah... but where to begin?

Should you consider salad a rather ho-hum starter, there are two distinguished representatives of the genre that may very well convince you otherwise. The first is spinach and radicchio ($6.95). It is spruced up with grilled mushrooms and red onion, fried prosciutto, tomato, Gorgonzola and toasted pine nuts, and then tossed with a tantalizing honey/mustard vinaigrette. The combination of grilled shrimp and roasted pears ($9.95) is also highly recommended. Add a little Belgian endive, radicchio and mixed greens; toss in honey roasted cashews, cinnamon raisin croutons and sundried cherries; drizzle on a breathtaking maple balsamic vinaigrette, and your taste buds will be positively transported.

Even if insalata are not particularly high on your dining agenda, there are still a host of worthy appetizers from which to choose. Florida stone crab claws ($12.95), while not included on the regular menu, do put in frequent guest appearances--and they are not to be missed. The meat is sweet and succulent, and a delectable Dijon dipping sauce redolent of horseradish is the perfect accompaniment. Plump littleneck clams or New Zealand mussels ($7.95), or combination thereof ($8.95), may be had in red, white or fra diavolo sauce. Even such a comfortingly familiar forebear as prosciutto, grilled eggplant, freshly-made mozzarella and roasted peppers ($7.95) is a significant cut above the usual antipasto freddo.

Pasta dishes--the hallmark of Italian cookery--are available here as either appetizers or entrees... and all are exceptional. Tortellini primavera ($8.95/$14.95), awash with a vareity of fresh veggies, may be ordered with a rich roasted garlic cream sauce or lovely broth of olive oil and garlic. The penne in plum tomato sauce boasts Romano, fontina, Gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses ($7.95/$12.95). Even the capellini pomodoro ($7.95/$12.95)--a relatively simple amalgam or tomatoes, basil, virgin olive oil and garlic--is pure delight upon the palate.

While main courses cut a wide culinary swath, and any items ordered from the set menu are certain to be up to the mark, I would suggest either the excellent veal dishes or the daily offerings of finny fare. The medallions of veal tenderloin ($24.95) are particularly noteworthy. They are grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, accompanied by mixed greens and risotto, and finished with a balsamic vinegar and Maderia demi-glace. For those in search of more lusty pursuits, the grilled rib veal chop ($27.95) with a mushroom Marsala demi-glace is just the ticket.

A variety of thalassic offerings are presented daily, and all are executed with considerable panache. The pompano ($29.95), for example, is especially spectacular here. It is roasted whole, filleted tableside, and then sent swimming onto your plate in a light and delicate sauce of lemon, olive oil and white wine. Salmon ($26.95) appears in a variety of incarnations, but the grilled filet topped with caramelized onions and embellished with a cucumber/dill sauce is particularly appealing.

Desserts--all made in-house--are rich, extravagant, and run the gamut from an ultra-sophisticated chocolate mousse in a white chocolate tower ($6.50) to a homespun apple crisp garnished with vanilla ice cream ($6.50).

It is possible to escape into the night with only moderate monetary damage (by ordering pasta and a single glass of wine, for instance). On the other hand... depending upon your gastronomic and oenological preferences, I'd count on dropping between $100 - $150 per couple (including tax and tip). However, given the outstanding quality of the cuisine (and the fact that a hearty soup is included with the entree), the first-class service and deluxe accommodations, I doubt if you'll feel you've been shortchanged.

Cuisine: Northern Italian
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Mon & Tues, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Weds & Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V, Diners Club, Discover
Attire: Sharp Casual
Smoking: The restaurant contains a separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Recommended, especially on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

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