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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.

54 North Franklin Street
Lambertville, Hunterdon County, New Jersey
(609) 397-8957

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
March 12, 2007

Printable Copy of this Review

Yes, I do believe in love at first sight... and first bite. And that pretty much sums up my feelings about DeAnna's, chef/proprietor Dianna Paterra's cozy Italian enclave in Lambertville. And it surely didn't take long for this homey establishment to settle comfortably into the ranks of one of my all-time favorite NJ dining spots.

Does that mean DeAnna's does everything right? No, not necessarily. Just because a restaurant happens to be one of your favorites, that doesn't mean its perfect. There are numerous Garden State stopovers that offer better food, more polished service, and snazzier surroundings. But DeAnna's succeeds admirably where many other establishments fail: It offers an exceedingly gratifying gestalt, a pleasant dining scenario in which the restaurant whole is infinitely more than the summation of its individual parts.

The interior is bathed in the soft glow of candlelight and boasts terra cotta-colored walls, vintage black and white photographs, plethora of throw pillows adorning comfy banquettes, a "cell phone booth," and a striking mural painted by local artist Kevin Griffin after Sol Steinberg's 1957 New Yorker drawings.

I particularly enjoy DeAnna's cozy, three-sided bar, the perfect spot to enjoy a libation before settling in at table... or, for a more casual meal, just stay put and Armand, the restaurant's amiable bartender, will get you set up and take care of all your libationary and culinary needs. A good bartender is an invaluable asset to any establishment, and Armand strikes just the right chord with his patrons. He is totally professional yet personable of demeanor, willing to strike up a friendly conversation or leave you to your own devices.

And one additional item about the bar area: It is sparkling clean... as is the restaurant itself, including the restrooms, which are spotless. You sense that the entire establishment had been scrubbed, top to bottom, just moments before your crossed the threshold. If the public areas are this pristine, it is only natural to assume that the kitchen must also be immaculate. And that is surely enough to fill any red-blooded American diner with a genuine sense of well-being.

But on to the food... It is Italian comfort fare, pure and simple, as satisfying to the soul as it is pleasing to the palate. And you begin on a most auspicious note... with a basket of crusty whole wheat Italian bread from the Italian Bakery in Trenton. Dense and delicious, it is also the foundation for DeAnna's crowd-pleasing garlic bread for two ($4.50).

Among the starters, the pasta e fagioli ($7.00), the soup of the day during two of my visits, is rich and rewarding. The hearty vegetable stock is intensely flavorful and awash with pasta, beans, and perfectly cooked diced vegetables. A most comforting companion on a cold winter's night.

The Neapolitan ($10.00), another special, is also highly recommended. It is comprised of layers of lightly breaded and sautéed eggplant, roasted red peppers, sautéed spinach, and mozzarella bathed in an excellent marinara sauce. In a similar vein, the roasted red peppers with mozzarella ($7.50) is also quite good.

Although a diminutive salad -- freshly tossed mixed greens with the house vinaigrette -- is included with your entrée, you might want to try either the classic Caesar ($8.50) or the blue cheese salad ($8.50). This latter offering combines red & green lettuces and frisée tossed with an earthy but elegant blue cheese vinaigrette and garnish of apple slices and crumbles of blue cheese.

Entrées headline a variety of pastas, fish and meat of the day (market price), and a select number of daily specials. And, for my money, pasta is clearly the way to go here. Morsels of clams and capers, for example, marry extremely well with a pleasant white sauce ($17.50); or for a bit more zip, try pasta with arrabbiata, a sauce incorporating tomatoes, pancetta, and chilies ($16.50).

Two other personal favorites include the pasta with Bolognese ($18.50) and pasta with sautéed chicken and escarole in marinara sauce ($18.00). The former features fusilli in a hearty ragù containing sautéed mushrooms, ground beef, and chunks of sweet Italian sausage. The latter combines tender strips of chicken with sautéed escarole in a light, fresh marinara.

The only disappointment in several visits proved to be one of the daily specials: salmon filet in a graham cracker-cumin crust ($24.00). The fish was obviously at the peak of good health and nicely pan seared, but the graham cracker crust was entirely too sweet. The cumin would have provided an excellent counterpoint, but its presence was barely discernible, and a nectarous orange aïoli also conspired to make the dish entirely too cloying for my palate.

Desserts, however, are right back on track. The ricotta cheese cake ($7.50) isn't really a cheesecake per se; it is, rather, a moist yellow cake with a creamy ricotta cheese filling. Call it what you will, it is incredibly delicious. As is the decadent flourless chocolate and espresso cake ($8.00). Also not to be missed, when it is offered as a daily special, is the homey apple cinnamon cranberry nut Bundt cake adorned with a dollop of vanilla gelato ($9.00).

DeAnna's also offers a compact, carefully chosen wine list that marries quite nicely with the food. By the glass, try the smooth and supple Toasted Head Cabernet ($10.00) or the Cabernet/Shiraz combo from Argentina's Nieto. By the bottle, the 2004 Valpolicella Classico ($24.00) and the 2005 Soave ($28.00), both from Allegrini, make excellent dinner companions.

It's easy to get hooked on DeAnna's. I am. And if I weren't otherwise engaged as a professional "hired belly," and lived anywhere in the immediate vicinity, there is absolutely no question that I'd be dining at Diana Paterra's entrancing establishment on a regular basis.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Dinner; Tues - Thurs,5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.: CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Small parking lot and street parking
Alcohol: License
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Difficult
Website: www.deannasrestaurant.com

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