If you should find yourself cruising the New Jersey Turnpike between New York and Philadelphia, and happen to be in the mood for a totally civilized dining experience a bit removed from the hustle and bustle, the Farnsworth House in picturesque, historic Bordentown would make a very pleasant stopover. The atmosphere in this lovely old rambling restaurant is completely comfortable, the first-rate continental cuisine is as easy on the palate as it is on the pocketbook, and the service is both friendly and attentive.
Make it a point to pay a call at the congenial bar and enjoy a cocktail before dinner or, perhaps, a glass of wine. Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Chianti and Pinot Grigio are all available at $4.50 per. And take the time to peruse the wine list; the selections are quite nice and -- not a minor consideration -- quite nicely priced as well. Chardonnay fans should sample the Estancia ($18.00) or the Markham ($22.00). If you'd prefer something with a bit more crispness, don't hesitate to give New Zealand's Brancott, Marlborough Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc ($25.00) a try. And there are some excellent reds here as well: Cecchi Chianti Classico ($18.00), Hess Select Cabernet ($27.00), Markham Merlot ($28.00) and Franciscan Cabernet ($30.00).
You may also dine in the bar area. But bear in mind that this is the smoking section, so if you are at all offended by cigarette smoke, you would do well to opt for the main dining room on the second floor. Wherever you finally settle in, however, you will find the walls tastefully adorned with black and white and color photographs (which are also for sale), and the tables spruced up with white-on-white tablecloths and white cloth napkins. Casual but classy.
The menu, including a full page of printed daily specials (along with their prices), is quite extensive. So extensive, in fact, that I was certain I would be treated to yet another gastronomic ode to mediocrity... But I could not have been more mistaken. The offerings here are sophisticated enough to appeal to the gourmand, yet robust enough so that those with heartier appetites will not feel they've been short-changed. In a very real sense, the kitchen succeeds in bridging the, at times, all-too-obvious gap between gourmet cuisine and comfort food. A rarity, indeed.
The baked asparagus ($6.95) is the perfect way to start things off. Impeccably fresh spears are wrapped with roasted pepper, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and finished with a tart and tempting balsamic vinaigrette. A pleasing variation on the same theme is the roasted pepper stuffed with proscuitto and mozzarella ($5.95). Bivalve fans may wish to try the Cozze All' Angela ($6.25), mussels served with leeks and tomatoes in a white wine cream sauce, or the cold poached mussels ($4.95) embellished with a tangy mustard sauce. You might also give consideration to clams on the half shell ($4.95) or prepared "casino" style with minced peppers, herbs, lemon juice and bacon ($5.25). Oysters are also served on the half shell ($6.95) or "Rockefeller," baked with pureed spinach and chopped sauteed greens with a touch of Pernod ($5.95).
But go easy on the starters, as a cup of soup or a salad will accompany your meal. Among the former, I would highly recommend two special pottages: a particularly flavorful cabbage/potato soup and the chicken/maccheroni ($3.00 regular price) in a heady chicken/thyme stock. The Stracciatella Florentina ($3.50 regular price) -- an egg drop soup in which egg and Parmesan are beaten together and then added to a boiling chicken stock -- is also quite tasty. If salad is more to your liking, be sure to give the homemade Gorgonzola dressing a try.
Entrees, as noted above, cut a rather wide culinary swath. But whatever your preference on a given evening, be assured that the kitchen will acquit itself with suitable distinction. Should you be a fan of fowl, you will surely find the chicken saltimbocca ($13.95) to your liking. A tender, succulent boneless breast is topped with prosciutto, served over a bed of freshly sauteed spinach, and finished with a robust Madeira wine sauce. If you enjoy shrimp, be sure to try the establishment's charbroiled version accompanied by a yummy sauce of cooked eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and garlic ($16.95). Simple but satisfying. On the other hand, should you prefer steak, I would recommend the New York sirloin ($18.95). It is flame-broiled and then presented with your choice of bearnaise sauce, a red wine reduction replete with wild mushrooms, or au jus.
Among the daily specials, I'd cast my vote for the "Swordfish Milano" ($17.95). This delicious denizen of the deep is perfectly grilled and accompanied by mushrooms, red peppers and zucchini in a white wine garlic sauce. Equally appealing is the Chilean sea bass and jumbo crabmeat combo ($21.95). It is dressed up with lemon and dill, a touch of garlic, flamed with Pernod and served over spinach fettuccine. Interested in something a wee bit different? The summer stew ($17.95) might be just the ticket. Steak, chicken and sausage cubes are tossed with mushrooms, onions, peppers and fresh herbs in a delectable mustard white wine sauce and served over linguine.
Homemade desserts ($5.00) continue the kitchen's good work. Of special note is the outstanding ricotta cheesecake, the best I've sampled in a long, long time. And I wouldn't dismiss the chocolate mousse cake out of hand either. Whichever way you decide to go, however, be sure to finish things off with a cup of potent espresso ($2.50).
The Farnsworth House is immensely popular with the locals, but still not too widely known outside the greater Bordentown area; this situation, though, won't last long. It is one of those undiscovered little gems destined to be unearthed by a host of knowledgeable diners. Why not be among the first to sample its excellent cuisine and reasonable prices?
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Sat, 3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 3:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar area only
Parking: Ample street and public parking
Handicapped Accessible: Yes