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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

Fiddlehead's Restaurant
27 East Railroad Avenue
Jamesburg, Middlesex County, New Jersey
(732) 521-0878

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
March 12, 2001

Note: The Artful Diner reviewed Fiddleheads again in 2005. Go to 2005 review.

Your initial glimpse of this storefront eatery is likely to give you pause, as it still bears the unmistakable marks of its previous incarnation, a lowly luncheonette. You're almost certain that the food will be eminently forgettable... but you would be very much mistaken. Chef Larrie Collura has infused his menu with a variety of exciting, upbeat international and eclectic touches that are truly a feast for the palate; yet his presentations remain down-to-earth and his portions ample. Indeed, this is the very best of both worlds: comfort fare with a gourmet flair.

And co-proprietor and hostess Linda Collura furnishes the perfect canvas on which to showcase her husband's cuisine. I use this expression premeditatively, as Ms. Collura, an accomplished artist, has adorned the restaurant's interior with her own handsome paintings. The effect is simple yet stylish, the gallery-like/bistro atmosphere providing just the proper milieu in which to enjoy a delightfully homey dining experience.

The moment the basket of Sicilian flatbread hits the table, you're hooked. Team it up with an equally yummy garlic pesto, add a generous portion of molasses wheat bread, and you have the makings of a spoiled appetite right from the get-go. But exercise a bit of self-control... the best is yet to come.

Soups ($2.75 cup/$3.75 bowl) make excellent starters. The cream of smoked tomato, a menu constant, is a delightfully different spin on an old classic. Ditto the rich and robust potato leek. My fave, however, is undoubtedly the sensuous and seductive black bean. Mr. Collura's version -- vegetarian-based with an interesting array of well-integrated spices and touch of cilantro -- is the best I have sampled in recent memory.

When it comes to appetizers, the crab and shrimp cake ($7.95) is merely ordinary and suffers from an overly zealous helping of breadcrumbs. On the other hand, the grilled portobello mushroom ($5.95), stuffed with spinach and a dusting of Gorgonzola and gently kissed by the broiler's flame, is a sure winner. And don't be shy about checking out the wild boar sausage ($6.95). It is a savory delight, perfectly complemented by apple slices and the scintillating sweet/sour tang of red cabbage.

Adventurous hedonists may revel in the extravagantly rich baked Brie in pastry ($6.95) sprinkled with apples, almonds and a generous dose of cream; while traditionalists will find it hard to resist the unusually delicate baked eggplant with mozzarella and a light and luscious tomato/basil sauce ($5.95).

Entrées continue the international culinary themes. There's a little something for everyone here, and everything is carefully prepared and doled out in altruistic portions. Savor such diverse delights as Spanish salmon filet ($16.95) topped with lemon, Parmesan cheese and scallions, Jamaican jerk chicken replete with shrimp kabob ($17.95), veal Marsala ($17.95) awash with a sumptuous array of sautéed mushrooms, or a provocative Asian chicken, sausage and mushroom casserole ($14.95) thoroughly invigorated with ginger and soy. Well, you get the idea. This is globetrotting cuisine at its comforting, Americanized best.

When it comes to more "down-home" victuals, you might try the special moist and meaty veal chop adorned with wild mushrooms ($19.95) or the catfish sautéed in a tasty wheat and walnut crust ($15.95). On the other hand, if you really want somethig to send your cholesterol count into orbit, have a go at the sweet and savorous duck confit presented with a healthy dose of brandy, molasses and cream ($15.95)

Lovers of red meat also have a variety of tempting choices. The tender filet mignon is embellished with a decadent port wine/blue cheese sauce ($21.95), and the generous-to-a-fault Black Angus sirloin steak is spiffed up with sun-dried tomatoes and garlic butter ($18.95). The luscious leg of lamb benefits from an extended stay in a Greek marinade ($14.95) and the rack of lamb is basted in honey & mustard and encrusted with almonds, walnuts and pecans ($23.95).

Accoutrements have a great deal to recommend them and vary from day to day. On one evening, you may encounter scalloped potatoes and broccoli rape; on another, snappy snow peas & carrots and the most incredible lumpy mashed potatoes you are ever likely to ingest. A pleasantly aromatic basmati rice pilaf accompanies many of the fish dishes and the aforementioned Asian casserole.

For those in the mood for somewhat lighter fare, the pasta dishes are also quite good. I particularly enjoyed the penne with salmon ($15.95) Al dente pasta and luscious morsels of perfectly cooked salmon are combined with freshly chopped scallions, a splash of walnut oil and topped with crumbled blue cheese. A special of impeccably fresh chunks of lobster, shrimp and scallops over linguine ($19.95) was also quite tasty. And although the citrus/basil sauce had slightly congealed -- undoubtedly due to an extended stopover under the warming lamp -- I'd still be willing to have another go.

Desserts are all homemade and worth saving room for. At the top of my hit parade is a delectable peanut butter caramel tart sporting an out-of-this-world crispy crust ($4.25). Tied for second place are a delightful citrus flan ($4.25) and a positively sinful chocolate terrine ($4.75), the height of gastronomic sensuality. The fresh raspberry tart with custard filling ($4.50) is also quite appealing, although the crust is a smidgen on the soggy side.

Precious few eateries have been able to successfully bridge the gap between gourmet cuisine and comfort food... and yet Chef Larrie Collura has done so seamlessly. Indeed, you will find Mr. Collura's offerings innovative but not the least bit intimidating. Even his more esoteric-sounding presentations arrive at table oozing a homespun familiarity. If you live anywhere in the immediate vicinity, or just happen to be passing through, Fiddlehead's is certainly worth a visit.

Cuisine: International
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Weds - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY & TUESDAY FOR DINNER
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Ample street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: jamesburg.net/fiddleheads/

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