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Gennaro's
47B State Road (Route 206 North)
Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey
(609) 497-2774

By The Artful Diner
3/27/2006

I liked La Terraza... but I love Gennaro's, this engaging establishment's reincarnation. The original La Terraza made its debut in 1999 under the proprietorship of Gennaro Constabile and his partner, José Martin-Serrano. But when Mr. Martin-Serrano departed in April of 2005, Mr. Constabile used the opportunity to change the eatery's name and alter its emphasis from Spanish/Mediterranean to Italian. And the resulting increase in business, according to members of the wait staff, has been most gratifying.

Those familiar with the restaurant know that the outside isn't much to look at, marooned as it appears to be in a well-worn strip-mall, rubbing shoulders with a dry cleaner, video emporium and convenience store. Once across the threshold, however, you're in a different world. The light and airy precincts charm patrons with stucco walls, terra cotta tile, lace window panels enlivened with colorful draperies, and beige over green napery. There is even "La Terraza," the terrace, for warm weather al fresco dining. But even more than the pleasant decorative embellishments, it is the pristinely fresh "feel" of the place that strikes one immediately, the sense that the entire establishment had been scrubbed, top to bottom, just seconds before you entered.

Steven Markovitz, a Johnson & Wales grad, is the power behind the stove, and his menu has its own unique rewards. Among the antipasti, the house signature dish, "Greens Gennaro" ($9.00), simply steals the show. A luscious web of beautifully sautéed escarole is commingled with morsels of chopped hot cherry peppers and prosciutto and enhanced with seasoned breadcrumbs and sprinkling of house-blended cheeses. The result is an utterly beguiling gestalt of tastes and textures counterpoised by just enough heat to tantalize rather than traumatize the palate.

Though not quite in "Greens Gennaro's" class, the "Rabe & Sausage" ($9.00) is still a most satisfying prelude. An epicenter of slightly chewy broccoli rabe is surrounded by six slices of sweet Italian sausage. The finishing touch is a dash of olive oil and sprinkling of finely chopped parsley.

The "Zucchini Rollatine" ($9.00) is delicate of countenance but rife with flavor. Slices of zucchini are embraced by an ethereal batter, rolled with Prosciutto di Parma and fresh mozzarella, and kissed by a light and luscious tomato sauce. The marinara sauce adorning the fried calamari ($9.00) is more racy and robust but proves a perfect match for the seductively tender squid.

When it comes to the entrées, there are two house specialties that are not to be missed. The osso buco ($28.00), which is not listed on the printed menu but which is usually available each evening (only a limited number, however; be sure to call ahead to avoid disappointment), is a superlative effort. The melt-in-your-mouth veal is of incomparable quality, enveloped in a rich and intensely flavorful reduction, and complemented by a wonderfully creamy risotto. The Vitello Gorgonzola ($20.00), veal medallions simmered in a delicate gorgonzola sauce studded with morsels of Granny Smith apples and walnuts, is another sine qua non when dining at Gennaro's. Gorgonzola is a pungent customer, overwhelming all in its path if too assertively administered. Fortunately, however, all is well. The medallions are just the right texture, and the sauce gently caresses the objects of its affection.

But there are other presentations worth trying as well. The Tilapia al Fresco ($22.00), for example. A moist and perfectly sautéed filet is stuffed with chopped fresh tomatoes, kiss of fresh mozzarella, and baby spinach. A light scampi sauce provides just the proper finishing touch. Once again, the dish is right on target. It has always been my contention that sauces are the most beneficial that intrude the least; and that is surely the case here. There is just enough -- rather than too much -- of a good thing.

Among the pastas, the Pappardelle Bolognese ($18.00) is the sure winner. Homemade egg noodles exhibit just the right consistency, and the Bolognese ragù, a luxurious amalgam of veal, beef & pork, is rich and satisfying without being overly unctuous.

The chef's list of daily specials (replete with prices) is printed out as a supplement to the regular menu. Recent intriguing, through untried, additions include pan-seared black grouper in scampi sauce with artichoke hearts, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes ($28.00); oven-roasted rack of lamb brushed with herb-quince glaze ($29.00); and "broasted" halibut topped with a tomato-herb compote and served with sage mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus ($29.00).

Desserts ($7.00) are excellent across the board. And the house-made gelati of the day are always worthy of consideration. Recently sampled were an exceptional chocolate-hazelnut and marvelously fruity strawberry. But if you're looking for a bit more decadence in the sweet endings department, try either the elegantly creamy panna cotta or first-rate cheesecake garnished with a touch of strawberry purée.

The espresso ($3.00), rich and potent, is also quite good and, who knows, Mr. Constabile just might stop by with a complimentary shot of incredibly delicious (even in the dead of winter) homemade limoncello. The perfect ending to a most satisfying meal.

Cuisine: Italian
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 3:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.imagennaro.com

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