Even while located in Haddon Heights, Giumarello's was tremendously popular. But since moving into the quarters formerly occupied by Chez Robert in Westmont just over a year ago, the joint has really been jumpin'. (Try snaring a table on a Saturday night!) The new digs feature three spacious and well-appointed dining areas, La Piazza for casual outdoor munching in warmer weather, and a snazzy bar/lounge. Some things never change, however. Owners Sam, Jr., and Gian Giumarello continue to cook up a storm in the kitchen... and the food is as marvelous as ever.
The boys encourage their patrons to arrive early and enjoy a libation at the bar before settling in at table. A splendid idea, I might add. This will give you ample opportunity to peruse the wine list -- basically offerings from Italy and California with a few odds-and-ends thrown in for good measure -- and also to enjoy one of their excellent selections available by the glass. Stival ($5.00) and Santa Margherita ($8.00) are the standouts in the Pinot Grigio department. You will also find a lean, refreshing Pouilly-Fuisse from Louis Jadot ($8.00) and a Hess Collection Chardonnay ($9.00). More partial to reds? Try the Antinori Chianti Classico Reserva ($8.50), St. Francis "Old Vines" Zinfandel ($8.50), or the Clos du Bois Merlot ($7.50).
If you're on the prowl for a bottle to enjoy with din-din, you will find a number of interesting possibilities and a wide range of prices. La Scolca Gavi di Gavi "Black Label" is a very tasty top-of-the-line Italian white ($62.00). On the other hand, a bold and buttery J. Lohr "Riverstone" Chardonnay may be had at a more reasonable sum ($22.00). If you feel in the mood to splurge on a super Tuscan, go for Antinori's Tignanello ($110.00). A bit less elevated price-wise, but still quite good, is the Carpineto Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon ($40.00). For my money, though, nothing beats the 1999 Antinori Santa Cristina Sangiovese ($18.00). It marries quite well with a variety of Italian dishes, and it won't break the bank.
The cuisine here is billed as northern Italian, but you will still find enough red sauce scattered throughout the menu to satisfy all those with decidedly Neapolitan tendencies. If this happens to be your inclination, don't hesitate to start things off with the Melanzane Florentine ($5.95). Thin slices of eggplant are stuffed with fresh spinach and rich ricotta cheese, then baked with a topping of marinara and mozzarella. Decadent to be sure... but downright delicious.
The plump and succulent Maine mussels also make a fabulous opening move ($7.95; with littleneck clams, $9.95; with jumbo lump crabmeat, $14.95). You have your choice of either the red or white garlic sauce; but, whatever you do, go for the spicy red. Pungently flavorful and awash with chopped garlic, you won't want to let a single spoonful get away. This is one sauce that may very well qualify as its own unique food group.
You might also consider the shrimp pancetta ($9.95) as a prelude. Jumbo crustaceans are stuffed with horseradish, wrapped in bacon, and finished with a creamy Dijon mustard sauce. The special crab cake ($13.95) is also adorned with creamy mustard and crowned with fresh lump crabmeat.
A house salad is included with your entrée... However, should you be feeling somewhat more adventurous, I highly recommend the Gorgonzola salad ($7.95; in lieu of the house salad, $5.95). Mixed greens are combined with imported Gorgonzola cheese, cranberries, slices of fresh pear, toasted walnuts, and are tossed in a light balsamic vinaigrette. Seldom have I sampled such an exceptional combination of flavors and textures.
As you move on to the main course, you will discover that Chef Sam, Jr., does many things well, but veal is a particular specialty. A 20-ounce chop ($32.95) is stuffed with a 6-ounce lobster tail, spinach & mozzarella cheese, and then grilled. The meat is fork-tender, and the dish is consummated with an extraordinary veal demi-glace. The remainder of this prodigious portion was devoured with equal enthusiasm the following day.
The kitchen also excels with finny fare. On any given evening, you will discover such worthy piscatorial contenders as salmon, swordfish, or sea bass (market price). These are marinated in olive oil and fresh herbs, char-grilled or blackened, and then teamed with a number of possible savory sauces or presented in their own natural juices. One particularly edifying special was the potato-crusted halibut filet ($21.95). A potato crust is a mighty tricky critter to pull off; most of those I've encountered are either soft and soggy or burned beyond all recognition. Giumarello's version is perfectly seared, delicate and crisp. Spring veggies and a light tomato broth provide just the proper finishing touch.
Chicken, steak and pasta are, of course, much in evidence. The chicken Sorrento ($16.95) is a tender boneless breast sautéed in a fresh plum tomato sauce, layered with eggplant, and crowned with mozzarella cheese. Very traditional... and very, very tasty. Top-of-the-line in the beef department is the Bistecca Bocelli ($34.95), a magnificent dry-aged center-cut sirloin that is exquisitely grilled and garnished with sautéed hot Italian peppers and shiitake mushrooms.
Among the pastas, I would recommend the penne arrabiatta embellished with either shrimp ($17.95) or char-grilled chicken ($16.95). The spicy sauce generates just enough heat to make things interesting, but not enough to cause any permanent paralysis of the palate. And always keep your eyes peeled for the Ravioli del Giorno, the ravioli of the day (priced according to filling). All raviolis are made on the premises by hand, and they are positively ethereal. If you have any doubts in this regard, begin your meal with the "Lobster Ravioli Aurora," spinach pasta stuffed with ever-so-sweet chunks of fresh Maine lobster served in a tomato cream sauce ($8.95).
And if you're in the mood for a leisurely midweek dinner that won't break the bank, this fine establishment also offers an extremely reasonable $15.95 per person prix fixe Tuesday through Friday from 5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. This special includes a choice of cup of soup or salad, a selection of entrées, side of penne pasta, coffee or tea, and a choice of desserts.
And speaking of dessert... Pastry Chef Gian Giumarello turns out an array of homemade goodies that are every bit the equal of their toothsome forebears. Anything even remotely related to peanut butter draws me like a magnet, and the chocolate peanut butter mousse pie ($5.25) succeeded in handily surpassing even my loftiest expectations. It is as light as a feather and utterly sensual. And the fruit tarts are also nothing to sneeze at. The bing cherry almond tart ($5.25) is garnished with a dollop of vanilla gelato and caressed by a heavenly créme anglaise. And the blueberry tart topped with baked meringue ($5.25) is every bit its equal.
If you enjoy exceptionally well-prepared and presented Italian cuisine served up in a stylish, bustling environment, you will find Giumarello's an exciting and thoroughly satisfying dining experience. A consistent winner!
Cuisine: Northern Italian
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY & MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Sharp casual
Smoking: Permitted in the bar/lounge only.
Reservations: Essential, especially on weekends
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: http://www.giumarellos.com/default.htm