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New Jersey Restaurant Review

329 Haddon Avenue
Westmont, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 858-9400

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
May 8, 2006

Printable Copy of this Review

Over five years have passed since I last penned a formal review of Giumarello's (4/9/01). Not that I've been a stranger. Whenever my wife and I are in the area, we always make it a point of stopping by to enjoy a preprandial libation before moving on to another establishment for reviewing purposes. Indeed, the bar/lounge -- replete with comfy banquettes, beautiful ornate wooden bar, and atmospheric lighting -- is a most hospitable space, and made even more so by Jen & Michelle, the establishment's attractive and friendly bartenders.

So settle in and choose from over forty fabulous martinis or, perhaps, select one of the outstanding vintages available by the glass. I highly recommend the crisp, refreshing Bollini "Reserve" Pinot Grigio ($10.00) or Hess Collection Chardonnay ($11.00). Among the reds, I am extremely partial to the David Bruce "Central Coast" Pinot Noir ($12.00), Franciscan "Oakville Estate" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.00), or Antinori Villa Red "Riserva" Chianti ($9.50).

When you're ready to adjourn to table, bear in mind that Giumarello's offers a number of well-appointed venues, including La Piazza for casual outdoor munching in warmer weather. But as the two main dining rooms are somewhat nondescript, I much prefer the more intimate area located directly behind what was the nonsmoking section of the bar.

Chefs/proprietors Sam, Jr., and Gian Giumarello utilize only impeccably fresh ingredients of the highest quality and major in prodigious portions of robust Northern Italian cuisine (infinitely more prodigious and robust, in my memory, than when I posted my initial review). Consider yourself forewarned: If your peristaltic capacity is limited, be prepared to join the ranks of the doggy-bag brigade.

A house salad is included with your entrée; however, if you entertain a particular fondness for greenery, you would do well to upgrade to one of the other possibilities, which are infinitely superior to the generic version and permit you to deduct $2.00 from the original sticker price. My recommendations include: the "Gorgonzola," mixed greens embellished with morsels of earthy Gorgonzola cheese, cranberries, slices of fresh pear, and walnuts tossed with a light balsamic vinaigrette ($7.99); "Arugula," partnered with Belgian endive, caramelized walnuts, goat cheese, and white raisins in a sherry walnut vinaigrette ($8.99); and an excellent version of the "Wedge," a freshly cut cusp of iceberg sprinkled with crisp chopped bacon, red onion, crunchy semolina croutons, and consummated with a marvelously creamy Maytag bleu cheese dressing ($8.99).

But don't let these scintillating salads dissuade you from giving serious consideration to the antipasti, which all have a great deal to offer. A perennial favorite here is the eggplant Florentine ($6.99). Thin slices of eggplant are stuffed with fresh spinach and rich ricotta cheese and then baked with a topping of marinara and mozzarella. Hardly for the calorie conscious but incredibly delicious.

The presentation of Prince Edward Island mussels ($7.99; with clams, $10.99; with jumbo lump crabmeat, an additional $5.00) is also an exceptional starter. Whether they swim to table in a spicy red or pungently flavorful white garlic sauce, you will find them pristinely plump and at the absolute peak of good health. Also not to be overlooked is the calamari fritti companioned by a zippy marinara sauce ($6.99). The crisp flash-fried rings are so irresistibly tender they simply melt in the mouth. By far, the best representative of this particular genre that I've sampled in quite some time.

When it comes to entrées, assertive sauces play a significant role. Indeed, at times the sauces are so rich and applied with such a heavy hand that they succeed in smothering rather than caressing the objects of their affection...

The jumbo lump crab cakes (market price; the night ordered, $27.99) are composed almost entirely of sweet, succulent crabmeat and are beautifully broiled rather than fried... But they are literally drowned in an overly creamy roasted red pepper sauce; and other possibilities -- aurora sauce, Dijon cream sauce, and pink sherry shrimp sauce -- are equally unctuous. The special horseradish-encrusted filet mignon ($31.99) suffers a similar fate. The beef is superlative of quality and velvety of texture... unfortunately, its natural flavor fights a losing battle against a formidable flood of port wine demi-glace. And sauces adorning the fresh fish selections, it should be noted, are commensurately weighty and liberally applied.

In all fairness, I realize that there are undoubtedly many dinners who thoroughly enjoy Giumarello's saucy excesses and Herculean portions. If you are blessed with a hearty appetite, by all means, enjoy. On the other hand, should you prefer a bit more subtlety, my advice is to order these heavier accoutrements on the side or specify that your entrées be prepared au naturel or, at the very least, with less intrusive embellishments.

In point of fact there are a number of dishes that clearly demonstrate that the kitchen is also capable of a good deal of finesse... The "Veal Isabella" ($22.95), for example, features lightly battered, perfectly sautéed veal medallions with a glaze of mozzarella cheese and delicate white wine sauce endowed with crunchy jumbo shrimp and hearts of artichoke. The Romano-encrusted chicken ($17.95) is another standout. The boneless breast is pounded thin, yet still manages to maintain a moist and tender countenance. It is then topped with broccoli rabe, roasted red peppers, sharp provolone cheese, and served with a mound of fabulously addictive olive oil mashed potatoes.

Desserts ($6.95), including a luscious cream cheese brownie with vanilla gelato and chocolate bread pudding with walnuts, are always worth saving room for, as are the splendid array of side dishes ($5.99). Particularly recommended are the medley of sautéed mushrooms -- portobello, crimini, and shiitake -- wilted baby spinach, and sautéed broccoli rabe.

I have always enjoyed dining at Giumarello's. I do wish that a number of the entrées were not as heavily sauced and were more sophisticated in presentation; but that, I freely admit, is a personal preference. There is no doubt that this popular establishment has perfectly zeroed in on its target audience and continues to serve it well.

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 AND MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Valet
Alcohol: License
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: http://www.giumarellos.com

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