Il Mulino Ristorante
Restaurant Now Called Ciao Luigi - Same Ownership and Menu
32 Fulper road
Flemington, Hunterdon County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
February 11, 2008
When I posted my first review of Il Mulino, on November 27,
2000, the brothers Ameti -- Marcello, Bruno, and Luciano -- presided over the
establishment, the service was first class, the northern Italian cuisine was
well-prepared and casually sophisticated of countenance, and this charmingly comfortable
BYOB stood out as one of the area's few culinary bright spots.
But several significant events have transpired in the seven plus intervening
years. First of all, during the summer of 2006, Luigi Pascale and his wife,
Mariella, both natives of Italy, took over Il Mulino's proprietorship.
Secondly, Flemington, which I once described as a "shopper's paradise and
something of a diner's nightmare," has blossomed into an exciting
restaurant town, with establishments like Matt's Red Rooster Grill, Fusion, and
55 Main leading the culinary charge. The inevitable conclusion of these two
developments is that, restaurant-wise, Flemington's bar has been raised
significantly... and, from this writer's perspective, Il Mulino simply
hasn't kept up a comparable gastronomic pace.
There is absolutely no question that Mr. Pascale is an exceedingly affable
and congenial host, ever diligent in seeking to provide the very best dining
experience for his guests. Unfortunately, Chef Carlos Manfredi's offerings lack
the same care of preparation and presentation that characterized the cuisine
under the restaurant's previous administration.
Forget the fancy-schmancy appetizers, a well-executed soup is always a good
indicator as to whether the kitchen is or is not on track... and the two
representatives I sampled were not auspicious harbingers of chef's prowess. The
lentil soup ($5.95), a daily special, sounded wonderful. You anticipated a
rich, heart-warming pottage. What arrived, however, were a few lentils, diced
potatoes, and carrots swimming in a thin, off-tasting broth that had all the
pizzazz of warm dishwater. The pasta e fagioli ($4.95) was somewhat more
agreeable but lacked any significant depth of flavor.
This is rather puzzling, as Mr. Manfredi, formerly of Ferrato's in Westfield
and Somerville, does seem to have his moments. His complimentary bruschetta,
for example, is first-rate: The crisp toasts are piled high with a top-notch
mixture of diced tomatoes and pungent garlic. And the artichoke hearts Francese
($7.95) are lightly battered and sautéed with a delicate sauce of lemon juice,
fresh herbs, and white wine. Definitely a high point among the starters...
ditto the portobello mushroom cap stuffed with a vegetable ratatouille and
finished with a very nice balsamic sauce ($9.95).
Entrées are also somewhat erratic. The pork braciole ($20.95), for example,
was an excellent effort. The pork, rolled with spinach & provolone cheese
and braised in a heady tomato ragoût with mushrooms & sun-dried
tomatoes and set on a bed of al dente fettuccine, was moist and
On the other hand, the rigatoni con pollo ($15.95) was very nearly
beneath contempt. The pasta was tough around the edges, and the chunks of
chicken and sausage were dry and tasteless. Add peppers and mushrooms in a
overly viscious tomato-basil conglomeration and the result was famine for the
eye as well as the palate.
Equally regrettable was the special salmon filet with littleneck clams and
mussels ($22.95). In this case a tomato sauce covered a multitude of sins, as
the bivalves had most assuredly seen better days, and the salmon was decidedly
"fishy." The accompanying green beans were rubbery and the dollop of
mashed potatoes salty to the point of being inedible.
In comparison, the vitello Mulino ($19.95), dressed in prosciutto and
mozzarella, was a step up... but barely. The scallops of veal exhibited a
strange, unnatural texture -- an unappetizing cross between Styrofoam and wet
cardboard -- the roasted garlic sauce was rather insipid, and the partners in
crime were more of those rubbery green beans and terribly salty mashed
The bottom line, in my opinion, is clearly that entrées are something of a
crapshoot. After my experience with the salmon/littlenecks/mussels, I would be
loath to tempt fate and order seafood once again; the pasta dish I sampled was
a complete washout; and the veal also did not have a great deal to recommend
it. The only main course that passed muster was the pork braciole... which
means that the kitchen is sporting an exceedingly poor batting average. And it
is certainly no fun patronizing a restaurant where one must order with the
circumspection of a minnow in a shark tank.
By way of contrast, the desserts ($4.95) are not bad at all, especially the
excellent house-made tiramisù. And the potent espresso ($1.75), which is
imported from Italy, is the perfect accompaniment.
Given its primo location, pleasant ambiance -- including the warmth of a
roaring fireplace in the dead of winter -- affable proprietor, and moderate
pricing, Il Mulino Ristorante has a great deal of potential. But
Flemington's culinary competition has revved up dramatically in the past few
years. And if Mr. Pascale hopes to remain in the running, the inconsistencies
that currently plague the kitchen must certainly be rectified in the very near
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner, Tues - Fri,
5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Sat, 3:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 3:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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