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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

A Little Cafe
118 White Horse Road
Voorhees, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 784-3344

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
November 22, 1999

Hidden away in The Plaza Shoppes, surrounded by a host of fast-food franchises and chain chop houses, A Little Cafe is a charming culinary oasis of the first order. The atmosphere is casual and cozy, the service top-notch, and Chef Marianne Cuneo Powell's sophisticated Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is a feast for the eye and a bountiful blessing for the palate.

The diminutive dining room seats only forty-four patrons and is tastefully decorated with colorful paintings and a host of favorable restaurant reviews; glass-topped tables are spruced up with cloth napkin "pockets" and fresh flowers. You are certain to feel at home the moment you cross the threshold. And this is a fun place to dine; you are just as likely to encounter a gregarious party of six as you are couples enjoying a quiet dinner and each other's company.

Ms. Powell will undoubtedly start you off with her complimentary tomato fritters -- and they are out of this world. But not nearly so extraordinary as the pesto sauce that accompanies them. Next comes a loaf of crusty bread with a tiny ramekin of herb butter and a plate containing extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and several cloves of yummy toasted garlic. But don't get too filled up, as a salad of mixed greens is also included with your meal. You may choose from the roasted red onion dressing or the honey/balsamic vinaigrette. Both are outstanding.

There are a limited number of appetizers, but I would heartily recommend the jumbo shrimp ($10.95). These sweet crustaceans are stuffed with wasabi, wrapped in bacon and served with an exotic Asian dipping sauce. They recline on an attractive berth of assorted greens and are most suitable for sharing. You also can't go wrong with the duck spring rolls ($9.50). They are presented atop a bed of noodles and garnished with a delectable Asian cucumber slaw.

On the other hand... should the special antipasto platter ($9.95) put in a guest appearance, you would do well to move it to the very top of your dining agenda. Forget the usual innocuous assortment of pickled veggies, tired cold cuts and cardboard cheeses, this is the real thing. Impeccably fresh mozzarella, basil, pungently rich crumbled blue cheese, perfectly roasted red peppers, black olives and chunks of pepperoni are intermingled with crisp lettuces. But the luscious sauteed mushrooms unquestionably deliver the gastronomic coup de grace. An utterly superb presentation!

Among the entrees, finny fare holds a prominent place, and all items are particularly well prepared. The Chilean sea bass ($24.95), for example, is encrusted with toasted sesame seeds, pan-seared, and finished with a zippy wasabi sauce. The salmon filet ($23.95) is topped with pecans and grainy mustard, and consummated with a lovely lemon beurre blanc. The Greek trout ($21.95), on the other hand, is more robust. It is spruced up with pine nuts, fresh plum tomatoes, spinach, artichokes, kalamati olives, and sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese.

But carnivores need have no fear, as they will also discover an intriguing number of options to tantalize their taste buds. The rack of lamb ($25.95) is just the proper shade of pink, coated with pistachios and Dijon mustard, and jazzed up with a heady cabernet demi-glace. The pan-seared filet mignon ($24.95) is clothed in bacon, bejeweled with Gorgonzola blue cheese, and embellished with a superlative garlic cream sauce. For those who prefer fowl, the chicken breast ($17.95) is stuffed with spinach and roasted red peppers and gently caressed by a creamy veloute sauce. The boneless breast of duck ($24.95) is presented with brandied pears in a light and luscious demi-glace.

An excellent rice pilaf accompanies seafood entrees and, my personal fave, a fabulous mound of garlic mashed potatoes adds a touch of pizzazz to the meat dishes; all selections are also garnished with fresh seasonal veggies.

When it comes time for dessert, you will discover that some are made in-house, others off-campus. But, for my money, the pick of the litter is undoubtedly the incredible homemade white chocolate bread pudding ($5.95). It is rich, wonderfully satisfying, and it succeeds in giving "comfort food" a whole new meaning. Unforuntately, you'll have to wash it down with plain old coffee ($1.25), as the establishment does not serve espresso -- a major faux pas in my view.

There is one additonal development of which potential diners should be aware. In an effort to appeal to a more diverse clientele, the restaurant has initiated early bird specials from 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. For the paltry sum of $15.95, you will be treated to soup or salad, entree, dessert and coffee.

Given the regular prices, this is a comparative bargain. Be on guard, however... you get what you pay for. The limited selections are simply not up to the same high standards as those listed on the printed menu. The pan-seared boneless breast of chicken is dry; additionally, it is smothered beneath a tangled mass of sun-dried tomatoes, wild mushrooms and artichokes. Throw in a splattering of julienne veggies, a glob of mashed potatoes, and the overall appearance is somewhat less than appetizing. Another possibility -- the tri-color fettuccine with fresh tomato, basil, garlic, and an all too viscous lemon white wine sauce -- is strictly standard fare. The dessert sampled, a strawberry/apple crisp with vanilla ice cream, is soggy.

While this attractive eatery is most assuredly worthy of your patronage -- and your hard-earned cash -- it is also true that the establishment's early bird specials appear to occupy the bottom rung on its culinary totem pole. If these less expensive offerings are to be served up on a continuing basis, they deserve the same degree of finesse that is obviously bestowed upon their pricier counterparts.

Cuisine: Eclectic
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Fri, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; CLOSED SUNDAY AND MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

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