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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Restaurant Now Closed
July 2007: Chef Capasso recently opened his own restaurant Blackbird in Collingswood. Artfuldiner will be posting his very favorable review shortly.

1990 Route 70
Village Walk Shopping Center
Cherry Hill, Camden County, New Jersey
(856) 751-1711

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online

Under the proprietorship of Karen Spinella, restaurant Pinziminio made the journey to Cherry Hill from its original location on Long Beach Island (the space currently occupied by Sweet Vidalia). But when Ms. Spinella sold her interest in the establishment, a new (and infinitely easier to pronounce and remember) moniker, Misto, soon materialized. Fortunately for diners, despite the change in ownership, executive chef Alex Capasso remains the power behind the stove.

Misto is modern and sophisticated and, as an added attraction, boasts al fresco dining in warmer weather. The interior -- replete with black ceiling, black lacquered tables, black high-backed banquettes (as well as, you guessed it, a spiffy armada of black-clothed servers), and polished hardwood floors -- feels more like SoHo than South Jersey.

This diminutive, nondescript shopping center may at first appear an oxymoronic venue for such a chic establishment; but, in point of fact, Village Walk has become something of an Epicurean enclave. Here, sequestered away in an apparent culinary backwater, you stumble upon Chef Eric Gantz's Amea, a first-class Mediterranean Mecca; Bobby Chez and his famous crab cakes; and the pièce de résistance... Mr. Robert Bennett, former pastry chef at Philadelphia's famed Le Bec-Fin, holds court at his Miel Patisserie. And since the aforementioned restaurants are all BYOB, John Mc Nulty's Corkscrewed, a wine emporium featuring an excellent selection of unique vintages, comes neatly into play. What more could any red-blooded American foodie desire?

What Misto brings to the party is some of the most memorable French/Italian fare it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. Mr. Capasso and his chef de cuisine, William Connelly, strike just the proper chord between the customary and the creative. Presentations are eye-pleasingly innovative, but they rely upon simplicity of form and of substance rather than the shock value of absurd architectural oddities and/or the subterfuge of superfluous ingredients.

And many of the appetizers and entrées to be found here are reminiscent of Chef Capasso's superlative efforts at his former domicile, Max's in Cinnaminson... The handmade potato gnocchi caressed by a buttery tomato-basil infusion and sprinkled with fresh herbs ($7.00 appetizer/$13.00 entrée), for example, evoke a vivid taste-memory of those very same diminutive feathery dumplings swimming in a celestial sea of beurre de tomatoes. And gastronomic déjà vu strikes once again with the more robust but equally appealing orecchietti embellished with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, tomatoes, and virgin olive oil ($8.00/$15.00). Both dishes are superb, utterly profound in their apparent simplicity.

Among the seafood starters, the three Arborio rice-encrusted diver scallops ($11.00) are delightfully hedonistic. Beautifully pan seared, rich and meaty of countenance, they are set on an attractive triangular plate adorned with avocado salad and surrounded by splashes of cilantro oil. Equally tempting is the fricassee of Prince Edward Island mussels ($8.00), pristinely plump bivalves artistically arranged around an epicentral pool of rich natural jus adorned with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

And the pan-roasted squab ($15.00), which made its debut with Mr. Capasso's summer menu, should also not be overlooked. The tender flesh is sensual and succulent, embellished with caramelized green onion, morel mushrooms, and transported to the heights via an extraordinary thyme jus.

Other than the aforementioned pastas, which may be ordered as either starters or main courses, entrées are divided simply into two categories: "Pesce" and "Carne." Among the former, the cornmeal-crusted halibut ($24.00) is a particular standout. The delicately dusted filet is slightly crisp at the exterior, wonderfully moist at the core and set atop a seabed of fresh cut pappardelle... But it is a light yet assertive tomato fennel sauce that truly makes this dish come alive.

I've sampled the Atlantic salmon ($17.00) in two intriguing incarnations: reclining on a creamy mascarpone polenta pillow consummated with shellfish broth; and in the company of lobster couscous and a zesty provençal sauce. My personal preference is for the former, but both are highly recommended... as are the beautifully steamed red snapper ($26.00) accompanied by a ragout of potato gnocci and tomato chive butter sauce and thick slices of pan-seared yellowfin tuna ($24.00) garnished with salade niçoise and Roma tomato vinaigrette.

And there are plenty of tempting choices in the "Carne" department as well... The pan-seared New York strip steak ($26.00), for instance, is a right-on-the-money medium rare; its lusciously thick slices recline on a caramelized shallot pomme purée and the finishing touch is an extravagant merlot sauce. This is a relatively simple presentation but artfully conceived and carried to fruition. There is just enough punch in the sauce to tame the richness of the purée while, at the same time, flawlessly complementing the beef.

I also very much like the pan-roasted lamb tenderloin ($24.00). Slightly chewy strips of tenderloin are attractively intertwined with goat cheese ravioli while enveloping a nucleus of sautéed spinach. In this case, the coup de grâce is administered by the accompanying natural jus, which admirably succeeds in enhancing rather than eclipsing the natural flavor of the lamb. The paillard of veal ($26.00), another favorite from Mr. Capasso's stint at Max's, is really an alluring Napoleon. Three delicate veal scallops are interspersed with sautéed spinach and set on a lovely potato/cheese soufflé. Once again, the culinary catalyst is an assertive merlot sauce.

Even the pedestrian breast of free-range chicken ($16.00), the gastronomic escape hatch for less adventurous palates, proves itself a gourmand's delight. Served on the bone, the flesh beneath the still crispy skin is remarkably plump and juicy and marries extremely well with a creamy Parmesan risotto and perky jus de poulet.

Desserts also make an excellent showing. You may savor such diverse confections as a luscious homemade chocolate chip bread pudding ($8.00) or an exquisitely decadent chocolate Kahlua lava cake courtesy of the aforementioned Miel Patisserie ($8.00). And the highly recommended artisanal cheese plate ($12.00) -- quite suitable for sharing -- is a most civilized denouement to any evening at table.

As Misto's menu changes seasonally, and patrons are now enjoying Mr. Capasso's summer lineup, several of the items mentioned are no longer in permanent residence; on the other hand, they may very well put in timely guest appearances as daily specials. Whatever the choices or the season, however, this is one restaurant that will surely not disappoint.

Cuisine: Franco-Italian
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

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