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Ristorante Verona
288 Lancaster Avenue
Frazer, Pennsylvania
(610) 644-7464

Rocco Desiderio, who has owned dining establishments in New York City and New Jersey, is a seasoned restaurateur. And his experience is quite evident. At his latest culinary venture - Ristorante Verona, located in the Shops of Knob Hill in Frazer - the redoubtable and spiffily attired Mr. Desiderio is always on hand to make certain that your evening (or afternoon) at table is a pleasant one.

The interior of his establishment, which is divided into three intimate dining alcoves, is dressed up in eye-catching brushed brunt orange walls. There's a touch of casual elegance here, sophisticated but not at all intimidating.

And the cuisine, courtesy of Chef Fabrizio Spina, fits right in, as it exudes a refined rusticity that succeeds in satisfying the soul as well as placating the palate. Homey salads, for example, make splendid opening moves. The Caesar ($5.95) beguiles with pristinely fresh torn leaves of romaine, crunchy, oven-baked croutons, Parmesan cheese, and an invigorating homemade dressing with just enough zip to tantalize your delicate taste buds. The roasted eggplant salad ($8.95) is another excellent starter. Discs of fresh mozzarella are pillowed on meaty tomato slices and interspersed with perfectly grilled eggplant segments. A sprinkling of olive oil and dash of Italian herbs add appropriate finishing touches.

Other appetizers include exceedingly tender calamari fritti served up with a spicy marinara sauce ($7.95) and a very nice miniature crab cake ($9.95). There is more mashed potato filler here than jumbo crabmeat, but the presentation is highly recommended nonetheless; and the rich lobster brandy sauce adds a deliciously decadent consummating note.

My favorite among the starters, though, is one of the daily specials: broccoli rabe with sweet Italian sausage ($9.95). The epicenter of greenery is just the right texture, firm but not chewy, and the color is a vibrant green. It is flanked by the sausage, savory and succulent, split lengthwise.

Among the pasta dishes, I am particularly fond of the orecchiette - "little ears" - ($12.95). The pasta is cooked to a perfect al dente, garnished with fresh broccoli florets and tender chunks of sautéed chicken breast, and finished with a touch of garlic and olive oil. The homemade potato gnocchi with a rich tomato sauce ($12.95) is also quite good, albeit a tad on the doughy side. For more rustic renditions, be sure to try the penne Bolognese ($12.95) or the spaghetti con polpette ($12.95), fresh pasta enhanced with a generous apportionment of meatballs.

Regular highly recommended entrées include a tender, juicy veal chop crowned with a plethora of sautéed mushrooms and onions (Market Price) and cut-like-butter textured 8-ounce filet basking in a luscious red wine demi-glace reduction ($26.95); although the latter was companioned by vegetables that tasted as if they'd spent considerable time skinny-dipping in the Great Salt lake.

Piscatorial possibilities, usually offered as nightly specials, are also worthy of consideration. The two sampled, however, -- flounder and tilapia - were recited without tariffs and, despite the impeccable good health and quality of presentation, seemed a bit pricey at $26.95. The former, cooked up francese - white wine sauce tinctured with lemon - was a bit on the viscous side; but the latter, prepared livornese - "leghorn-style" with white wine, olive oil, capers, chopped garlic, tomatoes, and parsley - was right on the money.

Desserts ($5.95) offer a nice finishing touch to your evening at table. The Italian rum cake is quite good, ditto the tiramisù and amaretto cake; and a potent jolt of espresso ($2.50) makes a most suitable companion.

If you can't make dinner, be sure to stop by for lunch, which is available Monday through Friday, 11:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.

February 2006
The Artful Diner

The Artful 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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