Word of Mouth
Restaurant Now Closed
729 Haddon Avenue
Collingswood, Camden County, New Jersey
Decoratively speaking, Word of Mouth is a stunner:
iconographically-infused stained glass partition, sumptuous tapestry, imposing
gilt-edge mirror, and a magnificent mishmash of cushy, extravagantly
comfortable upholstered chairs. (All this pales, of course, before the
Dalíesque dalliance to be discovered in the men's restroom... but I wouldn't
want to spoil the surprise.)
Amazingly enough, however, despite -- or, perhaps, because of -- these
ornamental oddities, the dining area still manages to maintain a casually
elegant air that doesn't seem at all out of place or overblown. This is
especially apparent when the sun is setting and the entire scene is bathed in
the muted glow of candlelight. Go for a cozy table next to the large picture
window overlooking Haddon Avenue or, better still, since the high ceiling and
hardwood floor can make matters rather boisterous, in warmer weather, elect the
red canopied exterior and be treated to an up close and personal view of
Collingswood's human flora and fauna.
Greg Fenski, who, along with his parents, Robert and Elizabeth Sanabria,
also owns restaurant Food For Thought in Marlton, is the power behind the
stove. You will undoubtedly find his New American cuisine with occasional
international diversions decidedly lusty and robust. He does hit many of the
right notes... and yet, there are a number of seemingly inexplicable
First of all, some menus grab your attention right out of the box, shift the
salivary glands into overdrive, and have your taste buds purring while still
digesting descriptive possibilities. The printed bill of fare proffered here,
however, seems to have precisely the opposite effect. Chew on a few sentences
and semantic (and gastronomic) somnolence is likely to set in. Fortunately, the
food itself is infinitely more exciting than the explications.
Secondly, though I initially dined at Word of Mouth during the still
temperate waning days of summer, several offerings appeared to bear the
unmistakable marks of bleak midwinter: pork tenderloin with candied apples, sweet
potato dumplings, and port wine sauce; oven-roasted duckling with wild rice
pudding; balsamic-glazed chicken breast with rosemary roasted potatoes. The
current menu -- just recently revised -- is infinitely more in keeping with the
prevailing season; hopefully, Mr. Fenski will see fit to update it once again
before warmer weather sets in.
Finally... while the quality of the restaurant's comestibles is beyond
reproach, every so often there appears a totally baffling ghost in the machine.
And, by far, the biggest culinary clinker is the bland-leading-the-bland,
run-of-the-mill, dull-as-dirt, under whelming and under seasoned vegetable
medley that is the kiss of death to any entrée it touches. You know, all the
usual suspects: woody carrot nuggets whittled down to resemble their younger
siblings, broccoli and cauliflower florets, snow peas, etc., etc., ad
infinitum, ad nauseam. And even though this unappetizing array has received
a sound and thorough thrashing at the hands of several restaurant critics, it continues
to make far too many guest appearances for its own -- and the diner's -- good.
Despite these missteps, however, a number of Mr. Fenski's offerings are
highly recommendable. And a good place to begin is with what I would consider the
chef's signature dish: house-made gnocchi with shrimp ($10.00). The pan-fried
dumplings exhibit a light and feathery texture and are garnished with ribbons
of fresh basil, tomatoes, toasted garlic, and splash of olive oil. The
consummating touch is a crown of beautifully seared, delightfully crunchy
Placing second (in a virtual photo finish, I might add) is a presentation of
the chef's incomparable jumbo lump crab cakes ($11.00). The crisp exterior of
two golden orbs yields to a sweet, succulent core endowed with just enough roux
to add a welcome touch of silkiness. The counterpoints are a rustic corn &
black bean salsa and provocative cilantro-lime vinaigrette.
The seared ahi tuna ($11.00) -- sumptuously rare sesame seed-encrusted
slices arranged vertically around an epicenter of oriental slaw sprinkled with
a subtle but sensuous ginger dressing -- is another exceptional starter... as
is the duck quesadilla ($9.50), tender morsels of sweet meat and
caramelized onions folded in a flour tortilla and paired with a first-rate
pineapple salsa. If you'd prefer a somewhat lighter prelude, the mixed greens
adorned with Gorgonzola, grilled pears, candied walnuts, and drizzle of white
balsamic dressing ($8.00) is also quite excellent.
Entrées offer diners several palpable hits and a few near misses. The most
praiseworthy presentation, in my opinion, is the incomparable "filet
mignon" of veal ($32.00). I have a special place in my heart for this
particular dish, but it is rarely as well prepared in this country as it is in
Germany. Even after two decades, the version that continues to haunt my taste
memory -- and the standard by which all others will be forever judged -- was
that served up at the Hotel Obermuhle in Garmish-Partenkirchen. Simply adorned
with a dollop of garlic butter, to this day, its phenomenal flavor and textural
purity simply defy description.
Mr. Fenski's rendition doesn't quite reach the same heights, but it comes
very, very close. Arriving at table a perfect medium rare and kissed by an
exquisitely demonstrative demi-glace, its refined rusticity is a
soul-satisfying gift to the palate. An assertive mound of basil-garlic mashed
potatoes makes a first-rate accompaniment, as does the sautéed broccoli rabe.
The rigatoni ($16.00) also has a great deal to offer. A number of diverse
constituents -- al dente pasta, tender chunks of chicken, and morsels of
Asiago cheese -- are all brought into sharp synergetic focus via the
intervention of an outstanding sun-dried tomato pesto cream sauce. A relatively
simple dish but highly recommended on all counts.
Finny fare, on the other hand, while showing a good degree of promise, is
somewhat less successful... On one occasion, the pan-seared skin-on filet of
striped bass ($26.00) is exceedingly moist and tender and finds a most
agreeable complement in a heady red wine sauce. Unfortunately, its natural
flavors are completely eclipsed by an aggressive dusting of herbs. On the
second try, the fish is likewise prepared to the peak of perfection but is set
on a decidedly dark and brooding wild mushroom and tomato ragout. The dish
could surely benefit from a bit of brightening up. And the same is true of the
white balsamic glazed crispy salmon ($20.00) set on a positively gloomy seabed
of ratatouille and roasted potatoes.
The pan-fried tilapia ($24.00) -- a crispy golden brown crust yielding to a
mouthwateringly luscious interior -- is yet another pristine specimen. A
delightfully delicate beurre blanc sauce is finesse personified, as is a
tiny tiara of jumbo lump crabmeat... But an all-too-lemony risotto commits a
heinous act of citrus sabotage, while the aforementioned dreadfully dreary
vegetable medley sounds the final death knell on what could have been an
exceedingly appealing presentation.
Desserts ($6.00), all made at the restaurant's elder sibling, Food For
Thought in Marlton, are solid enough, though not particularly inspiring. The
white/dark chocolate mousse cake with ladyfinger crust is quite good... ditto
the creamy raspberry-mango swirl cheesecake and light and tangy lemon chiffon
pie. The banana-walnut cake is a bit more generic but should still appeal to
those with an incurably sweet tooth.
Service is this eatery's last chance to let you down and, unfortunately, it
usually does. On our first excursion, the hostess who greeted our party was
decidedly chilly. The attitude she conveyed was that customers were a constant
inconvenience. During two subsequent sojourns, we encountered a gentleman
seated at the front desk, munching away on his dinner; and he continued his
militant mastication while showing us to our tables and presenting menus.
Servers here aren't exactly brusque, but they aren't terribly personable
either. Their body language seems to suggest that they have more pressing
engagements elsewhere. These strange goings-on, especially in a restaurant of
this caliber, are difficult to fathom. A remedial course in "Service
101" should be looming on the horizon.
Certain minor culinary and organizational eccentricities may be winked at.
Those encountered here, however, are particularly annoying as they are so
easily rectified; and yet they apparently continue to slip through the cracks.
There is no question that Word of Mouth has all the ingredients to place
it at the forefront of the ever-burgeoning Collingswood restaurant scene... but
a good bit of fine-tuning is still very much in order.
Cuisine: New American
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sat,
5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Sun, 4:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Parking: Street parking only
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
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