Archive for the ‘Raves’ Category

Eccola Italian Bistro Restaurant

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Eccola Italian Bistro Restaurant
1082 US Highway 46 W
Parsippany, NJ 07054
(973) 334-8211

Good Food : 4.5/5 | Good Service : 4/5

The first time I tried Eccola was during a late night arrival to Parsippany, NJ. I’ve been back 2 more times when some of my co-workers have also been in Parsippany and each time have not been disappointed.

Roasted Bartlett pear salad with fresh goat cheese

Roasted Bartlett pear salad with fresh goat cheese

I’ve had several of Eccola’s salads and never gotten a bad one. Their house salad is made up of a lettuce mix of radicchio, romaine, iceberg. The salad comes with homemade fried croutons and 1/8 roma tomato wedge. Eccola’s dressing reminded me of another local favorite Italian restaurant’s dressing – a slight tang from the vinegar/oil mix but also light on the tongue. I’ve also tried their seasonal summer salads and never been disappointed with the ingredients combinations.

The restaurant boasts that their pasta is made in-house, so I’ve tried several different pasta dishes so far – eggplant ravioli, their gnocchi special and orrechiette.

The eggplant ravioli comes bathed in a slightly tart tomato/basil sauce from the usage of plum tomatoes. This was advertised as a mushroom sauce, and it came with multiple mushroom types used for mushroom medley. I could taste and see the olive oil floating on top of tomato sauce, which had been added as a last-minute finishing step. The ravioli was cooked slightly under-done from al-dente, with a very dense eggplant filling that was satisfying.

The orrechiette is tossed in a white wine butter sauce and comes with sauteed broccoli rabe and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and is a nice light dish if you don’t feel like a heavy tomato-based pasta dish.

But my current favorite is their beef gnocchi special : potato gnocchi with pan-seared filet mignon tips, mushrooms, peppers, onions and gorgonzola cheese crumbles in a Barolo red wine reduction demi sauce. The gnocchi are soft ‘melt in your mouth’ potato pillows, just firm enough to¬† stand up to the heavy red sauce and meat pieces. The mushroom and bell pepper pieces go well with the beef tips, and the Barolo demi sauce just ties everything together.

My only disappointment so far was their risotto – while the rice was perfectly al dente cooked with a creamy sauce, there was little to no salt in the dish, requiring the waitress to add lots of freshly grated cheese to give the dish some flavor. And the shrimp I ordered with the dish were also not seasoned – blanched in hot water a little too long.

Service has always been consistent – I’ve never had a problem with seating, and the various wait staff are very attentive, promptly filling empty water or wine glasses without seeming to intrude or rush your dining experience. You have to ask for olive oil if you don’t like butter with your bread, and this may come plain or seasoned depending on which wait staff you get. My complaint about going here is that Eccola is a popular place on Route 46, so the dining room has always been full regardless of which day it is & the noise factor does force you to speak louder than normal. The restaurant is located in a nondescript¬† strip plaza, next to an Indian grocery store and a Cluck-U Chicken location. But don’t let the location fool you – the quality and service of the food served at Eccola is top notch.

Billy’s Downtown Diner

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Billy’s Downtown Diner
10 East Broad Street
Bethelehem, PA 18018

Good Food : 4.5/5 | Good Service : 4.5/5

Since Bethlehem was a short drive from Allentown, we decided to head there again for breakfast. Billy’s is a small nondescript place tucked into one of the downtown buildings. It’s cozy inside, and the walls are lined with pictures of famous patrons such as President Clinton, Madonna and Chriss Angel (cousin to Billy the owner).

Billy’s is not your typical diner but is more like a cozy cafe/eatery. The dining area consists of 2 and 4-person booths & a small counter against the back part of the building in front of the kitchen. We got there on a Sunday morning before 8:15am and were able to be seated immediately. However, by the time we left, there was a line of people against the front window area & I could see how crowded this could get during the lunch hour.

Pricing for the dishes were slightly higher than what you would find in a diner, but the quality of food in our minds justified the prices.

The breakfast menu is not your typical diner-fare menu – while there were several variations of benedicts, omelettes and starchy dishes for breakfast, we didn’t expect the grits side since this is considered New England. I decided on the Yanna’s omelette and my husband ordered the Berry Crunch with a side order of regular grits (the wild version comes with pepper jack cheese).

yanna_omeletteMy omelet came with 4 triangle slices of buttered toast, a packet of grape jelly and Idaho home fries. The potatoes had an almost mashed-potato texture on the inside, with a crunchy crispy fried outer layer. The omelet was bursting with a generous mixture of spinach, sauteed onions, diced tomatoes and feta cheese chunks and while a little brown on the outside was still perfectly cooked inside.

The Berry Crunch was an unusual dish – 3 slices of skinny Italian bread that were fried on the griddle, topped with granola, dried cranberries, chopped nuts and fresh strawberry slices, topped with whipped cream & drizzled with a sugary syrup then dusted with cinnamon. This dish has the perfect balance of soft and crunchy – the bread was able to stand up to the syrup while the granola clusters and dried cranberries provided a crunchy fruity texture.

Great customer service – a waitress prompted asked us for our drink order when we were seated, was patient enough to come back 2 times as we waffled over the breakfast choices, and didn’t hover over us despite the line forming at the front of the door. Coffee was refreshed promptly.

Al Forno

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Al Forno
577 South Main Street
Providence, RI 02903

Good Food : 5/5 | Good Service : 5/5

So with the wealth of Italian restaurants in Providence, why did I choose a place not in Federal Hill? Well, I had already sampled 2 Italian places in that region of Providence and unless you get there right after work, finding non-valet parking can be an exercise in frustration. Al Forno was recommended as a ‘very good, but a little pricey’ place. In my past experience, pricey usually means a high level of execution & service so I decided to try them out.

Due to the road construction happening in Providence and the surrounding area, the construction signs were a little confusing on how to get to South Main Street. But after doing several right turns, I was able to finally get onto the right road and dropped my car off in the complimentary valet parking lot.

The restaurant has several distinct dining areas – the outside patio/bar area, the traditional dining areas on the first and second floors & a small/intimate bar area on the second floor. Being by myself and not wanting to take up a full table, I decided to dine at the bar.

Zucchini Blossoms

Blossoms-fillingI started with their special seasonal appetizer : stuffed zuchini blossons in a subtle spicey tomato-basil sauce. These were perfectly fried blossoms, generously stuffed with a blend of ricotta cheese, grated carrots & spinach.


A small steamer basket of rustic Italian bread & pitcher of olive oil were also brought to my space on the bar.

Since Al Forno has a woodfire oven, I decided to try one of their woodfired dishes – the hanger steak. Preparation of the steak sufficiently tenderized the meat and almost eliminated the slightly liver-like taste that this cut of meat can have. My steak was cooked medium-rare as requested, and came with 2 sides : fingerling potatoes and green beans sauteed with their homemade thick-sliced bacon. Unfortunately, I passed up dessert as I was quite full by the end of my meal, but I was impressed by the fact that their desserts are made to order per table.

Wood-grilled hanger steak

Wood-grilled hanger steak

Even though the bartender (Kyle) was busy taking care of us bar customers & the incoming drink orders, I was very impressed by his ability to juggle both sides of the house & also take the time to make sure that his customers were having a good dining experience. Kyle was even sensitive enough to offer me a different seat at the other end of the bar when it became evident that the party next to me was getting louder and larger.

Al Forno has been around since the mid-80′s and my experience showed why they’re still around despite being located in an odd location – the ability to provide a well-executed meal with the equivalent superior wait service made this dining experience the highlight of my week in Providence. Even though I was seated in the bar area, I still received the same level of high quality service as the people in the main dining area. Chef-owners Johanne Killeen and George Germon have ensured that diners have both a wonderful visual and culinary experience & I can see why people are willing to wait 1/2 hour or more for the opportunity to go here. My only issue with the restaurant is that they do not take reservations for parties under 6 people, so you may be waiting longer on the weekends.