Corrections or additions?

This review by Nicole Plett was prepared for the September 27,

2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dining Destination: Nodo

Nodo is Witherspoon Street’s new kid on the block,

and it has chosen a small letter "n" to signal its name.


contemporary Italian dining with a Greenwich Village flavor, Nodo’s

name means, in Italian, "bond" or "junction" or


And whether the lower case form is a nod to the modesty of e.e.


or the immodesty of a great-looking logo — its final "o"

imitates the eponymous knot — is anyone’s guess. Open since late

July, the upscale destination offers elegant dining aimed at the


side of the scale. Stepping into the restaurant’s cozy interior,


imaginative and painstaking food preparation and pleasant ambiance

makes it a welcome addition to Princeton’s burgeoning "restaurant


Located on the site of the former Athenian Pizza restaurant (more

recently TJ’s Trattoria), Nodo chefs Mark Valenza and Michael Coury,

partners in the venture, are both graduates of New York City’s French

Culinary Institute. They are also New Jersey natives who, between

the two, have worked at restaurants that include the Ryland Inn,


Inn, Restaurant 28, the Wild Mushroom, Bernards Inn, and the


own restaurant, L’Ecole. Focusing on the Italian regional cooking

of Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily, the chefs say their

goal is to "create an atmosphere where wonderful fresh ingredients

and love of food promote enjoyment, a more complete understanding

of a great cuisine, and, most of all, what the Italians do best —

take time to live."

On this latter point, you’ll want to remember (our reservation did

not come with this reminder) that the premises are BYOB. From the

crusty brick-oven bread, warm olive oil garnish, and accompanying

bowl of olives, that arrives first on your table, Nodo’s seafood,

pasta, and meat dishes seem designed to be enjoyed with wine.

The menu order features Antipasti ($7 to $12), Zuppa (soup, $6 to

$8), Insalata (salad, $8 to $11), Primi Platti (pasta, $13 to $20),

Secondi Platti (entree course, $21 to $28), and Fine Pasto (dessert,

$7 to $9. These terms were new to us, and required some help from

our server to put together a combination of starters followed by


a pasta or entree course. The hearty eater may choose both.

A new fall menu beings this week, but in September,

at the height of the tomato harvest, several dishes showcased fresh

tomatoes packed with homegrown flavor.

Our tomato-based starters were on opposite ends of the


spectrum. From the Antipasto menu, the Gnocchi Alla Romana offered

a generous plate of six semolina dumplings served over a thick


tomato pesto, topped with browned fontina cheese. Our most traditional

dish of the evening, this was tasty, notable for the delicate flavors

of the dumplings. By contrast, the elegant chilled Confetti Tomato

Brodo Soup is composed of an almost clear broth, through which glimmer

slices of miniature tomatoes, both red and yellow. Garnished with

a crusty bread slice and an eggplant "caviar," this offered

an attractive low-fat start to our meal.

Among our main course samplings were beautifully prepared Sea Scallops

and Charred Baby Octopus ($24), served on a soothing bed of white

bean hummus, surrounded by a tasty yellow pepper and rosemary sauce.

From the specials, we chose a Primi dish of Mussels surrounding pasta

in a light sauce flavored with Chipotle chiles ($18). Although the

sauce proved as spicy and flavorful as we had hoped, the generous

serving of 15 mussels were too lightly cooked for this diner’s taste.

Also from the Primi menus, we admired the Grilled Ravioli di Pesce,

served as one giant pocket of pasta stuffed with ground seafood. The

pasta is strictly al dente, firm but never crunchy, and therefore,

we’re told, textbook-perfect.

Desserts are clearly a vocation for these young chefs. From the last

fresh breeze of summer in the form of a Chilled Peach Soup with peach

sorbet ($7), to the Espresso Granita with Jersey Berry Tart ($8),

and an extraordinary Rosemary infused Creme Brulee ($8) that touts

a fine layer of crisp caramelized sugar, our diners were entranced

by their sweets.

The attractive yet subdued decor, general comfort, and low noise


make this restaurant an appealing place to linger. Upholstered booths

for couples and foursomes run down each side of the space, with a

half-dozen cafe tables and chairs set along the center. Nodo’s


glazed walls are set off by a little skyscape above and a deep green

carpet below, and punctuated by clusters of small gilt mirrors. Warm,

dark wood is another strong design element, lighting is low and


and a candle enclosed in a glass brick sits on each table.

Nodo’s servers are dressed in white, knee-length meat-cutters’ coats,

intended, we were told, to give a "different" or Manhattan

look to the venue. Although you may recognize these as meat-cutters

coats, they may equally put you in mind of the date for your next

annual checkup. Over three visits, service was somewhat uneven, as

was the knowledgeability of the servers. We have enjoyed enthusiastic

and painstaking help interpreting the menu and selecting our foods.

Yet when we expressed difficulty in understanding some of the Italian

menu terms (such as "brodo" for broth), our most recent server

gave us a rudimentary reply, before hurrying off with the comment,

"I’ll give you a few more minutes."

The quality of the cuisine paired with the comfortable intimacy of

Nodo’s space makes this a premiere destination for an upscale date.

Our own dinner for two cost $90, including tip. Yet a recent visit

included a toddler diner, up at 9 p.m., well past bedtime; I think

most will thank you if you leave your youngsters at home.

— Nicole Plett

Nodo, 25 Witherspoon, Princeton, 609-688-9300. Dinner

is served daily from 5 to 10 p.m. BYOB. Reservations recommended.

For the complete list of restaurants organized by location and

cuisine, go to

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