Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the October 24, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Dining Out: La Mezzaluna
An autumn chill was in the air when we made tracks
for La Mezzaluna, a new restaurant offering "authentic Italian
cuisine" in the Witherspoon Street space formerly occupied by
the short-lived Italian eatery, Nodo. The newly designed space, drenched
in various shades of blues, and topped by a tiny, ultramarine ceiling
panel scattered with stars, is a charming sight, infused with romance
for either lunch or dinner.
During the Renaissance in Italy, gold was the only artist’s pigment
that was more highly priced than ultramarine blue. Thus it was that
saturated shades of ultramarine, a pigment made by grinding the semi-precious
stone lapis lazuli, was most prized, the best grades of which were
always reserved for the robes of the Virgin Mary.
At the new La Mezzaluna — the name means "half moon" —
you’ll find a saturation of blue walls, blue upholstery, blue stemware,
and blue shirts on the staff. The restaurant’s reproduction prints
even include Van Gogh’s "Starry Night." Lovely clear glass
"moondrop" lamps hang above each table, and the cherry-stained
wood of the upholstered booths are separated by ribbed glass panels.
An upholstered bench runs along the opposite side of the long, narrow
space, with ample tables for couples.
Executive chef and co-owner Chris Stevens grew up in central New Jersey
where his grandmother ran a restaurant for many years. Trained at
the Culinary Institute of America, he is a former owner of Casabona
Ristorante in Skillman and former executive chef of Les Copains, across
Witherspoon Street. Stevens’ business partner, Fred Szymborski, who
serves as La Mezzaluna’s front of house, maitre d’, and tableside
chef, grew up in Philadelphia of Italian and Polish parents, and has
12 years restaurant experience.
Working to maximize their vestpocket premises, the partners have placed
three tables in the window area for a total seating capacity of about
70. A blue velvet curtain divides this dining room from the waiting
vestibule area, now reduced to not much more than a door-sized space.
This is a BYOB premises with the advantage of having a liquor store
next door. One of our group stopped in for a bottle of Chianti, a
natural hit with all the diners, given the character of La Mezzaluna’s
Northern Italian dishes featuring meats and seafood, many prepared
with cream and/or cheese, dominate the menu. Veal dishes, chicken,
and a Florentine-style beefsteak cooked over charcoal are featured
among the Primi Piatti. Dinner entrees range from $14 for the Polla
Capicossa, pistachio-crusted chicken sauteed with wine and lemon,
to a high of $26 for the Zuppa di Pesce of sauteed clams, mussels,
shrimp, lobster, and squid.
The lunch and dinner menus are essentially the same, with slightly
fewer choices and fewer heavyweight dishes served at lunch. Lunch
entrees are $4 to $6 less (for smaller portions, of course), but appetizers,
salads, soups, and desserts are the same size and cost at lunch and
Among the antipasti (priced $6 to $9), we tried the Cozze alla Zafferano,
a generous bowl of mussels steamed in a mild saffron broth (which
could well serve two). We also tried the $5 soup of the day, a hearty
bowl of white beans and arugula, with veal meatballs. Among the salads,
the Insalata Romanza ($7) offered an ample serving of grilled hearts
of romaine (with only the outer leaves touched by heat), served with
slices of Parmigiano-reggiano, and a white balsamic caesar dressing
($7). The antipasti course is preceded by slices of Italian bread
and a dipping platter of light olive oil surrounding a large clove
of roasted garlic.
A specialty of the new restaurant is table-side preparation of various
flamed and sauteed dishes. Of three risotto dishes on the dinner menu,
Risotto Ai Parmigiano ($16) and Risotto Ai Tartuffo (prepared with
seasonal truffles at seasonal price) are prepared at your table.
La Mezzaluna pasta choices include a Spagatinne with fresh tomato
and garlic ($12 for dinner, $7 for lunch) and Rigatoni Vodka ($14
and $8). We tried the Linguine Ai Gamberi con Rucola ($17 and $13),
a generous serving of jumbo shrimp over linguine with an arugula,
tomato, and basil sauce. Pulpo Livornese, one of the evening’s specials,
offered surprisingly tender slices of baby octopus served over a somewhat
bland bed of linguine.
The Pollo con le Melanzane, one of two chicken Primi Piatti, offered
an exceptionally tasty and satisfying "comfort food," just
right for the autumn chill. The dish offers a seared chicken breast
topped with pancetta, a slice of Sicilian eggplant, and broiled fresh
mozzarella, accompanied by "espanole sauce" (much like a delicate
gravy), and garlic mashed potatoes.
At dessert time we enjoyed the skillful and cheerful tableside preparation
of a Zabayone, a feather-light custard, prepared at the table by (we
later learned) co-owner Szymborski. Watching the husky maitre d’ effortlessly
whisk together two egg yolks, Marsala wine, and sugar in a deep copper
pot, heated over a gas flame, was impressive. The zabayone, served
over sliced fresh strawberries and whole blackberries, was a highlight.
All La Mezzaluna’s staff was friendly and anxious to please, a welcome
occurrence in these difficult days. Our server, just two days on the
job, made every effort to describe the evening’s dishes for us, some
more than once. Creative cooking, attractive decor, friendly service,
and generous portions certainly merit a return visit.
— Nicole Plett
Open Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner Monday to Thursday,
5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday to 10 p.m. Closed Sundays.
p.m. are accepted only for parties of five or more. Catering, takeout,
and private parties also offere
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