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This review by E.E Whiting was prepared for the May 24, 2006 issue
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Let’s Try: Sotto 128
The ’49ers found their treasure in the form of nuggets of gold hidden
underground. Recently, we found treasure in nuggets of rich, yeasty
dough redolent with garlic also underground at Sotto, the smartly
renovated Annex. The descent to Princeton’s newest addition to
nightlife is the same, albeit with warm red textured walls, but the
space is transformed with stone and a more open plan. The bar has
ample room for waiting for a seat in the dining room, something
lacking in other venues, with couches and even a screened seating area
where a larger party can relax.
On our first visit, we arrived unannounced at 8 p.m. on a Saturday and
were told there would be a 20-minute wait. We were told they do accept
reservations, but the spacious bar invited the wait, and indeed it was
almost exactly 20 minutes. The full menu is served at the bar if we
had chosen not to wait for the dining room. We took the time to look
over the menu and the expanded, upgraded wine list but mostly
people-watched. Several familiar faces from the Annex days were there
along with a few families. Our waiter told us that anything on the
menu could be downsized for smaller appetites and there were several
choices of individual pizza.
Our second visit on another Saturday night was a bit more problematic
in that there was a miscommunication from the staff about the need for
reservations when we called, and we had a longer wait. Once seated, we
also had a wait of almost an hour for our entrees, but it was
Communiversity weekend, and the joint was jumping with diners and
music aficiandos. Perhaps the flow will improve as the kinks are
worked out in the kitchen.
The bar boasts funky, retro bucket seats that squooch down when you
sit and the stone-wall theme continues around the room. Thursdays,
Fridays, and Saturdays bring live music to the bar, and on both our
visits mellow jazz provided just the right level of sound, pleasant
but not at a decibel level to make conversation, romantic or
otherwise, impossible. The wait staff is a combination of new and old
hands, now smartly dressed in black with bright orange ties. The
owners are busily visible and eager to welcome old friends back for a
The new management has brought a decidedly upscale fare, fresh and
varied, from their prior incarnation at La Principessa. The sinful
bread, served with a homemade olive relish, must be consumed by all
members of the party lest anyone not partaking succumb to the garlic.
On our first foray, we began by sharing polenta (always a challenge to
present well) with sweet sausage. A friend who was a habitue of La
Principessa recommends the large antipasto, considered enough for
four, which she ordered for her main course. Our choices for main
course were broiled flounder stuffed with crabmeat and chicken with
mozzarella, sausage, and peppers. A nice touch in this day of all a la
carte all the time is the inclusion of a small fresh house salad with
Our next visit allowed us to discover the trout special and some of
the pasta dishes. The gnocchi were eagerly devoured by the carb lover
of the group. Unfortunately, the lobster ravioli were a disappointment
to this girl from Maine, who wished for actual chunks of lobster meat
rather than a finely ground paste filling. But the trout was firm and
moist, with nary a bone in its body.
Prices for the appetizers top out at $10 for the large antipasto.
Putting a twist on the usual appetizers is shrimp scampi bruschetta
($9) as well as the standards of eggplant rollatini and mussels in
marinara sauce ($9). The salads are substantial with additions of
shrimp and/or scallops and range from $7 to $10. The dinner menu
offers a good choice of pasta, veal, chicken, beef, and fish dishes
including rack of lamb. The entrees, while substantial, are not
overwhelmingly large, a pleasant change from groaning plates or
artfully sparse architectural creations. Main courses are priced in
the teens to high $20s. Among the dessert choices of creme brulee,
tiramisu, and sorbets, we chose to split a dish of two small but
perfectly formed cannolis, exactly enough to polish off the wine and
give a sweet ending.
Lunch offers panini ($9), wraps ($8 to $9) and black angus burgers,
including a burger oscar with fresh lump crabmeat ($9 to $10). Pizza
runs the gamut of styles, again some with a twist ($9 to $12).
The wine list is sizable and moderately priced with the exception of a
$120 bottle of Opus One. We opted for a bottle of the less flamboyant
Orvieto for $26, which went quite well with both the chicken and fish.
The ambiance is still friendly and casual. The upscale decor is not
stuffy and the welcome is genuine with the encouragement to linger to
hear the music sincere. This would be a good place to take guests, the
boss, or your sweetheart. And rumor has it that the restaurant now
offers oversized cloth napkins. instead of the flimsy paper ones when
we visited. The night is young, the company charming, the music
mellow, and the Manhattans well chilled. Sotto may be below Nassau
Street but it offers a welcome choice for above average food in
downtown Princeton. – E. E. Whiting
Sotto 128 Restaurant and Lounge, 128.5 Nassau Street, 609-921-7555.
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