Monday, June 27, 2011

Princeton Edition: Nonna's Italian Kitchen

What a little gem this restaurant is! Taking place of the Magnolia Room at 315 Straley Ave. in Princeton, this new restaurant features Italian dishes and delicious desserts. I never had the opportunity to dine at the Magnolia Room, and I'm sad I won't get to, but Nonna's was a pleasant treat. In a sea of fast-food restaurants and chain dining, Nonna's is home-cooked goodness. I don't even know of an Italian chain restaurant in Princeton (no Olive Gardens), so maybe Pizza Hut or Gino's is as close as it gets after Nonna's. Nonna's is really taking advantage of the market here, and I'm happy to see it fill that niche of Italian-hungry Princetonians or Morgantonians transplanted in Princeton.


Chris and I had a date night, coupled with Nonna's Italian Kitchen and "Bad Teacher." He knew I was excited for this restaurant, maybe too excited. The sign outside had been teasing me with "opening soon," until a week or so ago, it said it was taking reservations from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.. It seems the restaurant is only open Friday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. That's OK - perfect for me actually. I called up and made reservations for 5 p.m. on Saturday. I originally said 4 p.m., but the person on the other end of the phone said they'd rather do it later so they have time to prepare. Maybe their opening time should say 5 p.m. then.

On Friday, Chris and I dressed up. We weren't sure exactly what to expect, but I would rather be overdressed than underdressed, and yoga pants scream underdressed. We clean up nicely - I wore a black dress, and he had a polo and khaki shorts. We headed toward the restaurant and found a parking spot right in front. Parking lines the streets around the restaurant, so it's really not far of a walk from any area. Much different than Morgantown dining. The restaurant is in what looks like an old house. Actually, it may still be a house with the owners living there.

When we walked in, we saw a dozen circle tables with white tablecloths underneath a glass top. I'm glad we dressed up. The dining area looked very, very small, so my suspicions about the house being a home as well as a restaurant are probably true. It looks to be three stories, and the dining area occupied only half of the main floor. It's like walking into one of those small treasures - from the outside, it's plain and unsuspecting. Walking inside, seeing fancy tables, it's a treat.

Most tables had four chairs, some uncomfortably placed to conform to the tight space restrictions, and one table was placed near a large window - quite romantic. Too bad the only table occupied when we walked in was that one. The waitress told us we could sit wherever we liked. We chose the table closest and sat down. The waitress took our drink orders, though she was frazzled and didn't name all of the options (we heard her giving another table the drink options, some of which she neglected to tell us). I ordered a coke and a water. Chris ordered just a coke. He noted the drinks tasted like they were from a 2-liter, but I was happy with that. I think he would've preferred a fountain beverage. My water, however, wasn't served until halfway through the salad because the waitress forgot. She was a bit flighty.


Before that though, we were handed a thick piece of paper with their menu, which consisted of three options: spaghetti, chicken Alfredo or lasagna. Literally, three options. At the top, it said it was the early bird menu from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., so more options may be available after 6 p.m., but I'm not sure. The menu was a thick piece of paper, which really needs to be laminated. After the restaurant is open another week, I'm sure that menu will be crinkled and unappetizing. I ordered the lasagna, and Chris got the chicken Alfredo. While we waited, we were served a small basket of fresh-baked bread, with olive oil and basil. I wasn't impressed with the olive oil, but the bread was warm and moist.

Soon after, our salads arrived. Accompanied with a little salad dressing pitcher, the salad consisted of lettuce and tomato. I ordered the vinaigrette dressing, which went well. It was light and slightly tangy. Chris ordered ranch, which had a hard time coming out of the pitcher, but he was happy with it. I honestly was less than impressed with the salad. The lettuce wasn't very fresh or crisp, and the tomatoes left something to be desired. They weren't flavorful. In fact, Chris hates tomatoes so I always get his, so my salad had extra tomatoes, but it was still bland. I've done better with packaged salad from Kroger's. At this point, I was feeling let down.

That was until the chef sent out a complimentary Caprese salad because my lasagna dish takes a while. Though, it didn't seem to me like it was taking long at all. The Caprese salad was excellent! Slabs of fresh mozzarella sandwiched between large slices of fresh tomato sprinkled with herbs and olive oil garnished the plate, and bite-size pieces of bread. I quickly made a small sandwich and melted. I'm a sucker for fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes are my favorite, so I was sold. This simple dish knocked it out of the park. Chris was even impressed. I used some of the bread from our basket to use up the last of the tomato and mozzarella and was eager to see what was next.

Our dishes came out shortly after. My lasagna was served piping hot in an individual casserole dish, and Chris' came out on a plate. As soon as I could handle the temperature, I dug in. The lasagna was packed with layers of noodles and meat sauce and topped with a healthy serving of mozzarella. It was exactly what you'd expect for lasagna - heavy, garlic-y and tomato-y. I prefer my lasagna a little less on the meaty side, but I know this would appeal to most people. I also like more noodles - this is definitely heavy on the meat and tomato sauce.


Chris won this round. His dish was outstanding. I'm usually scared of Alfredo dishes because I like so few. I don't like the cheap Alfredo sauces that use a lot of flour or fake cheese. This chicken Alfredo was cheesy and thick. Topped with some pieces of chicken breast and combined with fettuccine, it was a homerun. I hinted a few times that I wanted his dish instead, but he wasn't trading. The Alfredo was so creamy, it was almost carbonara sauce. Try this.

For dessert, I ordered their Italian Cream Cake. And I am so, so glad I did. This is one of the best cakes I've EVER had. I suspect they have a bakery, not just a restaurant, because this cake was extraordinary. Moist layers with cream cheese icing and walnuts. Absolutely delicious. Very, very rich, but so very worth it.

For drinks, salad, bread, Caprese salad, entrees and dessert, we paid only $26.49. What a deal.

Grade: B
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