Well it’s been a while since I reviewed any restaurants in SJ, what with me living a lonely singles life in Haddonfield while Judy prepares our new home in California, I have been working-sleeping-working and little more. But this past weekend Judy and I visited Il Fiore in Collingswood with some old friends. They had all heard of the SJ BYOB from friends and relatives who had eaten there, and Judy and I had eaten lunch at Il Fiore at least three times before. This was the first time we went for dinner … and on a Saturday no less … something we normally avoid like the plague and date night movies. Plus, rumor had it that Il Fiore was a beast on Friday/Saturday nights. Even with reservations parties sometimes had to wait a half hour or more to be seated. That was not the case when we arrived at 6:45 Saturday night. We were seated right away, although we played a little game of musical chairs until we found a table that was just right. The ambient noise level, as we expected, was pretty high, although not so high as to prevent conversations to persons down the line.
I remember wondering after my first visit what niche they hoped to carve since it was yet another BYOB, another Italian restaurant with a fairly limited menu. Would they go for service? Price-point? Exotic preparations? Ambience? It just wasn’t clear at first. Now I understand what keeps patrons coming back, and why only they and Tortilla Press have patrons lined up at the door when nearby restaurants in Collingswood, Westmont, and Haddonfield barely filled their window tables in a down economy. They do just a few dishes, do it well, and charge little. That’s their sweet spot. For the five of us, the total bill … salad, soup, entree and dessert (shared) … was $132!
My starter was a white bean soup that was light and flavorful … more broth than bean. Of course I love dipping their warm, crusty Italian bread in anything, whether its their excellent olive oil with herbs, pasta sauce (gravy), or soup. You know my dining out rule? … good bread presages a good meal. Judy and one of our guests had a salad topped with a lemony dressing with crab. She loved it. My entree was their pasta special: green homemade linguini in a vodka blush sauce with scallops and shrimp. It was a very large helping, but I ate it all anyway. Judy had her favorite dish, breaded veal marinara, which she described as thin, crisp and delicious. It also came with a side of broccoli, and fortunately for me, Judy doesn’t like broccoli, so that meant more for me. One other member of our party had bronzini but other than hearing him say it was delicious, I never saw it nor did I pump him for information. Now lately I have stayed a way from desserts, but this night we all agreed to share an orange peel ricotta cheese pie, and a chocolate-topped rum cake. The Ricotta pie was light and subtle, but the rum cake was sublime … better that Haddon Avenue bakery and neighbor DiBartolo. We will continue to visit owner and our waiter Landi, an Albanian who lived and worked in Italy, but next time for late lunch, our favorite time to enjoy a meal … and we have a better chance of being seated at the window table! 693 Haddon Ave., Collingswood, NJ, 856-833-08108.