Tuesday, February 19, 2008

La Campagne

I have to say that I was doubtful when my girlfriend told me that she had made Valentine's Day reservations at La Campagne in Cherry Hill.  I had been there years ago for brunch under the previous owner and chef and was non-plussed at best.  I didn't share this with my date though, as it WAS Valentine's Day and I am not a TOTAL moron.

It's a BYOB, so I picked up a nice bottle of Prosecco and we headed off for our 8pm seating.  I prefer later seating on Valentine's Day since you are less likely to be rushed out the door.  At a lower quality restaurant the food takes a dip late in the evening though, so you have to be careful.  As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about on the quality side.

The menu was a 7 course, $75 per person presentation that showcased the kitchen's ability to present small dishes with big impacts. It was one of the best nights of food I have had in years and if they can do this well on a crazy Thursday night, imagine what they can do on a sedate Tuesday or Wednesday.

The preliminary course was an amuse bouche or "mouth fun" of a ricecake-like wafer with a vegetable topping and an herb butter glaze.  It set the evening up nicely.  A lobster broth-based king crab chowder followed, not too spicy with generous hunks of crab.  While the both was physically thin, it had a wonderfully powerful set of flavors.

A duck sausage wrapped in cabbage over an argula salad followed.  The sausage was excellent, the greens in wonderful shape, but the vinaigrette was virtually all oil and left a tiny bit to be desired.  However a shotglass full of blood orange sorbet garnished with pomegranate seeds dried the tongue and prepared the way for the main dish, a surf and turf interpretation.

The roast beef tenderloin was prepared between rare and medium rare, perfect for me, but my date noted that she was surprised it was that red given that some might object.  I didn't.  The meat was well-herbed on the outer edge and cooked to the point that the fats melted and the whole thing virtually disappeared the second it hit my tongue.  It was amazing.  The Baby lobster tail was fried almost tempura style, leaving the lobster flavor intact wile imparting a nice crunch.  The butted lobster claw was simply outstanding, bringing to mind the summer sights and flavors of coastal Maine without the smell and mess of the lobster pound.  I ate every delicious morsel of the potatoes that were lightly flowered and hinted of earthiness.

Six course into the evening we were filling up, but luckily had left enough room and a bit of bubbly for the wondrous dessert course, featuring seven small but hugely flavored sweet items to finish off the evening.  The dark chocolate pieces filled with fruit and nuts respectively were the best of the group, offering immense flavor in tiny bites.  The lemon bar was unexpectedly delicate and flky, both sweet and bitter at the same time.  I didn't care much for the interior of the rum ball, but the cocoa powder on the outside was mouth=puckeringly tasty.

We lingered over tea, not wanting our evening at La Campagna to end.  Liz and the rest of the wait staff did a great job all night and made sure we felt comfortable right up until we headed out to the car.  Chef/owner Richard Benussi has done wonders upgrading the quality of the food presentations as well as the flavors.  It was an interesting blend of flavors and styles, thoroughly American, but with broad French and Italian influences.  It's a four star place with the possibility of more to come!

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