Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Night in Westmont - Kitchen 233

I've just come in after digging out from the huge amount of snow dumped overnight here in South Jersey by that massive storm that paralyzed the region yesterday and last night.  Well.  Not really.  I'm really nibbling on chocolate chip cookies and thinking about what a great dinner we had last night.

We spent last night at Kitchen 233 on Haddon Avenue in Westmont.  We went there a few months ago for drinks before heading out to another Westmont spot.  As I left, I vowed to come back soon, having enjoyed a well-made absinthe cocktail and after looking longingly at the full page of entrees.

It's a stylish spot featuring top end seafood and steaks in a busy but surprisingly quiet dining room.  I started with a very smooth California Zin that wasn't too much for the perfectly prepared Caesar salad.  The dressing was the perfect blend of tangy and savory and the greens were crisp and freshly cut. 

A large serving of medium-rare Maine scallops were advertised as 'day boat' and 'porcini dusted.'  I'll assume the day boat part was true, but the dusting must have been microscopic, because I didn't see any.  The flavor though was perfect and the texture was firm but not rubbery, and had a nice buttery braising on the outside.  I generally eat everything put in front of me at a restaurant, especially one charging these prices, but the serving was large enough that I was full before the last scallop.

My companion raved about the seafood fra diavlo (too spicy for my palate) and our friends noted the excellent wild mushroom soup and the perfectly prepared signature salmon dish.

The table shared a huge trio of sorbets for dessert that had a bold mango, astringent lemon and sweet raspberry.  I had held onto a bit of my zin to see how it did with the desserts and it held up very well, pairing surprisingly well with the mango and raspberry.  Espressos all around prepared us for the ride home.

We lingered over dessert and chatted with our friends and were not bothered to move on.  The staff was unobtrusive in setting up the room for the next day.  The final bill with drinks and a 25% tip came to $205.  That's a special dinner night for sure, but not a bad number for four people who felt well-served and happy with the evening.

We were among the last out at 9:45 but the warm bar area was still busy with folks drinking martinis and wine.  The crowd was well-dressed, but had a local feel to it.  I think it's a destination bar, not a place people come to on a regular basis, but I could be wrong.

This is a very good place for a special dinner.  At the top end of the PJ Whelihan's empire, the folks running this place have worked out the kinks that Craig LaBan found in 2007.  The Yelp reviews are all over the place, but when you weed out the odd experiences, the basic theme of pricey but excellent food shines through.

My final comment is that it was a night that was about being with friends and we all had a great time.  The food and drinks paired well with the conversation and we headed out into a cold. wet night filled with warmth.


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