So, for my manfriend's big New Year's Day birthday, I had to make it memorable. Not only did we start celebrating with meatball pizza, rigatoni bolognese and not a vegetable in sight at Vic and Angelo's in Florida a week beforehand but we rounded up the troops from NYC, shuttled them on the next NJ Transit train to New Brunny and fed them. Extraordinarily well.
Since moving here, one of the warmest, most comfortably sophisticated institutions I could never tire of visiting is Catherine Lombardi's. It's one of those places where you cozy up to a loved one and munch on some stuffed calamari and garlic popcorn while watching 08901's finest bartenders create mind-blowing concoctions.
To not celebrate BFOLED's birthday at Catherine's would be a felony. Seriously. The red-walled, vintage chandeliered dining room was made for birthdays. And so we came. We ate. We conquered.
Now, I'm not usually one to fill up on greens at an Italian joint, but the arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano salad was not to be believed. The lightly acidic lemon juice perfectly dressed the tender sprigs of baby arugula. The freshly grated cheese added the perfect bite to the peppery greens. Luckily, BFOLED's red meatballs (not to be confused with the black variety, no seriously) were calling my name directly to my left. I don't know how these people can make such a firm yet moist (ew I hate that word but there isn't another to describe the texture!) meatball. Yes. I'd like another, please.
(Image: Google images - I know, I should have taken photos of this one!)Oh, and while all of these first courses are being devoured there is garlic bread staring me in the face. No, this isn't any ordinary garlic bread. This is a freshly baked baguette smothered with garlic, olive oil and some sort of magic potion that makes you eat at least two rounds. It's seriously heaven.
Anyways, back on track, we're ready for our primi, or pasta course. Now, I'm all for going out on a limb and being adventurous 90% of the time. But, Catherine Lombardi is a very smart lady. She really knows her black fettuccine and mussels. And you cannot stray from what she knows and does well. So, I found a primi partner and we went to work on the fantastically al dente strands of squid ink-infused fettuccine tossed with the most harmonious combination of garlic, pepper flakes and roasted tomatoes possible. Bliss.
The other stand out dish that night was the long fusilli with walnut basil pesto cream. Not too heavy, not too creamy. Long fusilli was never so much fun to eat.For dessert, we were all practically reeling from sensory overload but alas, a birthday had to be celebrated, people. Gratis, a gorgeous plate of chocolate hazelnut bread pudding arrived. I'm not sure if it was the South African cab that went straight to my brain but I cannot remember this dessert for the life of me. All I can tell you was that "Happy Birthday, Lee" was glistening on the rim of that plate. In chocolate. How could I possibly forget that?
If you're ever in the market for a birthday dinner, a casual night out, a glass of fine wine or inventive cocktail AND you don't mind going to the gym the next morning, you simply must get yourself to Catherine Lombardi's. It's one of those places you just cannot forget.