Swanky Bubbles Restaurant and Champagne Bar in Cherry Hill offers a hip, world-themed abience and specialty martini cocktails.
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Swanky Bubbles wants to make sure diners understand its philosophy, which appears on its website and atop its menu, and is reiterated by its servers: “Our menu has been designed with sharing in mind; therefore your dinner is presented to you family style. Items are delivered as soon as they are prepared, and not necessarily at the same time.” There’s the rub.
I’m a big fan of passing platters around for all to taste. But when waiters bring out straggling appetizers late in the meal, something is off. Chef de cuisine Gregg Mirigliani says he thinks the problem may be customers’ unfamiliarity with the concept.
“It does confuse people,” says Mirigliani, 38, who previously cooked at Fountains and Philomena’s in Berlin. “If you’re not sure how the dishes are supposed to come out, it does take away from the meal.” Better planning by the kitchen and explaining by the servers would solve the problem.
The service isn’t all bad, it’s just inconsistent, but then so is the food. The menu is a hodgepodge. When executive chef and partner Raul Bacordo opened the Cherry Hill location two years ago—seven years after launching the first Swanky Bubbles in Philadelphia—his menu was pan-Asian, favoring sushi, tempuras, and rice dishes. Since Mirigliani took over the Cherry Hill kitchen last spring (and Bacordo returned to the Philly restaurant), the menu has morphed into what he calls “Asian-influenced comfort food,” which he says is better suited for a South Jersey audience.
The crossover worked well with entrées like Swanky Mac & Cheese, a creamy casserole of penne, lobster, and crabmeat topped with crunchy Japanese panko breadcrumbs, or the expertly grilled filet mignon with teriyaki reduction glaze, Chinese broccoli, and wasabi mashed potatoes.
But panko-crusted scallops and shrimp were flavorless, and the chicken- and-vegetable stir fry could be called comfort food only in the sense of “familiar,” as in Mrs. Paul’s or La Choy.
Like many trendy restaurants, Swanky Bubbles eschews the traditional categories of appetizers and entrées. Instead, it divides its extensive menu into “hungry” and “hungrier,” plus a separate sushi menu. Oddly, several dishes from the hungry side were more generous than those on the hungrier side. For instance, harmony salad (romaine topped with nicely warmed mozzarella, roasted peppers, and tomatoes, with pesto vinaigrette), was so big that we assumed it was meant to be shared by all three people who ordered it. We were baffled when two additional harmonies were delivered at the end of the meal, and ended up boxing them to go.
Hungry-size vegetable tempura was gigunda as well, if slightly greasy. Other notable starters were crispy calamari salad, loaded with fried calamari atop mixed greens in a sesame soy vinaigrette, and spicy tofu with soba noodles, Chinese broccoli, and tomatoes.
Sushi was expertly rolled and prettily presented. The best of those we tried was unagi roll—six pieces of broiled eel, cucumber, seaweed, and eel glaze (a sweet soy reduction) wrapped in sticky rice. Tempura chicken roll tasted like good fried chicken tucked inside cucumber wrapped in rice, which Mirigliani calls “a good start for someone who’s never really had sushi.”
Formerly the site of Olive Restaurant, Swanky Bubbles is situated in a 200-year-old farmhouse, with several additions, which anchors a busy strip mall. The restaurant and upstairs lounge can accommodate up to 360 diners, making it popular for groups and special events. The elaborate drink menu, specializing in unusual martinis, and a vast selection of champagne, and a pretty extensive wine selection that changes frequently gives Swanky Bubbles a lively bar scene.
Like the food, the décor can make you dizzy. Burnt-orange walls and patchwork lanterns in the bar feel Moroccan, while giant Buddhas and Japanese silkscreens shift the scene to Asia. The black velour banquettes and wall of blue lights swing the tour to California or New York.
The most popular dessert on the short menu is chocolate fondue, which includes a wide selection of cookies, fruit, and marshmallows to dip into the rich chocolate sauce. Crème brülée was smooth and silky; peanut-butter-and-jelly bread pudding tasted more like a gummy sandwich left in the lunchbox too long. My favorite was something I normally would not order: a banana split. But, intrigued by its billing as a Thai banana split, I rolled the dice. The warm tempura bananas deliciously complemented the vanilla ice cream and peanut-chocolate sauce. So what if tempura isn’t Thai? At least they brought it out quickly and it tasted good.
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