Restaurant Review

Catherine Lombardi

The many truly awful meals that have been served under the rubric Italian-American food have given the term a pejorative connotation, but a visit to Catherine Lombardi should help change that. Co-owner Mark Pascal, who named his restaurant in homage to his Neapolitan grandmother, proudly explains that the Italian-American food he serves is Neapolitan-based and heavily Brooklyn-influenced.

Catherine Lombardi is on the second floor of the building that also houses Pascal’s well-regarded American restaurant Stage Left, which he owns with Francis Schott and others. The new restaurant, which can be reached by stairs or elevator, has an attractive bar and dining room with large windows that offer a view of New Brunswick’s theater district. Tables are pleasantly spaced, and several soft, red banquettes give more privacy. Soft jazz sets the mood, the service is almost without fault, and the food, for the most part, is delicious.

To begin, the bread is heavy, crusty, and comes with a bottle of excellent Sicilian olive oil, and diners may enjoy fried zucchini blossoms or white bean dip while perusing the menu. The mozzarella appetizer, puffy triangles topped with a minuscule portion of pesto and julienne roasted peppers, is handmade and still warm, creamy, and silky smooth. The pesto is a bit skimpy, but the waiter obliges with a small dish of it when asked. The Parma ham, hand-sliced and formed into a small tower, with shaved Parmesan cheese on top and dried cherries marinated in Balsamic vinegar, is as fresh tasting and gently saline as any you’d find in Parma. Spiedini is supposed to be skewered, but this is not; it’s a brown, crusty, deep-fried prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich with anchovy and a marinara sauce on the side, but it tastes very good. Another special pairing shrimp with sweet pea shoots in a creamy al dente risotto is excellent. Calamari stuffed with seasoned breadcrumbs and cooked with a fresh, sweet tomato sauce is much better than the eggplant rollantine, which is served flat and consists of a heavy mixture of breaded eggplant layered with mozzarella and tomato sauce, making it more like eggplant parmigiana. Nicely cooked shrimp scampi is another tasty appetizer choice.

All the pastas are good except the one with clam sauce, primarily because the clams in their shells are rubbery. Lasagna with meatballs and sausage, and the special saffron with pulled pork, red pepper, and asparagus are both delicious.

A main-course special listed as “Roasted Veal Chop, Market Price” is wonderful, a two-inch-thick, browned piece of meat that is tender, well-flavored, and cooked perfectly pink inside, served with pancetta, crimini mushrooms, and soft buttery polenta. But the market price, it turns out, is a shockingly high $49.95—it pays to ask. Most dishes, however, are within an acceptable price range. There are many main courses worth ordering, including the chicken Scarpariello with sausage, peppers and lemon; a whole branzino with lemon, garlic, and a dish of greens; a very lightly breaded black bass fillet with lentils and asparagus; and an intensely delicious osso buco. Tender pork chops with sausage stuffing and veal Marsala would both be better if the sauces were not so strong. Veal Parmesan is acceptable, but the black meatballs are the consistency of small lumps of coal.

The molten chocolate cake takes ten minutes to cook but is worth the wait. Zabaglione with berries, served at room temperature, is airy and delicious, and the mascarpone cheesecake is among the best. When in doubt, opt for the housemade gelato and sorbets, and Mrs. Palmisano’s cookie plate, a variety of homemade cookies you’ll wish you’d made yourself.

 

Reviewed in: October 2006

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - European - Italian
  • Price Range:
    Expensive
  • Ambience:
    Serene and modern
  • Service:
    Excellent
  • Wine list:
    Excellent
  • Catherine Lombardi
    3 Livingston Ave
    New Brunswick, NJ 08901
  • Reservations:
    not needed
  • Hours:
    DINNER: Monday, 5 to 9 pm; Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; Sunday, 2 to 9 pm
    LATE-NIGHT MENU: Tuesday through Thursday, 9 pm to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 9 pm to 1 am

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