Restaurant Review

Kitchen 233

Once occupied by a neighborhood pizza joint known as Franco’s, this modest space has been transformed by its new owner, the P.J.W. Restaurant Group, which operates five P.J. Whelihan’s pubs in the Garden State and the Chop House in Gibbsboro. Kitchen 233, a swanky, ambitious restaurant and wine bar, is the group’s first venture to be driven by an executive chef with real star power.

Chris Painter, formerly of Stephen Starr’s Tangerine in Philadelphia, has a flair for old-school technique. His menu is billed as American bistro but feels like French Provençal, with staples like steak frites, braised short ribs, and baked cod.

Mahogany paneling and wrought-iron light fixtures create an upscale tavern atmosphere, though the boozy vignettes painted above the paneling are too edgy for the retro atmosphere. A glass-enclosed wine storage room stands just off the dining room. The wine list, with its international breadth and emphasis on small producers, shows that wine is taken seriously here.

Crisp, batter-dipped shrimp over spring greens drizzled with a tangy mustard vinaigrette got us off to a bright start. Equally pleasing were a creamy risotto with fennel sausage and tomato ragout; and a rich tomato-and-cheese gratin.

I am always grateful for simple things done well, and the strip steak and frites are perfect examples. The steak, finished with herb butter, was juicy and tender. The potatoes were sliced thin, then soaked in cold water overnight. The soaking preserves their moisture and brings the starch to the surface, so that when they are fried they turn into crisp, golden wonders.

Perhaps my favorite dish was oven-roasted cod baked with escargot butter and preserved lemons, served over silky mashed potatoes, with sautéed mushrooms and Brussels-sprouts greens (the peeled and blanched leaves, poached in butter).  The roasted chicken, made with poultry from Eberly Farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was as moist and flavorful as I’ve had. The braised veal short ribs were tender enough to cut with a fork.

Desserts merit kudos as well. The delicious grape-and-chocolate gourmandise, a rich soufflé, yielded a molten chocolate center. The green-grape clafouti, a twist on the custard-like French country classic customarily made with cherries, used plump whole grapes that retained a juicy pop.

Service, however, ranged from slow and inattentive one night to hovering and almost intrusive on another, with six different people visiting our table during the course of the latter meal. If management can achieve a consistent professional level of service, Kitchen 233 may become one of the most impressive new restaurants in South Jersey.—Maureen Fitzgerald

233 Haddon Avenue, Haddon Township (856-833-9233). Dinner: Monday, 5 to 9 pm; Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; closed Sunday. All major credit cards are accepted. Wheelchair access easy.

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