LoBianco, nestled in a storefront with little signage in the new Lumberyard low-rise condos, has an address that doesn’t even show up on Google Maps. (The restaurant advises customers who are GPS-equipped or using Mapquest to punch in 600 Haddon Avenue rather than the listed 2 Powell Lane.)
The pistachio-green, 54-seat dining room is worth seeking out, however. In restaurant-rich Collingswood, the quality of chef/owner Nicholas LoBianco’s food is in the same league as Alex Capasso’s at Blackbird.
In the open kitchen, LoBianco and his sous-chef son, Sage, 18, work in harmonious tandem with the chef’s wife, Stephanie, who runs the dining room with easy grace. The husband-and-wife duo are veterans, having run similar restaurants in Ventnor, then Margate.
“Our initial intention was to keep the restaurant in Margate as we were getting ready to open in Collingswood,” says LoBianco. “But Stephanie and I got pregnant with our fourth child, and we knew it would be too much to juggle both places.” As if raising four children and running just one ambitious restaurant is a piece of pie.
In any event, the secret is out. On a recent weeknight, diners packed the place, some wearing jeans and sneaks, others draped in finery and fur. One of the nice things about LoBianco is that the food is special enough for a birthday or anniversary, but affordable enough for a spur-of-the-moment midweek meal. You can start with something as lush as the house-made organic Lancaster chicken- liver pâté on grilled walnut-raisin bread topped with wilted frisée, or as rustically pleasing as roasted tomato and fennel soup enlivened with toasted cumin.
“We’re always going for interesting, full flavors,” says LoBianco. “I want to present familiar food in different ways, not run-of-the-mill, but also not overly chef-y.”
Of Sicilian ancestry, LoBianco has a deft hand with pastas (available as appetizers or entrées). His orecchiette get a heady boost from sweet, house-made fennel sausage, a dusting of fennel pollen, ribbons of basil, and crushed ripe San Marzano tomatoes. He makes his spaghetti carbonara with caramelized onions, zucchini, and crisp bits of pancetta the classic Italian way, cracking in a raw egg yolk at the end. Mingling with Locatelli Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano and the hot pasta, the yolk gently gathers the component flavors into a rich, silky sauce.
For something lighter, though just as satisfying, order the smoky, charred romaine salad dressed with cilantro-mint pesto, eighteen-month-old balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, and pancetta. It’s hard to beat the crudo—slices of pristine ahi tuna topped with ruby-red grapefruit, baby tatsoi, cilantro, paper-thin radish slices and dressed with a citrus-ginger vinaigrette. Pink and green, bright and refreshing, the dish popped, pleasing the eye as well as the palate.
LoBianco finds subtle ways to enhance the flavor of top-quality meats: a big, juicy, pan-roasted ribeye crusted in zesty coriander and rosemary; the falling-apart, brontosaurus-sized short rib braised for five and a half hours in rice wine vinegar, tomatoes, soy, and ginger; perfectly rare ribbons of hanger steak au poivre served over truffled potato purée.
If there’s a wobble, it’s with fish. The hanger steak comes with a trio of diver scallops, which were overcooked and overwhelmed by the pepper sauce. Pan-roasted fillet of Florida grouper was moist and flaky, but the fish craved more salt, pepper, and brightness than the wan lemon beurre blanc could provide. I did love the grouper’s bed of forbidden rice—black and purple as a bruise, toothsome as steel-cut Irish oatmeal.
Desserts were straightforward—the standouts were Sage’s bittersweet chocolate torte, made with Valhrona chocolate, and the malted, cinnamon-and-nutmeg-spiced waffles, perfectly crisp and airy.
Collingswood has plenty of good restaurants, but LoBianco stands out. Even if it’s hidden from view.