Restaurant Review

Oliver A Bistro

Like the European bistros this cozy restaurant seeks to emulate, Oliver has an identity that can be linked directly to its owners.

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In short order, they turned what had been a glorified deli into one of the hot spots of this historic city on the Delaware.

Matthew, the chef, turns out French-influenced bistro fare: thyme-roasted chicken, braised lentils, mussels à la meunier. But he tweaks the formula in dishes such as peppercorn-seared ahi tuna with white truffle risotto and crabcakes with curried mashed potatoes.

Danielle normally runs the front of the house (currently she’s home following the recent birth of their second child), serving as hostess and back-up waitress on weekends and maintaining a convivial atmosphere made more so by the inviting décor, designed by her mother, Elaine Primodie.

Other involved family members include Matthew’s parents, whose a capella group serenaded patrons during the holidays, and Jack, the couple’s 2-year-old son, who makes occasional dining-room appearances. The third key player is James Berry, another Sails alum, who serves as pastry chef by day and highly knowledgeable waiter by night.

Matthew trained in classical French cuisine at the Academy of Culinary Arts at Atlantic Cape Community College, then cooked at Philadelphia’s Brasserie Perrier and Lacroix, and was executive chef at Renault Winery in Egg Harbor and at Sails.

“I always liked the French cooking style, just not how pretentious the restaurants were,” he says. “I didn’t want people to feel intimidated or like they had to have a lot of money to come here.”

His casual orientation is evident in his warm bacon and Amish blue cheese salad, a perfect comfort food starter, blending salty country bacon, sweet grape tomatoes, and tender field greens with tangy white balsamic vinaigrette. Likewise, the revolving list of soups (“soup of the moment,” Matthew calls it) tend toward the hearty. Roasted potato with cheddar and bacon is as thick as porridge, a very satisfying porridge. Equally substantial pumpkin soup conveyed a pleasing hint of spice.

At $18, the lobster mac and cheese was the most expensive appetizer on the menu, but it had lots of chunky lobster meat and Vermont cheddar. Another standout was peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna, seared pink and accompanied by  risotto infused with white truffle oil.

Unlike appetizers, which were mostly winners, a few entrées missed the mark. Jumbo lump crabcakes lived up to their name but the delicate crab flavor was overwhelmed by scallion-parsley seasoning. An undistinguished shellfish cream sauce on the pan-seared scallops failed to justify the amount of work that no doubt went into it.

Seared Black Angus sirloin, ordered medium, arrived a little undercooked, but a second pass through the kitchen solved that. The roast rack of lamb I ordered as part of the prix-fixe menu on our second visit, however, was perfect: six succulent chops in a port wine and veal jus served with chunky goat cheese smashed potatoes. Two other winners were crispy-skin chicken—with thyme jus and artichoke and blue cheese risotto—and seared salmon in a buttery saffron nage on a bed of nutty braised lentils.

Desserts were a mixed bag. The best was a chocolate pecan pie with an excellent crust. Also worthy was the tart key lime pie in. Peanut butter pie was gummy and cloying, while flourless chocolate torte would have been better described as a slice of pure Callebaut fudge.

The prix-fixe dinner is a great way to sample Matthew’s talents. Tuesdays through Fridays, the restaurant offers four courses for $35, with a half dozen choices in each category. Servings are smaller than on the regular menu, but you’ll walk away satisfied.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    European - French
  • Price Range:
  • Oliver A Bistro
    218 Farnsworth Ave
    Bordentown, NJ 08505
  • Hours:
    LUNCH: Wednesday through Friday, 11 am to 3 pm; Saturday, 11 am to 2 pm
    DINNER: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 pm
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