The old, fond memory of elegant dining and delicious whimsical, Asian inspired dishes in the heart of suburban New Jersey vanished after my latest meal at Montville Inn. Birthday, graduation and goodbye dinners had been spent at this charming, stand alone house. Valet service used to provided, even though the lot was small and easily accessible. It was truly all about the experience.
However, on a Sunday night, slightly dressed up for a goodbye dinner for my middle sister, Leigh and welcome home dinner for the youngest, Amanda, our family entered Montville Inn. It would be the last meal the five of us would have all together until Thanksgiving and we had wanted it to be special.
On arrival, something felt different. No valet offered to park the car, and the once bustling restaurant was nearly vacant at 6:30pm on a Sunday. I guess we were yet to get the memo; this once hot spot was out.
The waiter informed us that the restaurant would be changing ownership in a few months. My dad asked why they sold the business. The waiter quickly corrected that it wasn’t sold, but bought. It all seemed a bit confusing, but we were now aware that a local, but delicious Italian restaurant, Lunello’s would be calling this place their new home.
As we glanced over the menu, we ordered our favorite dish, the fried calamari, prepared two ways. I couldn’t wait to indulge in this complex dish combing sweet, spice and savory in one.
The waiter rudely tried to push some mozzarella stick with shrimp appetizer on us, claiming we couldn’t get it anywhere else and the best item on the menu. We happily declined, feeling as if the new ownership had already sunk in, transforming a classic restaurant into Applebee’s.
However, with the theme of the night, I was sadly disappointed when the calamari arrived.
The calamari lacked the crisp and necessary coating of flavor. Each piece, which seemed scare with the over abundance of condiments became soggy, almost as if the dish had just been waiting in the kitchen for some unknowing family to order. I found myself longing for the memory of this dish from meals prior.
Then it was time to order dinner. Amanda and I decided to split an appetizer and entree. We asked for the tuna tartar, a favorite of ours. We were told they no longer serve tartar, but rather a tuna crudo with avocado. Fine. Then we ordered the pistachio crushed salmon, split.
My dad inquired about the Bison, a lean cut of meat and a favorite of his over the years, ever since its discovery at the most wonderful restaurant, Cafe Diva in Steamboat, Colorado. They no longer served this delicious dish, making me wonder why all of the favorites had been removed from the menu. Then he attempted to order the corn chowder. They were out. Of course. The waiter offered a bean soup instead, as if that dish was remotely in the same flavor profile other then the liquid and hot component. He settled on a salad.
Our tuna crudo arrived in the most disappointing of presentations. No care and consideration did the chef put into the plate. I could have designed it better. The sad pieces of fish draped the avocado, with a thimble of liquid on the side of the plate. Three uneven cucumber slices served no purpose and one lonely fried, greasy wanton chip stood alone.
I took one bite of the tuna, trying to be optimistic, but instead was overwhelmed by sea salt. Amanda and I both have an love for salt, I tend to each tomatoes like apples, salting it after each bite. However, this was too much. It completely ruined my palate for the entire dish, with the flavor of salt lingering and burning my tongue as I attempted to enjoy the dish. I just didn’t think it could get any worse.
But it did.
Our salmon arrived, split onto two separate plates, which I will give the restaurant props for. I always love that simple gesture of making the act of sharing easier. It was served on a pile of bright, rainbow Swiss chard and deep orange sweet potato purée.
Amanda tried the fish first, pushing her plate towards the center of the table. ”It’s over cooked, I’m not going to eat this. What do you think,” she asked me. Looking at the salmon, I could see the white pieces of fish coating the surface, an immediate sign of being over cooked. The pink color barely showed with the “crust” of pistachio, which looked more like left over ice cream sides placed on top of the fish rather then part of the dish. I tasted the dry, flavorless salmon. Rarely do I send dishes back, but this fish had been cooked to the point of being in edible.
The one shining dish of the night was my mom’s Kung Pao Chicken, served over rice with snap peas. I enjoyed the flavorful chicken and nutty, but sweet peanuts. By the time my salmon came back, cooked to my liking, I had eaten far too much chicken that the salmon wasn’t even appetizing anymore. I did love the Swiss chard and potatoes. A fine compliment to a weak protein.
In addition, Amanda and I indulged in the bread basket with a delicious olive tapenade instead of butter. We stared at our fish in shame, disappointed at the food this kitchen would think acceptable to serve. We paid our check and exited Montville Inn. This time, for good.
Montville Inn - 167 U.S. 202 - Montville, NJ