Reflections on Stripmall Eating

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Slice of Jerz

Name: Romanza
Location: 1900 Greentree Road, Cherry Hill, NJ
Personnel: Keith, Jesse, Me
What We Ate: Caprese Salad, Pescatore Pizza, 1 Complimentary Roll, Diet Coke
Condiments: None
Bill Total: $24
Observations: Romanza is a modest joint in Cherry Hill, actually in the same shopping center as one of my favorite chaat places, Rajbhog. It's got kind of a split personality. On one side of the restaurant there is table service. On the other is a counter and the casual seating you usually find in a pizzeria. Like the seating plan, the menu also seems to merge two types of eating establishments. You've got your regional pizzeria fare — sandwiches, pizza, cheesesteaks, and variations thereof that can be embellished with cheesesteakiness. But there are also more traditional Italian pasta, veal and chicken dishes. On our visit we sat on the fancier side and ordered salad and a large, 17" Pescatore pizza. The salad was bland, oily and pale, with anemic tomatoes and half-dry ribbons of prosciutto, and it came with a single flour-dusty roll that we split between us. Fortunately, the pizza was an improvement. Chunks of garlic, tender clams, and the baby shrimp that in the wrong context can give me the willies were nestled in melted mozzarella on a chewy crust. It was briny and greasy in the best possible way. Good enough that I would go back, but only if I had a guarantee that I would not get sucked into the black hole of jughandles, incomprehensible signage, and generally frustrating road trickery that is New Jersey.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Mall Country's Finest

Name: Jaipur
Location: 336 West DeKalb Pike, King of Prussia
Personnel: Stephen and Zella (aka my parents), Jesse, Me
What We Ate: Vegetarian Platter (Samosa, Pakoras, Paneer Pakoras); Papri Chaat; Tandoori Chicken; Lamb Kadai; Shrimp Vindalu; Palak Paneer; Nan; Masala Chai.
Condiments: Raita, Mango Chutney
Bill Total: $99
Observations: King of Prussia, land of malls, has become something of a breeding ground for exotically themed chain eateries. (PF Chang, Bahama Breeze and California Pizza Kitchen, for instance.) But it is also home to one of my favorite Indian restaurants in the suburbs. Located in the DeKalb Plaza, and named for the 12th largest city in India, Jaipur is a consistent bite for your buck, and a good place to escape the sodden buffet-table Indian food that's so prevalent in Center City. The service is friendly and efficient, the tablecloths are rose-colored, the food is served in elegant hammered metal pots. And, as my mom pointed out, it passes the ethnicity test: Actual Indian people choose to eat there — not just us Yanks. We started with the impossibly crisp pakoras, flaky samosa and thin slices of fried homemade cheese. The Papri Chaat, a seven-layer-type dip of yogurt, rice crisps, chickpeas and spices was a swirl of sharp and creamy textures and sweet and nutty flavors. Tender and piquant Tandoori Chicken arrived sizzling on its traditional metallic platter with onions and lemon wedges. The Goan shrimp Vindalu was my least favorite of the bunch — the shrimp were overwhelmed by the hot and sour sauce, with the overriding note being sour. There was no mistaking the peppery appeal of the Lamb Kadai, which burned with currylicious abandon. We cooled our mouths with dollops of minty raita and pillowy sheets of plain nan which we tore between us, then scooped up more. If you ever have to go to the KOP mall (and it really is unavoidable) you should check this place out. But do yourself a favor and go to the mall first. You wouldn't want to eat at Jaipur if, for instance, you had to try on jeans afterward.