Arugula, Sewell NJ
Transforming a space previously held by a Mexican restaurant into a modern Italian restaurant is no easy task. Chefs Nicholas Tomasetto and Stefano Gervas have settled into the former space occupied by San Miguel quite nicely by creating a sleek and hip feel felt immediately upon stepping foot into Arugula. It is not perfect though, as I have a major complaint about the décor. The area in question is the design at the front of the restaurant where tables for two are present that gives Arugula a furniture style befitting 0001 Cemetery Lane where the Addams Family resides. Gomez and Morticia would be the only two people who could reasonably sit at these odd and quirky chairs for dinner. Thankfully coming with three other patrons, the Bluejeanfoodcritic was saved from the possible embarrassment and seated at a regular table, but I could not stop looking at this abnormality.
I started the evening with two appetizers, the Fritto Misto and Blue Bay Mussels. The Fritto Misto was good, not great, and certainly not worth fourteen dollars. At fourteen dollars a restaurant is pushing the envelope into entrée prices, and this is not easily forgivable unless the appetizer creates an unforgettable experience which this dish did not. Fritto Misto advertised to include zucchini, shrimp, and calamari. I will start by saying the shrimp included were perfectly cooked and generous in size, but in contrast the zucchini was practically nonexistent with only three microscopic slices put on top of the dish, while the calamari was rubbery and overcooked. Arugula saved itself once the Blue Bay Mussels arrived though. The Blue Bay Mussels not only changed my mood after the disappointing Fritto Misto, it had me do an about-face and is so good it exalted Arugula into a culinary contender. The portion size of mussels was glorious, while providing a perfectly balanced and slightly spicy broth that was enjoyed so thoroughly, it took sopping up two servings of Italian bread in the broth until not a drop of broth was left. YUM! FYI – picture below I could not wait to eat before the picture was taken, so this was not exactly how it came.
Unfortunately this extreme high did not last long once my main dish was served. Ordered was the grilled scallop on top of a short rib infused risotto. The scallops were good, but I was extremely disappointed having received only three tiny scallops on a twenty-four dollar entrée. The small dollop of short rib infused risotto did nothing to improve its chance of redemption either. The short rib was bland tasting, while the risotto was overcooked as well. This was too bad as after the Blue Bay Mussels, I wanted to fall in love with Arugula, not just like it.
The problems experienced at Arugula are in sloppy or rushed preparation of the meal, and easily fixed if they can focus on their style and execution. I really believe their vision of a modern Italian restaurant is easily attainable and almost all of the elements to achieve this goal are present. They are just missing that “IT” factor right now, and if they can find “IT” they will become dangerous to the bottom line of other food establishments. Once “IT” is obtained they will become the oasis in a desert of unoriginal restaurant choices in the surrounding area they serve. Maybe one day when the waiter walks up to the odd chairs at the front of the establishment, Cousin Itt will be seated there with the answer.
Do I recommend for you to go to Arugula if in the area? Yes