Gia by Vincent and Mia Chiarella – Wildwood Crest, NJ
Having small children creates one to change their dining schedule when their child is hungry or getting antsy. I am no different with an eighteen-month old rambunctious boy. After a terrible wind and rain storm swept through the Northeast on a recent Friday during a long weekend I was invited to stay at the beautiful Hotel Icona at Diamond Beach, my son had enough of being cooped inside our suite and wanted out. This created an early departure to dinner at Gia by Vincent and Mia Chiarella. This can cause havoc for some restaurants, but at Gia we were not only welcome with our early arrival, we were felt to feel like part of the family. With a toddler busting at the seams, the staff at Gia not only accommodated us wonderfully, they literally were at the ready with entertainment for him ranging from a bottle of bubbles to blow around all the way to a Spiderman cake topper for him to play with. With them having me expect the unexpected, I was ready for Elmo to walk out of the kitchen at any time and truly have my son become a customer for life. As much as my son loved the attention and entertainment at Gia, I came for the food and a personality whose profile has recently been skyrocketing, Chef Mia Chiarella. Chef Mia most recently appeared on the Food Network’s show “Kitchen Casino”, runs a foundation that gathers gift donations for patients in Cooper University P.I.C.U every Christmas season, is a health and nutrition columnist for newspapers and magazines, and was just awarded Atlantic City Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40 highlighting the region’s most influential and dynamic young leaders. Are the accolades warranted? Food does not lie, and I started my lie detector test with an appetizer of Fried Provolone with anchovies and prosciutto.
Well the first test passed with flying colors and the detector came back with the result of delicious. It was the perfect combination in all aspects. The anchovies gave the dish a delightfully pungent and intensely fishy profile, while the thick slices of prosciutto provided a salty, sweet, and buttery texture to cut into through the crispy exterior holding together a melted mound of provolone inside. The dish was truly a trifecta of tasty. The main course lie detector test would be Pan-seared Diver Scallops pan seared with a compound butter.
The second round of testing came back with truths so evident; it practically preached the foodie gospel to me. The Scallops were accompanied by a bowl of pasta on the house with a wonderful sauce (or gravy depending on what you call it) that was hands down some of the best I have had in quite some time. Add to this surprise scallops that were cooked spot-on with a texture that was firm yet fine, a sear some chefs spend a lifetime trying to perfect, and some of the tastiest and flavorful scallops around. I was even more impressed with the price, as I have paid double for scallop dishes in major cities to not only receive fewer scallops in my dish, but they were nowhere near as good as what Gia’s is serving.
After having one of the better meals in a long time, the lie detector came back with its final analysis. It stated “The proof is in the pudding”. So with such a claim and Gia’s not serving any type of puddings that night for dessert, I opted for a pistachio encrusted vanilla ice cream.
My dessert just topped a great meal from start to finish. It is far and few between that I leave a dining establishment without at least one critique or something that could have been better. My only wonder, is that I had the pleasure of visiting Gia’s during the off-peak of the shore season and if such excellence and attention to detail is able to be upheld when the waves of tourist come pouring through their doors as most restaurants have to deal with the summer crowds and struggle to even get you seat let alone a decent meal. With Gia’s though if they can provide even half of what I had the night of my visit, that would still be a million times better than most of the crap I have had at other shore eateries during peak seasons of the past while down there, and with Gia accepting reservations, they may be able to pace themselves accordingly and not have to worry such much about an overcrowding issue.
I see great things on the horizon for Chef Mia. She has the talents, the drive, and with the Food Network now aware of her, it is only a matter of time before she is the next big female household culinary name that America comes to know through their talking boxes with pictures otherwise known as television. The only thing at Gia that seemed out of the ordinary was that everyone is highlighted in print of some sort from Gia (CLICK HERE for the story of Gia) to Vincent and Chef Mia Chiarella, but Beth Sobel Chiarella name is omitted and I do not know why. After dining there, you realize that Beth is just as much as a part of Gia’s success as everyone else by coming to each table to make sure everyone is comfortable, sharing personable and entertaining stories, while not overstepping the bounds to be a welcome guest at the table during service with impeccable timing and personality. With such amazing food, service, staff, and charisma coming out of Gia, they could join the list of must eats while down the shore such as salt-water taffy, fudge, Macks Pizza, and Curley’s Fries.
Five out of Five Stars