When I was recently asked about my enthusiasm for wild game, I was a bit confused. Yes, I enjoyed a rowdy game of Outburst!, or maybe a really crazy game of charades, as much as the next person. This was not that kind of wild game, however—this was wild game in the sense of meats, unusual, non-native to New Jersey, difficult to classify as poultry, beef, or pork.
“Are you game?” the editor asked.
“Call me Candyland,” I replied.
The place was Villa Rosa, a Ewing restaurant on Scotch Road. A few times a year, they offer a special $65 per person wild game tasting menu, limited only by the imagination of the chef, Vittorio Aconi, and his ability to procure the uncommon meats. Diners have a choice between the game tasting menu and the regular menu—though my wife, my companion for the evening, didn’t know that until she read it just now. There was no way I was eating this stuff alone.
I came prepared—unshaven, clad in my Crocodile Hunter T-Shirt (rest in peace, Steve Irwin), along with safari socks and hiking boots, plus my 4-year-old’s plastic explorer hat (or as we in-the-know explorers call it, a pith helmet). I half-expected to find a roaming pen of wild beasts, from which I would select the steeliest (and tastiest) ones by staring them down and sizing them up, much like picking a choice crustacean from the tank at Red Lobster. It would all be very Hemingway-esque.
However, after seeing a few clean shaven, well-dressed people enter the restaurant toting bottles of expensive wine, I decided to skip the helmet and covered Steve Irwin with a dressier shirt.
In actuality, Villa Rosa is a nice, intimate Italian restaurant, which by appearance would never strike one as the domain of wild game. We took our seats, placed our drink order and awaited our meal.
The first course was free-range quail stuffed with brandy-marinated figs. Very good, but fairly tame for wild game, I thought. After a pleasant, blissfully traditional green salad, the real wild game began.
Alligator sausage was followed by a delicious grilled wild boar chop. Neither tasted like chicken. We were then served a venison meatball, followed by the most surprising menu item, kangaroo loin. I now know I’ll never starve, whether lost in the Outback or the Everglades, as long as I have a good knife and a better port wine chocolate sauce reduction.
It is, of course, necessary to have the proper state of mind before eating wild game. One must abandon all thoughts of cutesy Disney-type animals and imagine oneself as a Neanderthal-era hunter, who after killing his prey, has settled down to candlelight and vintage wine to partake of his meal.
The question occurred during dinner: how had all this wild game been acquired? Poachers loosed upon the Six Flags Wild Safari? Did a kangaroo hop over the fence and find its way to Ewing? Were the venison meatballs the remnants of unfortunate wanderers onto Route 95?
Angela Aconi, one of the owners of Villa Rosa, assured us otherwise—all of the meats were certified, bought from legitimate purveyors, and properly accounted for. Much relieved, we finished our meal (dessert was a delicious lemon tart with homemade gelato) and enjoyed a quick chat with Chef Vittorio, Angela’s son. Villa Rosa has been doing a game tasting menu in Ewing for about two years now, he said, and they average about 25 participants each time. Past menus have featured bear, antelope, bison and lion. Every time, Mrs. Aconi interjected, her son sends her to do last-minute shopping for some unusual ingredient he needs to prepare his creative dishes.
If you’re an adventuresome eater, the next game tasting will be during the summer, and once again, the menu will depend on which meats are in season and available. Visit Villa Rosa’s website villarosanj.com to sign up for their mailing list — mailing list members get first crack at tickets for the game tasting menu. And remember, leave the pith helmet at home.
Villa Rosa is located at 41 Scotch Road, Ewing. The phone number is (609) 882-6841.