Entrata — Italian for both “enter” and “entrée” — opened its doors on Feb. 9, the fourth restaurant to open at this handsome 9B E. Broad St. location, following in the footsteps of the eclectic comfort food of Bell and Whistle, Southern-influenced Sweet Grass and Ischia- Italian Basilico.
One thing that has been essentially unchanged through each of these iterations is the distinctive look and feel of the building. The barrel-vaulted interior features natural stone, brick and wood that makes an inviting first impression. Patio dining is also an option, weather permitting.
This is the first time out as head chef for Marco Polizzi, 31, who according to the restaurant’s website gained experience at L’Arsenale, a one-star Michelin rated restaurant in Italy and locally at Coltello in Yardville, Toscano in Bordentown, and Spigola in Hamilton.
Entrata is definitely not your typical New Jersey red sauce Italian joint — not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, if the cuisine is a bit hard to pin down, that’s just fine with Chef Marco. “Call it an Italian-influenced scratch kitchen,” he says. “If it’s good food, it’s good food. I want the food at Entrata to be fun, creative and different, to stand out from a cookie-cutter world.”
True to his word, the menu offers, in addition to Italian favorites, appetizers such as pork belly in Asian style lettuce wraps and charred grilled octopus served with fingerling potatoes, arugula, and Calabrian chile. In addition to standard offerings like gnocchi, linguini, and risotto, Polizzi offers a panko-crusted pork chop, slow braised short ribs with polenta ravioli, and a decidedly non-cookie-cutter, fun offering of southern fried chicken and waffles with spicy syrup. Oh, yes, and amusing takes on old standby desserts like cannoli nachos and deconstructed tiramisu.
Given advance notice, Chef Marco says that he is also happy to collaborate with parties of four or more to create a virtual chef’s table; dinner served family-style with an emphasis on conviviality and sharing a meal at a leisurely pace.
Polizzi also shared that the major reason he has been able to hit the ground running regarding both food and service at Entrata is that he and most of his team have worked together for years at other venues; he noted that he and our server, Rich, have known each other since high school.
Everyone in our party agreed that one highlight of our visit to Entrata was receiving just the right level of engagement and attention from Rich. He also took care to note the price of each special, addressing a common criticism of restaurants with less polished service.
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Patrons of Da’s Kitchen, Thana Thai Cuisine’s predecessor at 21 E. Broad St. in Hopewell, will find themselves feeling right at home in the restaurant’s new incarnation. A stone statue of Buddha greets diners and a comfy bench for those waiting for takeout is stationed near the door. The walls, a soothing shade of ecru, are enhanced by colorful wall hangings and relief carvings featuring Thai motifs.
Seating for 42 at the comfortably spaced tables is augmented by tables for outside dining when weather permits. A knee wall at the rear of the dining room offers a clear view of the kitchen.
Thanaporn “Thana” Armour opened Thana Thai Cuisine on Oct. 13. Armour worked for Da’s for a time; this is her first time running a place of her own. She is almost certain to stop by your table and welcome you, as she has on all our visits.
“I do a little bit of everything here,” she says. “I have to be here every day to make sure my customers are taken care of.”
Thana says that she takes particular pride in the freshness of her ingredients. “Everything must be fresh,” she says. “Freshness of ingredients is my number one priority.”
To cite a telling example, the house-made vegetable soup served with lunch on a recent visit illustrated her point. The combination of vegetable broth, chili oil, lemon grass, and chili flakes set the stage for the crunch of fresh carrots, broccoli florets, onion, and peppers while allowing their individual flavors to shine through.
Thana is from Chang Mai in northern Thailand, and her menu features many of the dishes she grew up with. Visitors to other Thai restaurants will be familiar with most of the items on the regular menu; spring rolls, satays, noodle dishes, and curries read like a hit parade of Thai cuisine in America. An extensive selection of lunch specials is offered at just $10.95, and includes choice of salad or that delicious veggie soup.
Daily blackboard specials are on offer as well. On one visit special appetizers included mussels ($10), fish cake ($10) and scallion pancake ($12). Special entrees included basil noodles ($15), fresh Thai noodles ($18), and sea scallops ($22).
Those wary of too much spice in their culinary life have nothing to fear; diners can specify the degree of spiciness they prefer.
“We will adjust the heat up or down as requested,” she says. “I want all of my customers to be happy.”