MILLVILLE - When we pulled up in front of Winfield's, just a few minutes late for our reservation, we were immediately impressed by two things. People were still walking around the stylish downtown area enjoying the evening and we could we could park in front of the restaurant at a spot that had no meter.
City dwellers of the world, take note: Millville is a city that wants its businesses to flourish, rather than nickel and diming visitors to death.
Our well-trained server explained the specials of the evening and there were plenty in all categories of the menu. Our server must have been a thespian in a former life; the reading of the specials was performance art imitating life. With so many good-sounding choices we struggled to choose just a few things from the menu and a few things from the daily specials list.
A wire basket filled with sour dough bread and a ramekin piped with a rosette of whipped butter was too hard to resist. We each finished two slices while reading the menu.
A soup special ($6.95) was composed of chicken, chick peas, and piquillo chilies, a red pepper that gave the soup color and an interesting, slightly spicy and sweet flavor. Garnished with a chiffonade of fresh basil, we liked it more and more as we ate it, after getting used to the unusual texture and the subtleties the pepper imparted to the broth.
Prosciutto scallops ($13.95) was four scallops tightly wrapped with thin slices of prosciutto, pan-seared then served in an herbed white wine sauce. A tiny bed of sauteed spinach and a Parmesan crisp, called a frico, were added for texture to the tender scallops. While hardly a new idea, this was executed so well that we imagined it as one of those dishes the kitchen simply cannot take off the menu without causing an uproar with the regulars.
Entrees come with a salad at Winfield's. The crisp and cold house salad featured juliennes of carrot, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes over lettuce with a house balsamic dressing; the Caesar had crisp romaine, croutons, a slightly spicy dressing, and a sliver of salty Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
From the regular menu we selected the Veal Saltimbocca Tower ($26.95). Stacked slices of tender veal scallopine alternated with layers of sauteed broccoli di rabe, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella, all topped with a sage brown butter sauce - a classic combination of ingredients with a Winfield's twist that worked. Sides included wedges of red bliss potatoes and fresh Brussels sprouts tossed with bacon and cheese.
From the specials list we also sampled the homemade cannelloni ($24.95) stuffed with a sausage, butternut squash, and ricotta cheese filling with Fontina cheese. The sauce was a sage-flavored bechamel, which for us is now the only way to eat bechamel sauce.
The dessert list offered several standard offerings along with daily specials including a chocolate dessert of the day, a pound cake of the day, a gelato of the day, and a special dessert of the day. The pound cake ($7.95) this day was sweet potato-flavored, cleverly shaped and baked to look like a sweet potato, filled with vanilla ice cream instead of sour cream and topped with coconut sauce. Slightly dry, it was better when you got all three parts on your spoon at the same time. The special dessert of the day ($8.95) was a round of pumpkin cheesecake on a spiced cookie base with a rosette of whipped cream, caramel sauce and creme Anglaise to finish. The coffee was perfect, too.
The dress code at Winfield's is comfortably casual. We fit right in with a pair jeans and dress shirt although others arrived dressed for a night on the town.
We loved the constant stream of light jazz, not just because we love light jazz, but because it fit the space so well. Well appointed from the tiled entryway outside to the cool glass sliding doors leading to the kitchen, dining at Winfield's was like dining at one of the many galleries located on High Street in the Glasstown Arts District that the restaurant helped spawn. The space itself is a former F.W. Woolworth's five and ten store, the "W" for Winfield, the middle name of the former founder.
Wooden floors and plenty of modern-looking blond wood chairs were offset by one wall of exposed red brick. Branches made of metal decorate the brick wall in bunches while a series of six watercolors on the facing wall show landscapes with sun, moon and snow. A continuous "S" of track lighting runs down the center of the room, hanging gracefully from a painted, pressed-tin ceiling.
Buff colored tablecloths served as a base for an interesting place setting. My dining companion actually asked me to flip over the bread and butter plate to discover the maker's name: Chefs & Sommeliers, of the pretty patterned plateware. Simply-styled flatware was offset by interesting salt and pepper shakers, candles, and a stainless container for grated cheese. Everything seemed to have been given that special attention to detail intended to make a meal that much more special.
Our server, dressed entirely in black, was a hoot from the get go. Outgoing and gregarious, it made the meal fun to have a server both excited and knowledgeable about the menu rather than trained to tell you how wonderful your pairing of cola and calamari might taste. Training is important and obviously the management at Winfield's believes that, too. Individual style is also a plus, and our server was full of life.
We watched a young server taking baby steps while walking two colorful martini drinks on a beverage tray through the maze of chairs and guests, no easy feat since each drink was filled to the brim. Our more experienced server glided between the tables with drinks and plated foods in a high wire act that only comes of years of experience.
Winfield's years of experience are showing in a restaurant with so much class, it could just as easily find a niche in New York or Philadelphia, sans free parking.
106 North High Street, Millville
Hours: 4:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays; 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays
Liquor license: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Disabled access: Yes
Price range: Appetizers $8.95 to $13.95, entrees $16.95 to $36.95
Our bill for two: $110 plus tip