Three years ago, when I reviewed Casa Dori at its previous location, I was enamored by its cuisine steeped in true Italian family tradition. This time, I was equally pleased with our dining experience, which confirms that consistency is a key ingredient to a restaurant's success.
Owners Delores and John Durie together create an atmosphere that personifies home-style at its best, in the dining room and in the kitchen. Delores greets and seats you, and chats with you as if she's done it dozens of times before, even if you are a new customer. John is the master of his recipes as he cooks everything to order behind the scenes.
Located in a small, nondescript shopping center, this restaurant could be mistaken for just another run-of-the-mill eatery among many. But, don't judge too quickly, because once you taste the food, you will probably agree it's a cut above the rest.
Our meal began with soft, sliced Italian bread - noticeably familiar as an Atlantic City sub roll - and that's a good start. Add butter mixed with cream cheese, basil and garlic, plus juicy freshly roasted red and green peppers, and you've got something noteworthy.
Our first appetizer, gambero (scampi) shrimp ($8) came with four impeccably cooked large shrimp floating in a pond of luscious lemon butter sauce with bits of tomato and hints of garlic and white wine. I adored it. The sauce was especially light with lovely fragrance and flavor.
The mozzarella fresca ($9) had a completely different taste and texture that we enjoyed as much as the shrimp. Thick slices of pan-fried fresh mozzarella cheese topped with hearty tomato sauce were hands-down delicious. After eating this dish, I suggest frozen deep-fried mozzarella sticks be banned from this earth!
A dinner salad made with refreshingly cold, crisp romaine topped with slivers of roasted red peppers and tossed with the perfect amount of lemon vinaigrette and grated parmesan was fantastic. I was so happy with this salad that I didn't want it to end. I passed it to my dining companion for a bite (because I wanted to try the soup), but quickly took it back.
The Italian wedding soup was also terrific, brimming with vegetables, teeny meatballs and plenty of acini de pepe pasta.
Truthfully, when I ordered the 10-ounce filet mignon dinner special ($23), I didn't expect it to knock my socks off, but it did. The tender meat, cooked Pittsburgh medium-rare to rare, was marvelous. The meat was blanketed with juicy shiitake mushrooms infused with garlic. This steak was on a par with the finest I've had, even at upscale steakhouses. Feathery garlic-whipped potatoes and nicely done green beans were well suited.
Granchio dell'au di manicotti ($20) leaned toward the elegant side of down-home cooking. We savored the delicate, slightly browned crepes, each wrapped around a gentle ricotta cheese filling, napped with spinach rosa sauce studded with jumbo lump crabmeat.
For dessert, the cannoli ($2.25) proved to be the winner of the two we had - and the only one made in-house. The apple streusel cheesecake ($2.25) was overly sweet, with too much streusel topping. The marriage of cheesecake and apple pie didn't work for me. Durie out-sources the majority of his desserts, the only glitch as far as I'm concerned. Then again, not every great cook is a great baker.
Two young servers worked as a team in the dining room. Although attentive, they were not quite as polished as the staff that waited on us in 2006. They were both very friendly and caring, which made up for their lack of experience. The potential is definitely there, so the more they practice, no doubt, the better they will get.
There is nothing fancy about the restaurant's interior design. Less than a dozen clothed tables seat approximately forty to fifty people. Pictures of Italy adorn the walls, its only d�cor other than little vases of fresh flowers on the tables. I'm certain people don't care that it's not fancy. They go for outstanding food and camaraderie they can always count on.
The Duries have it down. Three years later, that's what I found.
(Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
Casa Dori II
Brewster Road and Chestnut Avenue
Hours: Lunch, Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dinner, Monday to Saturday 4 p.m. to close
Liquor license: BYOB
Wheelchair accessible: Restaurant: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers $5 to $9
Entrees: $12 to $23
Our bill for two: $64.50, plus tip