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Fernando's Grille Opens on old Bistro Soleil site in Hightstown

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Fernando's [American] Grille opened last night for a shakedown period before its "Grand Opening" on the site of the old Bistro Soleil in Hightstown. Fernando's had gotten some good word-of-mouth in its former location on Rt 130 in Robbinsville, and the move to a much bigger, more restaurant-like setting from its former tiny-diner quarters should have been a time for cheers.

Unfortunately, there is much to correct before the Grand Opening. Service was worse than spotty. Although the staff was pleasant, with a max of 10 tables filled at a time and a staff of 5 wait-persons plus a seater plus a front-of-house, there should have been no lag in service, no bread-without-butter, no gaffs of any kind. That, I guess is what the shake-down period is for and hopefully that will improve. What may not improve, however, is the food. While the chef's claim-to-fame is his handling of steaks, much of the menu is seafood and pasta combos and my companion and I decided to try that side of the menu.

Crabcake appetizer was the "smooth" crabcake style; not my favorite, but when done nicely it can be great. This was underdone, bland, too salty and had no texture at all. No crisp from vegetables, no crunch from crust; it had been pan seared, but the crust (what there was of it) was soggy and the dish was served luke-warm. My companion suggested it would have been better served with crackers as a warm crab dip.

House Caesar was uninspired without enough garlic and no taste of anchovy (or worcesterchire sauce, the usual substitute) - a "safe" Caesar.

My companion's chicken pesto pasta dish was tasty, but the chicken was chewy. The pesto itself was fresh-tasting and the only nicely-seasoned thing in the whole meal. My linguini and clams were disappointing: two of the clams hadn't opened and should never have been served; the rest of the clams were sandy (no excuse possible) and the sauce was thin and oily. There was enough garlic, but no spices or herbs were present in enough quantity to make themselves known.

This is "safe" cooking and with enough exciting places out there, unless the chef changes his focus or his menu, this won't last. The service may improve during the shake-out, but a chef's choices rarely do. We'll try it one more time, to try the steaks, but with pasta & whatever entrees in the $16-$20 range and the steak in the $23-$28 range, we should have been more excited. Say what you like about the old Bistro Soleil ("inconsistant" is the word that comes most quickly to mind) but at least they took chances. Fernando's - so far, it might as well be the restaurant at a mid-sized Holiday Inn catering to seniors from Omaha.

NOTE: The Google Map and links that showed up on this page point to the OLD locations of both restaurants - Fernando's is now where Bistro Soleil shows on the map.

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Fernando's Grille
1124 US Highway 130, Trenton, NJ 08691

Bistro Soleil
173 Mercer St, Hightstown, NJ 08520

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  1. We were shocked by the negative review posted here, and couldn't disagree more. Since Fernando's opened in Hightstown (173 Mercer St.) last week, I've had lunch and dinner there; the food and service were outstanding both times. The place was packed on Saturday night (including a lot of very excited locals), and everyone we spoke to was as thrilled as we were. The menu may not be cutting-edge, but it's got something for everyone, and no one I know has been disappointed.

    The crabcake salad was delicious, with delicate cakes and beautiful greens perfectly dressed with a caper-basil vinaigrette. The fresh gazpacho was amazing, with lots of tiny bits of crisp veggies and a few plantain chips to spark it up. The sea scallops and sauteed spinach were out of this world, and my husband loved the Gulf shrimp in a sesame ginger glaze.

    We were too stuffed for dessert, but will most definitely return as often as we can. Both the lunch and dinner menus are very reasonably priced, including everything from $5 salads and $8 burgers to higher-end cuisine (still under $30). The service was very attentive, atlhough they may have been a little understaffed because they got a better turnout than expected (they haven't even had their grand opening yet!) They'll have to adjust to bigger crowds than their last location.

    We are thrilled that Fernando has relocated his restaurant to Hightstown; the food is as wonderful as it was on Rt. 130, but it's now in a much more spacious and accessible spot. Fernando's will become a local favorite for sure, and hopefully lots of out-of-towners will come also... it's well worth the trip!

    1. Just came back from Fernando's Grill and had a great meal. It's the same high quality food that was served in the old location - only this time, the restaurant is beautiful.

      The mushroom bisque soup was a WOW. Creamy with a complex mushroom flavor. I had the scallops as an entree. If I'm not mistaken, they seem to have bigger portions at this new location. The scallops melted in my mouth and the spinach was better than my own.... and that's not something I often say.
      If you are looking for a good meal, head to Fernando's Grille.

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      Fernando's Grille
      1124 US Highway 130, Trenton, NJ 08691

      1. My wife and I tried Fernando's out for dinner the other night. I had a similar though about the menu - looks kind of safe and ordinary. So I decided to be safe and ordinary myself and try the burger. It was perfectly cooked and very tasty. The fries arrived hot and crispy - though they did not look like they were cut on premises. My wife ordered some sort of tomato-vegetable tower app as an entree and she enjoyed it a lot.

        The service was very good. I freely ogled the food plates going out to other diners and most of it looked delicious and nicely presented.

        We shall return.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Paul N

          I'd be interested in seeing what someone thought who had never been to the prior Fernando's location. While I often inwardly hope that a favorite chef has a success at a new location or new job, I try not to let that influence my tasting. Approaching Fernando's new venture purely on a "know-nothing" basis, I found it lacking. As I said, I'll still go back to try the steaks and burgers, but I'd like to hear from people who aren't fans to see if perhaps I hit it on a terrible night (the second night they were open) or if there are, indeed, some problems.

        2. As promised, went back to give it a second chance. I made no reference to the fact I had tried the place before, first because that was during a soft opening so the observations could have been only due to shakedown jitters, and second, so as not to influence anyone else's opinion.

          The service has improved somewhat - the place was packed on a Saturday night yet the service was only a little spotty. The food, however, was the same. I had prime rib, a safe choice given the chef's background; others explored more interesting menu items. Some obvious flaws: half-cooked baked potato, limp salad with improper tossing (a pool of dressing on the bottom and nothing on the salad) etc.

          The real problem, however, is that the food is totally uninspired. The wine reduction on a steak was described as "Franco-American canned gravy" by one eater, the sauce on a penne w/chicken as "Chef Boyardee" by another.

          It's a shame. The Bistro Soleil took chances and even when it failed, was exciting; the area needs a restaraunt like that - what it has are three diners, eight fast food places and a medicore bar/hamburger joint within a couple of miles. Unfortunately Fernando's is not the answer, it's just one more facet of the problem.

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          Bistro Soleil
          173 Mercer St, Hightstown, NJ 08520

          1. Any recent reviews on this place? Thinking about having a party here. Thanks!!!

            2 Replies
            1. re: Angelina

              We go on a regular basis and are never disappointed by the food or service. It has become the go-to place for special occasions, and also a great place for classy lunches at affordable prices. Totally thrilled to have them here.

              1. re: Angelina

                They're doing something right, because they're packed every time we drop by. I usually get the cajun tilapia and shrimp or a burger. Both are great. The pastas and salads are just average. The items off the grill tend to be the best bet.

              2. We've been there a few times. The service and food are superb. What a great addirion to the culinary scene.

                1 Reply
                1. re: cuddles115

                  has anyone tried the steak recently?

                2. We have been several times and have enjoyed our meals. Most recently, we went on a Saturday night around 6 p.m. Although we didn't have a reservation, they seated us right away. The restaurant was busy the entire time we were there.

                  The mushroom soup had a wonderful flavor. The salad that came with my entree was a nice size and nicely dressed - not too much dressing and not too little. We both had pasta dishes that we really enjoyed. The portion for each was enough to take home for a second meal.

                  Dessert was a piece of Lemoncello cake. The slice was a little small to share if you were still hungry. But we were almost full from dinner, so it was a good size for us. The cake was good - not the best Lemoncello cake I've had, but still good.

                  Service was very attentive and pleasant.

                  We would definitely return to Fernando's.