My husband and I went to Naturale Cucina in Englishtown today for the first tme. It was absolutely delicious! We shared a goat cheese and carmelized onion pizza on multigrain dough, and it was the best we have had. The place is so nicely decorated and clean. I can hardly wait to go back! Thanks to our friends who recommended it to us.
Back from a 2+ week trip, we wanted to go somewhere reasonably close. The Freehold area is a culinary wasteland IMHO (minus Ibby's). Well that has changed with Naturale Cucina, a relatively new place serving some excellent Neapolitan style pizza in nearby Englishtown.
The place is attractive, wood floors, nice lighting, big windows, very comfortable. This is a real family affair with the guys being hosts and servers and the woman doing the pizza making.
I asked our friendly and helpful server Amanda where they learned their trade and was surprised to learn they are mostly self taught. Terracotta oven, 900 degrees, pizza done in 90 seconds.
On to the food, last night we ordered two pies, One was the Musculoso, Fresh mozzarella, tenderly sliced prosciutto, shaved Parmigiano topped by organic baby arugula drizzled with
balsamic glaze . Wonderful flavor, Crust was crispy with nice chew throughout. Wanted to get something different, next pie was La Patata, Organic, shaved rustic potato, caramelized organic onions, and fresh mozzarella. This was pure yum, what a great combination.
Will be finishing up both for lunch today. Come here hungry as the pizza is not shy on toppings.
Shared a very good piece of homemade tiramisu and finished with some Carlisle syrah to wash it all down.
On one previous visit we had the Siciliana which was Red and green peppers, sausage, and
shaved Parmigiano. Another fantastic creation.
Why this placed isn't packed most of the time is beyond me. You want some great pizza, give this place a try. Here is their website. If you want to see some excellent pictures of their pies, go to their Facebook page from their website and scroll though a few pages.
Walked into an empty restaurant on Sunday around 5:30 pm. Great little space, attractively decorated (with several Halloween touches). Got to talking with Amanda, our server, and advised her that we learned about the place on CH. Before long, she was in the back reading over this thread. Tom - she remembered you right away. Food was overall good. Started with the Provoletta (melted provolone cheese with bread) and the Pear Paza salad (pears, gorgonzola, walnuts). Would get the pear salad again. Ordered three pizzas - 2 Margherita and 1 La Patata (described by Tom upthread). The Margheritas were fine. The La Patata was very good. Even my kids, who otherwise don't eat foods with onions, loved the caramelized onions. Had one organic chocolate ice cream for dessert (didn't taste) and a couple orders of the cannoli cups which were good. One other table became occupied before we left. As stated, the food was good and we'll return. Wish there were a few more choices to the menu, like some pastas. Hope that business picks up.
A very unusual kind of place. Had dinner there tonight. Sunday (they open 4-9) and when we arrived at 6:30 we were the only table. When we left at 8:00 we were still the only table. This is a point-of-view place with two groups of ideas. The first is all-natural (they're pleased to tell you they serve no Coke or Pepsi but have a complete list of natural beverages) with the same side-notes as I remember from places in Woodstock during the early 70's: great space simply dressed; great music played quiety; some handmade signs and some children's artwork... The second is the interesting one: someone (or several someones) has [have] a great sense of flavor pairings and have decided that the rule is that two or three great ingredients, with virtually no embellishment, define a dish. This is painting in primary colors. When it succeeds, it's fresh and pure. It succeeds admirably in the pear and gorganzolla brushetta - two flavors that work brilliantly together (we had that combo along with walnuts in our salad that was even better.) It succeeds less well in the marscapone and mushroom and caramelized onion bruschetta - the marscapone was too delicate to balance the other flavors. It didn't succeed in the traditional bruschetta - although the balsamic was very nice, bruschetta needs some herbs to help marry the flavors; at its best it's a combined flavor, not a dish where the components need to stand on their own. The tarta (outstanding crust) with spinich and ricotta was very nice, very fresh, but just a bit boring. Some herbs, some spices, SOMETHING might have helped, but that's not the focus here; the ingredients are.
The pizza was a mixed success. I somewhat stacked the deck, by piling on the toppings: a Margherita but with bufala mozz (which adds more moisture,) sausage, caramelized onions (which also add moisture) and roasted garlic. The pie was, not unexpectedly, limp. Judging from the bottom, there was some room to crisp the crust a bit more and cook off some of the moisture, but they didn't. Give them credit for the fact that they piled as much of each topping on as if it was the only topping I ordered, but frankly I would have cut back a bit on each to give the pie less to have to handle. I ordered the traditional crust but they also have whole wheat, gluten-free and multi-grain to choose from.
For dessert, we tried the pear sorbet (homemade.) It was not a success on several levels. First, although sorbet (unlike "sherbet") usually includes no dairy, it's churned, not shaved. Make an ice and simply shave it and you've got granita or italian ice. The big difference in the process is that sherbet is richer (the dairy) and smooth, and sorbet is equally smooth. You don't get ice crystals in sorbet. You do at Naturale Cucina. The second problem is that pear, even more so than peach, is a very difficult fruit to extract enough concentration of flavor to make a sorbet, or sherbet or ice cream. When I make peach ice cream, I not only use a peck of peaches to boil down and down to make a quart of ice cream, but put pieces of peach into the ice cream to help bring out the flavor. Pear is so much more delicate and subtle than peach that I have no idea how many whole fruits would have to go into a quart of ice cream. Certainly you'd need less in a sorbet where you don't have the dairy to overcome, but the sorbet here was so faint in flavor as to be tasteless.
The big plus here is the viewpoint that the ingredients speak for themselves and pairing certain flavors can open your eyes to an entirely new way of looking at a particular food. The big drawback here is the viewpoint that the ingredients speak for themselves - sometimes they need some help in terms of herbs, spices, and a certain amount of professional experience that would avoid amateur-like mistakes.
All-in-all, we'll be back; not to critque the food, but to enjoy those things on the menu that work brilliantly given the restaurant's viewpoint. When our kids stop home from college, we'll take them to Naturale Cucina - I'm sure they'll love it. We want to try more of the salads with some interesting combinations of flavors.
This is not (yet) a rousing culinary success, but there's enough good going on to hope that as time goes on (they've only been open since Memorial Day) they'll find their stride and do some rather remarkable things. It's a place, even now, to try if you're on the lookout for a place that's not like every other new restaurant opening up.
Stopped in for dinner last night (5:30 pm) and we were the only table while during our visit. We ordered a Margherita pizza on regular dough because we wanted to taste the natural flavors. I added only oregano on my slices and thought the pizza was delicious. The dough was crispy, although could have used a bit more cooking. The sauce needed a bit more flavor/zing. Aside from being too quiet, I enjoyed the pizza and a nice bottle of Pellegrino water and will bo back soon. I hope their business picks up soon.
Going back to a place to give it a second try when the first was less than successful is often a rewarding task. Minor flaws get fixed, the chef has a better night, the staff has fallen into a more focused system... We had promised to take the girls to Naturale Cusina when they were home from college since it seemed (with the original flaws) to be the kind of place they might enjoy. We did so last night, and I left wishing we had gone for family root-canal instead.
The first difference was that we were not the only table. There was a party of four adults and three children in the back, and four tables including us in the front. Five tables seems to be well beyond the tipping point for Naturale Cusina to turn into Barnum and Bailey's Clown Chaos. Our waitress spent the evening going to each table in turn and giving the same speech of apology ("this was entirely my fault - you said 'blah blah blah' but I wrote down 'bleh bleh bleh' so your meal is wrong") and chiming in on conversations at the various tables from the other side of the room, totally uninvited.
The food hasn't improved. Take gorgonzola, spread it on a too-thick piece of italian bread and add two slices of pear, and you have Naturale Cusina's most successful dish. Again there were no herbs or spices, too little salt, no pepper at all; the food relies purely on the marriage of the ingredients, and excepting only a few cases, that marriage is not strong enough to carry the dish unassisted by technique or additions.
We tried some of the same things as before, and some new things. None of the prior-tried items had improved, while there was certainly room for it. Of the new dishes we tried, the ham and cheese tarte was as brilliantly baked in perfect pastry as its spinach and ricotta cousin had been the prior visit, and the filling was just as boring and in need of a redesign. The cream of squash soup needed salt, needed herbs, needed something other than squash and cream. The pizza Musculoso seemed a brilliant idea at first bite - not a pizza at all, but pizza dough with mozzarella, prosciutto, and piled high with baby arugula and shaved parm, drizzled with balsamic vinegar; however after the first slice, the combination that had been refreshing started being too bitter, too unbalanced - it would have made a great salad course but as an entree, it numbed the palate in record time.
I won't comment too much on the service although I could go on for hours - it was absolutely the worst I have ever encountered in 50+ years of dining out. We had to remind the waitress she had taken only our appetizer order and not the entrees; we had a twenty minute wait after the appetizers before she came back to apologize for things taking so long; we had ANOTHER half hour wait before the first entree came out, and the rest of the entrees took an additional 10-15 minutes. This speaks to amateur hour in the kitchen as well as on the floor. Several entrees were wrong, and the sing-song "I'm sorry, this was all my fault" didn't come close to making up for the ineptitude of the kitchen and wait staff.
It is impossible that this restaurant has any interest in serving its customers; it is a hobby, run by a few people with a third-grader's idea of what food should be, who don't learn from their mistakes; it is an affront to restaurants that care - its point of view seems to be "you don't have to know anything to run a restaurant" and its one food-based mantra "Everything Organic" seems to be viewed as a magic elixir that makes all its shortcomings alright.
Frankly, Naturale Cusina is about as far from "Alright" as you can get. We are lucky - this part of Central Jersey seems to be sprouting with new, interesting little restaurants lately, and this one, that certainly is a waste of time and space, will not be seeing us again.