Restaurant Review – Il Villaggio in Cherry Hill, NJ

I felt leery dining at Il Villaggio. As the name included a homonym of the word ill, I didn’t enter the building with high hopes. The again, with the advent of Obamacare in America, I thought I’d give it a try. Who knows? The way things are going maybe I could even get taxpayers to pick-up the bill. Upon looking at the prices, I realized the impossibility of this. As the Federal Budget is a paltry 14 billion dollars, the government wouldn’t be able to afford it. While pricey, Il Villaggio delivered a decent dining experience.

I found the ambiance inviting. Upon entering, the site of an elegant chandelier and spacious gilded dining area greeted me. Then the hostess led my group into a more ‘cozy’ setting. This room had three long tables. They seated my party (of 26) at two of them. Another group came in later and sat at the third. With the frigid January temperatures outside, all the people crammed together did help to warm things up.

I opted to take the vegetarian route once again. As readers of this column will no doubt recall, I did this once before at another restaurant I reviewed. As they will also remember, the results didn’t please me. I’m not one to ever give up on a bad idea, so I went for a vegetarian evening again.

On the occasion I dined at Il Villaggio, they offered Cream of Asparagus as one of the soups of the day. I like soup, I like vegetables and I like asparagus. What could go wrong? What they served didn’t quite meet my definition of soup. Asparagus Gespacho may have been a more fitting appellation for this appetizer. It was rather tepid, even cool. Due to the cramped quarters, the temperature of the room exceeded that of the soup. It’s never good when that happens. I discerned a sweetness to the broth. It also lacked a certain ingredient. Unfortunately, its namesake turned to be the missing element. I found very few stalks in the broth, though. They also tasted very crunchy. I’m not used to crispy vegetables. Maybe it’s an Italian thing.

As I resolved to lose weight for the new year, I ordered another vegetable based dish for my main course. I went for the Zucchini Parmesan. I’ve had Eggplant Parmesan many times, but I’ve never heard of this meal. The menu described it as, “lightly fried layers of zucchini topped with melted mozzarella cheese, over rigatoni pasta marinara sauce.” I liked it, but I can understand it isn’t for everybody. The texture reminded me of a cross somewhere between eggplant and mushrooms; both of which I’m fond. I did enjoy it and thought the portion proportional to the price. The chef got all the spices right to make it a good quality Italian meal. I can’t recollect dining at a place that offered rigatoni as a choice of pasta. It made the meal unique and complimented the main course well.

In spite of liking the entrée, I didn’t think the cost justified, though. As I mentioned before, I went with a group. The organizer informed us how much we owed at the end of the evening. I don’t know what the soup cost, but the entrée came in at $16.00. For comparison’s sake, the Veal Parmesan cost $19.00. They priced the Chicken Parm at $17.00. While the Zucchini Parm was rightly cheaper than the meats, I still thought the price high. After all, the main ingredient was only a vegetable.

I need to go off for a moment. I’ve encountered this before in the form of an $11.00 can of spinach at a restaurant. What’s with the high cost of vegetables these days? Does their cost vary inversely with fuel prices? I’m just wondering. This seems silly to me.

I didn’t partake in desert. While no one in my group complained about the quality, this time I really thought the prices ridiculously high. Everything on the desert menu cost somewhere in the seven dollar range. The gentleman seated next to me ordered a bowl of berries with two scoops of pistachio ice cream. I could’ve gone to Yogurtland and had a larger portion of Pistachio Yogurt with some fruit toppings for less money than that.

The staff conducted themselves extremely well. Our main server did an outstanding job of presenting all the specials. The speed with which they delivered our dinner impressed me. I also applaud their professionalism in serving everyone in our large party at the same time.

Some people say that eating a high quality meal is the purpose of fine dining: not receiving large portions. After all, not every establishment can be The Pub (in Pennsauken) where one receives enough food that obviates the need to grocery shop for a week. I understand and respect their point. I do think that Il Villaggio’s prices a bit out of the norm even for quality dining. For readers okay with that, I think Il Villaggio definitely worth a visit.

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