Monday, November 17, 2008

Bring some friends...and some Cafe Michelina

On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of joining a family dinner with JT, his parents, his roommate B, and my brother (a group last assembled at JT's birthday). The bro and I trekked out to Hoboken and met the crew at JT and B's apartment; once assembled, we all ducked through the torrential rain a few doors down to Cafe Michelina. Unfortunately, there was about a half-hour wait for a table for six, so we put our names in and returned to the apartment to await Cafe Michelina's call.

A half hour and a couple of bottles of wine later, the hostess called and we returned to the restaurant. We stood awkwardly at the entrance to the small, noisy, convivial space while people milled about, servers dashed around, and nobody seated us. Then, finally, we spotted a table opening up-- and, yes, it was ours. We sat.

And now's the time that I admit I realized just as I got on the PATH train that I had forgotten my camera. So, instead of showing you pictures of what we ordered, I'll give you pictures cribbed off the Internet that I feel approximate what the food was like. Does that sound fair? Good.

Once we had sat and received menus (which we supplemented with glances at the white board next to us, on which were inscribed several specials), a server brought over a plate of gratis pieces of mini-bruschetta. It was simply bread covered with a mixture of chopped tomatoes, onion, and olive oil, sort of like this:
...except minus the bits of ham and cheese and sprig of herbs and all that other stuff. I don't know what it was about these little amuse-bouches (perhaps it had something to do with the glass of wine I'd already downed), but they were fabulous. Really. Surprisingly good-- much better than I was anticipating when I first took a bite. It completely smoothed over the lack of glasses, water, silverware, or napkins on our table (all arrived shortly upon request).

As we placed our order, a bread basket landed on the table. It held a loaf of standard nondescript French/Italian bread, which was carby and delicious when paired with the soft butter that came in those little foil-covered plastic tubs.

As we continued sipping our wine (Cafe Michelina is BYOB, so we had quite a selection with us), our appetizers arrived. We had chosen fried calamari and "homemade" mozzarella sticks for the table. I didn't try either, but I snagged a bit of the accompanying marinara, which was very tasty.

When we were done with the apps, our servers hustled over our entrees. The first arrival was my garden salad, which was the largest salad I've ever seen. It was an absolutely enormous plate of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, which came accompanied by cruets of oil and vinegar on the side. I opted to use some of the marinara sauce left over from the apps as dressing. A good choice indeed, if I may say so myself. My order looked a little something like this:

...except about 300 times larger. Mmmmm, veggies.

JT, Mrs. JT, B, and the bro had all ordered one of the specials: the stuffed rigatoni with chicken and vodka sauce. I've never seen stuffed rigatoni, but it looked like this:

That is, it was little tubes of rigatoni stuffed with cheese (like the filling of manicotti) and crimped on the ends to seal in the stuffing. These parcels, covered in luscious pink vodka sauce, were scrumptious. All four partakers of the dish sang its praises.

Upon the insistence of JT, Mr. JT selected the chicken and penne with vodka sauce. He ate a bit and passed the rest off to his son, who ate a bit more, but good lord that was one enormous plate of food. Delicious, apparently, but enormous.

We were all stuffed-- me from my pasture's worth of vegetables, my dining companions from carbs and sauce and cream-- so we skipped dessert. And although Cafe Michelina lacks much in the atmosphere department, from the crunched tables to the harried service to the plastic jugs of water on the table, the food is delicious and cheap, and we had a fantastic time. Of course, this particular group of people could go to Jack in the Box (White Castle? Burger King? KFC? Pick your gross fast-food joint of choice...) and have a delightful dinner, but Cafe Michelina was just the ticket on a humid and rainy November evening. For that, I'll award the place Three Offset Spatulas and send my thanks, once again, to the generosity of Momma and Papa JT for making it all possible.

Cafe Michelina

423 Bloomfield Street, Hoboken

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