I was strolling Haddon Ave recently, as I’m wont to do, when I noticed a decal on the window of That’s Amore advertising a Chef’s Table for $25/$35, and describing itself as the 8th Wonder of the World. I was intrigued, less by their brazen declaration of wonderment than their admittedly low cost for a Chef’s Table. For anybody unfamiliar with a Chef’s Table, the concept is a multi-course prix fixe dinner, conceived by the chef and served in small plates throughout the evening. It’s similar to a tasting menu, and the idea is to highlight flavors, colors, textures, etc. The meal is more about the progression from appetizer to dessert and experiencing something more than simply ordering a bowl of pasta and some cheesecake for dessert. Because of the nature of the meal, the special consideration and time spent developing the special menu, a Chef’s Table is usually pricey. Curious, I decided to make reservations and check it out.
Full disclosure: This was my first time eating at That’s Amore. I’ve eaten at a number of Haddon Avenue restaurants, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Blackbird is an outstanding New American concept. Mangia Mangia has exceptional pizza in a city clogged with it. Everything about the Pop Shop suggests it was conceived by kids, for kids, and hell if it doesn’t hit the nail on the head. That’s Amore, unfortunately, would ultimately prove to break the streak.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the high expectations set by the restaurant’s Collingswood neighbors. That’s Amore is a much more casual experience than I’ve become accustomed to, from the Friendly’s-style table crayons to the absence of wine glasses with the place settings. There was no ice bucket for our bottle of Riesling, although we amended that by drinking it quicker. Utensils and side plates were slow to be cleared off and replaced, something that would have been easier to overlook had we not been sitting down to an eleven course meal, and the clutter quickly became an issue. Our server, gracious and very friendly, appeared to be the only front of the house employee working that evening, so perhaps that was to blame. Either way, I was grateful there were only three other tables in the restaurant with us as we ate. Had the restaurant suddenly been slammed, we’d probably still be waiting for our desert course.
As for the food, it was good, if not special. The Chef’s Table wasn’t a separate entity conceived by the chef for our party, but was more or less a random selection of menu items, which, to be fair, IS stated on the menu, although I hardly think garlic bread should serve as a course. The $25 menu was nine courses, and for an extra $10, a fish and meat course were added. The food was pretty typical, from Caesar salad to fusilli with vodka sauce, penne with pesto to tilapia française. Nothing fancy, although certainly better than Olive Garden.
Verdict: The price is right. You won’t get the upscale treatment at That’s Amore that you’d get at Nunzio’s Ristorante, but you’re not paying for it, either. The food and menu evokes the same family-style atmosphere that you’d get at one of the chains, but their execution is substantially better. And for $35, their Chef’s Table on-a-budget is worth the try.