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Gravitas: Decor: Cost: Proximity:
Tapas. We love ’em. It’s just a fun way to eat… sharing plates and sampling lots of different, usually highly flavored foods. But they’re hard to find in this area. They used to be my favorite meal on Tuesdays at Villa Rosa (just down the road from Crispaninos), but they’ve discontinued making them. And it’s really hard to find them at a reasonable price (Yeah, you can order them in Princeton or Lambertville, but usually at a premium or “off days”).
Enter Crispanino’s (opened September, 2014). The name is a portmanteau of crisp and panino (singular of the more familiar panini). And a lot of the menu here is sandwiches. You can also find breakfast. Eggs, pancakes, etc. And salads. It’s all reasonably priced, and I expect it’s good.
I haven’t tried them.
We have sampled much of the tapas menu, and it changes seasonally (one of the items I tried a couple of weeks ago is no longer on the menu, and there are a bunch of new items). Here are my tasting notes (more or less in order of my favorites):
- Slow cooked beef rib bites – two small short ribs on a plate with a tangy BBQ sauce. Smoky, tender, and lovely.
- Charred beef with garlic herb mayonnaise – thin sliced beef (nearly raw) beautifully arrayed on the plate drizzled with the mayonnaise. Fab.
- Pecorino-Romano garlic fries – OMG to die for. Really, this could be first, but I was embarrassed to start this list with french fries. But what fries! No freezer ever sullied these potatoes. Cut thin. Fried to golden, brown perfection in what seems like a high quality oil. And serious garlic. Really, really, really garlicky. Huge plate, easily sharable by 3-4 people.
- Garlic Provolone Sausage – a spicy sausage drizzled with a fantastic, green Chimichurri sauce (Fall Menu item)
- Empanada flight – 3 crispy, deep fried pillows of dough stuffed with melted cheeze and your choice of ham, pulled pork, or chopped beef. Mine came out slightly greasy, and I was expecting the pulled pork without cheese. But still, quite good (but not as good as some of the other things here)
- Roasted Vegetable Sample – house roasted red peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and artichoke hearts. Peppers and mushrooms OK, zucchini and artichokes wonderful. Disappointing that the food arrived on the plate cold from the refrigerator. It should be served room temperature.
A few comments. First, the food quality ranged from good to superb. Given that this is an inexpensive little restaurant in a Ewing strip mall (in a converted dance studio), it’s shockingly good. The best of it rivals tapas you’ll find in high-end joints.
However, the choices for vegetarians are limited. Yes, there are salads and grilled cheese sandwiches. But if your vegetarian friends want to join you in tapas fun, there are only a couple of items, and the quality doesn’t nearly match the meat items. It’s profoundly disappointing, perhaps a reflection of Ewing. But we hope this will change. It seems a no-brainer to add some additional vegetarian items to attract a significant, additional market segment. But for now, we can’t rate this “veggie friendly”.
Finally, for an inexpensive restaurant, the decor is lovely (and frankly better than a lot of much more expensive restaurants). Our party of 3 camped out on a comfortable leather sofa by the window. We took down wine glasses and a cork screw helpfully hanging on the wall by the entrance, poured our wine, and had a wonderful hour or so of sampling food and talking. The background music was a tasteful medley of low-key jazz. It’s really, really nice, and again, unusual for a restaurant in this price range.
The owner are Chris Pataki and his mother. She was a general manager of a Hyatt restaurant when Chris was growing up, and immigrated from Argentina. Chris moved to Argentina as a teenager, married a woman there, and started two restaurants in a suburb of Buenos Aires. The experience shows.
We’ve rated Crispanino 3-hearts in our gravitas scale, which is high for a brand new restaurant in Ewing. We’ll see. We can see this becoming a favorite and perhaps moving up.