Chat: Taco recon; more on Osteria Moorestown
Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: With my review of Taqueria Feliz in Manayunk on tap for this weekend, I was out and about doing some taco reconnaissance - albeit more of the updated, hipster taco variety. . . .
Union Taco is the NoLibs taco sibling to Nick Farina's Verdad in Bryn Mawr, definitely with some creative takes on classic ideas. I wasn't a big fan of the "Kobe" beef taco, a ground-meat filling that basically tasted like spicy Old El Paso meat . . . BUT . . .!! The pork cheek taco was really pretty good - these nuggets of pork were feathery-tender and full of flavor. Only problem, it wasn't what I'd consider to be a true "al pastor" flavor slathered in a guajillo, oj, achiote marinade . . . . One more good option at Union were the fried fish tacos, which got a nice little Asian twist with crunchy Napa slaw and a sweet ginger sauce.
Reader: I enjoyed your well-crafted review of Osteria Moorestown. I've dined with family there four times . . . and the service, food, cocktails, and wine selection are impressive. The poached shrimp with citrus was a revelation, and $16 for a generous-sized glass of 2009 Parusso Barolo underscores the benefits of operating in New Jersey.
I'm trying to get past the appearance and texture of candele, but enjoyed the richness of the boar bolognese.
C.L.: You hit one of my very few Osteria dislikes . . . I'm not a fan of that candele pasta - long, limp tubes that I really don't love eating. . . . [chef Jeffrey Michaud] likes the way the boar ragu clings to it, and slips inside the tubes . . . They remind me of tiny slippery socks.
Reader: Taco newbie here, trying to expand my horizons. What's the best next step to go after the traditional 'Merican home taco (ground beef, cheese, lettuce, hard yellow shell)?
C.L.: Try a taco with chicken "tinga," tender pulled chicken meat in a tomato sauce infused with smoky chipotles. Typically, that comes over tostadas (crispy rounds) but I love it in tacos, as well. Saw some very good ones at Mole Poblano.
Reader: Speaking of Osteria and the suburbs, there was an interesting NYT article the other week by Nelson Schwartz about the struggles of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, etc., reflecting in part the contracting middle-class income bracket . . . . I don't believe Osteria Moorestown is competing primarily with these chains, since the patrons of the latter may be going to cheaper venues, or are eating more at home. Osteria could be taking business from higher-end area restaurants such as Catelli's, Redstone, etc.
C.L.: You hit one of the most interesting questions. What is the audience Osteria is going for? Clearly, it isn't the Auntie Anne's crowd, or the Bertucci's crowd. And I don't even think that they're going to siphon off much business from the more sophisticated indie restaurants in Collingswood.
I think they're going more for that untapped middle of affluent, well-traveled diners who live in nearby Moorestown/Cherry Hill, who see the mall as their Main Street, but typically travel to Center City when wanting to step-it-up for fine dining. There are definitely other good restaurants in South Jersey, including some Italians like Zeppoli. But Osteria is a distinctive and high-quality new option.