306 Kresson Road, Cherry Hill
Sitting down to a meal at Christopher is a bit like stepping into a time machine. While the restaurant scene around it rushes to embrace contemporary culinary trends, Christopher adheres to a charmingly old-fashioned aesthetic.
This is evident at first glance over the menu, a tight assembly of the classic components and preparations that make up timeless American dining.
Call it mid-century upscale. Crab cakes. Flounder Francaise. Filet with crabmeat. Pasta primavera. This is a menu that would be perfectly at home in an episode of Mad Men. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the executions are laudable, technically accomplished and generally resulting in food that achieves exactly what chef-owner Christopher Bovino set out to do.
Steamed clams were a reminder of the inherent joys of bringing together white wine, garlic and gobs of butter in the presence of jewel-size Little Necks. In fact, that’s all the dish was, really, aside from a dash of cream: no burst of greenery, no fashionable addition of, say, fennel or leek. Just clams and a very dip-worthy wine and butter sauce. Simple, confident and successful.
A Caesar salad, though overdressed, was a classic preparation done just about right. And while the dressing was a bit thinner than I would have expected—there’d been no real emulsification—it served as a pleasant, brightly acidic and anchovy-kissed standard, crowned with thin-sliced hard-boiled eggs and studded with homemade croutons.
So much of the food here goes this way: a procession of technically proficient, blameless food that makes up for its predictability with a comforting consistency.
A 14-ounce strip steak was ordered medium rare and arrived as the embodiment of medium-rareness. While more salt and a thicker charred crust would have lent it depth, this was a pleasant dish, appealingly tattooed by the slats of the grill. Adding shrimp costs just a dollar more—and they, it turned out, were the highlight of the plate, snappy and perfumed by the smoke of the grill.
The jumbo shrimp were just as good on a seafood sampler, which also featured panko-crusted crab cakes—loosely packed, moist and virtually devoid of filler. Lump crab is the star of this show, and it shines with appropriate brightness. It was less of a player in the broiled stuffed shrimp; the moisture of the shrimp themselves somehow muted the crab’s flavor, affording neither one the spotlight it deserved. Scallops would have been better with a bit of crust from the pan’s heat, but still were pleasantly sweet little nuggets. The broiled flounder on the plate reminded me of the countless platings of it I grew up on. Garnished with Bovino’s secret blend of spices for color and a hit of smoky piquancy, it was well-executed if slightly uninspired.
Entrées come with a dinner salad plus a choice between two sides: a cheesy baked potato or sauteed vegetables. The latter, zucchini and yellow squash, was mushy but still the more successful of the two, well-seasoned and sweetened with a generous addition of sun-dried tomatoes.
House-made desserts, too, followed in this classic vein. Excellent carrot cake edged with silky cream cheese icing hid pieces of fresh pineapple, golden raisin and walnut. Seasonal berries were bathed in eggy, heady zabaglione kicked up with enough Grand Marnier and amaretto to get you a little tingly in the fingers and toes. Bovino must be one of the hardest-working chefs in South Jersey, an ethic mirrored by his manager Peter Ciullo, who runs the dining room with energy and care.
For all that effort, though, I’d like to see a bit more payoff. Christopher is an attractive place—slick tile floor, lots of earthy tones, the requisite Sinatra on the sound system—but to really compete in the crowded Cherry Hill dining scene, it ought to offer something more challenging. Though proficient enough right now, Christopher could afford to start pushing its boundaries.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 5 (August, 2011).
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