CREATIVE CUISINE: “This is a small restaurant, and I have a small kitchen. There is no mass-produced food here. Everything is cooked to order.” Salvatore Scarlata, chef/owner of Vidalia, is shown in his restaurant with samples of his delicious dishes.
The flavors and tastes of Italy are on the menu at Vidalia Restaurant, 21 Phillips Avenue in Lawrenceville. Both the food and the ambiance at this charming and intimate establishment are pleasing to the senses.
The friendly knowledgeable staff makes customers immediately welcome, and the menu invites leisurely dining in a setting that includes fresh linens and decor reflecting Italian sensibility. Great care has been taken with every detail, and chef/proprietor Salvatore Scarlata makes a point of visiting each table he can to thank his guests for joining him for dinner.
“I am treating people well and feeding people well,” he says. “When people go out to eat, they are spending their hard-earned money. Why should they come here? I emphasize simplicity and consistency. If you have guests visiting you and want to bring them here, you can count on it being good. It’s service, quality food, and a warm atmosphere. I have a great staff, and everyone gives 110 percent. They are all experienced servers.”
Born in Sicily, Chef Scarlata came to the U.S. with his family when he was 12. His father had a restaurant in north Trenton, and as a boy, Sal was involved in the family operation. “I grew up in the restaurant business, and I learned from my father. Now, I have been in the business for 20 years.”
Classic and Inventive
Before acquiring Vidalia in 2005, Mr. Scarlata worked in a number of restaurants in the area. It was always his hope to have a restaurant of his own, where he could not only serve traditional Italian dishes, but also create new recipes.
“There are different ways of preparing Italian food” he notes. “The work is so creative. Sometimes, it can be trial and error, when trying out new things. We change the menu seasonally, and we have classic and inventive dishes. I also often get good ideas from customers. Many have traveled, and have sampled interesting cuisines. I try to cater to them if they have special requests. We can also accommodate people with particular dietary needs, including those with gluten or other food allergies.”
People are more knowledgeable about food today, he adds. They are also more concerned about eating healthier diets.
Mr. Scarlata believes Vidalia is set apart by his special recipes and the fresh ingredients and quality of the food. “We have daily deliveries, and I always get local produce whenever I can.”
In addition to the regular menu, the restaurant offers seven specials every day. Recently, filet mignon, with shrimp wrapped in bacon, French string beans, truffle garlic mashed potatoes, and onion rings were available. Another special was beet salad, including roasted beets with goat cheese, dried apricots, walnuts, apple slices, arugula and the chef’s own salad dressing.
“Lovers Scallops,” which alternates scallops and shrimp in a molded crostini, with spring mix salad including Sicilian blood oranges and cherry tomatoes, is a favorite. Prince Edward Island clams on the half-shell in a wasabi cocktail sauce is another special.
The basic menu offers many choices, and customers’ favorites include the appetizer Artichoke Francese, egg-battered in a lemon, white wine butter sauce. The Penne E Polle con Broccoli entree, with penne pasta, broccoli, and grilled chicken, sauteed in garlic and extra virgin olive oil, and topped with fresh grated parmiagiano cheese, is always in demand.
Another favorite entree is Capesente, pan-seared scallops served with a side of black truffle oil, infused parmiagiana risotto, spinach, and topped with a vermouth cream sauce.
A variety of salads and appetizers, along with the selection of entrees will satisfy the appetite of any diner. In addition, the presentation of the dishes at Vidalia is impressive and visually striking. “I feel the food has to have eye appeal,” explains Mr. Scarlata. “I am very visual, and it is important that the food looks as good as it tastes!”
Desserts are always popular, and include such choices as tiramisu, cannoli, and exotic bomba, among others. Cappuccino, espresso, and other beverages are all available. The restaurant does not have a liquor license, but many customers bring wine, and all set-ups, including ice bucket, are available without corkage fee.
Lunch, dinner, and catering (all sizes and styles of events) are offered, and the restaurant, which seats 40, can also be booked for private parties. In seasonal weather, there is room for 60 to dine al fresco.
Even in what has been a difficult economy, Mr. Scarlata is very encouraged and optimistic about the numbers of customers from all over the area who are regulars at the restaurant. “I am very proud of Vidalia. In preparing a dish that is special, I am pleasing someone. The reward is when someone says it was the best meal they ever had, or they posted on-line: ‘It reminds me of my mom’s cooking.’ It’s great to have these comments and to see people leave with a smile on their face.
“On the other hand, I am never satisfied,” he adds. “I always want the next meal to be better. I want to continue to have the restaurant improve and introduce even more people to our great food.”
Vidalia will offer a special New Year’s Eve fixed-price menu, and the restaurant is always reservation only. Hours are lunch: Tuesday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner: Tuesday through Thursday 4 to 9, Friday, Saturday 5 to 10, Sunday 4 to 9. (609) 896-4444. Website: www.eatatVidalia.com.