Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Restaurant Review: SOFIA

Sofia Restaurant
9314 Amherst Ave., Margate, NJ (609-822-9111)

I love to go to an unfamiliar restaurant! It's an adventure - a treasure hunt even. Will it be good? disappointing? better than expected?

We visited Sofia Restaurant for the first time in March. Just about 15 or 20 minutes from the Scarborough Inn (720 Ocean Ave., Ocean City, NJ), it was like a mini-vacation to Greece and an easy drive for guests of our B&B!

Ambiance - The interior of the restaurant is surprisingly large, but thanks to the cleverly divided dining space, it felt cozy and romantic. Decorative wrought iron railings, half-walls, and tall columns separate the dining space into smaller areas decorated with rough plaster walls, tile floors, and substantial dark wood tables and chairs. A fire in a raised hearth added warmth and a cheerful glow on a chilly evening. An enormous chandelier was suspended from the high ceiling and we glimpsed evocative murals on the upper walls rendered in soft pastel colors.

There's a Wine Bar/Lounge area plus outdoor dining spaces available in warmer months when you can also enjoy the fountains and seasonal flowers.

Service - We arrived for our early reservation (5:45pm) during "shoulder season" so the restaurant was nearly empty. We were welcomed and escorted to our table in a secluded corner near a fireplace. The server was knowledgeable and helpful with menu selections and portion sizes. Service was accommodating and efficient.

Food - The menu features Greek titles with English translations and includes "Small Plates" (like appetizers or tapas), a la carte salads, and an eclectic variety of entrees. Our server suggested we share a Traditional Greek Salad and there was plenty for four of us. The salad greens were crisp and it contained all of the expected - olives, tomatoes, and feta with a tangy vinaigrette. A small loaf of hot bread accompanied the meal and was pronounced "exceptional" by one of our friends.

Gus selected Pan-Seared Ahi Tuna with Citrus Basmati Rice and Baby Bok Choy. The tuna was perfectly seared on the outside, rare and tender inside, and nicely complemented by the flavors of the unique vegetables. My Grilled Veal Porterhouse was huge and smothered in a Fig Port Reduction that was smooth and rich. It came with Grilled Red Peppers, creamy Polenta, and Horta (mixed cooked greens like broccoli, collards, and spinach - the combination changes) that was straightforward and delicious with the rich meat and sauce.

For dessert, our server suggested something that resembles a small, crisp cannoli shell and is stuffed with a light citrus-flavored creme. One serving was enough for two people and left us feeling satisfied and self-righteous. I can't remember the name of this lovely concoction, and it was not listed on the web site, so ask your server.

We all thoroughly enjoyed the different Mediterranean food options and ambiance; it made for a special evening with special friends.

Price - Sofia Restaurant is not inexpensive, but the ambiance, service, and food were all deeply satisfying. If price is a concern, ask about the availability of Sunset Menus (when we visited, $15.95 at 3 - 6pm, mid-week) or try a selection of Small Plates to share - perhaps in the lounge area?

Details - Some parking. Handicapped accessible. Credit cards. Dress - casual chic. I did not see a dedicated Children's Menu, although the Small Plates might suffice for well-behaved and adventurous young diners.

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