In celebration of Esther being only one year closer to renting a car without getting slapped with that young-driver insurance fee, we went to Garlic Rose Bistro for dinner after work yesterday. The place is supposedly jam-packed on weekends, making reservations a must. Clearly, from the photos above and below, it wasn’t so busy when we arrived around 5:45pm on a Wednesday night. I had asked the hostess when it usually starts picking up, to which she said, “It’s Labor Day week. It never picks up.” Still, by the time 6:30pm rolled around, there were at least 5-6 other occupied tables (it’s quite a tiny restaurant).
If you Yelp this place, you’ll notice that just about every other review raves about their garlic dip and indeed- it’s worth raving. The garlic really comes through and reminds me of a strong pesto. Actually, it reminds me of this cilantro spinach pesto that also uses a couple of cloves of garlic. We loved it so much that they ended up giving us another basket of bread and another plate of the dip. They also sell this garlic dip for $7 for takeout. I believe it’s for a pint.
Baked Asparagus: Tender asparagus spears topped with roasted red peppers and wrapped with Swiss cheese and puff pastry. Baked to golden brown and topped with a roasted garlic dijon basil cream ($9.95)
We were undecided between the Baked Brie and Baked Asparagus. The server suggested the latter. In retrospect, I wish we had gotten the Brie.
- The color on the asparagus was off. Rather than a fresh green, it was clearly steamed too long and the spears were sadly wilted.
- The puff pastry, while super flaky on the top-most layer, was nearly mushy on the inside. It wasn’t fully baked through.
- The dijon basil cream lacked much flavor and couldn’t taste the garlic. Could have done without it.
- Really loved the addition of the cheese inside.
- Props to the server for splitting the plate for us. The above photograph is only half of the entire app. Issue was, Esther got way less asparagus and more peppers whereas I got the opposite. Still, gesture appreciated.
Mesclun Salad (complimentary with all pastas and entrees)
The salad was served with a light vinegar-based dressing. Unlike some of the reviews on Yelp, ours was definitely fresh with no wilted leaves. It was among the better mesclun salads I’ve had.
We I really came here for the pasta. I think Esther came here for the garlic dip (she’s been here before for lunch). Their pastas range from $15 to $20 at dinner, though you can save $5 or so if you go at lunch. Originally, the Garlicious Rigatoni was my first pick, but I had also seriously considered the Penne Putanesca. Eventually Esther ordered the Rigaoni and I the Penne.
Garlicious Rigatoni: Tossed with garlic, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes in a marsala cream sauce with fresh oregano and basil. Topped with shaved romano cheese ($15.95)
From the few bites I had, this was really delicious (not surprising since Esther had gotten this very same dish for lunch last time) . The surprise however, was the tint of sweetness. The marsala sauce is rich but not over the top. The addition of the salt from the shaved cheese complimented the sauce well.
Penne Puttanesca: Tossed with an aromatic sauce of garlic, olive oil, sweet onions, red peppers, plum tomatoes, anchovies, capers, olives, basil, and oregano. (Anchovies may be omitted if desired.) Topped with shaved romano cheese ($15.95)
I generally do not like pastas with tomato based sauces nor do I like olives, but this was surprisingly good, especially after the fresh romano cheese melts into bits of string. The pasta was cooked just right- al dente- and even held up against the microwave the next day (in fact, the pasta tasted even better than the night before). I loved the roasted red peppers and capers. I wish they would have offered options with some sort of protein.
Toasted Almond Crunch Cake: Delicate Lady Fingers soaked in an amaretto blend and layered with Marscapone; topped with toasted almonds and drizzled with vanilla and caramel ($7.95)
This too was awesome. It’s almost like a tiramisu but with an almond spin. The best part was the topping. It’s so crunchy. I could have done without the whipped cream because there’s a ton of mascarpone cheese. Unfortunately, by the time we got to this, we were so bloated from an abundance of carbs and we nearly couldn’t finish the last bite.
Dinner came out to around $53. Normally, I wouldn’t say that this is particularly a good value given that it was mostly pasta, but the portion sizes here are ginormous + they do all come with a salad. I think they actually might rival Cheesecake Factory portions. While I do love many of the Cheesecake Factory’s pastas, there’s something about having a pasta dish at Garlic Rose that makes you feel like you’re having an authentic Italian experience. Perhaps it’s all just in the head. This would be a great place for a first date. It’s also BYOB. We, as well as every single other table, brought wine. No corking fee either. Win!
41 Main St.
Madison, NJ 07940