Creole-Italian Fusion Leaves No Fallout.
Closed as of February 2010. Check out their Haddonfield location instead.
Last updated: 02/01/10
Original Review: 01/13/09
Melange Cafe – Cherry Hill, NJ (BYOB)
1601 Chapel Avenue
Meal: Dinner / 730p / Weekday
Price: $72 (for two – excludes tip)
Website Melange Cafe
A birthday trumps a sour economy, so it was easy to forgive cost and find a local spot for a warm, romantic dinner for two. After visiting sites from our peers and doing some good ‘ole Googling, Autumn selected the Melange Cafe in Cherry Hill. It would be my first dinner as a 30 year old, so Autumn was surely looking for something a little more special than a trip to the diner or the local pub. Melange came with rave reviews, but we’ve seen plenty of restaurants falter under the weight of their own greatness before. Chef Joe Brown sure loves to smatter his smiling photos all over the Melange website, but you’ll have to keep reading to see if I shared the same enthusiasm.
In short, the exterior of Melange is unimpressive. From the rear, you can clearly see living quarters upstairs, although I’m not certain if the downstairs dining area has always been a business venture or a conversion from a two-story home or duplex. Either way, it’s fairly easy to miss on the corner of a residential street. Parking appeared adequate given the seating capacity (which is fairly small), although the restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived. The interior, though, is significantly more attractive and although slightly aged-looking, makes for a very nice atmosphere. Reservations are recommended but in our case were entirely unnecessary. Likewise, the dress code asked for ‘dressy-casual’ although it was clearly not enforced by the restaurant (with good reason given this economy!).
One of the complaints I typically have with empty restaurants is that the service doesn’t seem to compensate for the volume of patrons. We all understand that when there’s a full house, we sacrifice service quality somewhat. All too often, though, when there’s less people? Yeah, we still get mediocre service because the staff is on cruise control. Not at Melange. We were given such attentive service it bordered on being a touch too much service. The waitresses were professional, polite, and went to every particular to make sure our needs were being met. Fresh silverware with each new course. Topping off our wine and water. Suggestions for menu choices. Even cleaning crumbs from the table – my side of the table – in between courses. No doubt about it, through virtue or through good training, the waitresses wanted us to feel completely catered to. We’ll forgive their near-continual presence at the table considering the lack of other diners at the time. In our view, we’d rather have them being heavily invested with our enjoyment than texting their friends or chatting about what was on TV last night. We ended up giving each waitress an equal and considerable tip.
The menu is categorized into simple sections for appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. Most of the appetizers are above the $10 mark, salads in the general vicinity, and entrees in the mid-to-high $20s. According to the waitress, the restaurant no longer provides lunch (presumably as a cost-saving measure). We wanted to try a little of everything, so we started with a special crab cake over hash as our appetizer along with a complimentary asiago cheese and roasted red pepper offering the restaurant provides to all guests. We were given warm, though generally average dinner rolls with as many refills as we required. The crab cake was billed as ‘filler free’ and came highly recommended by our waitresses. She certainly wasn’t lying; it was a fairly large portion (big enough to share) and was absolutely delicious. The cheese and peppers were equally enjoyable – especially spooned on the warm bread – and is one of the better ‘freebie’ appetizers you’ll get. Everything at Melange is claimed to be fresh and made to order; entrees can be ‘kicked up’ or ‘calmed down’ for spiciness, and ingredients can be added or removed per tastes or dietary concerns.
For a salad, I tried the seafood cobb variety, loaded with shrimp, calamari, crab, and mussels in addition to a healthy helping of corn, spinach, peppers, and tomatoes. It was a fairly heavy salad for sure, but was more than satisfying with an abundance of expensive seafood making it worth the $12 price tag. I needed to save some room for the main course, so I ended up finishing it for lunch the next day (and enjoying it just as much). For my main entree, I selected the pan seared tilapia, and Autumn opted for the chicken, red beans, and rice entree (sans the beans). Together, they’d set us back $40, with the $28 tilapia leading the way. Although my reviews reinforce that I am very cautious to spend this much on a single piece of fish, I will venture to say it was the best tilapia I’ve ever had. Accompanied by solid chunks of lump crabmeat over sauteed spinach, it was far superior to anything I’ve ever had before. Even Autumn, who is about as lukewarm to fish as one might be, enjoyed the fork-sized bite I shared with her. Needless to say, there was nothing left over.
With the tilapia earning such high praise, Autumn’s chicken dish had fairly big shoes to fill. It came over a bed of of sausage, peaches, brown sugar, and of course, rice, with two small biscuits and two medium-sized chicken breasts. As expected, the portion size was more than enough to overwhelm Autumn’s stomach. The chicken, perhaps not as earth-moving as my fish, was clearly to her liking and we both really enjoyed the rice mixture. Good enough to eat by itself, the generous supply of sausage in the rice mixture really gave the dish a terrific second flavor. If you’re wondering, the peaches and the brown sugar were really subtle and the entire dish was more spicy than sweet. I had a chance to finish up a couple spoonfuls of the rice mixture a day or two later and was really impressed. Add in the red beans that Autumn opted-out, and I’m sure the dish only becomes better. Surprisingly, we both thought the mini-biscuits to be on the dry side, which may really have been our only complaint about the entire meal.
We wanted to try desert, but just couldn’t find the room. Compared to the creative choices on the dinner menu, the very limited set of deserts seemed a bit out of character, but Melange is clearly a place where you’ll be more than satisfied to rack up those calories on the dinner menu.On our most recent visit, we tried two mouthwatering deserts, a chocolate souffle and a kahlua-pound cake ala’ mode. Both were absolutely outstanding, and I’m almost mad at myself for not getting desert the first (two) times around! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Although swinging their prices on a frequent basis will discourage us from visiting more often, we’re definitely going to return a few times over the coming year. We’re nervous about this kind of place given consumer spending nowadays, but hopefully some of you will get out to Melange and support what is clearly a passion for not only good food, but the dining experience as whole.
– Meticulous, friendly service
– Creative, fresh menu
– Outstanding food quality
– No lunch service
– May not be suited to accommodate larger groups
Autumn’s Score: 4.95 Chews
Guru’s Score: 4.95 Chews
Combined Score: 4.95 Chews
Subjective rating: A gem.
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