A first glance at La Veranda’s posh, manicured décor and great view of the Delaware River might have you think the Northern Italian-inspired menu is going to take a back seat to the scenery.
It doesn’t. That was apparent as soon as our waiter, Alex, showed up. A longtime fixture at the restaurant, he knows the menu inside and out, can recommend dishes with confidence and authority and knows how to turn on the charm. And he doesn’t blow smoke: If he tells you something is excellent, you can take that to the bank.
It would be easy for La Veranda to slide into stereotypical high-end Italian restaurant mode, but it avoids that pitfall by playing modern Italian adult contemporary and pop music in the restaurant — as well as paying close attention to details on the menu.
It also doesn’t hurt that the wine selection is scary-good.
The grilled calamari ($14) was a welcome diversion from the fried version of the appetizer. But it was the prosciutto, melon and cheese appetizer ($18.95) that was the harbinger of how great the meal was going to be.
The seafood dishes we tried were impeccable. The langostine, large Mediterranean shrimp ($42), were nice and meaty. You have to go at them as you would small lobster tails, which adds another level of exotic to the experience. La Veranda also restored our faith in branzino. We had a horrible experience with the fish recently, so when it appeared as a special here, we wanted to give it a shot at redemption. La Veranda’s branzino was heavenly and the presentation was half the fun. The fish is cooked whole after being rolled in salt, creating a shell around it that seals in the moisture. Alex broke through the salt shell tableside, filleted the fish, liberated the best steaming-hot, flaky portions of the meat and dressed them lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper. One bite and you know every step was worthwhile.
The one meat dish we tried at La Veranda was strong too. The Bauletto all’ Abruzzese ($22) was a delicious portion of veal stuffed with mozzarella and ham.
Pasta dishes maintained a high level of execution too. The bucatini all’ amatriciana ($15.95) made it hard for us to enjoy spaghetti from a box, as the pleasantly thick and ropey bucatini made a nice vehicle for the hearty sauce of bacon, tomatoes, pecorino cheese and hot peppers. The ziti alla vodka ($14.95) stood head and shoulders above any and all vodka sauces we’ve had in recent memory.
Usually when we have been hit with so much excellence in the entrée portion of the meal, we expect some coasting when it comes to dessert. In this case, we were wrong. La Veranda’s dessert menu brought some serious heat. We would have been happy just with the rainbow of gelato flavors on offer if it wasn’t for desserts such as banana and chocolate pie and rum cake. The pie was impressive, striking the perfect balance of flavors. The rum cake was light, moist and flavorful.
It looks like La Veranda is back at the top of its game. So if you’re looking for a place to impress the significant other with a picturesque view, an excellent meal and financial prowess on a summer night, La Veranda is the place to go.