Atlantic City, NJ - We have talked about planning a trip to Cleveland for years. It was not to see the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame or to catch a game at Progressive Field to see the Indians play. We would of course do those things, but we had a different reason for traveling to the Midwest. It was to dine at Lola, Michael Symon’s flagship restaurant.
Cleveland is also the home of most of his other restaurants such as Mabel’s BBQ, B Spot and Lolita (which unfortunately had to close due to a fire last year). We have admired the chef going back to when we read author Michael Ruhlman’s “The Soul Of A Chef”, which featured Symon’s journey at the Culinary Institute of America. Soon after establishing himself as a rock star on the Cleveland restaurant scene with his Greek-Sicilian style cooking, Michael went on to defeat renowned chef John Besh to win “The Next Iron Chef” competition, and his star soared from there. Like I said, we were ready to go. We had to try the Iron Chef’s food and see if it truly merits the praise so many have given him. We still plan on making that trip one day, but as luck would have it the James Beard award winning chef decided to open a restaurant at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
Angeline, named after his mother Angel, is a fine dining Italian-American restaurant inspired by the family recipes he grew up adoring. The modern Sicilian establishment had it’s grand opening on Saturday May 6th next to Bobby Flay Steak on the casino floor of the Borgata. We made reservations the minute they were available for Sunday May 7th and arrived eager and curious. You can see a white glowing sign with “Angeline” displayed in it’s beautiful script from far down the walkway that leads to it. We arrived earlier than our reservation so we took a look around the side of the restaurant where they have a beautiful open window to the kitchen and another overlooking the bar area. The kitchen window displays huge wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma Prosciutto hanging on hooks from above, all in front of silver pan racks stocked with sheets of fresh pasta laid out for service. Inside the bar you notice the beautiful white marble counter top both on the bar itself and the high top tables. The allure of the illuminated wooden bottle display has you wanting to grab a seat. Angeline is detailed with amazing dark brown wood and gold accents that leaves you feeling transported. The dining room manages to capture an elegance of an almost Gatsby nature while still making you feel at home in the space. In other words you feel crazy fancy but not in a bad way. You almost want to light up a cigar and go dancing.
We approached the front closer to our reservation time and was warmly greeted to Angeline. After only a few moments our table was ready and we entered the main dining room. The first thing you notice is an amazing open air kitchen, buzzing in the middle of service in front of a wood-fire grill. You can even see the Iron Chef himself, wearing his now signature short brim fedora, overseeing the kitchen. Which we have to admit was awesome. After waiting of of this time to try Michael Symon’s food, it will be a real treat to have it actually prepared by him. The center of the dining room houses a grand floral centerpiece, seriously it’s huge. We arrive at our table along the back of the dining room directly in front of an amazing walk in wine room behind a low mirror and large pane of glass. The table itself is two half booths set for four with the same white marble we saw at the bar. It was very comfortable the way it was set up, but if they were to separate all of the tables along the wall to singles it would have been quite tight.
Our server Giuseppe was wonderful. He greeted us warmly and gave a us a very knowledgeable overview of the Chef, along with the style of cuisine that was being served at Angeline. You could tell he truly enjoyed his job and was proud to represent the restaurant. He insisted that we give the Lola Cocktail ( A crisp, clean, and refreshing cocktail with vodka, lime, Ketel One Vodka, Lime Juice, Rothman Crème de Violette, and Mint $14) a try, as it is the signature drink of Symon’s flagship restaurant, so we felt compelled to do so. The cocktail was a little sweet, a little sour, and amazingly fragrant. The touch of mint makes it very refreshing.
Giuseppe walks us through the menu, explaining why certain pastas are made with egg and some are not. He does not highlight certain items of the menu because in his opinion the entire menu is special. While we appreciate the passion he displayed, that made it all the harder to choose our entrees. But one thing we knew for sure after looking into that outside window, we were ordering the Formaggi E Salumi Tasting Board ($18) to start. How could we not? The salumi display out front was mouth watering and we expected high quality product from Chef Symon. For our entrees, we happily settled on the Linguine w/ Clams and Pancetta ($28) and the Grilled Veal Chop w/ prosciutto, sage and lemon ( $48). I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty psyched about the veal chop. We also decided to order the Polenta w/ red Sauce and mascarpone ($10) and some Garlic Bread ($6). Honestly, we had to try the garlic bread. It’s fine dining garlic bread, we were curious. While we waited, seeded Italian bread was brought to the table (meant to be enjoyed w/ extra virgin olive oil which was on the table when we arrived). We enjoyed the quiet excitement of everyone enjoying their meal, some guests huddling near the open kitchen hoping to get a peek at the master chef in action.
First out to our table is the Tasting Board (seen above). It was presented on a beautiful wood grain board with the “Angeline” signature etched into it. We were presented with parmigiano reggiano, fontina, gorgonzola, prosciutto, salami, toasted Italian bread slices, and a pear and apricot mostarda. You will be hard pressed to find something as simple and satisfying as a great tasting board, and we were not disappointed with this one at all. The selections individually speak for themselves, it is the perfection of simplicity. But, I would say the perfect bite for me was a slice of the toasted Italian bread, a chunk of the nutty parmigiano reggiano with a dollop of the sweet apricot mostarda. The prosciutto was great on its own or with anything else you could likely find in the restaurant. I just want to go up front to the proscuitto slicer and hang out like a puppy waiting for scraps.
Giuseppe comes around to check on how we are enjoying our evening and notices that our Lola cocktail is now empty. He asks what he can get for us and we ask for an unsweetened iced tea. Giuseppe’s eyes lit up like we asked for a glass of sadness. “No, no, you are out for a good time. You need to enjoy yourself and relax. Drink iced tea at home or at work. Here, with linguine and clams, you need a nice glass of white wine. Sit back, relax, take your time.” I know when a server is simply trying to make a sale, but this was not that. He was genuine in his attempt to make sure every one of his tables enjoyed their meal to the fullest. You felt at home like you were having family dinner and talking to one of your old friends about the meal, which I feel is the atmosphere Angeline was aiming for. We observed similar behavior and charm from the entire waitstaff, but we highly recommend asking to be served by Giuseppe. So long story short, we were brought a nice glass of Pinot Grigio to be enjoyed with our meal which was now being brought out.
The wood-grilled bone-in Veal Chop arrived with an aroma that was satiating on its own. The chop had a gorgeous seasoned crust served frenched on the bone and plated next to a fresh grilled lemon. Perfectly cooked with just a touch of pink, the veal was melt in your mouth tender. The center was stuffed with a touch of sage and prosciutto, but the sage flavor and aroma carried throughout the entire chop. Later on when I was talking to Giuseppe about how much I enjoyed the Veal Chop, we discussed how this personified great Italian cooking. Great product, simply prepared, cooked perfectly. It is certainly easier said than done, but a dish like this reminds us why we love food. I am not embarrassed to say that near the end I picked up the remains of the veal chop and went to town on the bone. Some things are too good to leave on the plate.
The Linguine w/ clams and pancetta is a classic Italian dish that we were looking forward to trying as soon as the menu was released. The fresh pasta was spot on al dente that was lightly infused with the herbaceous briny sauce it was bathing in. Clams in the shell were nestled over the plate, (and we know we have mentioned this a lot but..)which were perfectly cooked. Not chewy, not grainy, just buttery, tender deliciousness. Crispy bits of pancetta give a pop of flavor and texture while a sprinkle of red pepper give a subtle bit of heat to the dish. This dish was a winner.
The garlic bread....ah the garlic bread. What can we say about the garlic bread other than, it was garlic bread. Perhaps our expectations were too high given our experience up to this point. I’m not sure if you can really reinvent the wheel when it comes to something as simple as this. However at a fine dining establishment such as this, maybe we expected something a bit more elevated? Don’t get us wrong, the garlic bread was fine. But it was Italian bread, butter, garlic, and parsley. We did feel it should have been toasted a bit more (We took it home and warmed it up the next day in the oven, it was better crispy). The garlic bread was by no means bad, but we would recommend trying one of Symon’s other offerings.
The Polenta w/ red sauce and mascarpone was a different story. A pillowy disk of creamy polenta is fried to get these amazing crispy edges. The disk is served with a rich almost buttery smooth tomato sauce and topped with creamy mascarpone. You gather a perfect bite of the polenta and a texture party starts on your palette. Silky smooth polenta melts while with crispy pieces on the edge contrast with the mascarpone and rich tomato sauce. The sauce by itself gives us more than enough to recommend getting the entree portion or side order of Spaghetti w/ red sauce ($22/$11) on the menu. The side dish is so decadent that it feels like you are eating a dessert, but it’s just awesome polenta. We would eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and suggest it become it’s own food group. Viva la polenta di Symon (Long live Symon’s polenta).
After we were finished with our entrees the two of us were given a dessert menu from Giuseppe and asked if either of us wanted coffee. “Do you have cappuccino?” I asked Giuseppe. “Are we not an Italian restaurant, of course we do!” Shame on me for asking I suppose. We decided to order the Strawberry Cassata Cake ($12) and get a cappuccino. The cake was the cherry on top to an already fantastic meal. Layers of moist pound cake are being held together by a rich vanilla custard frosting and sweet strawberry filling. The ends of the pound cake were crusted with crunchy toasted almonds slivers. Two slices of fresh macerated strawberry are placed on top of the cake to give it a beautiful presentation (and they were crazy delicious). We apologize for the photo as we got overzealous with how amazing the cake looked that we took a bite before taking a photo.
The wait to dine at a Michael Symon restaurant was long but worth it. The Iron Chef knocked it out of the park with Angeline and would make his Sicilian grandmother proud. The food exceeded to hype of how well the chef has a handle of cooking simple food perfectly. You are warmly greeted at the door and treated like family by every staff member you come into contact with. Giuseppe was one of the finest servers we have had the privilege to be paired with (you have a good one Chef Symon). We give a wholehearted recommendation to Angeline and feel the value of the experience is well worth the price of dining there. Congratulations to the Borgata and Michael Symon.
- Reservations highly recommended
- Located within the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ
- Call 609-317-1000 to make a reservation or go to borgata.com
Monday – 5:30pm – 10:00pm
Tuesday – CLOSED
Wednesday – 5:30pm – 10:00pm
Thursday 5:30pm – 10:00pm
Friday 5:30pm – 11:00pm
Saturday 5:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday 5:00pm – 10:00pm