Discreet Diner | Duo Italian Bistro

Posted: August 12, 2007

The Discreet Diner looks for the quality of food, service and ambiance in judging a restaurant's star quality.

Some places have wonderful ambiance and tasteless food. Or great food and bad service.

And some places do great desserts and average entrees; others vice versa.

The Discreet Diner visited Duo in Haddonfield recently, and found the entrees very good, indeed. The place was opened Jan. 1 by brothers David and Michael Murray, a duo who grew up in Mount Laurel. Both have pastry backgrounds but, alas, the desserts here come from outside.

We decided to visit the Kings Highway establishment for lunch. It was warm and a busy day on the street because of the annual sidewalk sale.

Duo was bustling and we enjoyed the happy lunch crowd. There's an open kitchen, and we were glad to be seated nearby so we could watch the goings-on.

The menu is extensive, offering "contemporary Italian cuisine," the Web site says. There are many updated variations on old themes, such as a crab-broccoli bruschetta ($10.50) and rigatoni Bolognese ($10), whose meat sauce is simmered with olives and mushrooms.

I started with the house salad that came with my entree. It was a large plate of mixed greens served with vinaigrette on the side. (All salad dressings are served on the side here.)

My lunch companion enjoyed a cup of the creamy tomato soup ($3), an excellent selection on the warm day, despite our server's quizzical look. The soup was a very good, smooth blend, but a little bit sweet to my taste.

My entree was Tuscan Alfredo ($11), a wonderfully light blend of diced chicken, peas, corn, sun-dried tomato and prosciutto in a Romano cream sauce served over penne. It was excellent. I added a little grated cheese to top it off. I don't usually like sun-dried tomatoes because they can be tart, but these were almost sweet and combined well with the peas and corn and chicken. The cream sauce was thick enough to complement the meat and vegetables and thin enough to get inside the penne.

The chicken pear salad ($8) was my friend's entree. It was a beautifully presented large plate of romaine with poached pear, marinated grilled chicken, slices of almond, and raisins. It was served with a honey-lime vinaigrette. I liked how the flavors and textures combined, but she thought it needed something else. She seemed to enjoy it more after adding some grated cheese.

We were quite satisfied with our meals up to this point, and were eager to find out what was for dessert. So we popped the question. Our server, who had been very attentive and friendly, didn't seem prepared: "Uh, I think we have some . . . back in the fridge." We passed.

I was disappointed. And it made writing this column difficult. So I decided to go back for dinner to see what role dessert plays here.

The place was different in the evening - not as bustling and with white cloths on the tables. We were seated by the window and could look out onto Kings Highway, which really quiets down after 6 p.m.

We skipped appetizers, heading straight into the side salads, large plates of mixed greens, cucumber slices, slices of grape tomatoes and slivers of onion with balsamic vinaigrette (on the side). A basket of warm baked knots and butter came shortly thereafter.

My dinner companion ordered the ravioli classico ($15), a plate of plump ravioli filled with ricotta and Parmesan, topped with mozzarella and a blush sauce. It was beautifully presented and perfectly cheesy. I don't eat ravioli often, but this offering could change that.

I couldn't decide what to order, so I asked the waiter. He recommended salmon, shrimp scampi and chicken marsala. I settled on the chicken marsala ($15.50), an oldie but goodie. This had a twist: it was topped with sun-dried tomatoes, and served over spaghetti. I would have preferred more sauce, but the chicken was very flavorful and the vegetables added texture.

As we packed up our take-aways, the server asked whether we wanted anything else.

Dessert? The restaurant don't have a dessert menu, but it did have Snickers pie ($5.50), a smooth and nutty version of the candy bar; and Choc'late Lovin Spoon Cake ($5.50), chocolate pudding between two layers of double chocolate fudge cake. Definitely a chocolate lover's dream. No, they are not homemade. But they are both excellent desserts.

Duo may be relatively new on the scene, but it definitely has stage presence.

Discreet Diner | Duo Italian Bistro

146 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield.

Phone: 856-216-0464.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (last reservation) Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last reservation) Friday-Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. (last reservation) Sunday.

Reservations: Available.

Handicapped accessible: Yes.

Parking: On street and municipal lot.

Children's menu: Available.

Cocktails: BYOB.

On the Web: www.duoitalianbistro.com.

The Discreet Diner is a member

of the Inquirer staff and welcomes your comments. E-mail discreetdiner@phillynews.com.

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