It's been open for a few years now, but I've never had much of an interest in going to Felice in Oradell (same owners as Regina's Steakhouse in Teaneck, which serves wet-aged steak, contrary to their website's claim of dry-aged steak, and Le Jardin in Edgewater). Reports on the internet and my sixth sense for this type of thing suggested to me that this was yet another red sauce Italian-American place, and one with a liquor license ta boot (I'd rather bring my own most of the time, especially at basic mom-and-pop places).
But curiosity got the best of me the other night after spending some time on their website and looking over the menu more carefully. I figured that there's a chance they're actually serving good pasta, even though they might not be aiming for the stars. I'm happy to report that this seems to be the case.
We sat at the bar (almost always preferable) instead of the cozy looking dining room. The bar seats about 12 people or so, and more than a few people were enjoying dinner there. It's roomy and comfortable, and it's got a coupla TVs.
Most people seemed to know each other. There's definitely a locals-vibe here. This can be a bit polarizing when you're a new face, but I'm a big boy and can handle it. In fact it's sometimes nice to not know anyone, as you can just kinda sit back and take it all in. And there was plenty to take in, what with the colorful discussions of politics and family and everything you'd expect to hear at a bar full of regulars.
"Hey Jimmy, how ya doin'. Good ta see ya. How's Cheryl. The kids? Great, great. Give her my best."
"I got three days off coming up. That means I can get drunk three days in a row!"
The website has a wonderful picture of "Gamberoni e Calamari" (shrimp and calamari), which was really the impetus behind the visit. The picture shows a couple of head-on shrimp, and heads on shrimp are almost always preferable to heads not on shrimp. Unfortunately, the actual dish didn't look much like the picture. It contained a couple of headless shrimp and a good portion of calamari rings in a very tasty white wine/oil olive sauce with hot pickled peppers. The unexceptional bread was used to sop up some of the left over juice. Had the bread been exceptional, you could make a meal of out this appetizer (12 bucks).
In an effort to not waste food, and to, for once, approach a meal with some common sense as far as portions and price go, we decided to share that calamari and shrimp dish, and then share a single pasta dish. This was plenty of food for two normal-sized appetites. I think this is my new approach. This type of thing is easy to do when bar dining, because there really are no expectations on the part of the server when bar dining. Boy do I love bar dining (and people having no expectations of me).
We chose the fettuccine bolognese. The bartender offered to have the kitchen split the dish. Very accommodating. This was a fine rendition of bolognese. Not too creamy, not too meaty, not too tomatoey. The pasta was not overdone, which is so often the case. Certainly a great value at 12 dollars.
The practice of serving grated cheese from a bowl of pre-grated cheese should really be retired, at any level of restaurant (I've seen it at all levels). I can't help but think that dirt and dust will get into an open bowl, not to mention freshly-grated cheese tastes much better than pre-grated, especially if, God forbid, the restaurant is actually buying the cheese pre-grated. *shudder*
We were not very impressed with the selection of wines by the glass. The missus called them "airplane wines." They're basically the wines you get served on an airplane. The by-the-bottle list, however, had some very reasonable choices. Now, don't go expecting a huge selection of artisanal wines and first-growths. This is just a basic wine list. However, it's probably the most reasonably priced wine list that I've ever seen. The markup appeared to be about 100%. We ordered the ubiquitous (and quite decent) Antinori Santa Cristina sangiovese from Tuscany. It's a fruity plummy easy-drinking wine with some decent acidity to make your mouth water (which in turn makes your food taste better). A very reasonable weekday choice. Hell it carries its own on the weekends, too. This wine retails for about 10 dollars in NewJersey, and it sells for about 21 dollars at Felice. A bargain.
In addition to the great prices on the wines, they're apparently kept somewhere that's reasonably chilly. That is to say, they're served at what I would consider a pleasant and appropriate temperature. I'm talking about 64 degrees or so. Just perfect for me. Now, it's March and maybe they're stored in a shed out back, and that 64 degrees might turn into 84 when summer comes around. But I'm hoping that's not the case, and I doubt it is.
The bartender asked if I wanted to try the wine. This tells me that she didn't know the purpose of trying a wine (this is not the fault of the server, but rather a management/training issue - it's also way too widespread and a pet peeve of mine). The answer is obviously "yes" because you're checking, at the very least, to make sure the wine is not corked. This one was. Sending back the corked bottle turned into a 10 minute transaction, involving several servers and people sniffing the wine, inspecting the cork (why?), and making guesses as to why this might have happened ("It's cold where we store the wine, so maybe that has something to do with it"). "Do you want a different wine"? (why would I want a different wine?) I assured the bartender that it was not the restaurant's fault, and that yes I definitely wanted a bottle of the same wine.
Second bottle arrived. Presented. Perfect. Chilled. Uncomfortable transaction complete.
Every restaurant has a little sign in the restroom that reads "Employees must wash hands before returning to work." I think that every restaurant should put about the same amount of effort into wine education for their staff. In fact maybe even a sign in the restroom that reads:
"Every bottle of wine should be presented to the customer for a taste so that customer can ensure that the wine is not 'corked' - no, it's not to see if they 'like it'. 'Corked' doesn't mean that there's cork in the wine (although you should try to avoid this, if at all possible). 'Corked' means that the cork and wine is tainted with a chemical that you can't see and it makes the wine smell like your wet poodle. This happens to about 1 out of every 20 bottles of wine, so don't be surprised, and don't think the customer is "just being snobby." Just bring the bottle - and glass - to a manager if you're not sure, and then get another bottle (and glass) for the customer. It's OK, really. And you can tell your manager that he can probably even return the bottle to the distributor for a credit. I swear."
I probably wouldn't drive more than 20 minutes for a meal at Felice, as it's really not a destination spot. But it's a fine addition to the neighborhood if you're looking for some Italian-American comfort food. I probably should have tried it years ago.
Felice : 279 Kinderkamack Rd : Oradell, NJ : 201.261.9500