The current statistics show that, right now, there are 13.7 million unemployed Americans. As of three weeks ago last Friday, we can now make that 13.7 million plus one.
Yes, John was laid off of his job, and with it goes our main source of income. Also with this goes our allotted dining out money. While we’re still reeling and figuring out how we’re going to handle this, I decided to look on the brighter side of things: this is the perfect opportunity to catch up on the many places we’ve eaten in the past but never had the time to blog about! I also have someone home to hold Lizzie so I can type with two hands. So today I begin this “series” by reminiscing about my mom’s birthday dinner at Mia’s in Toms River.
Mia’s labels itself “world cuisine”. While that might sound uncomfortably upscale and expensive, in reality it was gently sophisticated and moderately priced-just right for a special family gathering. Most important is the food itself, however, and Mia’s delivers simple, but creative food prepared with loving care. I recognized in the menu a mix of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, and Cajun influences; if this scares you, let me reassure you that this really does work and you will not find the whole mix in each dish (such as sushi smothered in jalapenos and jack cheese served with red gravy and a soy-ginger dipping sauce with a side of gumbo).
After sitting down, our server promptly opened and served the wine we supplied (they are BYO) and provided baskets of fresh crusty bread with olive oil for dipping. As is customary when my family dines out, we ordered a mess of appetizers to pass around. The “Dumplings” were hand-rolled lumps of joy stuffed with pork and ginger and served with a sake soy dipping sauce- you, know, pot stickers-but freshly made. The “Mozzarella En Carozza” was done a little differently; encrusted in parmesean instead of a batter, it was then deep fried and a served with both a tomato basil sauce and a maple aoli for dipping. The daily special ,”Asian Calamari”,was crispy but tender, and tossed with a slightly sweet-hot Thai-style sauce (perhaps a homemade sriracha? It was tossed fresh before serving,as the calamari was still crisp and hot from the fryer). It was hard to have just a bite of everything- I wanted to eat each dish all day long.
The unspoken rule at the “special occasion” table in my family is that we are also required to sample a bit of each from everyone’s entrees (God forbid you order the same thing as someone else; though I suppose it’s a good habit for a food blogger!). I had the “Cajun Tilapia” which was slightly crispy, spicy, moist and flaky, and even better served over fettuccine tossed with shrimp, scallops, and crab meat in a garlic butter sauce. The “Ahi Tuna” was served rare with a miso and key lime ginger glaze-simply delicious. “Aurora Chicken and Shrimp” was, of course, grilled chicken and shrimp combined with artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and tossed with penne in a vodka cream sauce (a perfectly executed vodka cream sauce, I might add). The standout, however, was a Mia signature dish that’s a favorite of my sister’s: “Country Pork Chops”. Two thick chops lightly breaded, perfectly baked and juicy, served with a Granny Smith apple and bourbon sauce-insanely good. Other dishes that looked intriguing that I will make certain land on my table next time are “Chicken Borracho” (Spanish for “Drunken Chicken”), served with mushrooms and Roma tomatoes in a garlic-lime tequila sauce, and the “Day Boat Scallops and Shrimp,” in a tomato ragout with grilled fennel and scented oils over hand made gnocchi. Sadly, I can’t talk about the desserts because we had birthday cake waiting at my parent’s house.
Also of note was our top-notch server. She was friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient, but above all the chef’s evangelist in the dining room. You could see that she truly believed in the restaurant and wanted to make your experience the best she could; her enthusiasm about the food was contagious and made the experience fun and relaxed.
My only real criticism is this: due to the tough economic times, the restaurant has recently closed their sushi bar (yes, they even had a straight-forward sushi bar!) and added a special, separate Italian menu. This was probably an attempt to appeal to the “Everyperson” and bring in more business, but this worries me. We DON’T need another restaurant serving up typical Italian-American fare (no matter HOW good it is, which seems always the case at Mia’s); moves like this tend to backfire- either in trying to please everyone you please no one, or the restaurant morphs into just another typical establishment, with nothing to distinguish itself.
If you have the means and are in the area, you might think about going to Mia’s to show your support for something a little different . Its cuisine may be slightly off the beaten path for the Toms River, but I’m sure it will appeal to every palate as good, simple food prepared with love and care always does. Otherwise, we’re just re-enforcing the South Jersey restaurant business stereotype: all anyone wants is just the “same old, same old”- why try to open anything new?
Mia’s, 1214 Route 37 West, Toms River (between Bob Kislin’s and Big Lots) (732) 929-0595
Psst: by the way, I have written a column for Hitzel’s Restaurant Magazine, Summer edition. It should be available now in a restaurant near you! -Lisa
CORRECTION: In yesterday’s story The Sweet (And Not So Sweet) Life Of Our Strawberry Weekend, I mentioned that The Sweet Life Bakery in Vineland was kosher. I was just informed by Stephen Wilson (the co-owner) that they once were, but now are not. I have made corrections to the story to reflect this. Sorry for any confusion, folks!