HARRISVILLE Theres a new restaurant on the corner of Route 3 and Main Street at the gateway to downtown Harrisville.
For years, it was the Rose Garden. Now its called MonJa, with new owners, a new look and a new menu.
We were greeted heartily as we entered and seated ourselves in one of the high-back wood booths. The interior is colorfully and tastefully painted and super clean. Small TVs hang on three of the walls and are set to an unobtrusive volume.
Our sweet and pleasant waitress came over right away, brought us menus and told us the evenings special. The two-page menus are printed on colorful paper and offer lighter dining choices (munchies, soups, salads, burgers, hot and cold sandwiches) as well as dinner entrees leaning toward Italian fare.
Munchies consisted of a good number of standard fried food items. After asking our server a few questions, we decided on two starters made in-house salsa with chips ($3.49) and chicken balls ($6.99).
A modest cupful of salsa was alive with fresh ingredients tomatoes, onions, cilantro and just enough jalapeno to give it a little kick. The multicolored chips were slightly stale but complemented the salsa nevertheless.
We knew chickens dont have lips but we had to ask about MonJas chicken balls. Our server explained they are chunks of breast meat, battered in-house, deep-fried and served with a variety of sauces for dipping.
Unfortunately, someone left them in the fryer too long. Instead of being golden brown, most pieces arrived dark brown, some almost black. The chicken was all dried up. All you could taste was almost-burned breading. The chipotle sauce and fiery hot wing sauce didnt help at all.
Three large slices of soft homemade white bread were delivered. We had to ask for bread plates.
House salads came with our entrees, a very nice spring mix (although a bit limp) fortified with ringlets of red onion and crisp croutons, lightly drizzled with Italian dressing. Blue cheese crumbles were a little sparse, but at least we didnt get charged extra for them.
Although the dining room was uncomfortably chilly, our entrees arrived piping hot, which we appreciated.
We were excited to see homemade gnocchi on the menu ($11.99). The small flour and egg dumplings were a little pasty and pretty tasteless. They were doused with a generally bland red sauce. Something was missing. We tried adding grated cheese and a little salt, but that didnt help much.
A side of sweet potato fries was hot and delicious. The fries were nice and soft on the inside and crisp on the outside.
Shrimp in their jumbo shrimp Alfredo ($12.99) were anything but jumbo. That was disappointing. So was the Alfredo sauce. You could taste garlic in the white sauce, but it wasnt creamy or cheesy. Just bland.
The fettuccini noodles underneath appeared to be fresh, but they were cooked well past al dente, bordering on slimy.
A side of fresh veggies might have been fresh at one time, but the broccoli/cauliflower medley sure looked and tasted like thawed frozen veggies, bland and watery.
Rigatoni a la vodka ($11.99) was troublesome from the start. They were out of rigatoni. We were offered fettuccini as substitute, which was fine with us.
But the fettuccini was overcooked. And the pink vodka sauce (tomato sauce simmered with cream, vodka and Parmesan) that should have been alive with flavor was virtually tasteless.
A side of coleslaw was creamy and tasty, a commercial product, we assumed.
We ended the evening with three desserts: homemade vanilla cream pie ($2.99), commercially made wild berry cheesecake ($3.49) and chocolate mousse cheesecake ($3.49).
Although the cream pie was homemade, neither the filling nor the crust was as good as we had hoped. The crust was nothing special and the filling was bland.
Both cheesecakes were good, very nice flavors with good cheesecake texture. We particularly enjoyed the berry cheesecake with its swirls of macerated berries throughout.
Dinner for three at MonJas came to $62.93 before tip.
We really liked the feel of the place (although the heat could have been turned up a notch), and our server was very good. But the food, although it looked great on the plate, wasnt that great. We mused that if you can make it better yourself at home, why go out to eat?
And youre probably asking yourself, like we did, whats with that name, MonJa? Did they mean mangia, an Italian word meaning eat and spelled it wrong? We researched MonJa on the Internet and didnt come up with anything remotely having to do with food.
MonJa Restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for lunch and dinner this time of year. We were there on a Thursday after the restaurant had been closed for three days. Perhaps that was the reason the chips were stale, the rigatoni supply ran out and just one homemade dessert was offered.
But thats not really a big deal. The food has to taste good to keep people coming back. Guess we were expecting better.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
8204 Main St.
MonJa is open at the former Rose Garden location in Harrisville with new owners, a new look and a new menu. A good number of home-cooked menu items with an Italian flair.
WINTER HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Sunday
RATING: 2 forks