Updated: Mar 6
On 2/12/21, some of the Vegan In NJ crew were given the opportunity to attend the Farinolio Valentine’s Dinner at the beautiful James Ward Mansion in Westfield, NJ. If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience any food from Farinolio’s restaurant, conveniently located around the corner from the James Ward Mansion, you’re truly missing out. I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t appreciate good Italian food, which feels like a staple in everyone’s diet in New Jersey, but the flavors I’ve experienced over my many times dining there have been truly unique.
First, a little about Farinolio as a restaurant. The first time we were invited there to try some of their food we were greeted by Laura, who gave us a rundown on their special style of cooking. She explained that all of their ingredients, from the flour in their breads to the oils used in their food, are imported from Tuscany to give a true authentic flavor to their dishes. She also explained they specialize in Tuscan dishes and that the same dishes prepared in the various regions of Italy all bring with them their own variations and flavors. Listening to her explain the differences between the oils alone was enough to sell me on how passionate they are about their cooking and how little I knew about olive oil. I learned that among all of their foods, they have a number of clearly labeled vegan dishes and deserts, which vary from day to day, in their prepared foods case. As well as a large assortment of fresh baked breads and pantry items like bagged uncooked pasta and various oils and vinegars. It makes it easy to grab something quick to go, or sit down with a fresh espresso and enjoy the smells of baking bread with the atmosphere of their storefront. I’ve honestly never tasted breads that felt so light and packed with flavor. Grabbing a loaf of their schiacciata and dipping it in some high end olive oil made it hard to want anything else, but I've always powered through. Everything from their sandwiches, which were all packed with flavor and very light, to their Tuscan pizzas covered in roasted vegetables and herbs left me wanting more. We’ve even grabbed salads topped with similar ingredients on days we weren’t looking for so many carbs.
On to the dinner. Once arriving at the James Ward Mansion, you're immediately put in a great mood. Walking into the large ballroom I was hit with the smells of the food pouring out of the open kitchen and the warmth the fire burning nearby in the fireplace. After checking in, we were invited to not only tour the mansion ourselves, but also observe the kitchen where the staff was starting to assemble the first course. In our current time with COVID-19 still impacting our society, it was great to see an abundance of caution being taken from the generous spacing of tables (like three in a whole ballroom) to all staff and patrons masked up when moving around. After a brief walk around we settled in at our table just outside the kitchen and enjoyed a glass of wine with some of their amazing bread and a olive oil already waiting for us at the table.
The first course was Il Tagliere Vegano, an assortment of fruits and vegetables with Italian jams and balsamic. After devouring bread, it was a nice light start to the meal. Fresh fruits and vegetables paired perfectly with the olive tapenade that came out. Following shortly after was their Hummus Mediterraneo, an amazing hummus with dried tomatoes and capers. What was left of the fresh veggies helped us make quick work of the hummus, which is one of my favorite foods, so I was excited for this start to the meal.
Next served was the Dulce Amoro, roasted radicchio with caramelized pear and pomegranate on top of some of their amazing toasted bread. There was an amazing buttery flavor which gave a little saltiness to balance out the sweetness of the pear and pomegranate. The pear was so tender it almost crumbled. I was sad when this was gone. I savored every bite while looking forward to the next course, who’s smell was already pouring out of the kitchen.
As a palate cleanser before the main course we were served the Sicilia In Boca, a salad of fresh greens with fennel and orange. It had a light dressing and the orange popped to offset the fennel. I personally don’t care for fennel, as it reminds me of black licorice which I despise, but this was the first time in my life I actually didn’t mind it and enjoyed every bite.
The next course, which was my favorite of the night, was the La Pasta, artisanal penne pasta with a fresh tomato sauce, lemon zest and basil. The sauce had a creaminess to it that stuck beautifully to every bite, but the basil was the star of the show. I love fresh basil and it was finely chopped and all throughout the sauce. The lemon zest added a nice pop of acidity and freshness to make it perfectly balanced. I won’t tell you how many times I said yes when offered additional servings because it’s embarrassing.
After the heavy previous course, mostly due to me being greedy and indulging extra servings, we enjoyed the La Grigliata, an assortment of fresh roasted vegetables with garlic, herbs and olive oil. This was incredible. While the garlic cloves weren’t present on the platter the flavor they imparted to everything was present in every bite. Roasted cabbage, red onions, Brussels sprouts, red peppers and zucchini were all available and were perfectly fork tender. I genuinely love roasted vegetables when prepared correctly, and these had so much flavor that I found myself wanting more.