Hamlet – January 2013 (dt)
6.00 – 7, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5.75, 5.75, 5.5
* - see after review

DP8: the next generation, Part 2
2013’s first visit found us close to home – the fourth incarnation of a familiar spot: Hamlet (aka as Hamlet Food at Freehold House), at the same structure that served Freehold Country Inn, Freehold House, and Green Dish, all within the ten years that Dinner Party of Eight has reconnoitered.
          So, it was with an air of anticipation, and relief (it had been shuttered a couple of years), that we entered Hamlet, hoping it will become a worthy mainstay at Freehold’s four corners.
          The menu is a short list, for now, with promises that a newer one will be forthcoming, soon. We chose from two soups, four salads, three other appetizers; three chicken entrées, two steaks, two seafood/fish, two pastas, two burgers, and two sandwiches. Many of the main dishes came with Shakespearean monikers (Macbeth, Macduff, Falstaff, and a bunch more, thus leading to the restaurant’s name). I think a owner/chef who can bring some literary influence with culinary excellence is certainly welcome in town.
          Our entrée selections included:
===> shrimp bisque, a creamy base with shredded shrimp (Tim: fair; Chay: average; Don: average, would have liked some chunks; all: tepid, and sent it back for warming up)
===> garden salad, a large bowl with greens, tomatoes, carrot, and bountiful mushrooms (Deb T, Kriss: all, a worthy salad)
===> Greek salad, the usual with plenty of feta (Judy, Deb K, Ken: another worthy salad)
     All the salad dressings came in miniature pitchers, a cute ploy but a little cluttery at meal’s end.

===> “Sir Toby” Delmonico steak (Chay: a good steak)
===> “Rosencrantz” Reuben sandwich (Deb K: a tasty sandwich; liked the sweet potato fries)
===> “Beatrice” chicken breast in a lime-ginger light sauce; angle hair pasta: (Tim: good start but much too dry pasta; Deb T: good, liked the sauce flavor)
===> “Ariel” angel hair pasta with sautéed fresh vegetables (Don, Kriss, Ken: all thought a good start but pasta felt dry; all thought it bland, needing a “kick” from a spice, seasoning, or sauce; Ken had the good sense to wet it with oil dressing)
===> “Caliban” salmon, with couscous (Judy: salmon was good and fresh but bland without some “kick”; combined with a dry couscous – a very bland, dry meal)
     The vegetable of the night was zucchini – liked by some, dismissed by one as the “cheap vegetable.”

          The dessert list almost does not exist, at least on paper. In reality, two cheesecakes, a home-made apple pie and a hunt for ice cream comprised our choices for the night (read by Tara). Tim sipped his Frangelica, Chay his Sambuca, while the others:
===> apple pie (Deb T: a tasty, homemade pie; Ken: good, made better with ice cream)
===> vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup (Kriss: a generous portion and good, even if simple)
===> peppermint cheesecake (Don: OK, in the absence of chocolate)
===> dolce cheesecake (Deb K: good)
===> none for Judy (to Kriss’ amazement)

The consensus: our dining experience had good elements but that several steps are needed so we would whole-heartedly want to come back and/or to recommend it to friends.
          Service was a mix; Tara was the excellent part of it. She was attentive, conscientious, good-humored, a good listener to our comments and complaints, and unobtrusively observant. And there was a multi-faceted exchange with Ken about the “attack broccoli” that was transformed adeptly by Tara. She proved to be a confident bubbly-cork popper, and a steady supplier of Ken’s coffee – no mean feat! Nice job, Tara.
          Water was filled often. Plates were removed haphazardly and perhaps a bit too casually. Perhaps it was the position of our table in the corner that promoted passing plates down to the end but it got tiring, and then annoying, to do so. Any needed silverware was plopped on the end of the table, and Tim and Chay passed it down the line. (As for water, even though Hamlet has had only a month’s experience here, DP8 has complained about the water’s taste for ten years, and it hasn’t improved.)
          Ambiance. We have dined at this site a number of times and know the place well – the locally made tables, solid chairs, wood flooring, a cozy fireplace on the west wall, a ring of windows, faux Tiffany glass lamps hanging over the tables. Despite the familiarity, it still felt a little bare, just like the lack of electrical box ceiling covers for the lamps, or lack of decoration, but, it is still early.
          Although we decry the soulless white-square acoustic tiles, we were able to hear everyone’s conversation, even in mid-low levels, a very welcome happenstance for our aging ears, and ears that don’t tolerate competing background noise. So, keep the tiles.
          And it was reassuring to see most of the tables filled.
          The wine list is of surprising, and welcome, variety for most area restaurants, especially one just starting. We ordered a bottle of Complices de Loire 2009 St. Nicolas de Bourgueil (reminiscent for the France travelers); Menguante Cariñena Garnacha 2007 Seleccion; and a celebratory Brut Rosé (winery not ascertained).
          The bill, per couple, came to $95 ($85 without the sparkling), including tax, tip, and drinks.
          Pacing, well, pacing was long, but, for a change, we liked it. We arrived just after 7 p.m., left just before 10, but still felt the timing was harmonious for us, a similar time span that usually has fingernails tapping, no matter how many times we say we like long dinners. We arrived fifteen minutes later on purpose (for Ken & Kriss), delayed our drink order just long enough coincide with the Monteverds’s arrival. Even though the appetizers/salads arrived a speck later than liked, and the entrées perhaps arriving a speck late, DP8 had so much to talk about that no comment about timing was made.

We wish Hamlet the best, liked many parts of our experience, will try to help out in the near future, and hope that a few upgrades are made. Good luck, Lance.

Our dinner date was fraught with possible emergencies. One, Deb’s mother’s operation went smoothly and Deb made it back home in time to set the spread at the Teator residence.
          So, over a plate of shrimp and sauce, cheese and crackers, salsa & taboule accompanied by tostito cups, and a vegetable tray with dip, we continued on our way.
         Drinks included Mercedes Eguren 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon; L’ostal Cazes 2007 La Laviniere Grand Vin (many oohs and ahhs following the CS); and Dr. Loosen Dr L Riesling 2011; and a beer.
         The second possible emergency situation was also averted as the Monteverds, who missed the pre-session (for good reason, we agreed), squeezed themselves back into Freehold only a half-hour late. The six of us were mighty glad to see them.
          And, the healthy delivery of daughter Jen and Matt’s first child (first grandchild on the Monteverd side!) was the topic of the evening. TJ (Tyler John) proudly entered the world, January 12, 2013 at just after 10 a.m. We are awaiting the transformation of gruff granddad to mush, a process that might take a few days.
          Another topic was Deb T’s adventures – the tending to parents’ needs during her mother’s hospital stay.
          Then, there was Ken’s retirement, effective just a week ago.
          And then the wintering plans, with the ... leaving soon for places south and west, to be followed later in the month by the ... for places south, and with the Teators wintering in Freehold, and, then,… in a cruel twist, Ken took a vote to see who did not have to go to work on Monday, resulting in two sad faces of the two workers left.
          The other news, the small bits that were not crowded out by these big three, included Tim’s good medical news (ok, “good” is relative for Tim), the other grandchildren, Nathan’s second-story addition, Christmas and New Year’s Eve wrap-up, football post-season, finding subs during the travelers’ time away, weather, Ken’s replacement at work, and more.

* Subsequent visits have shown improvements in all the areas noted above. Physical improvements have been made, and we've tried a couple of the additions to the menu, especially the desserts. As noted before, food is worthy and Hamlet is a good fit for Freehold.