Let's say you're looking to impress someone with a nice Valentine's Day dinner in a venue that in and of itself is impressive.
You'd have to go some distance to beat the hilltop Hotel Hershey, a four-star historic landmark built in the 1930s, expanded in 2009 and widely revered as a Central PA destination for all sorts of special occasions.
And while its renowned Circular Dining Room can be intimidating in price and plushiness, there is an alternative.
Among the hotel's newest additions is the contemporary Italian eatery Trevi 5, just off the Fountain Lobby in what, until last spring, was the hotel's Fountain Café.
Its ambiance remains largely as it was, which is to say bright, noisy, open and full of color with an atmosphere far less formal than in the dining room.
It offers the grandiosity of a world-class setting without the starched, decorous demeanor such settings often include.
There's a short bar at one end of the room, large and interesting wall art, and unusual and colorful-to-the-point-of-festive chandeliers.
Now maybe you're thinking, yeah, well, that doesn't sound like a perfect place for a romantic Valentine's Day dinner. But here's the thing: There is no more romantic food than Mediterranean cuisine, and Trevi 5 has some nooks and crannies and some booths, so just ask for a table somewhat out of the way.
The restaurant is named for Rome's famous Trevi Fountain, whose central figure is Neptune, god of the sea, which suggested to me that seafood would be my entree. The "5" is in the title because Chef Laura Simpson stresses relatively simple dishes combining five flavors or ingredients.
The menu is not large, which is always a good sign. (Multiple-page menus usually mean not everything is prepared when ordered.) There are lovely appetizers, small pizzas, an intriguing cheese and meats course, salads, pastas, meat entrees and, of course, seafood.
Price is entirely up to diners, always a welcome option. A couple can enjoy small plates or pizzas and drinks (very well-made, by the way) and escape with a small bill; or run the gauntlet and pay the price for upscale dining out.
Let's look at the choices.
Appetizers include an inventive prosciutto and lentil soup with candied chestnuts ($6), polenta fried shrimp with marinara sauce ($8) and grilled calamari with saffron aioli and spicy pepper rings ($7).
This last was delicious, a nice-size portion, the highlight of my meal, and a welcome departure from fried calamari, too often offered everywhere.
Lighter appetizers were eggplant caponata with crusty bread ($6) and lemon-rosemary olives (also $6, and great with cocktails).
Pizzas, $12 to $14, include a prosciutto pie with figs, Gorgonzola cheese and arugula; a roasted mushrooms pie with truffle oil and oregano, and a margherita pie with mozzarella and basil.
The cheese and meats make up a separate course, and diners can choose three, five or eight tastings, priced at $14, $18 and $25. Since the hotel is known for its wine cellar, this feature has to be a hit with the wine-and-cheese crowd.
Among selections were Sapore del Piave, a nutty cheese from Veneto, and Raschera DOP, a semi-soft cheese from Piedmont. Meats in the course were sopressata, a wonderful garlicky aged and peppery salami from southern Italy (if you've not tried it, do so), and more common choices such as prosciutto, mortadella and capicola.
Salad options include a Caesar with white anchovy ($7) and roasted beets with asparagus served with goat cheese, pistachios and pancetta ($10).
You see how even a tight menu offers lots of food before one gets to entrees, or provides enough to fill one up even without an entree.
But to the main dishes.
Pastas, $16 to $20, include house-made tagliatelle with grilled chicken, mushrooms, arugula and a cream sauce; five-cheese manicotti; house-made potato gnocchi with sweet Italian sausage; and penne bolognese, which drew wide praise at my table for freshness and for taste.
Fish and meat entrees, $25 to $35, come with a choice of two sides (contorni). There's excellent broccolini, pancetta- and truffle-roasted Brussels sprouts, prosciutto-shank-braised heirloom beans and more.
Whole grilled fish-of-the-day is market-priced. There are three other seafood choices: a grilled shrimp and scallop dish (also highly praised), a swordfish steak and a barramundi, a mild bass, served whole and grilled through.
I had the last. It was very good, though some deboning would have been nice.
Meat entrees include a rib-eye steak, a filet, tenderloin of local pork, a whole baby chicken and lamp chops. The chops are Colorado-raised, double thick, a 14-ounce serving. They are very tasty but very rich, and priced at $35.
There are, of course, desserts of gelato and tiramisú and things made with chocolate. There's French-press coffee and espresso, and all of it is good.
Service tended to be intrusive and overly anxious for our table to order at a time when we sought to relax. Not good. But complimentary valet parking is good. As is the atmosphere of the whole hotel and the quality of the food served in it.
Trevi 5 is a way to enjoy these "goods" without breaking the bank.
The Hotel Hershey
100 Hotel Road
Italian grill; full bar; takes major cards; serves lunch and dinner daily; casual dress OK; takes reservations during non-summer months
Published in Phantom Diner
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