My Uncle Harold, an avid fisherman, maintained a particular philosophy during the years he took me on his fishing trips. If he caught something and it was alive, he ate it - no matter what kind of creature it was.
That's a little how I felt this week staring down into seafood salad, a new appetizer at La Mia Cucina in Secaucus.
Although the tentacles had been sliced up and mixed in with green and black olives, circles of calamari, lettuce and tomato, I still saw them on their surface.
Over the last few years, I developed a high regard for mussel dishes La Mia Cucina offered - sometimes stopping off for a quick dish between meetings - so I knew how fresh his seafood tended to be, and thus overcame my initial reluctance.
The salad was more than a mouthful for those who can get around the tentacles, flavored with pimento, capers, parsley garnish in an olive oil and vinegar dressing.
The $11.95 price for an appetizer was reasonable and the quantity issued would make for an easy meal for two, or serve as a cool summer appetizer for four.
The seafood salad is one of four new fish appetizers and four new seafood dishes added to the menu.
Pasquale Camporeale learned to cook as a young boy in Italy in his family kitchen. He said constant requests for more seafood items inspired him to expand the menu. Camporeale opened the doors of La Mia Cucina at its current location in 1998 and has made minor changes in his menu in the past, but the seafood additions were extremely welcome.
Along with the seafood salad, we sampled two other seafood dishes: Filet of Sole Barese with a salad side dish and Scallops Marinara over linguine.
The sauces for each dish, while usually appearing to include roasted garlic and similar spices, presented sharply different flavors. Part of the secret was the marinara sauce that flavored many of the dishes, from mussels to various pastas. The versatile sauce gave off a remarkable variety of mouth-watering flavors.
The sole's sauce used garlic, basil and Romano cheese. Camporeale said he used the cheese to thicken the sauce. The scallop sauce had a bite to it that came from an ingredient Camporeale kept secret. Both dishes provided ample helpings.
Camporeale said that he had found a new supplier for fish that provided him with a more consistent product. While La Mia Cucina's shellfish was always extremely fresh, sometimes the size varied.
Although the menu provides numerous classic Italian dishes, La Mia Cucina offers a variety of dishes from traditional to gourmet, designed to appeal to older and modern American tastes.
Along with the seafood additions to the menu that include clams in a light marinana sauce, shrimp bruschetta over linguini and the dishes we sampled, Camporeale has added a new veal scaloppini dish and chicken bruschetta dish as well.
He has also added three delight deserts, two of which are particularly unusual and amazingly favorable. The lemon cream puff provides fresh cream and lemon filling with a chocolate overlay. But the most remarkable addition to this menu is the raspberry tart - it is sweet and makes a great summer treat.
Located at 1259 Paterson Plank Rd., La Mia Cucina offers everything from antipasto to mussels marinara as appetizers, as well as traditional and alternative pasta dishes, specially ravioli, veal, poultry and seafood dishes, eggplant, and hot and cold sandwiches. q