Route 206 between Somerville and Princeton is a wasteland when it comes to dining out. One exception was Casabona, an Italian eatery that moved farther north on Route 206 to Skillman. The opening of La Terraza in its place four months later seemed to address the area's need for a new restaurant. Unfortunately, this Spanish-style BYO eatery doesn't live up to my hopes.
Few changes have been made to the simple but attractive interior; the light tile floor, dark walls, and nicely dressed tables remain the same. Owner José Martin-Serrano, from Madrid, is both charming and accommodating. Yet while most appetizers are very good, many main courses are not.
When available, order the beef carpaccio appetizer--thin slices of beef arranged under a mound of arugula with shaved manchego cheese and a sprightly olive-oil-and-lemon dressing. The special seviche combining scallops, calamari, and shrimp, all marinated in lemon juice and cilantro, is also good. Three large shrimp grilled and arranged around a crisp rice tower and surrounded by a moat of chilled gazpacho is particularly tasty and very unusual. Two small peppers stuffed with goat cheese and smoked salmon and artfully arranged on a lattice of basil-oil-and-piquillo-pepper coulis are delicious though the filling is sloppy. Mussels and littleneck clams in a green sauce redolent of garlic, parsley, and wine are excellent, but there are too few shellfish. Oysters with a sherry-vinegar mignonette are fresh and briny, but fried calamari, though tender, is not crisp, and the accompanying tomato sauce lacks flavor.
One evening, in fact, most main courses seem to totally lack seasoning. Tilapia encrusted with polenta tastes stale and is topped with a salsa of unripe mangoes. The rack of lamb drizzled with pomegranate and honey and served with a goat-cheese flan sounds wonderful but is rendered almost inedible by a very sharp, strong sherry-vinegar mint sauce. Thick, gummy ravioli have a well-flavored lobster filling and are covered with basil-cream sauce that is delicious though not good enough to save the pasta. A special of pork medallions served with red peppers, fresh tomatoes, and spinach garnished with fried green leeks is tough. The tender and tasty medallions of veal layered with grilled eggplant, oven-dried tomatoes, and Fontina cheese in a sangría demi-glace is the best main course.
The two most disappointing dishes are the mariscada and the seafood paella, primarily because I assume they are safe bets; both contain mushy seafood that is only lightly flavored with saffron, and the half-lobster tail in both dishes is so soft it falls apart at the touch of a fork.
For dessert, the orange-flavored flan is good but a little too sweet, the almond cake with orange peel is rather dry, and the flourless chocolate tart tastes like uncooked brownie mix. An individual apple tart and a cheese-and-fruit plate are decent. --V. S.
47B State Road (Route 206 North), Princeton (609-497-2774). Lunch: Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 pm; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 pm; Sunday, 3 to 9 pm. Wheelchair access easy. American Express, MasterCard, Visa. Dinner for two averages $72.