Valentine’s Day is an annual occasion that is made for a memorable meal.
This year, we were looking forward to another unforgettable experience, this time at the ViVA Castle Pub at the Reading Country Club.
The castle at the Reading Country Club is one of the most beautiful and recognizable structures in the county. The towering structure overlooks one of the county’s premier golf courses just off Route 422 in Exeter Township.
We have visited the original ViVA multiple times – it’s just a short walk from our home base in Wyomissing – with mixed results. When we went for a review in 2014, it was an excellent meal.
That meal, like our Valentine’s Day reservation at the Castle Pub, was a four-course meal for two. So we had high expectations for a romantic dinner.
We arrived a little early and were seated promptly. The room was dimly lit with candles at every table – excellent ambiance, but terrible lighting for food photography.
As mentioned, our meal was four courses, including a shared flatbread, two soups or salads, two entrees and two dessert shooters.
Our meal started off well enough with a nice mushroom and arugula flatbread. Cut in fours, the flatbread was loaded with the two namesake ingredients plus chevre cheese and black truffle essence. It was enjoyable and hearty.
Things started to take a turn with course number two. I ordered the French onion soup while Julie ordered the Caesar salad.
First, the soup. While there was cheese melted over the top, it didn’t look like French onion. The cheese wasn’t bubbly enough and neither was it darkened as it should be.
Salty, filled with plenty of onions and bread chunks, it tasted fine, but nothing special.
Julie found her Caesar salad to be uninspired as well. Instead of tossing it all together, the Caesar dressing was served on the side. While it tasted fine, that’s not how you serve a traditional Caesar salad, especially when the customer is expecting a special meal.
The real disappointment came from our entrees, once we got them. Twice our waitress stopped by to apologize about how long it was taking for our meals. I would have assumed they were forgotten if not for hearing every waitress making similar apologies throughout the dining room.
How the Castle Pub is on a regular night, I can’t say. But they were definitely not on their game on this night.
I ordered the herb-encrusted chicken served with fettucine alfredo, grated Parmesan and sautéed vegetables.
What they called herb-encrusted looked more like Shake’n Bake. But it had less flavor. The entire dish was dry. I tasted no herbs in the bread-crumb coated chicken breasts. And I tasted very little alfredo in the fettucine alfredo (Julie didn’t even realize there was a sauce).
The vegetables were mostly fine, but the cherry tomatoes that were part of the dish were tossed in later so every few bites I had a cold tomato with my hot food.
Julie’s dish was better, but only by comparison. She ordered pasta ala vodka with shrimp.
The sauce was good, it was definitely more flavorful than my alfredo. But the shrimp still had tails on them so every time she wanted a taste, she had to remove the tails and mix it back into her pasta. (Not to mention, the shrimp were burnt).
At that point, the shrimp may as well have been served on the side because it had no opportunity to soak up the flavors of the sauce.
Thankfully, we had dessert coming and could end the meal on a more pleasant note. For our shooters, we went with tiramisu and key lime pie.
Both were enjoyable. The light, airy desserts were packed with flavor, especially the key lime pie. However it was essentially a pudding, and we longed for a little crust crumble to add some texture. The tiramisu was very good, but again could have used some texture.
To save room for dessert, we packed up most of our dinner to take home (though in all honesty, it’s probably not going to get eaten).
On this night, the four-course dinner was $50 per couple. If we had ordered everything ala carte, it would have been closer to $60. For the amount of food, I suppose it could be called a good deal. For the quality, I felt like we had been cheated.
We had high hopes for our Valentine’s Day meal this year. Unfortunately, sometimes a meal just doesn’t meet expectations.
Next year, we’ll just find someplace better.
ViVA Castle Pub
5311 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606