So, this place showed up on NJ.Com’s reader poll for best Italian restaurant in New Jersey. Was going to be in the vicinity with the entire family, so gave it a shot to celebrate 22 years of wedded bliss with the teen kids in tow. Getting a reservation on a Fri/Sat night requires a commitment. You have to call exactly two weeks ahead at noon. I had it calendared, but forgot to call at noon. When I called around 1 pm, the only time slot available was for 5:30. Upon arrival two weeks later, a sign posted out front declared “Reservations Only Tonight.” The place was mostly full with tables of 2 and 4. Our party had a large, comfortable table in the rear. Was offered a tasty local brew (Angelsea Irish Red Ale) from Tuckahoe Brewery to toast my wife and her generous pour of chardonnay.
We were off to a good start when the bread basket arrived. There was a nice variety of crusty bread and a nice tasting olive oil on the table. The star of the bread basket was a stuffed concoction with broccoli rabe…outrageously good and something I would ordinarily expect to order as an appetizer. Then the owner appears with a wheel of aged parmesan perched atop a rolling bar stool. The guy is super nice, starts telling us about the cheese, explains the menu, makes some recommendations, etc. We are each given generous shavings from the wheel. Between the bread and cheese, this place is killing it so far and I haven’t yet even ordered any food.
We started our meal off with two table side preparations. The first was handmade mozzarella prepared from the curd with hot water and topped with a homemade warm ricotta. This was creamy and smooth and delicious, and the ricotta put the dish over the top. The second was the highlight of the meal … cacio e pepe. Another wheel of cheese appeared, a blow torch, some noodles and before I knew it I was chowing down on one of the better pasta dishes I’ve experienced, despite the very basic ingredients.
Mains were good, but perhaps a step down from the starters. My order of lamb chops was a generous portion and perhaps a tad closer to medium than the medium rare ordered. The accompanying potatoes were pretty terrible, but at that point I was pretty stuffed and not in need of the starch. Rest of the table ordered basic Italian American staples … linguine with clams, chicken parm, rigatoni bolognese. All very good. One kid ordered what’s got to be one of the craziest dishes around … chicken parmigiana bolognese alla vodka fra diavolo. It didn’t last long, so must have been good. We concluded with a coconut ricotta cheesecake that was superb.
All this food did not come cheap, but for the special occasion we were celebrating was worth it and the table side preparations were memorable (not just a gimmick).