Story by Barbara and Manos Angelakis
Photos by Manos Angelakis
484 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
Bergen County, just across the Hudson from “the city” has a number of excellent restaurants and more new chefs are opening up in the region hoping to minimize the costs associated with setting up a high-end restaurant in Manhattan.
But some of the older stalwarts are still here and doing very well.
In the prosperous enclave of Englewood Cliffs, prominently located on the corner of a residential street, is Grissini’s, a restaurant with a 23-year long history of serving exceptional Italian food. While North Jersey is known for its upscale Italian restaurants, Grissini’s is definitely a clear standout.
The large restaurant is decorated in mahogany and distressed camel colored walls, pillars ceiling and drapes. Chairs have woven cane seats and the wooden tables are spacious and well placed along one wall opposite the open kitchen. The main dining room’s terracotta tile and wide-gage wood floors complete the understated comfortable décor.
Grissini’s has a well deserved reputation for its pizza made in the prominently displayed wood burning oven, and traditional Italian staples such as meatballs and house-made pastas. But least you think Grissini serves run-of-the-mill Italian fare, think again! The food, though traditional Italian-American, was fresh, of very high quality, made to order, innovative, and handsomely presented.
There is an extensive menu of bespoke cocktails and I ordered a Lychee Martini only to be disappointed that the promised fresh lychee fruit was nowhere to be found in the drink which consisted of Double Cross Vodka, Soho lychee, mint, lemon juice and simple syrup. I was consoled when the amuse bouche of deep fried zucchini strips appeared dressed with half a lemon in a bag. I could have made a meal on these alone, just like Mama used to make: fresh, hot, crisp and delicious. By this time we had made our meal selections and ordered the seasonal special of zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and anchovies, deep fried in a tempura style coating, and the famous Grissini meatballs for appetizers. As advertised, the meatballs were light and fluffy with a wonderful meld of the flavors of beef, pork and veal, and served in a generous portion of to-die-for marinara sauce.
Moving on to the pasta primo: I ordered spaghetti alle vongole in white wine and garlic sauce and Manos ordered another special of the day, house-made pappardelle with black Italian truffles (scorzoni) shaved at table. Manos got the better of this course with wonderful fresh pasta liberally sprinkled with the mild flavored truffles in a subtle cream sauce that enhanced the delicacy of the dish and brought all elements together perfectly. My spaghetti was properly al dente but was dense compared to the lightness of the pappardelle and, while there was a large number of Manila clams, the dish lacked punch.
As a main course we ordered a whole Dover Sole shipped fresh from England. It was served in a white wine and lemon butter sauce with roast potatoes, julienne carrots, string beans and broccoli. The fish was expertly boned at table by George DeLeon, Maitre d‘. Once again the simplest presentation properly done can often be the best. The sole was simply exquisite; cooked to perfection, silky smooth and beautifully finished with the sauce.
An interesting well thought out wine list completes the restaurant’s offerings. White and red bottles from well-known producers grace the comprehensive selection, and even the by-the-glass wines are guaranteed to delight a knowledgeable dinner.
Dessert is never my favorite course but our attentive waiter Raffaele insisted we try his specialty mixed berries flambé. A combination of fresh blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and peach slices were caramelized at tableside, sprinkled with Brandy, flamed and poured over house-made vanilla ice cream. It is not the first time I have had this dessert but it was never made better than at Grissini Restaurant.
A word about the Executive Chef Giuseppe Lentini: Chef Lentini left the U.S. to return to Italy. After a couple of months he called Grissini’s owner Tony Del Gatto and stated his desire to return, to the great delight of all the loyal customers and friends of the restaurant.
Welcome back Chef Lentini and thank you for your stewardship of Grissini’s kitchen.
© October 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.