2001 James Beard Award Nominee


Restaurant Reviews

Artful Weblog

Artful Weblog

Jersey Shore


Dining Articles

The Artful Diner Artful Diner logo
Black bar
Check out ArtfulDinerBlog.com.
Princeton & Vicinity Sussex County, NJ London Munich Washington DC

8 Village Plaza
South Orange, Essex County, New Jersey
(973) 763-0391

By The Artful Diner
May 12, 2008

Since my brother-in-law and his wife live just around the corner, Antonella's seemed the perfect venue for an impromptu family get-together. He'd been raving about the place for quite some time and, besides, my wife and I are always on the prowl for little out-of-the-way spots that serve up good food at reasonable prices.

Antonella's, of course, isn't exactly out of the way. But first timers may find it somewhat difficult to access, as it is situated on the one way Village Plaza, which may only be entered from the eastbound side of South Orange Avenue -- and parking is limited. Be that as it may, this is certainly a restaurant that is worth discovering, as the welcome is warm and the Venetian-inspired Italian cuisine uniquely rewarding.

Carlo and Antonella Canziani preside over the diminutive BYOB, although there's a bit more room now that they've expanded next door. This also makes reservations easier to come by. Carlo is the power behind the stove, while his wife, Antonella, the restaurant's namesake and native of Venice, is the ever-charming hostess and is also responsible for the restaurant's delicious dessert offerings.

To start things off, the adventurous of palate inevitably gravitate toward the sardelle in saor ($8.95), a Venetian specialty. Sardine fillets are marinated in onions and vinegar, with raisins contributing a sweet counterpoint and pine nuts an unexpectedly pleasant textural dimension. A most unusual dish that is well worth trying.

At the opposite end of the appetizer spectrum, you also can't go wrong with the filetto carpaccio ($10.50), sumptuous wafer-thin slices of raw tenderloin companioned by peppery arugula and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. For a variation on the theme, you might also consider the prosciutto and Grana ($10.50), thinly sliced prosciutto teamed with irresistible Grana Padan (a cheese akin to Parmesan in both taste and texture).

Several mushroom starters are also highly recommended. Sensuous sautéed wild mushrooms recline on a pillow of perfectly seasoned polenta ($9.50), while grilled portobello mushroom caps are crowned with a combo of sun-dried tomatoes and smoked mozzarella ($9.50).

For more traditional preludes, both the fried mozzarella ($8.25) and the inordinately tender fried calamari ($9.50) are accompanied by first-rate marinara. Even a house salad of mixed greens ($6.95) benefits from an excellent balsamic vinaigrette.

Should you be considering pasta as your entrée selection, bear in mind that the papardelle al vitella arrosto ($17.50) is one of the kitchen's superlative efforts. House-made extra wide egg noodles luxuriate in rustic veal sauce that is, without doubt, the most sublime comfort cuisine it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. The sauce is awash with sautéed onions, carrots, and morsels of veal and exhibits an incomparable depth of flavor.

Coming in a close second is the house-made gnocchi ($17.50), potato dumplings that afford diners opportunity to choose their own consummatory sauce: Gorgonzola, pomodoro, or Bolognese. In my view, the Bolognese, while an excellent accompaniment for other types of pasta, is a bit too assertive for the gnocchi... The pomodoro is a safe, though not terribly exciting selection... But for an absolutely extraordinary culinary marriage, my advice is to go with the Gorgonzola. Applied full strength, of course, this is one cheese that, taste-wise at least, is strong enough to bury anything. In Mr. Canziani's capable hands, however, understated yet still remarkably lush, the sauce is as ethereal as the diminutive dumplings themselves, gently caressing rather than smothering the objects of its affection.

Fish dishes are central to Venetian cookery, and at Antonella's this particular genre is exceedingly well represented. Take the tilapia ($19.50), for example. Left to its own devices, this particular species isn't terribly exciting. In point of fact, it's rather bland and needs a good deal of sprucing up to generate any interest on the part of the palate. Here it is nicely pan seared and joined in concert by an exciting triptych of black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and capers.

Salmon, on the other hand, generates a unique flavor all its own and needs only minimal embellishment. The chef's representative, a daily special, is baked with fresh Italian herbs and splashes of lemon & white wine ($27.95) and is sublime in its simplicity.

In addition to a variety of outstanding chicken and veal possibilities, Mr. Canziani is also quite adept with beef; and both menu options are extraordinarily tender, marvelously flavorful, and well matched with their respective supporting casts. My favorite is the tenderloin teamed with bits of bacon, carrots, fennel, and potatoes in a zesty white mustard sauce ($23.50). But also not to be overlooked is the filet dressed with porcini mushrooms and finished in a brandy brown cream sauce ($23.50).

As noted above, in addition to attending to her role as hostess, Mrs. Canziani turns out some irresistible desserts ($6.95). The light ricotta cheesecake is very good... ditto the strudel with vanilla ice cream, signature bread pudding, and celestial zabaglione. And don't skip the espresso ($2.95), which is richly potent and yet another strong indicator that this restaurant knows what it's about.

In a critique of several years ago, the reviewer noted that, while the food was first-rate, the service left a good deal to be desired. I am happy to report that this particular problem has apparently been rectified, as I found the servers and bus people to be both cordial and competent in the course of discharging their respective duties.

In a desert of cookie-cutter red sauce Italian eateries, Antonella's is an innovative oasis, indeed, This casually charming BYOB is highly recommendable on all counts.

Cuisine: Northern Italian
Hours: Dinner: Tues - Sat, from 5:00 p.m.; Sun, from 3:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY (also closed Sunday during the summer months)
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Highly recommended
Parking: Street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted? E-mail Artful Diner!
Black bar
Home London Jersey Shore Munich/td>