8 Village Plaza
South Orange, Essex County, New Jersey
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
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
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
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
Reservations: Highly recommended
Parking: Street parking
Handicapped Accessible: Yes