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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Nanni Ristorante
53 West Passaic Street
Rochelle Park, Bergen County, New Jersey
(201) 843-1250

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
June 10, 2002

You enter Nanni Ristorante and step back in time. You have just been transported to a gastronomic galaxy far, far away -- where dining is once again a sumptuously satisfying experience... where waiters are proud of their honored profession and excellent service is the rule rather than the exception... where handcrafted cuisine is lovingly prepared and impressively presented in the Old World tradition -- and it is a marvelous feeling, indeed!

Your first port-of-call will undoubtedly be the cozy bar, which is separated from the main dining area by a magnificent etched-glass wall depicting the goddess of the sea. Here you may indulge in your favorite liquid libation and enjoy a bit of spirited conversation with the bartender, a most gregarious fellow, who is more than willing to share some of the interesting history of the elegant fifteen-year-old eatery... along with an occasional complimentary plate of crusty Italian bread, salami, and chunks of Parmesan cheese.

The reason for the phenomenal success here is most certainly due to the professional team at the helm. Chef Paolo Gilberto and maître d's Lino Queirolo and Manny Moreira -- all veterans of the dearly departed Archer's in Fort Lee -- purchased Nanni's very early on and have kept the establishment at the top of its game ever since. There is simply no substitute for experience... and that includes the salad and pasta makers, the bartender, and many members of the wait staff, all of whom have been on board almost from the opening bell.

You are escorted to table and take in the stylish décor -- crystal chandeliers, depictions of modern art adorning the light green walls, comfortably cushioned chairs, green & white napery, and fresh flowers in diminutive handmade ceramic vases -- and realize immediately that these are surroundings conducive to both fine dining and intimate conversation. And your tuxedoed waiter, who strikes you as pleasant and personable -- and not entirely without humor -- only sustains this initial impression.

He recites the not insignificant number of daily specials with a sure and steady cadence and, when asked a pertinent question regarding ingredients or preparation, responds to your query with the adroitness of a highly skilled culinary surgeon. What is more -- unlike less experienced representatives of the illustrious food service industry, who blab that everything is "wonderful" and expect you to swallow it -- he is delightfully opinionated. An arched eyebrow here, a gentle shrug of the shoulders there, a dismissive wave of the hand, a thoughtful clearing of the throat, the almost imperceptible genesis of a smile about the corners of the mouth... his body language is worth a thousand words, and it is more than sufficient to discern his preferences and predilections... and I guarantee that he will not lead you astray.

The starters listed on the printed menu round up most of the usual suspects -- clams casino and oreganata (both $9.95), steamed mussels in white wine or tomato sauce ($8.95), pasta e fagioli ($6.50) Caesar salad ($10.00), etc., etc. -- all of which are quite excellent. The daily specials, however, most clearly demonstrate the chef's magic touch... and it is here that your waiter's recommendations become invaluable.

You would do well to begin with a thick thread of grilled sweet Italian sausage set on a beautiful bed of sautéed brocoletti de rape replete with roasted cloves of garlic ($9.95) The sausage is wonderfully moist and succulent, and the rape, which can often be excessively bitter and chewy, is tender and bursting with flavor. Another commendable appetizer is the one-half sweet red pepper stuffed with a combo of chopped green & black olives, breadcrumbs, and Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses ($7.95). It is then baked and sent forth swimming in a savory sea of marinara.

Pasta preludes should also not be overlooked. Recently encountered, for example, was a special of linguine tossed with baby shrimp, bay scallops, asparagus, and chopped tomato ($9.95). An exemplary amalgam... and made even more palatable through the intercessions of a subtle but seductive tomato broth.

The only semi-disappointment among the appetizers proved to be the special lentil soup ($5.00). While this particular pottage was sufficiently hale-'n'-hardy and awash with diced celery, onions, and carrots, it was still a trifle on the bland side. A touch more seasoning and a splash of vinegar would have proved most welcome ameliorating influences.

Like all that has gone before, entrées rely upon time-honored traditions rather than eye-catching innovations... and this is especially true of matters piscatorial, which hold a prominent place on both the printed menu and among the daily specials. The Boston scrod ($19.95), for instance, is grilled and then topped with chopped tomatoes and breadcrumbs. This is a presentation that is profound in its simplicity... and simply delicious. The same may be said for the special tuna ($23.95) that is grilled to a perfect medium rare and then topped with chopped tomatoes and garlic and finished in the oven.

As you might suspect, veal dishes are also quite excellent here. The veal scaloppine ($21.95) is sautéed in a delicate white wine sauce and topped with mozzarella and chopped tomatoes. The beautiful medallions are fork-tender and literally melt in your mouth. Seldom have I sampled such an exquisite presentation of this particular dish. And for those with more prodigious appetites, the Costoletta alla Nanni ($26.95), a thick and savory veal chop stuffed with Swiss cheese and prosciutto and topped with sautéed porcini mushrooms, will surely not disappoint.

As in most Italian restaurants, sweet endings form an uneasy culinary confederacy between run-of-the-mill imports -- spumoni & tortoni ($4.75), tartufo ($6.50), etc. -- and those made on the premises. Needless to say, the latter are infinitely preferable. And topping my list of recommendations is a superlative tiramisu ($6.95), Kahlúa-infused ladyfingers caressed by mascarpone cheese and homemade zabaglione presented in a lovely dessert goblet. Silken of texture and intensely flavorful, this refined rendition is in a class by itself. Also approaching benchmark status is an exceptional ricotta cheesecake ($5.50) served with a dollop of whipped cream and band of fresh raspberries. And the ripe and succulent seasonal mixed berries (market price) are always an appropriate closure to your evening at table.

No matter what the occasion, you will find Nanni Ristorante to be an exceptionally pleasurable dining experience. The cuisine is delightfully Old World without being distressingly old-fashioned; the décor is elegant without being ostentatious; and the service is completely professional without degenerating into stuffy obsequiousness. Buon Appetito!

Cuisine: Northern Italian
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 2:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Smart casual
Smoking: Smoking is permitted in the bar only.
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Valet
Alcohol: License
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.nanni.com

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.

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