Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

La Famiglia in Bogota

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

La Famiglia in Bogota

Article excerpt

For almost a quarter-century, the Aluotto family filled the craving for a cheesy veal parmigiana or a creamy tiramisu at their popular Italian institution La Famiglia in Bogota and its predecessor, the Bogota Italian Restaurant.

Today, those same classics are in fine form at La Famiglia, though the restaurant is under new ownership for the first time. This spring, self-taught chef Luis Leon and his family took over, keeping the moderately priced classic menu the same but adding Leon's own stable of specials.

These specials were some of the best things I tried here over two recent visits. They included an appetizer of slowly baked, meltingly soft eggplant paired with buffalo mozzarella in a roasted tomato sauce ($10) and two entrees: a tender chicken breast stuffed with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and burrata over polenta ($19), and a dish of tortolloni filled with mushrooms in a watery meat sauce that nonetheless tasted delicious ($18).

La Famiglia's new family - which includes Leon's wife, Maria, their grown children, Luigi and Lissette, and Maria's brother, Holger Cordero -- plans to eventually make some specials part of the permanent menu, while keeping all of the old favorites. Born in Ecuador, Leon once owned an Italian restaurant in Manhattan and most recently was working at an Italian restaurant called Da Noi on Staten Island, which was owned by relatives. He wanted a shorter commute from his Fort Lee home and also wanted to experience restaurant ownership again.

The Leons should consider other improvements, too, besides adding Luis' dishes to the old menu. Their La Famiglia could be vastly upgraded with more attention to details for all of the food - particularly bread, salad and the freshness of the seafood - and offering more consistently hospitable service.

The restaurant occupies a plain two-story space with a 65-seat main dining room downstairs that features bare, dark wood tables, neutral tones and big windows overlooking Main Street. The Aluottos' family photos still decorate an entrance from the small parking lot, and their names are still on the menu. But during my two visits, it wasn't always easy to get a sense of the same family warmth that had always been a hallmark of La Famiglia, which received 2.5 stars from The Record in 1999.

On a recent Friday night, two friends and I were welcomed graciously, and our waiter was helpful and attentive. But earlier in the week, service felt perfunctory, and any inquiries about the menu and specials resulted in the waiter pointing to the most expensive dishes in both categories.

As for bread and salad, one evening bread slices had been toasted on just one side - on the other, they were refrigerator-cold and doughy -- while the complimentary salads given out with entrees were heaped with too many red onions.

The menu as a whole remains moderately priced. …

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