2014 Brought in Plenty of High-Quality Restaurants

The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

2014 Brought in Plenty of High-Quality Restaurants


New year, new restaurants. But until those new doors open and those new dishes are ready to be sampled, dine-out fans needn't worry about where to eat ... now. Many top-notch restaurants have opened in North Jersey in the past 12 months and, if you haven't yet found the time to try them, consider doing so before the new batch arrives.

The following are excerpts from the reviews of those restaurants that received at least 3 out of 4 stars by The Record's restaurant critic, Elisa Ung, and that either opened their doors in 2014 or experienced a significant change (a new chef or a new location) during the year.

CAFFE ANELLO ***

Where: 425-429 Broadway, Westwood; 201-786-8137 (reservations only); caffeanello.com.

What: Modeling themselves after restaurants in Tuscany, chef- owner John Vitale and his wife, Alissa, decided to go several steps beyond competitors. All of their dishes would feature pasta freshly made that day. Items such as mozzarella and roasted peppers would come out of their own kitchen. Vitale himself would drive to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and Jerry's in Englewood for cured meats and cheeses. And instead of relying on a restaurant supplier, Vitale would head to Kings to buy bread and fish, and buy meat from the neighborhood butcher, Westwood Prime Meats. The ribeye steak, dry- aged for at least 28 days, is carefully trimmed, a beautifully marbled match for the truffle Gorgonzola cheese and mushrooms heaped on top ($34). The meatballs ($9) had a distinctive funk. Fresh bucatini -- a long, hollow, spaghetti-like pasta -- really soaks up the sauce of the carbonara, a traditional Roman dish that Anello loads with generous amounts of garlic ($19). In a fun play on breakfast bacon, thick slabs of pancetta -- unsmoked pork belly -- get a smoky flavor from the grill and flavor from touches of maple syrup and truffle salt ($11). And the "casa di carne e formaggio," a five-item platter for $29, offers some exceptional options.

DUE *** 1/2

Where: 18 E. Ridgewood Ave., Ridgewood; 201-857-3231, dueridgewood.com.

What: Due's modern Italian theme and wood-fired grill seems to give chef Adam Weiss's food more focus. The result: dishes alive with complex flavors, without unnecessary frills. Even when they are a fairly loose interpretation of Italian, like his crab cake, paired with grilled Jersey peaches and tarted up with pickled rhubarb, white balsamic vinaigrette and caper cranberry emulsion ($16) or his smoky pork chop with a sweet strawberry-rhubarb compote and balsamic reduction ($32). His striking interpretation of gazpacho starts with Roma tomatoes and red peppers that get a startling smoky flavor on the wood grill -- the soup is mellowed out by avocado and a single wood-grilled shrimp ($13); basil and white balsamic vinegar provide the links to Italy.

JOYCE CHINESE CUISINE ***

Where: 478 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge; 201-261-8858, joycechinese.com.

What: Joyce offers good food combined with a beautiful atmosphere and a hospitable wait staff. Not to mention that it has some of the best bar snacks you'll find at any BYO -- salty roasted peanuts and pickled carrots, broccoli and celery mixed with chili oil. But don't snack too much. There is a lamb (caramelized lamb, $15.75) and a fish dish ("fresh-killed" sea bass, $31) that is not to be missed.

LAN SHENG ***

Where: 209 Paterson Ave., Wallington; 973-773-7100, lanshengnj.com.

What: Those willing to venture here will be rewarded with some dishes capable of resetting expectations about Sichuan cuisine. That braised pork dish, for example. Thick strips of pork belly, striped with creamy fat, coated in a secret brown sauce and set alongside thick buns, all of it creating an even less doctor-approved pork- belly version of Peking duck ($17.95). Other outstanding dishes included cold ribbons of ox tripe and chunks of tongue bathed in a ferocious roasted chili and peanut sauce in an $8.95 appetizer; stir- fried three-pepper chicken that had a rich, bacon-like quality ($12. …

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