Then again … maybe it is. Those of us who have been brought up in America view “Italian food” differently than authentic Italian. While we think of meatballs and spaghetti, authentic Italian celebrates tortellini and agnolotti. When we think of an Italian sandwich, we think of “heroes” or “subs,” but authentic Italian is an assortment of meat- and vegetable-filled panini served from street-side stalls. And even though American Italian has come a long way recently, most “Italian” restaurants in the U.S. are more concerned with quantity over quality, and the usual chicken parmigiana, manicotti and ravioli.
So now comes Saluté (http://www.salutebistro.com/home.html), which we’ve reviewed here before, but which we simply cannot get enough of. A recent dinner, and more recent lunch, turned up the intensity and flavor on a range of new, original and exciting appetizers and entrées.
The newest mozzarella on the block is burrata, the creamy, irresistible mozzarella mixed with marscapone cheese. Saluté serves it as an appetizer on a bed of arugula, surrounded by speck (prosciutto-like ham), dotted with blistered baby orange tomatoes on-the-vine and crowned with a magnificent dressing. Big enough to share for two, it could be an entrée for one, when accompanied by warm Semolina bread that is put on your table when you arrive. (You can also order a burrat-filled ravioli as an entrée. Pure decadence in a little pocket.
Salads are original and memorable. The beet terrine — alternate layers of tender yellow and red beets and goat cheese — accompanied by spiced walnuts, cippolini (baby onions) in a balsamic reduction, three magnificently grilled shrimp and a perfectly-seasoned mound of watercress — rivaled anything we’ve eaten in the finest, hip New York restaurants.
Entrées are generous but not overbearing. An organic half-chicken is roasted to perfection and served with a savory combination of shitake mushrooms and peas. A pasta bologonese, deep, reminiscent of a rich red Barolo, was a heavenly bowl of a fettucine-like spaghettini dotted with pieces of rich meat and fennel sausage. (Whole wheat and gluten-free pasta is available on request.)
Do not by any means skip the pizza. The “Rustica” features eggplant … it is perfectly portioned for a shared appetizer, and truly memorable in taste and texture.
For dessert, we sampled the apple crostada, redolent with cinnamon, raisins and butter, and graced with caramel ice cream, and salt caramel flakes. A taste delight that lives on far after the joy of eating it.
Bravo, Jerry Cerrignone, chef and partner, for your creativity, your blending of flavors and taste, and for taking authentic Italian to our little corner of New Jersey. My grandmother would definitely approve.