A recent girls night out brought me to Montclair for dinner. This North Jersey town has a vibrant restaurant scene and there are so few that I have been able to visit. With a recommendation from one of my friends who frequents the area we settled on going to Salute Brick Oven Bistro for dinner.
Our group arrived for a 6:00PM reservation only to be the sole inhabitants of the restaurant. Any curiosity I had about the restaurant’s ability to draw a crowd subsided as the dinner rush started to kick up quickly after our arrival. By 7PM the entire restaurant was buzzing. The interior is a nod to a rustic farmhouse you might find in the countryside of Tuscany. The menu was also a celebration of Northern Italy. So often Italian restaurants in New Jersey cook up “Americanized” Italian food, this menu had promises of what I sometimes refer to as “Real” Italian cuisine. It should not be confused that I dislike Italian American dishes; it’s just that places like this can truly transport you to Italy (and I can always use a trip there! ).
We had a long wait until the final member of our friends arrived and our small group analyzed the menu until no end. It didn’t make our food order decisions any easier. By the time we put in our orders we were salivating to try the dishes we had just poured over for 30 minutes. My first course was the charred octopus crostini with white beans, parsley, fennel, lemon and olive oil. More than anything I loved the presentation on the wooden cheeseboard but, the fresh seafood paired with savory beans and bright bursts of lemon on that crispy toast was also a delight. Creamy burrata and ruby red sweet beets were the stars of the salad special for the night and they were also a hit within our group.
In what I thought was an attempt to eat slightly healthier (and I was sorely mistaken) I went for the Zuccai for my main course. This was a baked, 20 layer zucchini dish sandwiched between layers of fontina and mozzarella and topped with a yellow pomodoro sauce. While my hopes to indulge a little less had been squandered, I was not in the least bit disappointed with what sat in front of me. The cheese was plentiful but somehow didn’t manage to overtake the crisp zucchini strips. There were flavored oils on the plate that seeped into each bite and just gave it the perfect herby zest it needed. This dish is something I would come back for again and again (If it weren’t for the fact that I want to come back to try a dozen other dishes on the menu).
The Scannapretti homemade pasta dish with beef braciole, veal meatballs, and sweet fennel sausage was the plate that won over another diner at the table. References of the meal being reminiscent of sitting in an Italian household for Sunday dinner were shared during this familiar meal. The Piccolina pizza was yet another one of our table’s main courses. I was able to sneak a taste of this one and it had a great balance of sweet, salty and sharp flavors. But in all honesty, pizza is not what I would flock to Salute for. There are too many other great selections to be had.
I could have ended after the main course and been completely and happily content with my meal. However, rumors of their graham cracker gelato’s reputation were swirling around my table and there was no way I was going to miss out. And boy….am I glad I did not! This gelato was “knock it out of the park” good. It truly captured the flavor of this classic cracker but it also had little chocolate covered bits of graham just to make it that much more exciting.
Salute will not be a one and done visit. My taste buds dance just at the thought of returning. My only wish is that it was closer to me so it could become a more regular stop. HOWEVER, according to their website they have just opened a sister restaurant, Salugo, in East Hanover which is a much more feasible location for frequent visits (insert happy dance). I will most definitely be trying out the new place in the near future!
For more information on Salute, Salugo and other sister restaurants (i.e. Fin which is, from what I hear, another showstopper) take a look at the website: http://salutebistro.com/
…all for the love of the dish