A good meal is always better enjoyed in comfortable environs. Salute, Montclair’s one year-old restaurant that specializes in “Italian Countryside Cuisine” embodies that belief.
Last week, I attended a family dinner at Salute. The restaurant is filled with rustic décor; the walls, the fixtures, and the earth tones speak to an era past. The cavernous dining room is suitable for a romantic diner, yet welcoming to families. Gerry Cerrigone, along with co-owner Robert Gaccione, has mastered the delicate balance of kind familiarity. In the mind of this food blogger, who also happens to be the mother of a five and six-year-old, this is gold.
But on to the food: my family, comprised of foodies and non-foodies, began with polipo (octopus). It took some coercing on my behalf to convince my family to try octopus, but when the polipo arrived, charred, fork tender, tasty, and accompanied by fingerling potatoes, olives, and beans, they couldn’t help but agree it was delicious. I loved it, as did my kids, and my (older-than-me) step-kids!
Then, the safe bet arrived at the table, Arancino. A pear-shaped, traditional rice ball, accompanied by a not so traditional “aurora sauce” with peas. My son-in-law loved it, but I was dubious, having had many dry and flavorless rice balls in the past. I took a fork full of the fluffy, flavorful rice. “Oh,” I thought, “that’s good.” It was darn good!
Then came my favorite part of the meal. A swoon-worthy app I now make at home as a late night snack - crostini with melted Taleggio, topped with thin slices of seasonal pear and white truffle oil. I could conceivably sit at Salute’s bar with a nice bottle of wine, my husband, and these crostini, and snack all night. Trust me, it’s a must have.
We then dined on two of Salute’s finest pizza’s: the Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, and the Trifolati, with shiitake & porcini, truffle oil, butcher peppercorn. Trifolati is robust, earthy flavors. Being the food philanderer I am, I fell in love with Trifolati too. If I were not lactose intolerant, I may have declared it my true love.
Now, to the entrees. The “Garganelli,” a house made pasta, with veal meatball, pork braciole, and sweet and spicy sausage. The veal meatball was very juicy, moist, and tender, showing a nice touch of fennel. And the brasciole, far better than the one I make, was flavorful and more than anything, soft. That’s saying something. After all the brasciole I’ve eaten, I’ve never had one so fork tender.
My son-in-law (a non-foodie) ordered the special Cornish game hen. Good choice, I thought. I would have ordered the same if seared scallops weren’t offered as a special as well. The scallops were fresh, buttery, crisply, softly, melt-in-the-mouth(ly) delish! Nicely caramelized crust accompanied by forbidden rice. Finally, Mr. Hot ordered a delicious pork chop stuffed with prosciutto and Fontina cheese, accompanied by a side of asparagus and mushrooms.
Following my scallops, and the previous phenomenal apps, I was well satisfied. But like a trooper, on to dessert! A special chocolate, mouse, was offered. Decadent and rich. I went out on a seasonal limb with the pumpkin cake accompanied by pistachio gelato. The pumpkin cake was the recipe of the pastry chef’s mother, which she delicately tweaked and created a soft, fall friendly cake. For me, it was the perfect final note. Not too sweet, not too understated. But mellow, and well executed. Nicely done, pastry chef!
And nicely done, Salute! A great meal indeed, in a great, comfortable, unpretentious, yet tasteful atmosphere, that makes you feel like part of the family. Perhaps it’s the open kitchen, or the chalkboards, or food, or a combination of all of those. But well done, indeed!
173 Glenridge Avenue
Montclair, NJ 07042