Montclair offers a seemingly endless selection of restaurants, Italian ones in particular; after a while they all sort of blend together into an indistinguishable mélange of marinara sauce and meatballs. But when your palate craves something fresh and different, set your sights on Luce Italian Restaurant in Caldwell for a welcome change of pace.
An established mainstay on the Caldwell dining scene, Luce opened in 2001 by owners Joseph Capasso and Dino Vitagliano, who sought to bring the polished, contemporary dining experience of New York City to Luce.
Featuring an Italian-inspired menu, Luce serves up classic favorites with an eclectic spin. But don’t write them off as a staid bastion out of touch with other culinary inspirations. In 2011, Luce brought a new chef to their kitchen, searching high and low for the best candidate to revamp and improve their menu and image. They found the perfect fit in executive chef Steve Sarangese. Formerly of Babbo in New York City, and Vetri in Philadelphia, Sarangese brings an elevated and finely tuned style to the menu at Luce.
I knew I’d taste amazing pasta at Luce, and I was not disappointed. The homemade pappardelle pasta tossed with wild boar was tender and savory, and the ricotta gnocchi gnudi were like fluffy pillows, light as air and swathed in a buttery tomato sauce. The rock shrimp arrabiatta came crispy and light, in a kicky sauce spiked with chili flakes and roasted garlic, and the roasted garlic crostini with a white bean puree hit all the right notes.
I wasn’t expecting what came next. Crispy and perfectly golden brown duck confit served alongside burnished garlicky Brussels sprouts and creamy mashed potatoes completely blew me away. I haven’t had duck confit this good since my time at the French Culinary Institute. The seared Yellowfin tuna also impressed, served with a candied ginger sesame sauce and seasonal fiddlehead ferns.
Dessert proffered a deconstructed cannoli, with caramel tuile, homemade canola cream, and caramel sauce, and crepes layered with Nutella and vanilla ice cream.
I left Luce unbelievably full from all the delicious food, and thoroughly impressed by the quality and the breadth of dishes offered. The service is impeccable, the kitchen is on point, and the owners have a distinct and impressive vision. Make your way up Bloomfield Ave to Luce, and I promise you will be rewarded for your culinary trek out of the Montclair bubble.
115 Bloomfield Avenue
Caldwell, NJ 07006