There are just some things I don't expect. For example, polishing and sorting flatware in the full dining room of a romantic Italian restaurant - with linens and a piano in the foyer. The rhythmic drop and clank of the knife into a bus tub did no service to the otherwise enjoyable soundtrack of acoustic - albeit eclectic -renditions of Stairway to Heaven, As Time Goes By, and Think of Me.
I recently had a few lunches at Palazzo, the warmly lit, comfortable Italian BYOB in the middle of Montclair, where chef and owner, John Giglio has been serving customers for fifteen years. A reliable option for dinner, Palazzo also serves a very good lunch at a reasonable price point.
The broad menu offers sandwiches, wraps, salads, soup (pasta fagioli), along with predictable Italian appetizers like calamari balsamisco, and zucchini fritti. Lunch entrees range from $10 (capellini classico) to $18 (veal scalloppini with two jumbo shrimp). In between, you'll find chicken ($14), eggplant parmigiano ($13), and tilapia piccata ($16). Daily specials, as well as a prix fixe lunch are also available.
During my first visit, our young, yet consummate waiter - the type you envision being a maître d ten years from now - was knowledgeable, charming, and attentive without being overbearing. On my second visit, however, service wasn't as timely. Water took too long to arrive, as did the opening of our wine, and the complimentary focaccia, unfortunately, didn't arrive until our meals did, creating a awkward shuffle of plates.
During one visit, we began with the mussels, though served in a flavorful broth, were a bit scrawny. Salads followed. The Caesar keeps with the "constructionist" trend, and maybe I'm getting old, because I just don't get this one. Last I checked, a Caesar is not wedge salad. Why then do kitchens continue to forget to chop up the lettuce? I don't know. The whole pieces don't take the dressing properly and it just looks unfinished.
However, the Autumn Salad ($8) with three grilled shrimp (+$6), was stellar. A plentiful heap of leafy kale, tossed in a savory lemon and roasted garlic dressing, with crispy fennel shavings and baby radishes, over slices of candied beets, then topped with an ample heap of tangy of Gorgonzola and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds, it was the best salad I've had in a over a year.
On another lunch visit, tempted as I was to order the Autumn salad, I ordered the Rigatoni Sausage ($11), made with fresh rigatoni, Tuscan beans, Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, and Roma tomatoes. I was happy I did. The broccoli rabe was crisp and verdant, while the thin slices of gently coaxed garlic flavored the broth; very satisfactory, indeed. The only demerit regarding this dish, came with the subsequent offering of cheese. Just like black pepper, cheese is better freshly grated onto pasta, not spooned and sprinkled from a bowl - even if it's a silver bowl.
Another good option is the New York ($12) sandwich with additional side of arugula salad. The sandwich, of tender filet mignon, with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, topped with Fontina, smushed into a toasted baguette, sent me back to the days of eating bar sandwiches at Don Pepe's. I look forward to enjoying it again at my next visit.
11 S Fullerton Ave.
Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone (973) 746-6778