People in Montclair are particular about their Italian food. Everyone has their favorite place, absolutely convinced of its superiority up against countless competitors. Personally, I'm partial to Mr. Dino's, since that's what I grew up eating, always hesitant to veer away from my old favorite. Though Giotto and Fascino certainly occupy the upper echelon of Italian restaurants in the area, sometimes a little less pretension is in order for dinner.
Leone's, a Montclair mainstay, recently underwent an overhaul renovation courtesy of celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey. On Fox's Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsey stripped Leone's down to its bare bones and built it up fresh, including a revamped menu, refurbished decor and design, and a refreshed image overall.
One of the standout changes Ramsey made at Leone's was streamlining the multi-page,150-item menu down to a more manageable single page, 65-item menu. This allows Leone's to showcase their best dishes, and gives the place an overall focus which apparently it lacked pre-Ramsey.
To start, my family and I shared the calamari fritto, served with spicy tomato sauce and fresh lemons. The calamari was crispy and fresh, not at all soggy, and overall seasoned very well, and the lemon gave it a hit of freshness. We also ordered the local buratta, one of my favorite items of the night. It includes a ball of homemade, meltingly good buratta mozzarella over smokey grilled peaches, served along side peppery arugula dressed in a hazelnut vinaigrette. The balance of flavors here is perfection, and reminds me of something Jamie Oliver would compose.
As a sort of intermezzo (albeit a rich one!), we shared the funghi misti, a thin crust pizza laden with mushrooms,
talleggio cheese, and anointed with truffle oil- absolutely delicious. The rich cheese played well with the hearty mushrooms, and the truffle oil melded everything together seamlessly.
To continue the carbohydrate parade, we shared the linguini white clam, with garlic, white wine, parsley, and fresh clams, as well as the chicken parmigana, served with linguini, mozzarella, and basil oil. Both pastas were predictably good, steeped in familiar, comforting flavors and heaped into platters ample enough for two.
By the time we finished with dinner, the prospect of dessert seemed too much to bear, though the panna cotta served with berries did sound delicious even through my food coma.
Having never eaten at Leone's prior to Ramsey's culinary inquisition, I have no basis of comparison for the updates and changes, but I can attest to the overall quality of the food, and the general reaction garnered from around town. The interior certainly looks fresh, decked out in a new palate of gray, red, and black, with splashy ink-blot art on the walls and red woven lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
The food at Leone's is good. Its not out of this world, its nothing fancy, but it really hits the spot when you have a hankering for a big serving of some
hearty, traditional Italian-American style food. And as a BYOB, Leone's is the perfect place to bring a big group to sit at one of the long tables with several bottles of wine and some ample plates of food to share.