A Taste of Acappello

by Elizabeth Palmer Starnes

If you dined at Sesame, the Chinese restaurant formerly located near the Wellmont Theater on Bloomfield Avenue, you would recall the space as dark, dimly lit, and sparsely occupied. But over a laborious and intensive ten-month renovation, the old Sesame space has been transformed into a bright, beautiful, multi-level space, that now houses Acappello.

The venue now boasts four separate dining levels, each adorned with a full wall mural done by a local artist reflecting the Italian influence throughout the restaurant and menu. The murals are gorgeous and really make the space feel special. Big booths flank the front of the restaurant, with huge windows across the façade, making the restaurant feel spacious and bright.

Run by a family of restaurant owners, Acappello joins four other restaurants run by the same partners, who all grew up together and share the same love of quality food, local ingredients, and seasonal menus. Acappello presents classical Italian dishes in an elegant, fresh way, offering a more graceful alternative to the Italian pizzeria style restaurants on every block in town. Ben, the owner of Acappello vacillated on whether or not to use white tablecloths in the restaurant, worried potential patrons might find it too stuffy. But the vibe in Acappello reads decidedly unstuffy, and entirely welcoming. Aside from the beautiful interior, the food at Acappello really speaks for itself. Homemade pasta, fresh seasonal produce, and local ingredients stand as the cornerstones of the menu.

When you are seated at your table, a spread of delicious antipasti comes out right away to get your meal started. Fresh baked bread, garlicky fried zucchini, bruschetta, and generous chunks of Parmigianino Reggiano cheese pique your appetite for what’s to come.  For my tasting at Acappello, each of the owners suggested their favorite items for me to try, with lots of overlap and unanimous favorites among them. To start, I had the shrimp Acappello, sautéed in a ginger honey sauce with shiitake mushrooms, which was a stand out item among Italian classics. I also tried the eggplant rollatini, stuffed with Fontina cheese and Prosciutto de Parma, and served in a pink vodka sauce. The shrimp Gorgonzola rounded out my appetizers lightly breaded and drizzled in a Gorgonzola sauce. For my salad course, I tasted the pear salad, served with endive, walnuts, and gorgonzola cheese and tossed in a hazelnut vinaigrette, as well as the spinach salad, tossed with bacon and wild mushrooms, sure to please even those with an aversion to vegetables.

For my main course, I started with the Fettuccine Cara Mia, the unparalleled favorite menu item across the board. It did not disappoint, and I nearly cleaned my plate of the delicious pasta tossed with jumbo lump crab meat, shrimp, shallots, diced tomato, chili flakes, and a creamy garlic white wine sauce. The flavors in this dish work perfectly together, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. The sauce was balanced and not too creamy, allowing you to taste the bright flavors of the seafood and vegetables. I also enjoyed another pasta specialty; the rich and decadent ravioli porcini, with shiitake and cremini mushrooms, all swathed in a velvety truffle cream sauce. The truffle oil in this dish is like liquid gold, and definitely not one to be missed. To round out my entre tasting, I tried another house favorite, the grilled salmon stuffed with zucchini, roasted peppers, and eggplant, served over a bed of whipped potatoes and a light basil sauce, and topped with deliciously crispy fried leeks. The fresh vegetables balance perfectly with the creamy potatoes, and the zingy basil sauce brings everything together.

With still dessert to go, I contemplated skipping out of this part of the tasting because I was so full from all the delicious food. But the menu made it hard to walk away, let alone decide on just one. I would have been happy with any, or all, of the options. At the suggestion of my served, I ordered the chocolate chip cookie cake, served with mint chocolate chip gelato. This is easily one of my favorite desserts I’ve ever had. The cake resembles the perfectly under-baked cookie, with a gooey center and melting chocolate chips throughout. The gelato takes the cake as some of the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I’ve tasted, and pairs perfectly with the cake, melting together into deliciousness.

*credit Melody KettleEveryone else dining at Acappello while I was there seemed equally pleased with their food. The man at the table next to me exclaimed that he’d “give up his soul to the devil” for the bowl of pasta he was served. If the incredible food, beautiful interior, and jovial, enthusiastic owners and staff aren’t enough to bring you to Acappello, then the wine and liquor store they just opened attached to the restaurant certainly will. The perfect solution to all the BYOB restaurants in the area, the store specializes in wines but also carries alcohol, and plans to host holiday tasting events throughout the season. Acappello has already garnered a following since its opening in October, and I imagine this following will only grow as Montclair discovers what an incredible restaurant it is.  

Have you been to Acappello yet? Do you have a favorite dish? Tell us in comments.