The River Café Trattoria serves wood-burning brick-oven pizza and fresh Italian favorites in a family-friendly atmosphere. Start dinner with a taste of Tuscany antipasti, a culinary welcoming committee of fresh mozzarella, sopressata, artichokes, roasted peppers, fried eggplant, and Sicilian olives ($12). Inside the fiery brick oven, quattro stagionia pizzas bake and bubble around a mouth-watering compilation of prosciutto, artichokes, mushrooms, and black olives ($15.95 for a 14” pie). A classic margherita hits the fresh-basil spot ($12.95 for a 14” pizza), though fork-holding green thumbs may find their herb fix with the gnocchi al pesto ($13). Glasses of fresh juices ($3.50) or canned colas ($1.30) can be poured directly into gullets or mixed together with bring-your-own beverages. A pizza alla Nutella topped with bananas, strawberries, and powdered sugar ($10) finishes the meal if traditional Italian deserts such as tiramisu ($4) don’t get there first.
Al Cavaliere Ristorante was built upon three pillars of a classic Italian culinary experience: good food, friendly service, and engaging décor. It’s no wonder, then, that the restaurant doesn’t turn to generic recipes, or a Magic 8 Ball, as inspiration for its menu. Instead, Al Cavaliere prepares dishes that have populated tabletops across Italian villages for generations—including those influenced by the changing seasons. Those edible bits of history make themselves known in more than 10 different pastas, such as the rigatoni vodka, which features hollow pasta in a sweet or spicy sauce with tomato, basil, and a hint of cream. The restaurant’s hospitality efforts extend to a dining room that emanates Tuscan charm, complete with warm maroon walls and sprawling oil paintings.
Inside the Garden State Plaza mall lies a gateway to the past, where flickering flames illuminate the charred interior of an oak-burning pizza oven, and the aroma of bubbling sauce made with freshly crushed tomatoes mixes with wisps of Frank Sinatra's silky voice. The charm that surrounds the rituals of Italian cooking drifts into Papa Razzi's dining room from an open-air kitchen, where cooks bustle around steaming pots of pasta. The culinarians use only fresh and imported ingredients when cooking, just as Old-World chefs did before they took jobs fixing the cleaver-wielding robots that would replace them.
Behind a wood-accented, 15-foot bar, mixologists sling a list of libations that includes mimosas, sangria, and wines selected to complement meals. In the dining room, fresh flowers sit atop white tablecloths, and celebrity photographs line the walls, reminding guests of treasured nuggets of pop culture.
At Biagio’s Ristorante, chef Jimmy Perides bakes individual pans of housemade lasagna and tosses imported and gluten-free pastas that earned the restaurant its Zagat rating. He puts his own mark on the menu with the steak ala chef, a new york sirloin steak crowned with cherry peppers, roasted garlic, and shitake mushrooms. Servers deliver wines from a selection of 50 handpicked bottles, which are often uncorked at seasonal tastings or splashed around at annual “wine fights.” The restaurant’s robust wine collection won it a 2010 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. A gurgling rock fountain stands at the entrance of the restaurant, welcoming patrons into the main dining area and adjacent wine room, and a flickering fireplace casts a warm glow over terracotta walls.