Under the warm glow of crystal chandeliers in Ill Amici Ristorante’s elegant dining room, the Lavorato family adorns tabletops with expertly prepared fare from the northern and southern regions of Italy and ambrosial vino from an extensive wine list. Owner and executive chef Giovanni Lavorato began his culinary training in Italy at the age of 14, has cooked all over Europe and North America, and has racked up numerous awards, including Man of the Year in 1995 by Il Ponte Italo-Americano international cultural magazine. The recently renovated dining room charms patrons with classy Old-World decor and a deficiency of singing moose heads, and the Venetian-style lounge and spacious banquet hall provide accommodations for sophisticated revelry.
At The Original Primo Pizza & Grill, chefs whirl handmade dough and whole, peeled tomatoes into a variety of thin-crust pizzas. While the menu includes classic standbys such as the hawaiian pizza, customers can also create their own perfect pies from toppings such as garlic, mushrooms, pepperoni, and sausage. What really shines through, however, is the restaurant’s large selection of specialty pies: buffalo-chicken pizza is topped with chicken and zesty buffalo sauce; Nutella pizza with brown and powdered sugar; and the American-style pizza gets topped with steak, peppers, onions, american cheese, and a pervasive dislike of the metric system.
While pizza dominates the menu, diners can also explore traditional Italian entrees, including dinner specialties such as chicken scampi, veal milanese, and spaghetti with clam sauce.
The front counter at Little Italy showcases the spectacular array of pizzas that the skilled chefs whip up back in the kitchen—thin-crust pizzas lined with gooey circles of mozzarella, deep-dish pizzas dotted with sausage, and square-shaped pizzas decorated in slender slices of lemon. Once pizzas are showered in combinations of vegetables, seafood, or meat, and loaded into the oven, chefs turn their attention to other Italian specialties—cheesy chicken parmigiana, crunchy Italian-style subs, and plump calzones.
Customers split orders of wings out in the warm dining room, where soft, white curtains surround large, light-baiting windows. Others opt for delivery services, preferring to enjoy meals in the comfort of their own home or the fancy bank lobby they like to pretend is their home.
During the day, Trattoria Bel Paese cuts a humble figure with its deli area bursting with grilled panini, fresh salads, and Italian hero sandwiches. By night, though, chefs draw a curtain around the glass counter and, according to Teresa Politano of the Star-Ledger, this "unassuming little Clark Kent of a restaurant" sheds its eyeglasses to fight villainous hunger with a menu of authentic Sicilian and Italian specialties. Heaping portions of pastas with sweet red sauce and veal with cream sauce perch atop the floral tablecloths with gluten-free and organic ingredients substituted in by request. Platters of hot chicken parmigiana and fresh black mussels with marinara also zoom to special events or impromptu reenactments of special events under the supervision of Trattoria Bel Paese's catering team.
The chefs at Il Gabbiano pack their menu of authentic Italian dishes with fresh, seasonal ingredients and seafood. Pairs can take edible trips across the Italian peninsula with the antipasto caldo for two ($14.95), which unites eggplant rollatini and stuffed mushrooms from the land with reclusive sea dwellers, including shrimp, mussels, and clams oreganata. Tendrils of linguine Gabbiano ($21.95) anchor succulent morsels of lobster, shrimp, and clams to plates and form edible lassos to corral wild forks. Al dente rigatoni noodles ($13.95) simmer with shallots and tomatoes in a rich vodka cream sauce. Chefs gingerly stuff the vitello Gabbiano's ($17.95) veal cutlet with prosciutto and fontina cheese before drizzling the finished product with a porcini-mushroom sauce. The BYOB eatery swathes its candlelit tables with crisp, white tablecloths and prints napkins with sheet music for romantic string quartets.