While it is Italian in cuisine and lineage, Fascino in Montclair, NJ is by no means your average Italian restaurant. Set toward the not-yet-totally re-gentrified end of Bloomfield Avenue, Fascino sits back quietly unassuming, confident in its abilities to provide high-end, sophisticated food and service. This is the kind of culinary evening people in the north Jersey area previously had to travel to New York to experience. And while there are many fine restaurants in Montclair and the surrounding areas, Fascino is a cut above.
Headed in the kitchen by Executive Chef, Ryan DePersio, the food practically glows as it makes its way to your table. We have been visiting Fascino since they opened in 2003 and it keeps getting better. Last night's meal was no exception. An amuse bouche, consisting of a bite-sized morsel of crisp halibut sitting so daintily in a light yogurt sauce, was presented to our group. Just enough to whet your appetite for what lay ahead. I wanted more.
Excellent breads from Gina's Bakery (also in Montclair) made their way to our table along with an incredibly fruity olive oil.
One of my favorite spring/summer items is fresh Zucchini Flowers and
Ryan stuffs them with Maine Peekytoe Crab and ricotta and lightly fries them. It is served with a
light, fresh yellow tomato Gazpacho. Incredible.
Fascino is BYO, which is always a plus for us. And even better for us last night, our dinner companion was a friend who is a wine consultant and he brought a delicious Orvieto from a small, family vineyard in Tuscany. Just acidic enough, this crisp white blended perfectly with the zucchini flowers and Bernie's appetizer of Fresh Seafood Salad. For the record, he couldn't stop "oohing and aahing" over the incredible array of seafood laid before him - shrimp, clams, squid, octopus - see the photo above for the beautiful presentation.
Since it was a rainy, chilly evening, it seemed appropriate to order a Fall-like dish (truth be told, I never really need an excuse to order Osso Buco). Ryan's Veal Osso Buco served with brussel sprouts over a pillow of delicious sweet potato puree, was mind-blowing. That's my Osso Buco at the top of the post - look at the gorgeous shellac on that shank! A gentle prod with my fork sent the ever-so-tender meat cascading into the potato puree, creating a wonderful taste combination. That veal shank was picked clean when I was done.
My husband ordered the exact same meal as me, but when I told our wine-knowledgeable friend, Bernie, that all the pastas are house-made, his fate was sealed. Tagliatelle
with Shredded Short Ribs was the winner - it looked (and by all accounts) tasted fabulous. Our wine for dinner was a 2004 La Vigna Mobile, a super Tuscan made up
primarily of Sangiovese grapes. A terrific accompaniment to the food.
A unique and delicious side is the Mascarpone Polenta Fries with Gorgonzola Fonduta (OMG!). Imagine these as Italy's answer to our own French fries or France's pomme frite! These disappeared from our table in a flash. Light, crispy, with an earthy richness - IMHO I don't think you even need the gorgonzola sauce. These are not to be missed.
A true family operation, Ryan's mother, Cynthia DePersio, is the Pastry Chef. Being a baker myself, I always look forward to trying one of Cynthia's creations. Last night's choice: Brazilian Coffee and Vanilla Sundae
with Midnight Chocolate Sauce and Chocolate Coffee Bean Crisp ("HELLO!"). While my dining companions all professed to not being able to eat another bite after dinner, somehow there were three spoons in my dessert. This might be my new favorite dessert at Fascino.
There is a welcoming warmth about Fascino. Whether it's the deep red banquettes you slide into, or the greetings from the DePersio family (Ryan's brother, Anthony, is the GM and their father, Anthony Sr, is usually lending a hand with front of the house duties), dining at Fascino is always a pleasure. Now celebrating its' fifth anniversary, the "fascination" continues at Fascino.