Sette Cucina Italiana opened on Mine Brook Road in Bernardsville in late winter in the renovated space that was Josephine’s Coffee Shop, next to the town’s cinema.
The space is beautifully designed. The floors are granite, the walls sun kissed, the mirrors beautifully etched and framed in gilt, the pottery Italian, the ceilings pressed tin, the linen-draped tables beautifully appointed, and the chandeliers Belle Époque in style. Stepping into Sette, one immediately feels as though he or she had just stepped in from a street in Florence. The restaurant is elegant and comfortable at the same time; seven tables are spread over the dining room with good space between each.
Chef-Proprietor Allan Russo has created a lunch and dinner menu that draws from many regions of Italy and offers a few twists on the classics. We were greeted warmly here and immediately impressed by the professional friendliness of the waitstaff. Servers are very informed, they were able to tell us about the mirrors (custom ordered), the china (also used in the White House), the wine glasses (crystal), the yeasty rolls with a nice crust (made at the restaurant), the pasta (also handmade in the restaurant kitchen) and the chef (a perfectionist).
Chef Russo grew up in the restaurant business. His family owns Da Filippos Cucina Italiana in Somerville, recognized time and again for its superb cuisine. The young chef began working in his family’s restaurant when he was 10 years old. The training of his father and mentor was supplemented with trips to Europe where he worked with family members who own restaurants and consulted with other chefs.
Chef Russo’s training and passion for food are well expressed in the menu, which features more than standard Italian fare. It offers appetizers; pastas; and veal, pork, chicken and seafood entrées. My wife and I began with appetizers of salad mista and salmon tartare; both were very good. The salad of baby greens and tomato was made special with nicely balanced aged balsamic vinaigrette; even the winter tomato was flavorful. The salmon tartare combined very fresh chopped salmon with bits of onion, celery, capers, parsley and excellent olive oil; the dish was garnished with cucumber and offered a refreshing beginning to dinner.
My wife ordered veal sabatini as her entrée. The excellent quality veal was presented with shitake mushrooms and topped with fontina cheese. Crisp green beans and onion marmalade accompanied the veal. The onion marmalade was especially interesting; the onions cooked in sherry vinegar until they caramelized so the taste was sweet and a little acid at the same time, delicious. My entrée zuppa di pesce presented very fresh clams, scallops, tile fish, shrimp and peas cooked in a briny broth of seafood stock kissed with tomato. The dish was garnished with a large whole shrimp, its body and head intact. Crostini were presented with the dish for sopping up the flavorful broth.
Our dessert choices were light and lovely. My wife’s panna cotta scented with orange and garnished with orange segments and custard had a lovely silken texture and assertive orange flavor. “This is the best panna cotta I have ever had,” she commented, and that comes from someone who often orders panna cotta. I enjoyed la millefoglie calda, a cloud of puff pastry filled with delicate and flavorful lemon custard — a perfect finale for an excellent meal.
Diners are encouraged to bring their own wine to Sette. The wine service is very attentive and as mentioned, the wine glasses are crystal. We were very happy with every aspect of this dinner. We can’t wait to get back to the restaurant to taste some other dishes — house-made ricotta pasta served with lamb ragu, pecorino cheese and a touch of red pepper flakes; pork done in the Roman style filled with pancetta, parmiggiano cheese, juniper berries, and fresh herbs; tile fish with fresh herbs wrapped in parchment paper and baked.
Sette Cucina Italiana is an excellent addition to the New Jersey dining scene.
Ernest Jaeger is an accomplished freelance writer and a frequent contributor to New Jersey Countryside.