Bazzini in Ridgewood, Valentines Day dinner
Stopped in this evening at Bazzini on Oak Street in Ridgewood for dinner. There were five of us, dressed casually, including two kids aged 8 and 12. We were able to be seated quickly, and they were not bothered by patrons in jeans. They told us that they are not usually open on Sundays, but were serving for Valentine's Day.
The decor is relaxing, with dark beige fabric coverings on the walls and plenty of space between tables despite the diminutive size of the place. The restaurant is categorically not accessible to wheelchairs, with one step to get to most of the dining room and a bizarre and extremely steep staircase with high risers leading to the restrooms.
The staff was friendly, efficient (with one overlooked drink order), and knowledgeable. There were two servers working the small room, which was about half full when we arrived (somewhat late). Waits for food were long, but not so long that we were tempted to complain (sorry, I should have noticed the time it took...).
The menu has sixteen items on it, including seven appetizers. Apps range from $8-$11, pastas from $17-$22, and Secondi courses are $19-$27. There were six deserts offered (not included in the above sixteen items), all $7. There was nothing on the menu for the 12 year old, who is picky, so they offered any of their pastas cooked simply with marinara or butter.
Two items were first brought to the table: focaccia with an eggplant tapanade, and bruschetta. The focaccia and tapanade were excellent, with the acidity of the marinade for the eggplant offsetting the salty seasonings of the bread nicely. The bruschetta were fine for the most part, but the bread was over-toasted (read: burned).
For antipasti, people at our table ordered the Beets Carpaccio Salata ($11), which also included greens, goat cheese, fuji apples, toasted hazelnuts, and walnut oil. It was, to use the word of the DC who ordered it, wonderful. I got the sauteed polenta ($11), served with grilled asparagus, white truffle vinaigrette, and topped with shaved grana padano cheese. Excellent, well-balanced.
For main course, we had the following:
Orichiette with butter for the picky eater. She was over the moon.
Orichiette Scaperiello, with Tuscan sausage, broccoli rabe, olive oil, basil, and marsala ($18), which was flavorful, lightly sauced, excellent.
Sauteed Chilean Sea Bass ($25) with roasted tomato, grilled asparagus, potatoes, and hazelnut-citron brown butter. Perfectly cooked, nicely presented. The filet had a few bones, but that didn't bother my DC, who was very happy.
Risotto Limone ($22) with jumbo shrimp sauteed in scampi sauce and olive oil. The eight year old who ordered this doesn't like tomatoes, which usually come on the dish, and ordered it without. The rice was perfectly cooked, as were the shrimp. 8 year old: happy.
I got the Tagliatelle with Sicilian style veal meatballs ($17) braised in a tomato basil marinara and served with shaved Asiago cheese. This one surprised me. It was excellent, but where the chef chose to sauce the Orichiette lightly, this was *very* heavily sauced. I happen to like this, and it provides the opportunity for scarpetta (the scraping up of sauce with bread... Mmmmmm...) if you have room, which I did not. There were three baseball sized meatballs, which were moist and delicious (braising is a wonderful thing...), and the marinara was very good indeed, with big chunks of tomato (San Marzano, according to the menu).
People seemed to like the deserts very much - but I was lukewarm on them. On the table: dark chocolate mousse torta (which was not as dark chocolate as I would have liked), vanilla-orange semi freddo (which others raved about but the 12 year old thought was too sweet - I did not try this), and warm coconut and mascaropne budino with zabaglione (delicious).
Overall, this was a very good dining experience.
Finally, this was indeed the restaurant visited by Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares last May. Our waiter told us the biggest changes in the restaurant were to the decor. Whether the food is changed or not, we experience the work of a very good chef who has good skills and imagination. My only niggle would be that it was a bit slow.
It seems that this chef has the same problem he demonstrated on the show: Some nights he can be very good, and others he can be awful. And even on one night each dish is unpredictable. Not really a gamble most serious restaurant patrons want to take. Elisa Ung said the same thing in her re-review of the restaurant recently.
Also, for reasons unknown, Bazzini didn't participate in Ridgewood Restaurant week last month, while 25 other Ridgewood restaurants did. Why not?
BTW, what brings you to NJ, alanr?
Happily, there were no failure dishes the night we were there. To be clear, *most* of the bruschetta was even okay, just a few pieces were overdone... I'd be interested to see if the place is as consistent another time, it was that good overall.
I was in NJ for a busman's holiday (I'm a piano tech, and have some work in the NY area) and visiting family.
My cousin's kids *love* Wild Ginger, but I'd be happy to try out other Ridgewood suggestions...
Bazzini has been closed for about 7-8 months now. Back in the spring.
As far as the "curse", Campania in Fair Lawn has gone from teetering on the edge of closing to being in the black. Nothing could have saved Bazzini, the guy did not have the personality nor the temperament to run a successful restaurant.