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Sunday, April 26, 2009

LA LANTERNA - A TUSCANY DELIGHT

La Lanterna
29 West Ridgewood Ave.
Ridgewood, New Jersey 07450
201 444-5520

If you have to be on “the other side of the tracks,” the place to be is the charming town of Ridgewood, New Jersey. It's a place of upscale shops, coffee houses, ice cream parlors, and wonderful restaurants. It's a stop on the M TA—hence the tracks—but what one finds on West Ridgewood Ave. is quite wonderful. There you’ll find La Lanterna.

La Lanterna is a family run Italian restaurant five of us tried for the first time. It's BYOB, so we showed up with a bottle of white and two reds, and we left empty handed. We also left quite impressed with La Lanterna, its food, service, and ambiance. This is a restaurant you must try.

The restaurant's charming entrance offers outdoor seating in warmer weather, and inside there is the lively bustle of busy people. There are two seatings, and we arrived for the 8 o'clock second seating. There was a birthday party winding down at a nearby table—we arrived to the cake and “Happy Birthday”--so initially there was a lot of noise, but once that table cleared, it quieted down, and we were able to talk comfortably at our round (requested) corner table.

There were quite a few specials this night as we were told by Joann, who we later learned is also the owner and who didn't miss a beat as she tantalizingly recited the specials and their ingredients while still keeping a watchful eye on the dining room and the servers. She made choosing selections difficult because everything she described sounded wonderfully creative, and we had yet to see the full menu. The evening was beginning nicely.

Our wines were opened—red and white—and placed in holders, and a basket of fresh, lovely breads quickly appeared.

Our group could be a waiter's nightmare because several of us like the same dish, but rarely do we like it the same way. That's exactly what happened at La Lanterna. One special was a wonderfully sounding seafood extravaganza including mussels, shrimp, scallops, and clams served over a bed of angel hair pasta. The sauce could be fra diavolo—or not. Three of us ordered this: one without scallops, two fra diavolo, one extra mild, and one without shrimp. No questions when these entrĂ©es arrived. Our waiter was right on the money. Everyone raved about the dish. Not only did it satisfy the palate, but also it was attractively served. One could not ask for more. These specials were accompanied by a choice of house or Caesar salad.

Iris chose Chicken Cacciatore. The presentation was beautiful, and according to Iris, so was the taste. The big bowl was brimming with chunks of chicken, pieces of tomato, and vegetables. It was accompanied by a side of pasta, and she ordered a house salad. Iris called it the best she'd ever eaten.

I chose Chicken Francese, three lightly breaded chicken scallops so tender that I never touched my knife. The lemon, butter sauce was light and superb. A side of pasta accompanied it, and I added a Caesar salad.

Just coffee ended the meal. Not enough room to try the tempting desserts. Maybe next time because we surely will be back.

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