Thursday found my BF and I in the mood to try something new in the area (Rahway) for lunch. I was celebrating a personal milestone of sorts, and we were debating whether to do lunch or dinner. Since he was home that day as well, we opted for a late lunch.
I'd heard quite a bit about Ill Amici in Linden and was in the mood for some old world style Italian food. Took a look at the website and made the reservation.
As it turned out, reservations were not necessary. The bar was rather hopping at 1:30pm, but there were only 2 other customers eating lunch when we arrived. We stood around for quite a bit at the front, waiting for someone to notice our arrival to no avail. I finally walked to the kitchen entrance around the corner, got a waiters attention and he said we could sit anywhere we liked. Indeed, considering nobody was there by that point.
The restaurant looks like it has not been upgraded since the day it opened. Pinkish stucco walls, catering style chairs, worn tablecloths, kitschy decorations (eagles, american flags, the prerequisite "oil" paintings of Italy, crystal chandeliers - you get the picture). The waiters also seemed like they have been their since Day One. Mind you - none of this is a "bad thing". It lends a peculiar type of charm to the establishment, the kind of place where you immedately feel comfortable, like you've been there a million times before or sort of recall being there as a child. And, the waiters know the food like the back of their hands, able to direct you easily if you aren't sure or have questions plus, the calling out of directions to each other in Italian has an authenticity which is lacking in other Italian places elsewhere. This IS the real deal here.
To begin with, I ordered the Clams Oreganato, he had the Clams Casino; and we split an order of Stuffed Mushrooms. All were excellent in flavor and cooked perfectly. The mushrooms had a stuffing which included ground pepperoni in it, which I'd never had before and served with a rich brown gravy. However....my clam dish had shell bits in one of the clams which detracted from the enjoyment of it. I decided to overlook this error, since out of a total of 12 clams between us, it was the only one which suffered from this problem. But it was, of course, a problem. I might have complained on another day but wasn't in the mood to bother that afternoon over one clam.
For our entrees, he had a daily special of Tilapia served with Scallops and Shrimp in a sauce with a ton of buttery garlic in it . Yummy! I decided to have Fettucine Alfredo because this to me, is one of those classic dishes which many Italian places utterly ruin. For me, it's a test of a kitchen's ability to get certain dishes "right" and I wanted to find out just how good this place was for more mundane type of meals as opposed to the fancier dish my BF had ordered. I was not disappointed. It was by far, one of the best Alfredo I've ever had. I nearly never am able to finish an entire plate of this - but; I did.
We opted to not have desert there, but took it home with us as we were far too stuffed by that point. Nice array to choose from. No, let me rephrase that, overwhelming is more like it. I think there was about 12 items or so. Took home a raspberry almond tart and a NY cheesecake - both great. Both of us had a Latte while there to end the meal. We also had 2 Ice Teas during the lunch and please note - they charge for EACH ice tea - something which many place do not do. This was a sticking point for me and I find rather annoying as tea is cheap as can be. Seeing an extra $5.00 tacked onto the bill when we both barely touched our 2nd glassed just galled me - but, we'll know better next time around.
Service was good enough. A bit amusing at moments - as the waiter was elderly and not sure on his feet, bumbled about somewhat, but this was excusable. He was a lovely gentleman, polite, knowledgeable and struck a good balance between friendly and unobtrusive.
The bill came out to about $90 if I remember correctly, before tip, for 3 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 deserts, 4 iced teas (grrrr!) and 2 Lattes. We'll go back for sure, and probably will be making this our "go-to" for when we are craving old style Italian and I don't feel like cooking it at home.
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