Star Ledger: “La Pergola is a Millburn Marvel”

Oct 28, 2011 | In the News | 0 comments

Source: Star Ledger

Published: Friday, October 28, 2011, 7:47 AM
By Cody Kendall/For The Star-Ledger [Read article on]

Stylish La Pergola is a perfect fit for affluent Millburn. Those who value graciousness above bargains will feel at home behind the arched windows, with sheer curtains artfully draped to give both a view and a feeling of exclusivity.

Opened in February by chef/owner Agron Kaloshi and his wife, Driola, this Northern Italian stop already has attracted a loyal crowd. Kaloshi, born in Albania, attended culinary school in Florence. In this country, Kaloshi cooked in New York, with a résumé that includes Il Mulino. He displays sensitivity with his sauces and combinations of ingredients, cooking to the expectations of his sophisticated audience.

The re-done interior of a former bridal salon, highlighted by a large chandelier, is calming in tasteful shades of cream and brown put together by Driola Kaloshi. In this setting, it doesn’t seem out of step to drop $30 for pan-seared day boat scallops in a champagne cream sauce or $32 for a grilled New York strip steak with mushrooms.

Not everything is high end, though. Pastas start at $18 for the penne with eggplant and asparagus. The house-made veal ravioli special with truffle sauce, flavorful but light as an air kiss, went for $22. Chicken Fiorentino, a menu regular for the same price, comes in a generous portion but lacks excitement despite the presence of lump crab meat and spinach, as well as a chardonnay sauce. More definition would make it memorable. Along those lines, the grilled quail special ($26) stuffed with figs and Gorgonzola offered a savvy statement over wild mushroom risotto.

Folks yearning for something more stick-to-the-ribs could gravitate toward the grilled hot and sweet sausage ($24) with Tuscany beans and broccoli rabe, or the pork chop giambotta ($26) — potatoes, onions, peppers, sauteed mushrooms and sausage collaborate to turn this selection into quite a meal.

For starters, grilled shrimp ($14) over a salad were done exactly right, but the lemon dressing should have been applied with a less generous hand. I recommend as an appetizer the perfectly prepared asparagus Milanese ($12), glamorized with a captivating crust of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. There is a choice of several salads, among them arugula, pear and candied walnuts ($12) with lemon dressing for a good blend of sweet, savory and tart.

While enough captivating choices are on the menu, which also lists specials, there is yet another group of unwritten specials. These are announced by a waiter holding a plate of plastic-wrapped fish, including one of our favorites, branzino.

But do we really need to see the raw fish? Perhaps some guests might, though I would trust this kitchen to supply us with fresh fare. However, the waiter never showed me that plate, and I couldn’t hear him through the chatter around us when he announced to the other side of the table how the fish would be prepared. Adding to the problem with this approach, he neglected to mention the price. The chef is quite proud of his whole branzino, made with white wine, lemon, artichokes, cherry tomatoes and black olives, yet it’s only fair to tell those considering the dish that it costs $38.

One of the things we most enjoyed was the Limoncello mascarpone cake, priced at $8.50, as are all the deserts. This is creamy and flavorful yet almost fluffy; it contrasts with the dullness of the routine ricotta cheesecake. With opportunities such as the cranberry pecan tart and the apple tart with vanilla syrup, it’s better to step away from the ordinary here.

A big plus at La Pergola is the parking. There are 20 spaces behind the building, plus a huge lot across the street. It’s nice not having to hunt for a spot in a town as busy as Millburn.

La Pergola is a pretty location, with food in the same spirit. The great variety offered means repeat visitors will never be bored.

La Pergola
120 Essex St., Millburn. (973) 376-6838.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 4-9 p.m. Sundays. BYO.