Fifteen minutes early for a 7:30 reservation at Rocca, and our table wasn't ready-no problem; we didn't expect it to be. The lovely hostess asked us to take a seat in the drafty foyer right inside the door. Within two minutes, she reappeared. "I moved the tables around so you wouldn't have to wait out here- it's too cold."
Fifteen minutes early for a 7:30 reservation at Rocca, and our table wasn’t ready-no problem; we didn’t expect it to be. The lovely hostess asked us to take a seat in the drafty foyer right inside the door. Within two minutes, she reappeared. "I moved the tables around so you wouldn’t have to wait out here- it’s too cold."
It was a sweet gesture and, given the evening’s frigid temps, one we appreciated. Happily, it didn’t take long to get fully warmed up in this BYO on Glen Rock’s main drag. For one thing, the ambience is charming- while the details don’t call attention to themselves, the umber walls, wooden touches and well-spaced tables are subliminally inviting. For another, on a Saturday night, there were satisfied faces at every table-the kind of cozy touch a designer simply can’t create.
Plus, chef-owner Craig Levy generates heat of his own with a combination of classic Italian and innovative cuisine that changes with the seasons. We started with an escarole salad made tangy with a lemon-olive oil dressing and a few shaves of Parmigiano. It was tastily enhanced by the addition of polenta croutons: generously sized crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside cubes. All together, the contrasting textures and flavors made for a well-rounded dish.
Ironically, it was a lack of contrasts that made the fried artichokes and olives a tad disappointing. A bit greasy, they caused the frisée they were tossed with to sag under their weight. Still, Levy managed to cull decent flavor from the limp components.
His blue cheese gnocchi, on the other hand, was positively bursting with flavor. I hesitated before ordering this dish: While the combination of potato pasta and braised short ribs sounded unique, I worried it would be too rich. Instead, it turned out to be the evening’s highlight. The dumplings- happily wading in the meat’s intensely flavored but wonderfully light jus-had a nice, fluffy consistency and just a hint of blue cheese. And the short ribs themselves … wow! It’s as if Levy knows the exact point at which meat will start melting upon contact with the tongue. Stewed tomatoes, diced potatoes, cipollini onions and parsley round out the aromatic dish.
Clearly, braising is one of the chef ‘s strong suits, as the veal osso buco delivered the same degree of tenderness and flavor. The side of wild mushroom polenta, however, was somewhat greasy and the mushrooms woefully faint. And while I appreciated the tiny fork intended for the marrow, my bone was pretty barren.
Delicious pan-seared scallops were presented looking almost like sushi: six jumbo mollusks aligned on an oblong plate, topped with a tangy cilantro yogurt. With its fruity Moroccan-influenced orzo and curried cucumber relish, the dish offered a pan-Asian punch that made each bite extra-memorable. Desserts are no afterthought at Rocca; they’re prepared with the same care as the savory plates.
The chocolate trio, with its salted chocolate caramel tart, peppermint mousse cake and demitasse of hot chocolate, was blissful; likewise, a warm homemade apple strudel (served with a giant scoop of cinnamon ice cream) hit all the right notes. Overall, a single visit to Rocca makes one thankful for Bergen County’s four seasons-and four excuses to return.
203 Rock Road, Glen Rock
- LUNCH: Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
- DINNER: Tuesday through Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5-10 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 5-8 p.m.
What you should know
- Entrées range from $31 to $50
- 3-course $13.50 prix fixe dinner, Tuesday through Friday, 5-6 p.m.; 5-course $26.95 house-made pastas tasting, every Thursday dinner
- Private parties accommodated Reservations suggested MasterCard, Visa, AMEX accepted