A Wonderful Addition to the Jersey City Waterfront
Beyond the glass facade of Porto Leggero, the bright newcomer to the waterfront-dining scene in Jersey City, there are two restaurants.
One has the undercurrent of an electric charge that moves through the restaurant when the power lunch crowd fills the place with finance types on weekdays. The other is the relaxed hum of families and friends enjoying an evening out in the neighborhood.
For both groups, though, the recipe is the same: A magnificent, open setting, a stellar kitchen and service that is highly efficient but never intrusive.
Filling a two-story side of an office building walled with glass, the modern interior is softened with an archway, exposed brick, upholstered banquettes and dining chairs. Tables are dressed in requisite white linen and appointed with fine tableware. On warm days, a few tables dot the sidewalk out front.
The view through the wall of windows is of the Harborside office complex across the street. If you look to the left, you will be entertained while you move through your courses by the sight of the earnest folks at the New York Sports Club working off their calories on the treadmills that line the windows. Occasionally, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail makes a stop outside. Diners of a certain age will surely need to be reminded that this is Jersey City.
Waterfront restaurants with settings and atmosphere are plentiful along the burgeoning Gold Coast of the Hudson. Porto Leggero is rare in backing up with an equally fine kitchen. The owners include Michael Cetrulo, whose Scalini Fedeli in Chatham has been selected the best Italian restaurant in New Jersey by a New Jersey Magazine poll. Chef de Cuisine Angelo Stella has more than 10 years experience in restaurants owned by Cetrulo in New Jersey. While dining at Porto Leggero you may select from a wine list, which compliments the fine cuisine, you dine upon. Mark Marandola also of Scalini Fedeli is the wine director of Porto Leggero, his expertise in wine selection will surely enhance your dining experience. Mr. Eliot, who has tremendous experience in the restaurant business, prides himself on his expertise in the treatment of patrons and exemplary floor service. While dining at Porto Leggero you dine on the highest quality Italian cuisine, and receive the four star service you deserve.
The dinner menu infuses traditional dishes while introducing signature dishes, enticing diners with a wide range of choices among the primi (appetizers), farinacei (pasta) and piatti di mezzo (main courses). The luncheon menu has similar choices with smaller portions and lower prices. To start, one might consider a Portobello Milanese ($12), the mushroom breaded with parmigiana in a veal jus, Cozze Fra Diavolo ($12), steamed mussels in white wine, garlic and fresh tomatoes, or a mixed salad ($10) among the choices.
There are ten pasta dishes to choose from, and all will be served in a smaller portion should you select one as an appetizer. They include such fare as Rigatoni con Rapa e Saliccia ($17), rigatoni dressed in olive oil and garlic with Italian sausage, broccoli rabe and sundried tomatoes. You’ll also find some creative endeavors such as Agnolotti di Zucca, ravioli filled with butternut squash topped with brown butter and sage sauce, and Papardelle con Vodka ($17), wide ribbons of pasta in a light tomato and basil sauce with minced prociutto and whole snow peas.
Next, Chef Stella lures the diner with a choice of main courses that include pork, lamb, veal, beef and the freshest of fish. You may consider the Bistecca Giambotta (($34), filet mignon in a sherry wine sauce with cherry peppers, mushrooms and potatoes; the Branzino Livornese ($23), striped bass in a sauce of olives, capers and onions with a hint of anchovy; or the simpler Salmone Mostarda, roasted salmon in a champagne mustard sauce, served with a row of asparagus and roasted cherry tomatoes.
All of these choices, of course, are readily complemented by a glass or bottle of wine and Porto Leggero presents a serious wine list that is worthy of the company it keeps. Favorites here include American reds, Italian whites, and Italian Tuscans, in a wide range of prices, but the more popular selections are around $45.
It may be wise to take a few minutes to finish your wine and relax after the main course, because it would truly be an injustice to your palate if you left Porto Leggero without sampling a home made dessert. On a typical evening, you may find the Italian cheesecake with fresh strawberries soaked in balsamic vinegar among the choices, or a tiramisu, seamlessly blending flavors of whipped cream and chocolate in a dreamy cloud. Desserts are $7.
Then espresso, or cappuccino to top off a perfect meal in a perfect setting. In those last moments of the meal, it’s more than likely that you’ll be thinking about your return visit to Porto Leggero, truly a fine port to tie up for a memorable evening.
Hours: Lunch: Monday to Friday, 11:45-2:45. Dinner: Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday to 10 p.m., and Saturday to 10:30 p.m.
Porto Leggero is located at Harborside Financial Plaza V, Hudson Terrace. Parking is free with validation. For reservations and directions call 201-434-3200.