A Well-Struck Balance at 40North's Newest Concept

Maya Silver |
New And Noteworthy

Where can you go to get fresh New Age Italian fare from a neighborhood bistro? Somewhere cozy, yet classy in an understated way? A place that serves exciting, soul-warming food, but at a reasonable cost? Where there once was a gap, there’s now Piattino’s, located in the heart of Mendham.

The concept is the latest addition to the 40NORTH Restaurant Group, named for the shared latitude between Naples, Italy, and Morristown, New Jersey. 40NORTH, a branch of Villa Enterprises, has been steadily building culinary trust with New York and New Jersey diners since 1962, when Italian Michele Scotto established the very first Villa Pizza. Now, the family-run business encompasses multiple brands and five full-service restaurant concepts. Piattino is the latest full-service restaurant from 40NORTH, representing its first foray into Italian bistrodom.

Amongst countless eateries focusing on 100-percent authentic Italian, mainstream Italian-American, or Italian international fusion, Piattino distinguishes itself with its own innovative vision of classic Italian favorites prepared with a modern American approach.

“Creativity is a must,” says Villa Enterprises Corporate Chef Kevin Felice. “There’s an Italian restaurant on every corner in New Jersey so you have to separate yourself. We serve Italian food prepared in an American style.”

Piattino is also committed to using the best and most unique ingredients possible—that means a balance of locally-sourced, fresh produce and imported Italian ingredients when necessary to lend the dishes authenticity.

“We work with a lot of local farms for produce to remain local and support local vendors,” Felice says. “But for the authentic Italian experience, we need to import certain items, like double-ground pizza flour, mozzarella, and San Marzano canned tomatoes. American canned tomatoes just won’t have the same flavor profile as those from Naples.”

The restaurant, designed by David Jackson, has a lively, contemporary vibe with Italian landmarks, icons, maps, and architecture gracing the walls beneath a band of glistening reflective tiles. The tables set the tone for cozy—or amorous—conversation with marble slab, red booths and chairs, candles, and the rustic patina of the ceramic plateware.

Aside from the pizza, the menu is divided into traditional Italian chapters: Antipasti (Appetizers), Insalata (Salads), Primi (First Plates, traditionally pastas), and Secondi (Entrées). All of the innovative dishes are delicious labors of Felice’s love—homemade pastas and risottos, braised meats, and herbed butters. Of course, a glass of wine off Piattino’s list—or a hand-crafted cocktail—is almost a requisite addition to any Italian meal.

And the pies—the focal point of Piattino—do justice to the word “artisan.” There’s a magic in a pair of fists gracefully revolving a circle of dough to stretch it to size. What starts as a plump ball of high-quality flour, yeast, and water becomes a bubbly disc that serves as the canvas for meats, vegetables, and cheeses. And at Piattino’s, not just any toppings decorate the dough—they are San Danielle prosciutto, braised chicken, buffalo sauce, basil pesto, and mozzarella di Bufala.

The full potential of these imaginative ingredients is realized in a 800-degree, wood-burning, imported Italian oven, which produces cohesive pies with crisp char and golden brown, blistered cheese. The decorative oven—tiled and adorned with a golden letter “P”—is itself a functional work of art that can be admired from any seat in the restaurant.

In the Villa Enterprises tradition, Piattino is very much a reflection of the Scotto family and their roots in Naples, Italy. The owners live very close to the new bistro and visit nightly. Indeed, the inviting atmosphere and incredible service will make you feel more than welcome at this new branch of the ever-expanding culinary Scotto family tree.

So what would Felice order off Piattino’s menu? “It’s simple, actually,” he says. “The Bianco Bolognese Ravioli.” First, the chefs cook down the Bolognese—a meaty ragù from the Bologna region of Italy—and then stuff the thickened sauce into the ravioli. This spin on a traditional Bolognese preparation is served with a Pecorino Romano white sauce, herbed ricotta, and torn basil.

If that’s not enough to turn the heads of jaded Italian food lovers in New Jersey, we’re not sure what is. From their family to yours, the Scottos and Villa Enterprises have done it again.