The fried calamari of Elizabeth’s classic Torna A Sorrento.
(John O’Boyle / The Star-Ledger)
Torna A Sorrento is a sturdy and practical brick structure on a corner lot. It’s easy to miss it when you’re driving, and it doesn’t bother to offer a customer testimonial website or a Twitter feed for selfies. The walls of the tiny foyer are decorated with a random, childish collage of satin and polished seashells, and the hostess station is accented with a postcard poster – Elizabeth of yesteryear.
The waiters wear tuxedos and the Coca-Cola is served in a small cocktail glass with a stick. This group of five next to you debate the merits of the police academy training, and the celebrants who took up half of the dining hall include a young man in a ponytail and an older woman wearing a swimsuit. personalized sportswear. It is clear that this restaurant is a hometown favorite.
It is also clear, once your food arrives, why it is so. You expect decent, robust food from the Italian-American favorites menu.
But you are surprised. The food is better than decent, and the dishes, rather than robust and blunt, are light, clean, and balanced, with premium ingredients and a restrained cooking intelligence.
A large plate of squid ($ 12), for example, features rings and tentacles (and you know that’s how it always has been, that tentacles aren’t a recent nod to the trend. ). They are fried in a light, almost blond-white tempura, and served with a sweet homemade marinara.
These sweet tomatoes reappear in pomodoro fettuccine ($ 13.95), again a dish that surprises with its balance. It’s rich, sweet and smoky, thanks to the onions and pancetta, but nothing beats the other, nor does the sauce overwhelm the noodles. A special evening of Francese veal and chicken ($ 18.95) continues the theme. It is a simple preparation but it easily goes awry; here, the butter and lemon and the breadcrumbs blend well. The salmon ($ 22.50), an evening special, was a chunky, pale nuptial pink, its sweetness cleverly offset by a delicate combination of garlic and herbs.
Tiramisu ($ 6) is perhaps the most vigorous tiramisu we’ve had, no tasteless structure collapsing on itself, no mess of soup. This one delivers a rich creme and a brilliantly strong coffee flavor. The cheesecake ($ 5) is also a daring dessert, a big chunk that manages to combine the best of a lemon ricotta recipe with the strength of a New York cheesecake.
Sorrento’s, like so many in New Jersey, is no gimmick. It’s one of our practical, competitive and authentic spaces – and we’re lucky to have it.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Torna A Sorrento Ristorante
54 Westfield Avenue, Elizabeth, (908) 351-4060.
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sundays, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.