Each week I invariably ask myself, “where should I have lunch today?” Most frequently, the answer is Osteria Giotto. Whether it’s familiar faces like Pete The Tennis Instructor, or Mariesa, the infallible waitress, or the inimitable, intoxicating aroma of Penne alla Norma – I simply can’t stop going back to Giotto!
Montclair has more than its share of Italian restaurants, but since 2003, Osteria Giotto has reigned as Montclair’s neighborhood favorite. Chef/owners and Montclair residents, Luca Valerin and Robert Pantusa have established a loyal following who return, whether for lunch or dinner, to Giotto’s comfortable atmosphere, attentive service, and, of course, stellar Italian cuisine.
The patrons at lunch are mixed; some dine for business and others for pleasure. In the evening, Giotto is bustling, but in the afternoon, a feeling of non-urgency pervades. Could it be due to the open bottle of wine at nearly every table? Perhaps, and all the more reason Giotto is my kind of place!
The servers at Giotto are always sure to give details about the specials, quickly and with an air of familiarity. Usually there’s a special salad, a special risotto, a special pasta, and a special fish in the offering. On any given lunchtime, I’d recommend one of each!
Prices on the regular lunch menu are a bit lower than the regular menu. Among the appetizers, my favorite items include the fresh and tangy, Insalata di Pesce ($11) full of tender calamari, shrimp, and fresh, sweet PEI mussels, and the Carpaccio di Manzo ($9.50), thin slices of filet mignon with celery, mushroom and a lemon infused olive oil. I usually follow an appetizer with the Spinach Salad ($6.50) which is always topped with shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and interspersed with bits of salty, savory pancetta.
Much of the pasta at Giotto is house made with Durham semolina, so when a special pasta is in the offering, I recommend ordering it. Mr. Hot, on the other hand, is loyal to one pasta – Penne alla Norma ($11.50 lunch / $16.50 dinner). Pasta alla Norma is an old-world dish. It was so popular in 19th century Sicily that it was named after the Sicilian composer, Bellini’s, opera Norma, to serve a as an honor to both the dish and the opera, whose “perfection matched each other in the eyes of Nino Martoglio, a famous Sicilian theater director.”* The name stuck, and Norma has remained as fabulous as ever!
Penne alla Norma is a very common preparation, there are no trendy, culinary bells and whistles to send it to forefront of any food publication (it’s not mac ‘n cheese, after all). Instead, Penne alla Norma is consistent; Mr. Hot has ordered this same dish for the past ten years! Always al dente, the penne are swathed in a mellow, garlicky tomato sauce flavored by the gentle smokiness of roasted eggplant. The magnificent heap of pasta is finished with ribbons of fresh, fragrant basil and topped off with ricotta salata.
Among other stellar preparations are Giotto’s creamy risotto (prices vary). Flavors change with seasons, whether it’s Butternut Squash, Zucchini and Shrimp, or Mushroom and Sausage, it’s always, smooth, and rich with parmesan. For the carnivore, Giotto’s rack of lamb ($22), is full of garlic and rosemary and boasts exquisite texture. The grilled tuna ($18.50) is always pleasing, as well, and served over “rucola” salad, it’s way to keep the lunch a little lighter.
Providing that a new restaurant doesn’t open in Montclair before tomorrow – I’ll be having lunch at Giotto this Friday!
21-23 Midland Ave.
Montclair, NJ 07042