By Nancy Thorpe, Special to The Record
It makes me so happy when everything is just right at a restaurant- maybe because it happens so infrequently. When we left Paisanos one recent Friday night, I was smiling from ear to ear, leftovers in hand, and asking myself, “What could have been better?”The answer: ”Nothing!”
Even Paisano’s Rutherford neighborhood is delightful - a pretty, tree-lined, old fashioned downtown thoroughfare whose neat little shops bright awnings. The wood-framed door to Paisano’s leads to a do it yourself coat check, wooden bench for waiting, and a small photo gallery of area sports stars raving about the food. Through a door to your right: a small but comfortable dining room and the mouthwatering smell of garlic-infused food.
Waiting a correctly estimated 15 minutes to be seated, I peered longingly through a window at trays of freshly made pasta and said to my husband “Oh, I think I’m going to like this place.”
The Friday staff operated like a well-oiled machine. Our primary server, showing her experience, described that night’s numerous specials with great enthusiasm and easily answered all my questions about how the dishes were prepared.
Things started on a very high note as a ramekin of tangy sun-dried tomato puree in olive oil was presented with warm, fresh Italian bread.
A special hot appetizer platter included tender artichoke hearts baked with a buttery crumb topping, crunchy-sweet coconut-fried shrimp and meaty grilled portobellos topped with marinara sauce and fresh mozzarella. Every component was fresh and interesting.
We also shared a Caesar salad with grilled chicken that was so insanely delicious I had to ask the chef’s secret (alas, it’s the professional kitchen grill that does the trick). This chicken, marinated in lemon and olive oil, had exquisite charred spots while still being tender and juicy. It complemented lightly dressed greens and homemade croutons perfectly.
Also from the specials list that evening was a salmon fillet topped with crab meat and wrapped in a crispy potato crust. A sauce made with anise-flavored Sambuca was an imaginative twist that accented the dish nicely. A side order of slender , sweet potato fries was an unexpected and excellent finishing touch.
Choosing one of the many chicken specialties proved a challenge-they all sounded great. With our waitress’s help, I finally settled on the chicken Romano and was not disappointed. An enormous tender double chicken breast was topped with silky, freshly sautéed spinach, a mountain of mushrooms, and a veil of mozzarella cheese, drenched in a not-too-rich Marsala sauce. I had two complete meals out of this one dish, and enjoyed it just as much the following day.
If you’ve got room, Paisano’s offers some nice desserts.