At first glance, the cavernous interior of Cafe Amici, with its high ceilings, is a bit off-putting as it's so different from the cozy atmosphere of smaller Montclair restaurants such as Samba or even Osteria Giotto.
But the liveliness of the space—despite the bad acoustics—soon wins one over as the crowd and the staff both exude an energy that's contagious.
During a visit there on Saturday night with foodie friends Craig and Susan Weeden and Dan and Jackie Scarfo, my husband and I not only enjoyed the atmosphere but also some scrumptious food that makes Cafe Amici one new restaurant worth checking out.
The contemporary 52-seat dining room has a minimalist flair with walls adorned with faux window boxes designed to make you feel as though you're sitting in a pretty Italian village.
It's sort of quaint—but the real reason to visit Cafe Amici is the food.
First courses included Zucchini Fritti ($9), Stuffed Mushrooms ($12), and Tuna Carpaccio ($13). We had the Fried Meatballs—one of the best dishes I've had in a long time—made with veal, pork, fried onions, and sweet vinegar peppers. We also had Calamari Fritti—one portion was enough to feed a small army—as well as a "special" appetizer known as the Shrimp Trifecta. With regular shrimp and shrimp dumplings mixed together in a shrimp sauce, I wasn't disappointed with this lovely combination for $13. I could have done with a few more dumplings!
For main courses, the Tagliatelle Bolognese ($19) was as fresh and as savory as if one was dining at a restaurant in Bologna, Italy. And a Red Snapper special with Lobster Ravioli was nearly as good as a main course can get. I've also heard from friends that the restaurant's pizzas are delicious, especially the Fig and Prosciutto Pizza made with bleu cheese and arugula.
In general, the menu boasts a nice mix of steak, pasta, salad, and seafood dishes. You could get an Angus New York Strip Steak or you could opt for a Wild King Salmon or the Risotto of the Day.
All in all, the evening left us satisfied and happy that the restaurant didn't disappoint.
No doubt, when the BYOB establishment—conveniently located near Amanti Vino on Church Street—opened last fall, everyone wondered whether it had what it took to become a staple of a restaurant scene that's as changeable as British weather.
Indeed, not so long ago what was once Church Street Cafe turned into Market which then turned into Tapastry. The Asian restaurant Taro closed in 2010 when 32 Church Street moved in. After that restaurant closed, Carmine Franco and his son Albert decided to open Cafe Amici.
Already the Franco family operates the popular Italian-influenced Cafe Amici in Ho-Ho-Kus.
Albert Franco also owned and operated a Cafe Amici in Wycoff since 2002, but sold that restaurant to his nephew so that he could open the Montclair location last fall.
From what this Montclair Patch editor could tell, the Franco family has made a very smart move.
What to know:
—Reservations are recommended for parties of six are more.
—Call Cafe Amici at 973-233-0300 if you're planning a party for information about their private balcony dining area.
—The restaurant not only has a lunch and dinner menu but also an "anytime" menu that includes pizzas and burgers.
Cafe Amici is located at 32 Church St. For more information and a look at the menus go here. Parking can be tricky on a Saturday night so arrive early!