If you ever have the chance, see Federico Fellini's 1960 film, La Dolce Vita. There's a wonderful scene where Anita Eckberg steps fully clothed into the Fontana di Trevi in Rome and bathes, or rather, luxuriates in its famous waters. Her delight has probably been matched more than once by diners at the Fontana di Trevi Restaurant in Leonia, New Jersey, and certainly it was matched my mine when I dined there two nights ago. The restaurant is named after the famous fountain in Rome and a restaurant of the same name once situated in Manhattan between 6th and 7th avenues that Andrew Calegari used to manage, and which the famous and not so famous often frequented after enjoying theater and concerts at nearby Carnegie Hall. The Fontana in Manhattan closed, but a few years ago, Andrew spotted twin brick storefronts in Leonia, the home of the restaurant's founder Robert Mai, and decided this was the ideal site to reopen La Fontana. The ceiling was raised, the walls painted earthy tones, and antique lamps and mirrors hung. Most of the original staff, including executive chef Hector Fresneros, was brought over. The restaurant, which opened last September, features an Old World menu, with about a dozen pasta dishes, a focus on chicken and veal, and some grand and simple surprises.
La Fontana's Caesar is legendary, and I couldn't wait to try it. It's prepared tableside, and is so fine that, according to Sara, Andrew's wife, the restaurant's diminutive hostess, baker and bread maker, customers literally cross oceans to enjoy it. I don't doubt it. The anchovies, garlic and crumbs are gently crushed by pestle in a wooden bowl, combined with a raw egg yolk, balsamic dressing, mustard and olive oil, tossed with pepper and fresh grated Parmesan over robust Romaine leaves; add a few more croutons, and presto. What a result!
I also enjoyed a simple Portobello mushroom doused in olive oil on a bed of Arugula leaves, but that was all, as I wanted to focus on desserts. We sampled three: a pure chocolate heaven, a soufflé with a rich moist center that was topped with vanilla ice cream that is normally vanilla gelato, but the kitchen was out of the latter; a bread pudding with imported panettone that was simply to die for; and a delightful strawberry crisp that was Sara's gift to us. The homemade dessert menu includes a classic tiramisu, a favorite that I will order next time.
Since it's opening, Fontana Di Trevi has garnered considerable attention, and it is easy to see why. It is now open for lunch, Tuesdays through Fridays, and I hear the lunch menu offers light and hearty options and is incredibly reasonable.
There's a saying that if you toss a coin into the actual Fontana Di Trevi, you will return to Rome. Perhaps if I drop a coin into a glass of water at Leonia's Fontana Di Trevi, I will be sure to come back there again. It's a luxury not to be missed.
Fontana Di Trevi is situated at 248 Fort Lee Road. For reservations, call 201-242-9040.