Filippo Russo, a native Sicilian, cooked in Switzerland before emigrating to the U.S. and opening his highly regarded Somerville restaurant, Da Filippo's. His son, Allan, born in Switzerland, began his training at Da Filippo's at age 10. In 2009, Allan opened Sette, his own Italian restaurant in Bernardsville. He and his wife, Loredana, won a Civic Beautification Award for Sette this year. Reviewer Rachel Willen writes, "Like its opera soundtrack, Sette hits some spectacular high notes, but not consistently."
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Sette nestles like a jewel between the local cinema and a nail salon in downtown Bernardsville. Crisp awnings shield the etched-glass windows, flanked by carefully maintained flower boxes in season. Little wonder Bernardsville’s Garden Club awarded chef/owner Allan Russo and his wife, Loredana, a Civic Beautification Award this year.
Sette (Italian for seven, the restaurant’s address) continues a family tradition. Born in Switzerland to a Sicilian father and a Swiss mother, Russo began his training at age 10 in his father Filippo’s highly regarded Somerville restaurant, Da Filippo’s, eventually becoming its executive chef. He opened Sette in 2009.
“There is always a family member within the four walls of the restaurant to insure the customer gets that level of service that comes with ownership,” Russo told me in a phone interview after my visits. His sister-in-law, Nadia Bianco, Sette’s general manager, also serves as its genial host, taking orders and stopping by tables to see that things go well.
Russo said he changes Sette’s menu about twice a year—a surprisingly low number, given his stated aim of authentically representing Italian regional food and “how they are eating there right now.” It was not reassuring in January to be served bruschetta topped with a single half-slice of flavorless winter tomato.
A starter that did excite was sformato di cipolle, a savory onion tart Russo described as a nod to his Swiss roots. Antipasto misto delivered a beautiful array of high-quality imported salumi with house-roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, fresh mozzarella and olives. Even so, it needed a flavorful, aged hard cheese to round it out—and bread, which was not delivered until later. A shame, because the bread, baked in-house, was marvelous.
A superb lentil soup (a recipe of Loredana’s Sicilian grandmother) with deeply flavorful broth and slivers of toasted prosciutto made me hanker for seconds. The standout primo was light, house-made ricotta gnocchi, a special in a Parmigiano and speck sauce packed with umami depth. Tagliatelle alla Bolognese featured a hearty, classic veal-and-beef ragù, but slightly overcooked noodles. Similarly, risotto with wild mushrooms had great mushroom and truffle-oil flavor, but the rice had drifted past al dente.
Like its opera soundtrack, Sette hits some spectacular high notes, but not consistently. Roman-style pork roast was grainy and overcooked the first time we tried it. On our second visit, the meat was fork-tender, the floral notes of juniper and herbs beautifully balanced by the tangy saltiness of Pecorino Romano and pancetta in the stuffing. Cod with fresh herbs had an irresistibly light and flavorful jus, but the fish itself lacked flavor.
The “yes-but” theme marched on. Lackluster chocolate sauce undermined delicate custard-filled puffs. Luscious, properly firm panna cotta was enhanced by a delightful orange essence, but biscotti were overly hard and bland. Brilliant lemon sorbet transported me to a café overlooking Positano, while puff pastry filled with lemon custard lacking the sorbet’s zip left me in limbo. More consistent execution and bolder seasoning are needed to make this jewel shine.