The Rosie Report: Mandara in West Caldwell

The Italian restaurant offers a range of specialty pizzas, pastas, and reasonably priced wines and cocktails.

Pisa salad. Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

Mandara Ristorante and Pizzeria fits the bill for a local restaurant. The food was yummy, prices good and service attentive. This establishment won us over as soon as we bit into their piping hot garlic knots. Additionally, after gobbling down these addictive nuggets they were graciously replaced. Bread from Balthazar was also served, creating a very positive first impression.

Appetizers can easily be shared. Our starter was an appealing melanzana rollatini consisting of sliced eggplant stuffed with creamy ricotta and stringy fresh mozzarella surrounded by a tomato sauce. The appetizer portion could have been an entrée. Other options were meatballs simmered in tomato sauce with fresh ricotta; fried zucchini slices with marinara sauce; clams oreganata; and something we have never seen before called capellini al forno described on the menu as little cakes of fried capellini pasta tossed with carbonara sauce, pancetta and onions served with a pink vodka sauce. They were fabulous and not as rich as they sound. Try them. You’ll thank us!

Entrees were also substantial. Veal Marsala contained tender veal scallopini, mixed mushrooms, roasted potatoes and broccoli with a silky Marsala wine sauce. An uncomplicated baked ziti enveloped in a tomato sauce topped with gooey mozzarella cheese was a flavorful assemblage.

Baked ziti. Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
Stuffed eggplant. Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
Pizza with roasted red peppers and sautéed mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
Veal Marsala. Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

Specialty pizzas such as Della Spiaggia (the Fisherman) created with tomato sauce, garlic, shrimp, mussels, clams and light dusting of mozzarella cheese on a thin crust; deep dish; sottosopra (upside down) deep dish crust with fresh mozzarella baked under a layer of marinara sauce and gluten free are available. One evening we had “take out” of the New York style, 18-inch pizza with roasted red peppers, sautéed mushrooms, mozzarella, tomato sauce and fresh basil. It was quite good but so large that half of it went into the freezer.

We tried two salads at lunch, and can recommend the beautifully plated Pisa with a striking vertical presentation of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto di Parma, roasted red peppers, and baby arugula drizzled with a balsamic and olive oil. Not as successful was the bland Ritrovo salad made with mozzarella, salami, provolone, grilled vegetables, carrots, fennel, vinegar peppers and olives on a bed of greens with a tasteless lemon vinaigrette.

We never tasted the desserts but on two different occasions the waitress told us that the tiramisu was the only dessert made in house. However, when we reached out to the owners via the PR contact we were told that the gelato, ice cream and cookies were brought in and the tiramisu, carrot cake, coconut cake, chocolate cake and chocolate mousse cake were homemade. We did have a bold cappuccino with a thick layer of milk that was quite satisfying.

The reasonably priced wines by the glass range from $9 for a 2018 Il Conte Pinot Grigio to $13 for a 2016 Super Tuscan. Pours were generous. Cocktails are $12 and include a Fig Mule made with fig infused vodka fresh lime and Fever Tree ginger beer. The heavily Italian wine list also includes, domestic, French and Spanish options. Corkage fee, something you may see on a menu in California but seldom in New Jersey, is $30. Bottles of wine were also very approachable with many of them in the $30 to $60 range. For example, a 2017 Tenuta Sette Cieli “Yantra” Super Tuscan from Tuscany is $50 and I found it online for $33.99. Turley Estate lovers can find a petite sirah for $53. Bottles range from $25 for a Chateau Gassier red blend to $500 for a 2010 Dal Forno Romano Amarone, which is found on the reserve list.

Looking to save a few bucks? From Monday through Thursday from 4:30-6:30 PM enjoy BOGO (buy one get one) wine and beer; 25 percent off cocktails and half-price Happy Hour appetizers such as zucchini fritti, arancini, clams oreganata, and more.

Mandara has two dining areas; one a brick oven pizzeria, and a more formal dining room with a floor-to-ceiling wine display, brick wall with Mandara’s logo; specials written on a blackboard and black and white family photographs. Waitstaff don black and white checked shirts. Brown paper place mats and cloth napkins are used. The bar has two TVs and there is one TV in the pizza area.

Open Monday through Thursday from 11am–10pm; Friday and Saturday 11am–11pm and Sunday from noon to 10pm. Happy Hour, Monday through Thursday, 4:30–6:30pm.

Mandara Ristorante & Pizzeria, 40 Clinton Road, West Caldwell 973-226-3250

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