Restaurant Review

At Fiorentini in Rutherford, Dinner Is a Dazzling Event

The Bergen County restaurant boasts inventive Italian fare, farm-to-table freshness, dreamlike decor and a community-centric vibe.

Short ribs, roasted for 12 hours, at Fiorentini in Rutherford
Short ribs, roasted for 12 hours, at Fiorentini in Rutherford Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

Have you ever had such a stellar night at the theater that you couldn’t wait to repeat that live-performance experience? Dining at Fiorentini was like that at each of my three dinners there, from the moment the oven-fresh rosemary focaccia made its fragrant entrance. Its herbal, Maldon-salted perfection was the prelude not just to a meal, but a dazzling gastronomic event.

Fiorentini owes its superiority to its owners, chef Antonio De Ieso and his wife, Brenda De Ieso, the ingenious designer behind the restaurant’s contemporary-yet-sylvan look. He is the gifted kitchen wizard of this enchanted woodland, which soothes with upcycled oak flooring, sculptural tableware, and mesmerizing moss and eucalyptus gardens built into the walls and ceilings. “It’s our interpretation of an Italian family’s garden trellis,” says Brenda. In winter, this dreamlike decor shimmers with crystalline embellishments.

The dining room at Fiorentini in Rutherford

The dining room radiates an enchanted-woodland feeling Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

Antonio, 36, and his three siblings grew up in Florence, Italy, “with a foster mom who taught me to make wonderful food on a tight budget. Her number one rule was fresh ingredients, which are cheaper, healthier and tastier,” he says. “Food can change your life. It changed mine; I knew at age eight that my purpose in life was to feed people and create health and happiness. I started showing up to help restaurant cooks and got hired at 14. I kept my family together, but home was those kitchens.”

Antonio studied at Florence’s Buontalenti culinary school and graduated in 2006. For the next decade, he cooked in various styles in cities all over the world, including Paris, Florence and New York, where he eventually became executive chef of the Maccioni family’s Osteria del Circo.

Antonio De Ieso, chef and co-owner of Fiorentini in Rutherford

Chef and co-owner Antonio De Ieso Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

But when the pandemic came, “I was out of a job and began planning a restaurant completely my own. I could afford to do that in New Jersey and saw this space on Rutherford’s main street, Park Avenue. It was meant to be,” he says. Fiorentini opened in late 2021, “and I fell in love with the town, its welcoming feeling and its BYO policy…A restaurant should do more than feed its neighbors. It should strengthen its community,” the chef says.

He is influenced by the locavore movement, or kilometer-zero dining, as it’s known in Europe. “Ingredients that can come from nearby, do, from natural, regenerative farms and producers,” he says. “You use every part of the animal or vegetable. No waste, no toxins, everything sustainable.”

At Fiorentini, most ingredients are from New Jersey; exceptions are Mediterranean octopus, Arctic fish and Italian cheese, olive oil and zero-additive flour. Collaborating with farms in “our true Garden State,” says Antonio, “keeps me focused on nature’s pace. I match my menu to each season.”

His current à la carte menu, unveiled on the winter solstice of December 21, is augmented by prix-fixe meals: a four-course regional Italian dinner and the Chef’s Tasting, a menuless, seven-course experience. “Our winter dishes are ‘welcome home’ food,” says the chef, “for celebrating the warmth and comfort of our lives.”

Chef Antonio De Ieso with chef de cuisine Kevin Conover at Fiorentini in Rutherford

Chef Antonio De Ieso with chef de cuisine Kevin Conover Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

Several pastas, handmade daily, had me chanting, “Resistance is futile.” Agnolotti are plump with Barolo-braised, grass-fed beef from Lima Family Farms in Hillsborough, sauced with reduced beef jus, and topped with a shower of herb gremolata (crumbled house-baked ciabatta, fresh seasonings, salt, pepper, olive oil and capers). “We make the flour from dehydrated and ground day-old bread,” says Antonio. “No waste, more flavor.” No argument there.

Plump agnolotti with Barolo-braised, grass-fed beef at Fiorentini in Rutherford

Plump agnolotti with Barolo-braised, grass-fed beef from Jersey’s Lima Farms Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

That flour is the basis of savory, bite-size gnocchetti pasta. The plate’s dextrous flavor balance juxtaposes saline yet ocean-sweet Barnegat clams, sparky Fresno chilies, and peppery kale, both puréed and crisped.

Winter’s risotto is “a Milanese classic, reconstructed by a modern Florentine, with every element separated and spotlighted,” Antonio notes. Its saffron-redolent, Parmigiana-rich, long-stirred carnaroli rice is encircled by a moat of concentrated beef stock, “and instead of melting the marrow in it, we save it for little scoops atop the risotto,” says the chef. Depending on how you steer your fork, every bite is different yet delicious.

Deconstructed winter risotto at Fiorentini in Rutherford

Deconstructed winter risotto Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

Lima Farms’s grass-fed beef reappears in a supreme iteration of short ribs, roasted on the bone for 12 hours at 275 degrees in a soffrito vegetable mixture. With each order, it’s cut from the bone, glazed and warmed. True, short ribs are ubiquitous, but Fiorentini’s is the one to order.

Wild-caught, sustainable fish dishes are abundant in flavor and portion. Winter’s tender Icelandic cod, served atop a bed of lush root vegetables, is poached in Chardonnay and vegetable stock and served with beurre blanc and black and pink caviars.

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Antonio’s desserts are a marvel. His exquisite chocolate lava cake arrives in a ramekin of heady chocolate fondant involving gluten-free rice flour, 70 percent dark Valrhona chocolate, sugar and eggs. According to its maker, traditional holiday panettone cake with almonds and candied cherries “is the test of an Italian pastry chef.” Our table graded this one an A-plus.

Chocolate lava cake at Fiorentini in Rutherford

Chocolate lava cake is just one delectable dessert Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

“Fiorentini” means “Florentines;” Antonio and Brenda both grew up in this storybook city in Tuscany. “Our high schools were a mile apart,” she says. “We probably crossed paths countless times before we actually met.” As fate rolled the dice, that happened years later in New York City, when Brenda, then an event producer, chose as a party venue the restaurant overlooking the Rockefeller Center skating rink—where her fellow Fiorentino was executive chef. “We’re grateful we finally met,” she says. Antonio adds, “So is our five-month-old son, Leonardo.” So am I.

HOW WE REVIEW: Restaurants are chosen for review at the sole discretion of the dining editor, based on input from our food writers and critics around the state. Our reviewers visit a restaurant at least twice, always maintaining anonymity to avoid preferential treatment. The reviewer brings up to three guests per visit and tastes everything that is ordered. NJM reimburses the reviewer for all food and beverage expenses. After the final visit, the reviewer conducts a phone interview with the chef, owner or other key members of the team. The review is then submitted to NJM and edited for clarity and fairness. Stars are assigned by the editor in consultation with the reviewer. As a final step, an NJM staffer checks the review for accuracy, always calling the restaurant to confirm all facts. 

Four stars = extraordinary; three stars = excellent; two stars = very good; one star = good; half a star = fair.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Farm to table - Modern Italian
  • Price Range:
  • Price Details:
    Appetizers and pastas, $18-$24; entrées, $36-$46; sides, $12; desserts, $7-$14
  • Ambience:
    Lively but intimate
  • Service:
    Enthusiastic and attentive
  • Wine list: