Restaurant Review

Laboratorio Kitchen

When chef James DeSisto bought the space last September, he changed everything but the name. The changes, including a New American menu, are for the better.

It’s unfortunate, if understandable, that when several restaurants fail in a given space, the space begins to seem snakebit. It’s not young chef James DeSisto’s fault that several restaurants failed to make a go of 615 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair. Still, when he opened his own first restaurant, a New American, in that storefront last September, it probably wasn’t a great idea to keep the overelaborate and misleading name of its immediate predecessor, Laboratorio Kitchen, which went belly-up after three months with a French and Italian menu.

Given that history, it’s to DeSisto’s credit that he survived a winter that brutalized all restaurateurs and now is seeing daylight, in the form of new customers coming through the door.

He has a few things going for him. One is the space, now soothingly hued and more comfortable. Another is price. DeSisto’s most expensive entrées, at $29, are a 14-ounce, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, boneless New Zealand rib eye with twice-fried pommes frites, an herb salad and a lively chipotle aioli; and American rack of lamb (three chops) with puréed potatoes, vegetables and natural jus. We had the rib eye, beautifully seared in a cast-iron skillet. It was tender, flavorful, a thoroughly satisfying piece of beef. (DeSisto recently began dry aging his beef in-house.)

Scallops ($28) were lightly sautéed and tasty, but the bland spinach polenta with them had gained more color than flavor from the puréed greens. A fine pan-seared filet of Atlantic salmon ($24) was cooked medium rare, as requested, but the heavy white-bean and mushroom ragù with it didn’t flatter the fish, and there wasn’t enough of the sprightly lemon beurre blanc to achieve an overall balance.

Zesty appetizers included shrimp Arrabiata ($13) and chorizo al diablo ($12). The tender shrimp come in a butter sauce sparked with just enough garlic and red-pepper flakes and moderated with the contrasting color and flavor of fresh parsley. The crispy-skinned chorizo is cooked in a rich white-wine broth with garlic, tomato and cilantro. It comes with a toasted baguette you’ll want to use as a sauce mop. On the other hand, the crab cake’s smooth interior did not deliver the jumbo-lump experience its name promised.

DeSisto, 28, makes his own mozzarella and burrata. The fresh mozzarella is adequate. The burrata has been a special, but will be featured—rightly so—on the regular menu with truffled tomatoes, microherbs and aged balsamic. The field-green salad with goat cheese, roasted walnuts and dried cranberries might be a cliché, but for $8, with good ingredients, you’d be churlish to fault it.

After growing up in Paterson and Totowa, DeSisto graduated from Johnson and Wales. He has worked with Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence, but his most important mentor has been Mitchell Altholz, the respected executive chef of Highlawn Pavilion and the Manor in West Orange. “Mitchell was very open with me, personally and as a boss,” DeSisto said. “He showed me his techniques, explaining why this would work or that wouldn’t.”

Desserts are not yet a strong point, although a warm chocolate lava cake showed why this warhorse will always be a champion when executed properly.

DeSisto has assembled a good team. He has the right instincts. If he continues to buy sustainably produced ingredients, cook them carefully, sell them at a reasonable price and refine the few flavor combinations that don’t quite work, he could be the one to finally get 615 Bloomfield Avenue off the schneid.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Fusion/Eclectic
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • Price Details:
    Appetizers and salads, $8-$13; entrees, $21-$29; desserts, $8
  • Ambience:
    Modern and comfortable
  • Service:
    Helpful, conscientious
  • Wine list:
    BYO

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