In downtown Glen Rock, a stone’s throw from the town’s iconic rock monument, Rocca’s storefront occupies part of the Galleria’s sturdy brick façade, a clue to what its name means in Italian: “stone fortress.” The name (pronounced RO-kuh) also alludes to the town itself, where owner and executive chef Craig Levy opened the restaurant in 2004. CIA-grad Levy, 43, offers a moderately priced menu of traditional as well as creative Italian dishes.
His house-made warm focaccia, with its delightfully springy texture and a delicate crust dusted with sea salt, made a welcoming first impression amid the autumnal gold, orange and maroon hues of the softly lit dining room. Several first courses sustained the mood. Silken slices of prosciutto showed off milky, house-made fresh mozzarella and smoky-sweet roasted peppers. Baby artichokes, faultlessly fried, and olives completed a salad of peppery arugula with light lemon dressing. Crisp calamari came with a fine, spicy marinara. A touch of cinnamon transported eggplant caponata beyond Italy’s borders, as did its accompanying chickpea cake, feta and mildly tart yogurt. Cauliflower roasted until caramelized was enhanced by a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Unfortunately, the promised hit of white truffle oil was undetectable. Spinach, from Graiff Farms in Vineland, tossed with grapefruit, made an agreeable salad, but bland honey-harissa vinaigrette provided neither sweetness nor spice.
Pastas are made in Rocca’s kitchen. The standout was bowtie pasta in an unconventional, bisque-like lobster sauce studded with bits of fennel-accented sausage. The same sausage goes into the hearty and traditional lasagna, along with ricotta, tomatoes and basil. Deliciously rich oxtail stew was, however, marred by gummy potato gnocchi.
Entrée highlights included a beautifully cooked, thick, juicy pork chop rubbed with espresso and served with apple-sage stuffing. Sweet parsnip purée and balsamic-glazed cippoline onions delightfully embellished roast chicken from nearby Goffle Road Poultry Farm in Wyckoff. Roast duck with warm quinoa salad and cranberries from Paradise Hill Farm in the Pine Barrens pledged allegiance to America rather than Italy, as did succulent, boneless short ribs surrounded by caramelized fall vegetables. Levy’s take on veal saltimbocca, a Roman classic, added wilted spinach and melted mozzarella to the traditional sage-flavored cutlets wrapped in prosciutto. But the dish was marred by an overly thick, heavy sauce and too much sage.
Two ways of pairing seared scallops with seasonal ingredients brought differing results. An apple-cider reduction, sweet potatoes and pear chutney proved too sweet for the mild mollusks. Yet a caramelized shallot-onion chutney and orange-ginger-chili syrup enlivened the scallops without masking their flavor.
Cuisine Type:European - Italian