Restaurant Review

Sorellina

Gabi Lombardi, 26, who has two older sisters, opened Sorellina (which means “little sister”) to celebrate the food and especially the wine of Italy.

I rarely choose a restaurant on the basis of its wine list, but Sorellina, a new modern-Italian in uptown Hoboken, is an exception. Its list is entirely Italian. Gabi Lombardi, 26, Sorellina’s owner and a certified sommelier, wants people to appreciate that, for breadth and depth, Italy’s vino fully rivals France’s vin.

At Sorellina, which opened in January, she says, “I wanted to make room for indigenous grape varietals that never make the list.” One of the pleasures of dining at Sorellina is discovering these: a rustic red Carignano from Sardinia with cherry and spice notes; a sparkling yet earthy red from barbera and bonarda grapes in Emilia-Romagna in the north; a Lugana from Lombardy, around Milan, combining the body of chardonnay with the herbalness of sauvignon blanc. Sorellina encourages exploration by always having 14 reds, 14 whites, four sparkling wines and four rosés available by the glass.

Chef Jan T. Christie, 37, sets the festive tone by sending out lively assaggi, the complementary starters the French call amuse-bouche. His include irresistible Castelvetrano olives stuffed with house-made sweet sausage, coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.

Lombardi, who grew up in Mountain Lakes, has two older sisters, which makes her, in fact, a sorellina—“little sister” in Italian. She studied economics at Rollins College in Florida, including a stint in Italy, where “I fell in love with Italian culture, food and everything.” She opened her 94-seat restaurant after graduating from the International Culinary Center in New York in 2014 and continuing  her studies to become a certified sommelier.

Sorellina’s menu mixes Lombardi family nostalgia with modernity. A sausage-and-peppers mini-sub is a tribute to the one Lombardi’s dad made for tailgates at her college lacrosse games. The spicy crab puttanesca was inspired by days spent crabbing on her grandfather’s boat down the Shore.

Christie,  a former line cook at Gramercy Tavern and Lincoln Ristorante, both in New York, was introduced to Lombardi by mutual friends. His light, fruity marinara adds a welcome new dimension to raw clams on the half shell with olive oil and fresh oregano and to a mussels frito misto with long hot peppers. Coated in rice flour, the mussels emerge from the fryer airy yet crisp.

Christie smartly contrasts the butteriness of grilled squash with salt, fried sage and crushed pine nuts. Burrata from Lioni in Union oozes onto a bed of just-firm-enough sea beans, runner beans, wax beans and orange lentils in an appealing toasted-garlic vinaigrette. Roasted rainbow carrots with lime-zested yogurt, honey, sumac and crushed almonds were perfect one night; on another, they were overblanched and too soft. Still, on both nights they vanished in two minutes flat.

The chef makes six pastas from scratch every morning, and they are highlights of the menu. Strozzapreti—the twists made with two wheat flours plus toasted almonds reduced to powder—were marvelous in an onion béchamel with tender sunchoke rounds and house-smoked wild Alaskan salmon. gigli all’Amatriciana—lily-shaped noodles with rock shrimp, tomatoes, pungent guanciale and house-fermented chili paste—was totally involving. Tortellini stuffed with braised lamb was glorious in a circus of flavors: mint, garlic, artichoke and eggplant purée.

A grilled New York strip steak was perfectly medium rare. A branzino fillet picked up delicate tartness from mustard seeds pickled in verjus. Tender grilled swordfish was enhanced by a sweet/sour slather of capers, kumquats and olives.

Cookies and chocolates from Lombardi’s mom, Geri, who owns Sweet Expressions by Geri in Denville, made for a decorous denouement.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Italian - Pizza
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • Dinner for two:

    Dinner, Tuesday-Sunday; brunch, Saturday-Sunday.

  • Ambience:
    Urban retro, with a convivial crowd.
  • Service:
    Engaging, informed, attentive.
  • Wine list:
    Full bar; all-Italian wine list, with 36 wines by the glass; Italian beers and cocktails.

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