The problem with reality television is that conflict or disaster must lurk around every corner. After Ridgewood's Bazzini restaurant's television appearance on Fox's Kitchen Nightmares, we sought to discern the true reality.
I've visited 28 Oak St. in its previous incarnations, and most times the food was good.
But only my partner had dined there after Paul and Leslie Bazzini took it over, and he always praised the food. So I was looking forward to dinner there on a recent Tuesday night.
We made a reservation for 6 p.m. and arrived 10 minutes early. The sign says the restaurant opens at 5:30 p.m., so when we found the door locked, we thought maybe the restaurant had unexpectedly closed.
I was reminded of one of Kitchen Nightmares opening scenes when Chef Gordon Ramsay comes up to Bazzini's door and bangs on it in frustration because the place was not opened for lunch. (The scene struck me as so fake. I'm sure his producers told him it was not opened for lunch long before he ever arrived in Ridgewood to tape his show.)
But we thought Bazzini's would be opened for dinner on a Tuesday night, and I had promised my editor a review of the place. So my partner decided to go around back and see if anyone was in the kitchen. He got Chef Paul Bazzini's attention—and irritation—by pounding on the back door. Then the restaurant's lone server came out and unlocked the front for us.
At that point Bazzini came out, and, instead of apologizing, told us we hadn't been kept waiting more than a few minutes. (How long is too long?) The server also said she had no reservation. It was a rocky start. (Apparently they had not opened the doors on time, because Bazzini was being interviewed about his Feb. 5 television appearance.)
We decided to stay even though we were the only ones in the place, which usually is not reassuring. Why is nobody else in the place? Why does it look as if they are not expecting anybody else?
To start, I had the portobello mushroom salad with arugula, and it was very nicely done—the portobellos not over or underdone—and my partner had the polenta with asparagus, which he also enjoyed.
When the server came to clear, she took our forks off our plates and laid them back on the table. Apparently Bazzini's, which is rather formal and charges $18 and up for entrees, only provides one set of silverware—a tacky note in an otherwise nice looking, well-appointed space.
For the entrée, I had the tagliatelle with Sicilian-style veal meatballs in a marinara sauce, which was very good, while my partner had shrimp risotto, which he found a little salty but still nice.
For dessert, the lemon tart was pedestrian, but the pecan tart was a hit with my partner because it was not too sweet.
At the end of the evening, I asked Bazzini if I could interview him the next day, and we made an appointment to talk at 3 p.m. I wanted to know if he had it to do over if he would have still done Kitchen Nightmares, how he had become such a good pasta maker, when he decided he wanted to be a chef and where he went to school.
But when I called at 3 p.m., I was told that Bazzini wasn't coming because it was snowing. I left my number, but he never returned the call. I left several more messages when I could reach a live person but in the main, I was not able to reach anyone but the restaurant's answering machine.
Apparently even when you leave a reservation, it doesn't count unless they call you back and reconfirm. If they do call you back, they leave no message so if you don't recognize the number, you are out of luck. But even when you call back you still get the machine and so have no way of knowing if you have the reservation or not.
The night we were there, however, only one other couple came in so reservations may not be necessary most nights.
The food is good, but when it comes to service, there may have been a grain of truth in that reality show.
Entree Range: $18-$25
Atmosphere: Not Welcoming
Credit Cards Accepted