Review #4 – Inside Business

County Cuisine…
III Amici Ristorante in Linden

By Karen DeMasters

“Inside Business”
Union County Chamber of Commerce

III Amici Ristorante, located at 1700 West Elizabeth Avenue in Linden, may be one of Union County’s best kept secrets for where to find good evening dining. Nestled in a nicely-landscaped corner lot, the restaurant does a brisk business lunch trade and catering business, but it apparently has yet to be discovered by the dinner crowd. And discover it they should, because III Amici served this writer and her guest two of the best Continental Italian meals in their experience.

First of all, III Amici, with its nicely appointed building and Mediterranean decor, is a surprise to find located on the edge of an industrial area. Tiny white lights decorating the trees outdoors and real flowers on the tables added a festive atmosphere to the evening. The restaurant, which was opened 15 years ago, is owned by Giovanni Lavorato, who was head chef for a time. Now his brother, Mario Lavorato, is the head chef, and his two children, Teresa and Dante, work at the restaurant to make it a family business, which also includes a knowledgeable and friendly wait staff. The cuisine combines both northern and southern styles of Italian cooking. The name derives from the fact that three friends originally founded the business.

Although the setting is nice, it is the food that sets the restaurant apart from others. In order for us to be able to sample a variety of offerings, the chef prepared two combination plates of appetizers, one a traditional cold Italian sampling with delicate roasted peppers, flaky provolone, marinated mushrooms and tender artichoke hearts in a light olive oil, and the other a sampling of hot appetizers. It was with the hot appetizers that the chef’s skill really stood out. Tender muscles in a light tomato sauce, stuffed clams with just the right breaded topping baked over the whole clam, butter dipped shrimp and eggplant rolatini were only a part of the excellent offering. The experience convinced me that, when I return, I probably will order just appetizers.

The cost for the appetizers, which also include scungili or calamari salads, shrimp and clam cocktails and prosciutto and melon range from $6.95 to $8.95, with a $2 charge for anyone like me who may want to order only appetizers. My companion and I both selected specials of the evening for the entree. I had lobster ravioli with shrimp that was prepared in a light tomato sauce. The ravioli was homemade, as are the other pastas on the menu, and topped with freshly grated cheese.

My companion chose the veal and eggplant with spinach in a light brown sauce. Not only was the veal melt-in-your-mouth tender, but my guest said the spinach was the best he had ever eaten. Another special for that evening was swordfish. III Amici has a large selection of dinner entrees that include pastas and eggplant dishes in the $9 to $13 range and a wide selection of fish, veal and other meats including filet mignon and lamb chops, that range from $14.95 to the most expensive item on the menu, a double veal chop at $24.95. Vegetables are a la carte.

Other entrees on the menu include snapper livornese, lobster tails, several kinds of shrimp and a wide selection of veal and chicken dishes. The meal can be topped off with cappuccino, espresso or Irish or Mexican coffee. A small but very good selection of desserts is available, including homemade Italian cheesecake and a large, creamy cannoli. A full-course dinner is offered for $24.95 that includes appetizer, pasta, a choice of one of four entrees, coffee and ice cream.

The lunch menu is similar and slightly less expensive. III Amici is open from 11:30 AM until 10 PM with lunch served until about 3 PM. Although reservations are not necessary for dinner, they are recommended for lunch for parties of four or more. The dining room is divided into three rooms for more intimate dining and can seat a total of about 150. A banquet room downstairs with a dance floor can accommodate 175 to 200 and is used for social affairs, as well as business lunches and meetings. There are many Italian restaurants in New Jersey covering a wide range of dining experiences. III Amici is one of the best.