Giovanni taught his wait staff well. They are sharp with the service and atmosphere. Although they are not five star waiters, they were pretty close. Giovanni did some renovations since the last time we were there – it looks a lot better. It has that Italian decor you see in the magazines and books about Italy. He has a large banquet hall downstairs for private parties, which can seat about 200 guests.
I must say the food is very good for the price. We went with the dinner menu special at $24.95 and it included an appetizer, pasta, dinner, and dessert. We started with Mozzarella cheese between bread with prosciutto and then baked, and finished with capers, garlic, anchovies, and olive oil. This was good, even though I am not an anchovy person. The taste was there.
We then went to our pasta dish. I had the Vermicelli with Meat Sauce. The sauce was just right, not acidic like you would find in a pizza place, and the meat was tender with no bone fragments. My wife had the Fettuccini Carbonara. The sauce coated the pasta lightly and the bacon gave it a nice flavor. Then the main course. My wife had the Chicken Piccatta. The chicken was tender and not too lemony like other restaurants, and the wine was cooked out so that you didn’t get that acid taste.
They could have used a little more capers for my taste, but not everybody likes too many capers. I went for the Veal Marsala. The veal was tender and cut with a fork, and the sauce was made with sweet marsala, which gives it a better taste. A few more mushrooms would have been nice. When it comes to dessert, I always look for the homemade items. They make their own Tiramisu, but that is all I saw. The other items were Imported from Italy. They were good, but nothing is like homemade.
Their kitchen was clean and the kitchen crew were friendly and helpful. Mario, Giovanni’s brother, is the head Chef. They take a lot of pride in preparing your meal. The food was top quality. They don’t skimp like some other restaurants that I know. They use choice cut meats and fresh vegetables. They even have a garden with fresh herbs and tomatoes. But one thing is for sure – this is your traditional Italian Restaurant!
In the heart of Linden, in a comfortable nest of its own, sits a beautiful building complete with an abundance of parking, fine external landscaping and miniature lights that lure you into the surprise of an extraordinary, well-decorated restaurant with high-style decor that includes fine Tuscan design to Venetian and Roman appointments.
III Amici is vast and accented very stylishly with large mirror treatments to avoid anyone having to stare at a blank wall. The large, highly sophisticated bar is very spacious and very up market. There is a provision for entertainment, which I will talk about later. There are at least two dining rooms on the first floor and the banquet room downstairs seats approximately 200 people. The waiters are all attired in formal tuxedos and the associate staff is in formal attire. The wait staff is especially courteous, extremely polite and efficient. Tables are spacious and comfortable.
After being seated by the Maitre D’, Stefanos, a leisurely drink order followed along with the splendid menus. Giovanni Lavorato, who is the owner, told us that the restaurant is 15 years old. His head chef is his brother Mario the chef, and the brothers hail from Calabria, Italy. The menu is especially ambitious, running through the obvious pesce and meats, including veal and chicken and pasta. The appetizers present a large array of selections, one of which is a signature appetizer, Spiedino Romano – a wonderfully prepared bread with the center removed and filled with mozzarella, which is dipped in flour and egg and fried with an anchovy sauce. A very hearty and deliciously tasty offering.
The Hot Antipasto is a medley of wonderfully stuffed mushrooms, stuffed clams, shrimp, peppers and fish and mussels. For those with hearty appetites, this is not to be missed. The special appetizer of the day, a generous offering of large oysters with a warm champagne sauce, would delight anyone’s palate. The salads are Caesar, Endive, Tre Colori and Arugula. The Arugula, in particular, features a tangy dressing. I could write a book on the soup, starting with Pasta Fagioli. This is served in a large, very beautifully decorated bowl with the finest of red and white beans in a chicken broth. It is best described as an elixir, a hearty soup with ample portions and spiced to perfection. Escarole Fagioli, another premium Italian soup with sauteed escarole together with wonderfully flavored beans, is in a garlic and oil broth.
The Stracciatella Romana, which is the Italian version of egg drop soup, meets all the tests of this great Roman dish. Eggs are dropped slowly into a pot of bubbling chicken broth and Parmesan cheese is added to make it a delightful dish. Pasta comes in at least 10 versions in this spectacular menu. The Linguine al Pesto fits the classical description of al dente as the linguine is topped with fine Parmesan cheese. Ravioli Bolognese again offers a very generous portion of ravioli together with the classical meat sauce, aromatic and tangy. Other pasta dishes are Rigatoni Amatriciana, Spaghetti Genovese, plus Lasagna. The pasta dishes at our table were enormous, beautifully presented variety of fish swimming in a piquant sauce over al dente pasta. The dish includes large, tender shrimp, clams, mussels and several varieties of fish served on a steaming hot, decorative platter fit for a king or queen.
Stuffed Shrimp includes a large portion of delectably stuffed shrimp with bread crumbs, cheese and crabmeat. A most tender presentation. This chef really knows how to cook fish and shellfish. The Sole Francaise, which was cooked to perfection in a lemon butter sauce, was grand. Other items on the fish menu included Shrimp Scampi, Stuffed Sole, Snapper Livornese and Calamari Marinara. I would like to eat my way through the fish menu. The meat menu is slanted strongly toward veal dishes and chicken dishes. However, in the writer’s mind, the Double Veal Chop reigns supreme. I ordered the veal chop grilled medium rare with no sauce. It was an absolute delight. The quality of the veal was such that it was fork tender. The subtle seasoning brings out the taste of veal to perfection. I highly recommend this dish.
The Filet Mignon Provolone presents an ample steak, beautifully seasoned in provolone sauce. Again, the quality of the beef and the subtleness of seasoning make it a must. The broiled lamb chops are double-thick, broiled and seasoned to enhance the taste of the lamb. They are perfectly grilled and one must have them in order to assure that they are a most tasty delight. The vegetables, Sauteed Broccoli, Sauteed Escarole, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe and Sauteed Spinach, make a great accompaniment for any of the entrees. During the mid-part of the dinner, music fills the air. Very soft mood music is a fine accompaniment to a perfect dinner. A lovely touch to fine dining.
Coffee of all types are available. Cappuccino, espresso and a most delightful dessert menu are available. The Cheesecake is a specialty. Chocolate Torte and Fruit Torte plus Ice Cream and Berries bring to a close a lovely evening of great dining. As you leave the restaurant, sounds of music make you desirous of your next visit to III Amici.
By Lillian Abbracciamento
Chef/owner, Giovanni-Lavorato, ambles from table to table at III Amici Ristorante, located at 1700 W. Elizabeth Ave. in Linden, and asks his loyal customers for an on-the-spot critique of the dinners before them. And Giovanni is not just asking. He feels the presentation and the accent must be just right. “It’s a matter of pride,” Giovanni explains. “Because, basically, this is not a job. It’s an art.” Hidden away in a half-industrial, half-residential portion of Linden, III Amici is a friendly, warm establishment that features an elegance and sophistication in its atmosphere, cuisine and wine cellar, but is simultaneously casual enough for the entire family to enjoy.
The skylights and greenery lend a sunny Italian glow to the very spacious dining room. Due to the skill and artistry of its charming and knowledgeable chef/owner, the establishment has a special reputation. Word-of-mouth has attracted a regular following to Amici III, including area corporate patrons and the local mayor, a frequent visitor. But the main reason for the excitement is the food. The menu is diversified with unique as well as traditional presentations from throughout Italy. I was informed that the restaurant has become known for its Hot Italian Peppers, which are not on the menu. Those in the know have come to expect them, however, the peppers were hot, but not incendiary, the delicate sweetness still tantalizing the palate. They were sensational.
The breads, actually two kinds, were a perfect complement to the hot peppers. See if Giovanni will divulge the names of the bakeries where they pick up these marvelous breads. The Baby Clams and Linguini, one of the evening’s five or six specials, were a gourmet event, a first, that I would be hard-pressed to forget. Call ahead to see if the baby clams, flown in from Italy when available, are on the menu. These alone would be worth a special trip to savor. They were tender, moist and flavorful; a delicate food for the gods – that’s as close as I can come to describing them.
Giovanni has a rare gift: He brings greatness to his preparations. Even a simple chicken breast was transformed into Chicken Amici, served with artichoke hearts and vinegar peppers in a light garlic sauce. The Salmon Picatta, with lemon and capers, and the Vitello Principessa, veal sauteed with eggplant, prosciutto and peas, were two other specials that deserve prominent mention. The steaks are prepared with many inventive collaborations. III Amici also offers a wine bar concept in that some of the best wines are served, if desired, by the glass.
The sweet finale was the perfect conclusion to this heavenly experience. It included an excellent, traditional Tiramisu, and, the best of all, a fresh fruit presentation set aglow in a blue flame, caressed by Sambuca di Romana. From appetizers to dessert, Giovanni, pride intact, has all the details just right.
By Karen DeMasters
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 Dowstairs hall 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.
From the warm, Old World style dining room to the tempting classic Italian dishes, dining at III Amici is like coming home to all your favorites. The building, is a stand-alone structure with ample parking, offers a main dining room on the first floor, separated from a private dining room by a row of French doors, and a bigger room downstairs for larger parties with a full bar and sound system.
On the main floor the décor is luxurious. Full crystal chandeliers and wall sconces accent the oil paintings, which hang on terra cotta stucco walls. The potted plants that dot the floor and light Italian music over the speakers only add to the feeling that one is at an outdoor café in Italy. The room is wonderfully situated for both, a business lunch or an intimate dinner. The main floor bar area is also separate from the main dining room and has several tables which work well for more casual dining. One is often likely to see owner Giovanni Lavorato at one of these tables, chatting with customers or having a bite to eat.
Our waiter was prompt and friendly, refilling glasses without being asked and taking his time with us. Bread arrived right away and it was warm and thickly crusted, accompanied with butter and olive oil. We started with a Bruschetta ($4.95), which arrived with a handful of delicious Kalamata olives. The chunks of tomato, onion, garlic and herbs flooded the senses as we chewed, trying to take it all in at once. The bread was toasted but served with the perfect amount of oil so that it was extremely easy to eat. Sometimes Bruschetta is served on bread so hard that you can’t chew it = not so at III Amici. The Linguine al Pesto ($10.50) came with lots of fresh basil, pignoli nuts, cheese and herbs. Fresh grated Parmesan arrived at our table with our meals and our waiter was generous with it. The Linguine was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of body to it. The Ravioli Bolognese (also $10.50) arrived as six full pillows of ricotta cheese, again perfectly cooked and piping hot, served with very thick, but light, and a little sweet, meat sauce.
The portions were manageable, but with enough left over to take home and enjoy again, and the pace was leisurely, with no one rushing us from appetizer to dessert. We enjoyed each bite thoroughly and when it was time for dessert had a tough time choosing from all the possibilities. In the end, the slice of seasonal pumpkin cheesecake and the plate of vanilla ice cream pie with pecans and caramel glaze were just right. Light and refreshing and washed down with a cup of strong, hot coffee or cappuccino (which arrived in a tall, clear glass mug with foam on top and sprinkled with cinnamon). Dessert at III Amici was absolutely decadent, but also absolutely not-to-be-missed.
III Amici Ristorante is a family-owned and operated business situated on Elizabeth Avenue in Linden, New Jersey. Excellent for both business and pleasure, III Amici has long been a staple for Linden residents and business-owners. Simply put, in Linden III Amici’s is the place to eat.
III Amici Restorante, 1700 W. Elizabeth Avenue, Linden, NJ 07036, 908-862-0020.