Tucked away down Morris Avenue, apart from the bustle and stores of downtown Summit, sits La Focaccia, another Italian restaurant in New Jersey. The first thing one experiences after opening the menu is sticker shock: their Italian food is pretty darn expensive. But soon, an army of servers comes by to fill water glasses, pour your BYO wine, drop off a pair of sun-dried tomato/white bean topped crostini, a warm bread basket, and a dish of basil-infused olive oil…and you begin to settle in and realize La Focaccia is not your average Italian eatery. These people mean business.
La Focaccia's menu is heavy on seafood, with raw bar starters that include oysters and Little Neck clams by the dozen ($28 and $14), as well as several salads ($9.50-$12), an antipasto misto plate ($14), cooked mussels and clams ($12 each), and a "fritti" (fried) section featuring artichokes ($12), calamari ($14), and olives ($10).
The daily additions, however, dip into much more interesting territory. Generally speaking, specials tend to fall into one of two categories: market fresh items that shine best when in season or leftover/over-purchased product that needs to be pushed. La Focaccia's happily fall into the former group—and what an inspiration they are. Off the regular line-up are tuna tartar ($14), calves liver ($26), sweet breads ($28), and grilled quail ($30)—items one doesn't see every day on any menu, not just an Italian one. The fresh lobster salad special ($18) is a perfect example of the chef's inventiveness. The beautifully crafted dish included large pieces of lobster meat over julienned green apples, lettuce greens, chives, and thin rounds of beet. The slight citrus undertone played against the sweet seafood contrasted as vibrantly as the gorgeous deep purple beets on the white plate. One wouldn't think to pair beets with lobster, but the harmony and unique composition of the entire dish worked very well.
La Focaccia wouldn't be an Italian restaurant if it didn't offer several pasta choices, which it does. Penne, capellini, tagliatelle, and a host of other pastas are available with a variety of carefully thought-out sauces and accompaniments ($16-$22). The nicely done black spaghettini ($22) features a swirled nest of thick noodles (colored black from squid ink with a subtle, interesting flavor), calamari, clams, rock shrimps, mussels, and a chunky, not-so-spicy, tomato sauce.
The menu also includes a smattering of mains that again highlight seafood (Tuscan stew, grilled shrimp, and pan-seared salmon, $28 each). A particular stand-out is the grilled Ahi tuna ($30), which is cooked to temperature exactly the way you ask for it and served with a sweet-tangy, balsamic glaze, a tangle of dandelions, and a lovely dollop of buttery, mashed potatoes. For carnivores, there is marinated game hen ($22), parmesan crusted chicken ($22), veal Milanese ($28) and one lone sirloin steak dish ($34).
Desserts ($8.50 each) at La Focaccia are the popular renditions: a self-titled "famous" tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake, canolli, and crème brulee, among others. The warm chocolate soufflé cake which is served with vanilla gelato and a generous pour of chocolate sauce is adequate, although resembles more of a molten cake than a soufflé.
The Italian BYO's décor is understated, and a display of tall, leafy plants does a good job of separating the foyer from the main dining room. Service is extremely brisk and attentive (although not that friendly or personal) on both the wait staff and bussing fronts, with what seems like three or four people moving throughout the medium-sized room at all times—their eagle eyes searching for empty glasses to refill, checks to be taken, questions to be answered, and needs to be tended to. There is no doubt that they are professionals. I just wish they cracked a smile once in a while.
All in all, La Foccacia does a bang-up job of living up to its high-ticket prices. This is not your usual red sauce trattoria. On the contrary, it's fine dining with several worthy high points. Just make sure you don't forget your credit card at home.
523 Morris Ave., Summit
Hours of Operation:
Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm
Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 5-10 pm
Dinner, Friday and Saturday, 5-11 pm
Dinner, Sunday, 4-9 pm
BYO. Private parties available.
All major credit cards except Discover accepted.