Arriving for our reservation at Caffe Navona at prime time on a Saturday night, we entered into a small vestibule crammed with lots of other hungry patrons. Even though nearly every table appeared to be taken, our wait was short and we enjoyed the soothing sounds coming from the baby grand piano tucked into the corner.
To one side of the entry and a few steps down, there were people enjoying their meal at the darkly-paneled bar and intimate little booths along one wall, but we were led into one of several dining rooms and seated near the wood burning fireplace. A complimentary bowl of delicious balsamic bruschetta arrived immediately, along with a super fresh crusty Italian loaf that could have benefited from a little warming.
There was a bit of confusion when the waiter asked for a drink preference without ever bringing a wine or cocktail list, and even when the menu of nearly a hundred bottles did arrive, wines were only priced by the bottle, despite our being told that some were offered by the glass.
Our appetizer selections all offered great combinations of flavor but needed minor tweaking in preparation or presentation. We anxiously awaited the carpaccio slices of raw filet mignon with onions, capers and hard-boiled eggs with a perfectly balanced sweet and tangy balsamic sauce and salty shavings of Parmesan. Although it was billed as being served over arugula, it was more of a salad jumble that did not allow for the prime beef to take center stage. Our shrimp appetizer did highlight the four jumbo prawns wrapped in crispy prosciutto by placing them on a bed of wilted spinach and drizzling the plate with a wonderful, creamy pesto sauce, but the shrimp were a tad overdone and tough.
The main course veal saltimbocca was also attractively presented on a bed of spinach and was sprinkled with tiny colorful tomatoes. This time the medallions of meat were tender and nicely offset by salty prosciutto, creamy mozzarella and an earthy sage demi-glace. The grilled pork chop was also done just enough to retain a juicy texture and was topped with peppers, onions and garlic in a rich balsamic glaze that was perfect for dipping the accompanying slivers of crisply fried potato.
We were disappointed to find the Italian bread pudding literally whited out on the menu and opted for white chocolate mousse with crimson Chambord sauce, which was a nice light finale, but again the glass cup of custard topped with a puddle of sauce was certainly less than artistic.
With live music nearly every night of the week and a comfortable, yet elegant atmosphere, it is no wonder Caffe NaVona is so popular, but a few adjustments would help polish the menu and staging to create an even greater overall dining experience.
Café Navona, 147 Route 46, Rockaway, 973-627-1606. Open Monday–Tuesday 11am-9pm, Wednesday-Saturday 11:30am-10:00 pm, Sunday 4-8pm.