After talking to Max Viola, the owner of the new on Broad Street, you understand what it means to be a restaurateur by birth. “I love to welcome people, to see them happy, to give them a great experience, and to have them enjoy their meal,” he said. It's as if he'd be having you over his house for dinner.
Massimiliano, his name too long to fit on his ID, was born for this. His dad affectionately describes his son as an avid foodie, who loves to eat, and who could fairly critique a restaurant by age 12. Having been around the restaurant business his whole life because of his family, Viola has an entrepreneurial youthful confidence. Coming from a big family that lives in Italy, he travels there at least once a year, and of course speaks Italian, and the universal language of good food.
Viola chose Ridgewood over Montclair, Edgewater or Hoboken for his Pearl, featuring continental and seafood cuisine, liking all the “in-town action,” he said. In fact, Pearl is the 55threstaurant at the former Natalie’s’ location on Broad Street.
How did he find his chef David Anderson? Well, you may be surprised to know a cook-off in the kitchen was held among the top four contenders. Each had to do a fish and a meat dish, and David’s bronzini creation and duck dish were the winners. There is an obvious camaraderie with Viola, David and the sous-chef Andrew Johnson as they banter in the small kitchen.
How will it be during the ongoing baseball season for the avid Yankee fan Viola; the Mets fan, Johnson; and Red Sox fan David as they work together? We’ll see. For now, it's working.
“There is no hard part of the job,” Viola says. It’s all a labor of love, he reports. He pulled the place together, working day and night, painting, cleaning, and decorating, liking the elegance and symbolism of the Pearl for his seafood theme.
The shiny pearl-like mirrors speak of the sparkling sea, and the purple napkins and decor are linked to his last name–viola, or violet. The setting is very intimate.
The menu is fresh, every day. Produce on the menu is from local farms, organic and well, fresh. Fish comes from nearby Continental Seafood. To hear Anderson describe the bronzini and codfish he prefers to cook as “full of flavor and texture” is to have your mouth water, especially as he talks about the other ingredients.
As he gently and masterfully adds a dab of garnish to a dish, his experience as a chef at places like the River Café in Brooklyn, the Carlyle in Florida or Spago with Wolfgang Puck, all are apparent. There is a nice ease and harmony in the kitchen that spills out to the dining room where Viola makes strawberries zabaglione at tableside.
The outstanding bouillabaisse, with delicate clams, mussels and shrimp in delicious tomato fennel broth, was the only dish I tried, leaving a wonderful inviting and changing menu still to be tasted.
Ravioli, chicken, veal, duck can all appear on the menu along with daily oysters, fish and lovely appetizers. I’ll be going back to give them a taste.
The 55th restaurant at 17 South Broad Street, Pearl has a nice start, in a good vibe spot, especially with nearby parking, all within a few steps of neighbors like to pick up wine, and and for dessert.