Oct 30, 2019

Brooklyn Fine Dining Comes to Monmouth County

By Lori Draz

Tinton Falls just welcomed a new restaurant to its busy dining intersection, and so we waited our turn to give it a try. Gargiulo’s moved into the former Portofino’s, and it has been busy since it opened. Even our early week dinner was crowded, so be sure to make your reservations. While the restaurant is new, it feels old in a good way – established and time-tested. This could be that it is the offspring of the Gargiulo’s/Russo family of restaurants, which have been operating in Coney Island, Brooklyn for more than a century. It also could be the menu – simple, straightforward, classic Neopolitan dishes, like eggplant parmigiana, chicken francese, and linguini and clam sauce. True Italians will swoon in memories of grandma’s Sunday suppers while those who crave the non-fusion, old-timey tastes that quality ingredients and skillful preparation deliver will be happy too. The dark interior of Portifino’s has been swapped out for a white-washed, stucco-like interior with wood beam ceilings. There is also an upstairs dining room, but regardless of those changes, what’s on the plate is as traditional as it comes. It’s homey and elegant, and it reminded me of some of the old Italian restaurants uptown on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and downtown in Little Italy in Manhattan. I have eaten at the Brooklyn location and for the others who have, you will get those same flavors here, without the tolls and traffic.

We were visited by one of the owners who is also a member of the Russo family along with our most pleasantly enthusiastic server.

We began with two appetizers: the fried calamari and the pan-seared mozzarella with sun-dried tomatoes, basil and portobellos. The calamari is a generous-sized portion, and the coating is perfectly tasty, with enough salt to make you keep going back for more. The pan-seared mozzarella are two thickly cut pieces, sautéed golden with beefy mushrooms. Those mushrooms show up on many dishes, and I have to say brava to whoever picked the mushroom purveyor. They were simply delicious everywhere they turned up.

Now for the entrées. Diner one chose filet of sole in a not-often-seen Marechiara sauce. She said it may have been among the best filet of sole dishes she has had, remarking that the punchy-but-balanced blend of flavors did not overpower the delicately flavored, snow-white sole.

Diner two went with the familiar favorite, veal marsala and mushrooms. The earthy dish, with its rich brown sauce and those wonderful chunky mushrooms came with sautéed green beans. The veal flavor held top billing among the other autumn flavors, and this dish reminded him of those childhood meals I mentioned before.

I chose the chicken tomasso which has three medallions of boneless breast with artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto, onions and sun-dried tomatoes in a white wine sauce. I must say the chicken was perfect, so tender you could cut it with a fork and so moist. The additional ingredients created a farm-to-table taste that was most pleasing. Our group split a plate of grilled vegetables in oil. While the general portions are not large, the ingredients are high-quality, and we all took home a nice little box with our leftovers.

The dessert menu is fairly simple and traditional. We gave a nod to a not-too-common tortoni, which is a frozen Neopolitan dessert similar to gelato, with sweetened whipped cream and a hint of rum or Amaretto, garnished with chopped, toasted almonds and a maraschino cherry. Sometimes it is served by the slice, but the Italians prefer serving it in a paper muffin cup, which is how they do it there. It was quite good, cool and creamy. The white plate, white dessert, white paper cup make it look like a snowy morning with one bright cherry red sun in the sky. We also had the cannoli. The crème was smooth and lush. Desserts portions are good for one person; they can be shared but if you have a sweet tooth, order your own.

After dessert, we played a game called La Tombola, which our server had teased in the beginning of our meal. She shakes what looks like a wine jug and you call out a number from 1 to 100. If you match, your meal is free. In case you’re wondering we were only two numbers off, but close only counts in horseshoes.

Garguilo’s is a fine choice for entertaining a multi-generational group and dinner with friends. The wine list is good, but a little pricey by the bottle; order by glass if you wish. There is free valet parking, so don’t worry about their compact lot.

Cost – high
What we liked – The traditional, no compromise Italian tastes, the friendly staff and involved management team, the comfortable seating and lighting, and the La Tombola game at the end.
What could be better – We’re looking forward to nightly specials. Also there are no kids’ options.
We give it 4 and a half Js
Gargiulo’s is located at 720 Tinton Ave. in Tinton Falls (in the old Portofino’s). 732-389-9100. Gargiulos.com. Open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 pm and Sunday from 12 to 8 pm. Closed Tuesdays.