**Winner of The Best New Restaurant Award. New Jersey Monthly’s 28th Annual Readers’ and Critics’ Choice Poll.
**Restaurant review: Toscania Trattoria in Little Falls
By ELISA UNG
While his restaurant does have an Italian bent, Velez has crafted a much more eclectic menu with Spanish and French accents that seems to be catching on; he’s managed to retain many regulars, and getting a peak-time reservation on weekends can be difficult.
His core menu is Italian, with some great dishes at very reasonable prices. Beyond the standard sorrentino, marsala and francese, there’s a delicately flavored spaghetti alla carbonara made the classic way, with no cream — just eggs and parmesan and tiny cubes of rich pancetta ($13.95) — and a black squid ink pasta laced with shiitakes and shrimp in a light sauce with just a touch of cream ($18.95). Fairly light potato gnocchi were smothered in a hearty Bolognese sauce ($13.95).
Pay close attention to the daily specials — there’s usually an extensive list, and this is where Velez keeps things fresh and interesting for the restaurant’s many regulars. We tried two winners, both of which were some of the first dishes Velez remembers mastering — a salad with meaty Spanish anchovies marinated in citrus and olive oil ($8.95), and a crock of Prince Edward Island mussels in an aromatic Pernod cream sauce ($9.95). Slices of very moist pork tenderloin were dressed up with a pistachio crust and a sweet orange-amaretto glaze, homey pistachio cake (also made by Velez) and the lively limoncello cake, or the fantastic cannoli with a crisp shell and a pistachio-studded sweet ricotta cream (all $6.50).
Velez’s eclectic touches and personal hospitality make Toscania feel like a keeper, one that stands out even in North Jersey’s vast collection of neighborhood Italian restaurants.
“Italian cuisine has always just felt more comfortable to me, whether it was eating it or preparing it,” says José Velez, owner and chef of Toscania Trattoria, a southern Italian restaurant located in Little Falls
After six years at Rod’s Steak & Seafood Grille in Morristown, where he manned the kitchen as executive chef, José Velez is pursuing his dream of running his own restaurant. In early August, Velez took over Ristorante Due Nicola and renamed it Toscania Trattoria
He has cooked for presidents Bush and Clinton, and with well-known chefs Bobby Flay and Robert Irvine, and on Monday, May 2, celebrity Chef Jose Velez demonstrated his cooking expertise for the students, teachers and staff at Lincoln Elementary School, Caldwell.
Chef Inspires Students to Eat Their Veggies May 26, 2011
Chef Velez visited Lincoln School in Caldwell earlier this month to participate in the school’s “Team Up to Veg Out” program.