WHAT’S FOR LUNCH? TUSCAN OPULENCE

Tortelloni and house-made sausage from Buona Sera’s lunch menu. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

On a warmer-than-expected spring day, the flung-open doors of Buona Sera Italian Ristorante in Red Bank offer a welcoming sight.

At night the restaurant, at the corner of Maple Avenue and Monmouth Street, can be crowded with party-goers and dates trying to impress, but lunchtime is a different, quieter scene.
Outdoor tables, multiple bars, dining rooms and a new rooftop open-air space offer comfortable seating options. Below, an eggplant, mozzarella and roasted red pepper wrap from the lunch menu. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

A heavily carved antique bar built originally for the Bohemian Gymnastic Association Sokol on East 71st Street in Manhattan — redesigned and restored for the Fulton Street Cafe in 1946 — now occupies a wall in the original dining room.

Owner and chef Christopher Mariani bought it for the space, his wife Danielle tells PieHole. In 1998, their building “had apartments upstairs, and the bar and dining area to the left was a pet store,” Danielle tells us, referring to Fins and Feathers, which moved just down Monmouth Street in 2007.

Transformed over time, Buona Sera now boasts multiple bars, a Tuscan room that accommodates large parties, a wine cellar and a newly finished rooftop bar for cigar aficionados.

Entering through one of the open doors we’re alone in what seems like an empty restaurant. Confused, we take a seat at the bar, only to realize that lunch is being served on the other side in the original dining room.  Aromas of garlic and tomato waft through the space and our mouths start to water.

Customers fill in a few of the white-clothed tables, but we opt to belly up to the antique bar and peruse a somewhat extensive lunch menu. Appetizers, wraps, pastas, seafood, chicken and heavier carne, or meat, dishes give us lots of choices.

A traditional pasta dish of tortelloni and sausage ($14) impresses in all ways possible. Tortelloni, meaning large little pies, are exactly that. In a pool of brightly acidic pomodoro sauce, the stuffed pasta, cooked perfectly al dente, would be a pleasing dish on its own. But the oversized bowl is also filled with nuggets of house-made sweet Italian sausage.

The sausage is exceptional. Bites of fennel seed add flavor, while slivers of garlic deliver a joyfully pungent jolt to the tongue. Maybe not a dish you’d order on a first date, but certainly one to share with someone you love.

We also tried a wrap ($12) filled with eggplant, mozzarella, and roasted red pepper, served with standard steak-cut fries. Tasty, but rather anticlimactic after the bowl of pasta.

Buona Sera Italian Ristorante is open for lunch Monday through Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

SUSAN-ERICSON

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