Eating at Italian restaurants since giving up gluten has been challenging. Dining at La Riviera Trattoria in Clifton on Route 46 rekindled my hope that there was more to gluten-free dining than gummy brown rice pasta. Chef Franco Carlino, owner, had a robust business for decades when his daughter Maria was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Along with his son Sous Chef Antonio Carlino cooking by his side, the two came up with several new ways to cook and promote gluten free food.
Experimentation began by altering ingredients with gluten-free substitutes, some imported from Schar and Italian corn pasta makers. A modest gluten-free menu was soon published and word spread about the restaurant’s gluten-free options (now a full two page menu), causing a small group of devoted gluten-free diners to eventually swell to over 500 today.
Danica and Maria, along with the servers, are keenly interested in their patrons’ diet needs. Before being shown to a table, patrons are asked if they will be choosing from the regular or gluten-free menu. Once seated with appropriate menus in hand, there are more questions from the server or Maria herself: Are you gluten-free? Other allergies? Dairy? Soy? The kitchen, we are told, is quite eager and ready to accommodate any allergies. Gluten-free dishes are prepared in segregated pots and pans and served on brown rimmed plates to avoid contamination. People who are gluten intolerant or allergic as well as patients diagnosed with Crohn’s, autism, ADHD, Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other conditions all follow a gluten-free diet. Many diners are choosing a gluten-free lifestyle believing that it is healthier.
Even if I wasn’t living a gluten-free lifestyle, I would want to dine at La Riviera Trattoria. With its expansive gluten-free and regular menus, everything we enjoyed was deftly prepared and fresh tasting. The restaurant incorporates local and organic ingredients into dishes as well. GF beer and liquors are available, along with bread and desserts.
Stuffed artichoke (GF – $12.95) was delicious with a delicate breadcrumb and parmesan stuffing and a light broth to dip leaves into. Shrimp salad ($12.95) is served in a light lemon dressing and is an enormous portion. This was a stand-out. Spruzo ($16.95) is a medley of marina, garlic, basil and olive oil with penne, full of flavor and cooked precisely al dente. Veal Milanese ($22,95) had a light, crispy exterior and texture that was identical to traditional gluten-based breadcrumbs. The tender, flavorful veal inside was juicy and required no knife for cutting. Entrees are served with a tasty vinaigrette, thankfully without balsamic or sweet, overpowering flavors. This is very much an old-school style restaurant, where red wine vinegar has its rightful place. Gluten-free pizza is available and we very much enjoyed a personal size drizzled with olive oil, flaked salt and olives.
Once you have dined at the restaurant, I recommend you join their database by giving Maria or Danica your email. Four or five gluten-free dinners with a price fixe menu are offered throughout the year and reservations available on a first come first served basis.
Service is usually quite good with dishes arriving at a comfortable tempo from the kitchen. Tables are spaced comfortably in the dining room and the restaurant has an overflow/private dining room in the back. Make sure you do not confuse La Riviera Trattoria with another restaurant by a similar name next door. Reservations are strongly recommended. Danica, Maria and Chefs Carlino are very warm, gracious hosts.
La Riviera Trattoria
421-27 Piaget Avenue
Clifton, NJ 07011
OPEN TUESDAY THROUGH SUNDAY
Tues: 11:30a – 2:30p & 4:30p – 9:00p
Wed: 11:30a – 2:30p & 4:30p – 9:00p
Thurs: 11:30a – 2:30p & 4:30p – 9:00p
Fri: 11:30a – 2:30p & 4:30p – 10:00p
Sat: 4:30p – 10:00p
Sun: 2:00p – 8:00p