Vol. LXV, No. 31
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
ITALIAN SPECIALTIES: Ive been wanting to have the seafood and antipasto bar for a year, and now I have been able to do it. Camillo Tortola, chef/owner of Camillos Cafe in the Princeton Shopping Center, is shown by the antipasto section of the new bar. I am so happy to be able to offer this to our customers. No one else in Princeton has anything like it.
Authenticity is the key to Camillos Café in the Princeton Shopping Center. The popular trattoria, which will celebrate its sixth anniversary in November, focuses on authentic Italian cuisine.
Indeed, introducing customers to the genuine aromas, flavors, sights, and sounds of Italy has been owner/chef Camillo Tortolas mission since he opened the restaurant.
An Italian chef is like an artist, he says. Italian cooking is not just learned in school; its experience, creativity, tradition. Italian cooking is so popular because of the culture of the country the music, the way of life, the atmosphere. I always hoped to have a restaurant here. I thought the people in Princeton would appreciate an authentic Italian trattoria, with high quality yet unpretentious food.
As a chef, Camillo has always been dedicated to creating delicious Italian dishes. Its what he has been doing his adult life and what fascinated him when he was a boy. Born in Italy, and brought up by his grandmother in the small village of Miranda, Camillo was intrigued by his grandmothers cooking.
Taste and Aroma
She was very poor after World War II. My grandmother created a simplicity and purity in the food that shaped my palate. Shed put a chicken in a pot, with all fresh vegetables, and the flavor was wonderful. I fell in love with her cooking style, from Naples, he recalls.
The taste and aroma were very appealing. She fed me very well! Id watch her, and thats when I decided to be come a chef.
Camillo trained for two years at the Roccaraso Cooking School in Italy, and was employed in a variety of Italian restaurants before moving to Scotland, where he worked with well-known Italian chef, Enzo Ripa. He later owned two restaurants there, including one in Edinburgh. After coming to Princeton in 2003, he worked as a private chef in the area before opening his own restaurant.
I think people appreciate three things, he points out. Quality food, quality decor, and quality service. Princeton is a very cosmopolitan place and a great location between New York and Philadelphia. Princeton University brings a lot of international people here, and also, residents have traveled and appreciate good food.
Camillo wanted the trattoria to be authentic in every way, including the decor. During the restaurants five and a half years in the shopping center, it has evolved significantly, undergoing renovation and transformation. From the beginning, the decor has evoked the look and tradition of Italy, including the large mural of Miranda, his home town in Italy. Italian wine labels and posters create a handsome and inviting setting.
When Camillos expanded three years ago to include the space next door, it added a private party room to accommodate 70 guests, again with an authentic Italian ambiance.
Al fresco dining was also included, and then, in mid-July of this year, a seafood and antipasto bar was introduced. The bar is visually very appealing, with colorful vegetables, an array of seafood, and decorative accents of sea shells and starfish to suggest signs and shadings of the seashore.
Its a beautiful display, reports Camillo. I think we are off to a wonderful start. The customers love it. When you come into the restaurant, you can see the seafood and antipasto bar right away, before you are seated at your table.
Antipasto can be a lot of different things, he explains. Fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, pickled vegetables with white wine vinegar the vinegar opens the stomach and makes it more receptive to the main meal. We have chili peppers, red and green peppers, zucchini, olives, egg plant, and shallots. Also, all different Italian cheeses (including Drunken Goat), as well as prosciutto, Italian salami, and Italian bread.
Camillo is very proud of the recipe for the pickled vegetables, which he found during a stay in Italy. This is unique to us. I got this special recipe from a nun in Italy last year, when I was visiting a monastery there. A terrific aroma of cooking was coming through the air, and I inquired about it. The nun was cooking eggplant and peppers in a special pickling recipe. I asked if I could have it, and she gave me the recipe. It is just delicious, and you can pickle any vegetable in this way, and then mix it with proscuitto and cheese. You can have it any way you want, combine it with the seafood, or it can be an ingredient in panini. You are only limited by your imagination!
The seafood bar is filled with the freshest fish around, he adds, and a recent sampling included Blue Point oysters, New Zealand mussels, New Jersey mussels, Little Neck clams, shrimp, tuna, and sea bass. It can be served raw or cooked, according to the customers preference.
We have sustainable seafood, points out Camillo. Also, remember, in Italy, we are seafood specialists. We have the Mediterranean Sea around us, and we know about fish. I wanted the seafood bar to be informal, very accessible, and high quality.
In addition to seafood and antipasto, the bar also functions as a panini express.
In Italy, panini means sandwich, explains Camillo. It can be served hot or cold. Well make the panini, served with Italian bread, right in front of the customers, who can choose whatever ingredients they want, including any of the antipasti.
Camillo is also introducing a new weekly menu. It will change every week he reports. In summer, well have lighter dishes, such as seafood and salads. There will always be old favorites, too, that the customers cant be without: chicken and veal parmesan, chicken and veal marsala, lasagna, and our Papperdelle with sausage ragu and truffle oil.
Personally, I love peasant food, such as Caponanta di Melanzane (egg plant) with pesto and bruschetta. I love the simplicity of it. The simplicity of Italian food is what makes it so popular. A Mediterranean diet is the best in the world, and so good for you. We use olive oil, not butter. Olive oil and tomato sauce are good for you. Again, its the authenticity of the product. Well take a beautiful lobster, for example, and cook it; we dont cover it with heavy sauces.
Camillo is very pleased to be able to offer customers the new seafood and antipasto bar, and he is justifiably proud of the restaurants success. We are set apart because of our fresh ingredients and our special recipes, he notes. I want people to come in because our food is based on recipes that have stood the test of time. Its our tradition.
Camillos Café is open seven days: lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner 5 to 9 Monday through Thursday, 5 to 10 Friday and Saturday; Sunday 5 to 9 (dinner only). Reservations are recommended. (609) 252-0608. Website: www.camilloscafe.net
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