DELICIOUS DINING: “In Italian, ‘Bellisimo’ means beautiful or delicious, which is how we describe our food.” Al Ince, co-owner of Bellisimo Ristorante in Hillsborough, is shown with his signature cannoli specialty, which definitely is “bellisimo!”
Customers are lining up for the delicious dishes at Bellisimo Ristorante in Hillsborough. Located in the Kings Bridge Center at 378 South Branch Road, it specializes in Northern Italian cuisine.
Owners Al Ince and Gultekim Saglik (Sal) formerly worked on the Celebrity Cruise Lines before opening Bellisimo last July.
“It was a unique experience working on a cruise line,” explains Al, who is also Bellisimo’s chef. “You have to go to culinary school for years to get the experience I had on the ship. You work with lots of different cuisines and chefs, and get wonderful experience. Italian is my favorite cuisine.”
Al and Sal also worked in Italian restaurants in northern New Jersey, but as Sal says, “We wanted our own restaurant, and this one became available. We thought it was a good location, and we liked the area.”
It has proved a good choice, with customers coming from Princeton and Montgomery, and already, there are many regulars.
“We’ve really had a great response, even more than I expected,” reports Al. “Lots of repeats, and one customer even comes three or four times a week! We also get a lot of families. We have tried to keep the prices reasonable, so a family can have a nice evening out. Having the nicest dinner doesn’t mean the most expensive. We want our customers to feel comfortable and welcome. And we offer fine cuisine in an informal atmosphere.”
Indeed, customers look forward to a leisurely dining experience. They enjoy the attractive terra cotta decor, fresh white linens, and paintings reflecting Italian scenes. 120 customers can be accommodated in the restaurant, which is also available for private parties on Sunday.
Special attention to all areas of dining is a highlight of Bellisimo, notes Al. “We are set apart by our fresh ingredients, our recipes, and presentation. We buy everything fresh every day, and try to go to local places and farmer’s markets. We get organic whenever we can. I think people are trying to eat healthier now. We can also accommodate customers with special dietary needs.
‘I use my own recipes, and we have lots of different dishes, good tastes, and good sauces. You have to know how to make sauces; they are so important. We also have wonderful home-made salads, and we make the dressing from scratch right at the table. We don’t use any frozen food. Everything here is fresh and made from scratch.”
Chef Al’s presentation of his dishes is very special, and he makes sure that his culinary creations are visually appealing. “The customers think our presentation is so beautiful that they sometimes ask to take a picture before they eat the dish! First, you look at the food, and then taste it very slowly. We want people to take time to enjoy the food and have a leisurely dinner. We want them to have a real dining experience here.
“One thing about cooking,” he adds, “it can never be rushed. It’s all about taking the time to have everything blend together. I also always want to be creative with my cooking, and creativity comes from trying different things and having different experiences. The creativity is the fun part.”
Favorites among Chef Al’s dishes are filet of Chilean sea bass with cannelli beans and broccoli rabe; medallions of milk-fed veal topped with eggplant, coppa tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella cheese, served with fresh asparagus tips; Ossa buca, (braised center cut veal shank), served with saffron risotto; tenderloin of Berkshire pork with raisins, cherries, apples, walnuts, and sweet dessert wine sauce; fresh semolina pasta with wild porcini mushrooms; and fresh fettuccini pasta with mascarpone cheese, Bolognese sauce, and green peas.
At least 10 different specials are also offered every night for dinner.
Appetizers include cold seafood salad with marinated artichokes and mushrooms; thin slices of raw filet mignon over arugula, and slices of parmigiano reggiano with truffle infusion; and of course, antipasti, among many others.
Bellisimo’s desserts are all homemade, with tira misu, cannoli, wild berry sorbet, and chocolate molten cake topping the list of favorites. Espresso, cappuccino, tea, and varied soft drinks are available, and customers are invited to bring wine.
Bellisimo is open for lunch, dinner, and take-out, with prices starting at $12 for dinner, and $8 for lunch. Catering is also a big part of the business. The staff will handle any type or size party and at any location, including the restaurant.
Both Al and Sal are very pleased with the response to Bellisimo and look forward to serving even more customers. “The nicest thing is if you really like what you are doing, and we are so lucky,” says Al. “We are hands-on owners. I’m the chef, and Sal is the maitre’d. Making customers happy is our goal. We want the customers to be happy dining here, and to leave the restaurant happy.
“This is a great place to bring Mom to treat her for Mother’s Day.” he adds. “We have a special Mother’s Day menu.”
Bellisimo is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch 12 to 2:30, dinner 4:30 to 9; Saturday 4 to 10 for dinner; Sunday 3 to 10 for dinner. Reservations are always recommended. (908) 369-0032.
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