In the last decade, New Jersey entrepreneurs and business owners have capitalized on the Hudson waterfront’s appeal in every way possible: homes, highrises, restaurants. We’ve seen it all. A great view of Lower Manhattan hardly loses its majesty, but we’re no longer simply oohing and aahing at brightly-lit towers across the way. The truth is, restaurateurs—and plenty of developers—have squandered the possibilities of their location, falling short of the very quality known to our Gotham neighbors they mean to emulate.
When Battello opened in 2014 at the edge of a pier in Jersey City’s Newport neighborhood, its culinary I.Q. and rustic, upscale charm raised the standards of what we knew about dining on the Hudson River. By 2017, with weddings and events booked into the following year, it became a major landmark in the New Jersey bridal world. And with hundreds of successful dinner services to boot, it had truly made as big of an impact as one could make in just three short years.
In the summer of 2017, the ephemeral bliss subsided when the restaurant was informed that they would have to close for repairs necessary to improve the pier’s integrity. And though they were told they could start back up again in the spring of 2018—right in time for wedding season—delays continued through the year and Battello would not reopen as scheduled.
Eventually the famed 185-seat venue—helmed by a powerhouse team of Ryan DePersio (Chef/Partner), Cory Checket (Managing Partner), Joe Calafiore (Director of Operations) and Dominique Borzomati (Director of Events)—was allowed to reopen in early 2019. It’s true, the 17-month hiatus was a trying time for the staff, but they hit the ground running and haven’t looked back.
“We’ve retained about 20 percent of our front of house, as well as some others that used to work here,” Borzomati told me. “It’s a true testament to how good it is to work for this group. We’re like one big family—cooks and servers have returned because they’re happier working there.” From there, the Battello Four casted new talent to bring them back up to full strength at 96, which was ultimately the restaurant’s greatest challenge—spending two weeks training day and night to meet the team’s high expectations. And lead mixologist Ray Keane also returned to the fold.
Beyond its personnel, diners will recall familiar scenes—exposed bulbs, salvaged barnwood, wooden beams, a tall wall of glass jars—because much of Battello, save for a few plants, has remained the same. It still embodies that ethereal presence that HGTV designer Anthony Carrino and the team intended years ago. They are however, in addition to their open-air patio, now offering full outdoor seating for the first time and those pesky boats from the old marina (which formerly blocked some of the view) are now docked elsewhere. Corporate dinners or private parties can also be held with room for 16 in Battello’s wine room.
“I think we were great before,” Checket said, “but our goal is to be better. I think we provide an experience that no other restaurant in this area provides: Between Chef Ryan’s food, the service, the fact that we’re here every night as owners and operators, live music and of course, the view. Most restaurants that have a view like this sort of rest on that as the only asset they need to be successful and they don’t deliver on food and service.”
When it comes to the food, Chef DePersio’s “Italian Without Borders” philosophy has been completely revived in Battello’s new menu. “We didn’t bring back any original dishes, except a few signatures like the ricotta gnocchi—but I would say 95 percent of the menu is completely redone. I only have two or three employees from the original kitchen,” he explained. During his time away from Battello, the busy chef who also operates Kitchen Step in Jersey City and Fascino in Montclair, spent some time in his other restaurants and did some traveling. Though he was away from Battello much longer than he’d hoped, it afforded him opportunities like spending a couple weeks working in a one-star Michelin restaurant in Italy on the Amalfi Coast. Ultimately, these trips and collaborations serve as fuel for DePersio’s imagination to create new, exciting dishes that are uniquely his own.
As a top chef in the state, DePersio is a master when it comes to creating a well-balanced, seasonal menu. He began working on Battello’s new dishes about a month out. “I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay with the structure but I wanted to liven it up. We wanted to come back even better. The very last menu I put out before we closed was one of our best. The only thing I could do is make it even better. Bringing in a new executive chef and chef de cuisine from NYC, is helping us as well. I have to develop a menu that I like but also one that meets the standards of all the guests that come here; that has to do with knowing your audience and making sure there’s something for everybody.”
If you’re familiar with Chef DePersio’s food, then you know how much pride he takes in making fresh pasta—something he’s done his entire career. His new menu features six fresh pasta dishes, two of which I was fortunate enough to sample: the Tagliatelle Verde served with lamb shank ragu, mint, sofrito and piave vecchio, as well as the Smoky Prosciutto Bucatini with crispy pork belly, scallion crema, blistered cherry tomatoes finished with parmesan and black pepper. The result is a tender wonderland of flavors that trumps even the great pasta dishes on Battello’s original menu a couple years back.
Seafood appetizers remain a staple at Battello, which are headlined by the savory-meets-sweet Grilled Octopus with crispy potatoes, nduja vinaigrette, charred pineapple and tarragon, and the Big Eye Tuna Crudo with broccoli slaw, grapefruit gel, red olive powder and basil caviar. For entrées, there’s a nice mash-up of land and sea, with a brilliant Sirloin and Short Rib—which is made with breaded potatoes cooked in aged beef fat—cippolini onions and natural juices from the short rib. As always, the highlight of Battello’s seafood (for me) are the scallops. This time, it’s Pan Roasted Day Boat Scallops with tuscan white bean stew, steamed cockles and quinoa torta—the latter of which, a sort of compacted, crispy quinoa, is a creation DePersio happened upon while at home.
“I walked into my kitchen at home, and there’s this little ball on the kitchen counter on a baking sheet. I grabbed it and took a bite, and I said, ‘What is that, it’s amazing!’ And my wife told me, it was a little quinoa cake—eggs, olive oil, roasted garlic, etc. I spruced it up in my own way and we made a mold [at Battello].”
Though the 40-year-old New Jersey native acquired much experience in prestigious restaurants with famous chefs, this simple creation is a reminder of his strong family roots. His ability to create new dishes that are true to his personal experiences—whether in a Michelin-starred kitchen in Europe or at home feeding his daughter—is a big part of what makes DePersio such a unique talent. And ultimately, it was his family’s cooking which ignited his passion for culinary while growing up in the first place.
Chef DePersio has also added a couple large-format dishes that can accomodate two to three people. The first of which is a 36 oz. bone-in ribeye with a bone marrow bread pudding, broccoli rabe, paprika salsa and bagna cauda butter. The other, more of “a show” as he likes to say, is a 2 ½ lb. grilled lobster served with charred parsnips, Old Bay butter and chicken fried broccoli. And as you scan the menu, you’ll notice certain recurring foods, albeit used in very different methods. DePersio is constantly looking for ways to use his ingredients to their full potential, reinterpreting otherwise unused pieces of produce with a creative flair.
Weddings at Battello
Before its brief hiatus, Battello was quickly becoming the “it” place to have a wedding in New Jersey, and for good reason. Located on its own private pier in Jersey City’s Newport neighborhood, the restaurant boasts one of the most idyllic atmospheres for any couple looking to tie the knot: refined rustic elegance overlooking the New York City skyline. And with the duality of the team’s high standards and DePersio’s culinary brilliance, their execution speaks for itself.
Borzomati’s process with each client starts eight weeks before the wedding date, a time window she uses to meet with the bride and groom to do tastings, finalize menus and go through all the necessary planning. “Once we’re in the full swing of things, and we’re doing weddings two to three times a week, we’re sitting in these type of meetings every single week,” she told me. If you come in for brunch or lunch, it’s not uncommon to see these meetings taking place, in addition to engagement photos. “We have our go-to vendors. I don’t make it mandatory for wedding parties to use our resources but we definitely cover everything. If you have a request, need a photographer, band, etc—we will help you. You can truly be as hands-on or hands-off as you wish.”
During the big day—when the restaurant is closed to the public—the space is completely transformed to the couple’s preferences. Ceremonies can take place on the patio or the glass enclosure, and the different parts of the venue can be flipped for cocktail hours and receptions. “Being that it’s not that typical open ballroom, space is super customizable here. There are a lot of nooks and ways I can uniquely change the layout for a wedding,” Borzomati explained. And as the Director of Events, she is personally on hand for each wedding, which is just another testament to Battello’s quality control.
When it comes to the food, their menu is distinctively Ryan DePersio-driven style, but something that can be executed on a large scale. Like everything the Battello team offers for their weddings, it can be customized if there are special requests. Mixologist Ray Keane (also of Kitchen Step) and his team curate cocktails geared towards brides and grooms, but can have something created for them as well.
“We’re super appreciative of our clients who have hung in there during our break. They are the first official wedding we have in March, but our new bookings start in June. We’re already booked up for fall and into 2020. It’s been out of the gate and nonstop since we reopened.” And with the team potentially opening a new venue in Brielle on the Manasquan River, things certainly don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.