Kitchen Nightmares: Leone’s, Montclair


UPDATED: Last night’s Kitchen Nightmares, Montclair edition, was a nightmare for Leone’s manager Michael Restaino and a star turn for his mother, the unsinkable Rose Leone. Restaino was to blame for virtually everything that had gone wrong in the South Park street restaurant since his mother had to leave the helm due to health problems two years ago (she went in for a routine kidney stone removal and ended up in a coma!) Spoiler alert — if you want to watch on DVR, then read no further.

It was good to see Rose Leone back and in rare form as she flirted with Ramsay (“he’s hot!”) and basically told her son to grow a pair. We were half expecting an appearance from Restaino’s brother, Dominic Restaino of Cuban Pete’s (now that would have been good reality TV!), but nary a mention. What was mentioned a lot was Leone’s tired decor and a creepy oil painting of a baby we wish we could get our hands on for this party.

There was plenty of scary stuff, too. The opening scenes (mystery meat in the freezer from last Thanksgiving, a chef spitting out food when asked to taste his own dish) would give severe diner’s remorse to anyone who had eaten at Leone’s pre-Gordon Ramsay. Montclair (“affluent suburb just 20 minutes from Manhattan”) and its other Italian restaurants, including Tosca and Giotto, got love in the episode, as Ramsay showed the Leone’s staff what their food should look like, in an art exhibit around the corner at Church Street’s Gallery 51, showcasing photos of food from their competition. (Hey Montclair chefs, if your food was part of art work featured, write me at tips at baristanet dot com and tell us what dish.)
Update: Cynthia DePersio, co-owner of Fascino/Bar Cara confirmed that food from Fascino and Giotto were featured, adding that Gordon spent about 90 minutes at Fascino, tasted five or more courses, including the mozzarella w/pinenut dressing and ricotta gnocchi with sausage bolognese [I knew I recognized that one]. She also said the spot with him taking photos of dishes was our place, booths were evident and son Anthony, Fascino’s manager is seen very quickly handing Ramsay a dish.

After a lot of angst over bad food handling practices that resulted in closing the restaurant down in the middle of dinner service, the predictable happened and Ramsay made over the restaurant, losing the collection of strange artwork (bring back creepy baby!) and reworking the space with a more contemporary scheme of red, white, black and gray. He also made over the former menu — pairing down a book of 150 choices to a scaled-down one page.

He had a rough start, but Michael ultimately pulled it together and everyone was happy (at least on TV), especially Rose. Yours truly was there the night of the makeover, and what stood out from the dishes we tried on the revised menu were the mushrooms, truffle and taleggio pizza and a crab cappellini with chili, lime and garlic (albeit too much garlic — something Ramsay had scolded them about). We sent back a pork tenderloin with eggplant, pancetta, white beans (pork was tough and overdone, beans were not fully cooked). The shrimp scampi on a potato crostini was a clever presentation (potatoes were cut with skins on to resemble a hearty slice of bread) but the dish was overall swimming in too much oil. No complaints about two desserts — a creamy panna cotta with strawberries and lemon and a chocolate mousse cake were both homeruns.

Picky things: They served the bread in a basket with plastic packages of butter and filled up the table with pizzeria-size jars of spices – crushed red pepper, oregano. That took up a lot of table space and made for a confusing dining experience (is it a pizzeria or something more upscale?). The service was very attentive and warm that night — and it was good to see Michael get away from the TV and into the kitchen, managing. Still, last night’s art show of beautifully prepared food from Montclair’s other Italian restaurants shows how hard Leone’s will have to work to compete. If you’ve been back since the makeover — give us your review.

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  1. Whatever he did was not enough–the new paint job is nice, but the dinner I had there a few weeks ago was inedible. Out of our party of seven, only two enjoyed their meals. If they would just stick to pizza, which is delicious, they’d be fine.

  2. Went in August (post Ramsey) with my wife. We shared a fantastic roasted beet salad and a terrific portaobello mushroom app. I had a rock shrimp pasta dish (also fantastic) and my wife had a pork loin dish (she didn’t love it). Service was slow but very friendly. Prices were reasonable, decor was excellent. Worth revisiting!

  3. Ramsay said he went to 5 restuarants and looked like he was either at raymonds or on church st? does anyone know?

  4. I’m almost positive one of the restaurants featured was Fascino. I believe Giotto’s was another. Almost thought Greek Village was one too, but that would have been odd.
    Here is the thing, there are two types of Italian places in town–the real upscale (a la Fascino and Corso 98) and the casual family style more like Nauna’s. I had always assumed Leone’s fell into the later category. They need to decide which one they want to be.
    I missed the first half of the show, but that’s sad to hear about Rose’s medical issues.
    Having only seen the second half of the show, I thought it was pretty positive. But it did sound like much of the blame was being pinned on Michael for being lazy and inefficient. Whenever the shows end on positive notes, I’m a bit wary. It’s very difficult for anyone to change their habits. It’s easy to be motivated at first, but staying the course will be the real challenge.

  5. we ate there last month, post ramsay, and really enjoyed our meals. The service was excellent. I had a shrimp and pasta dish and thought it was great. Good luck to them! also, remember, with reality tv they always have to up the drama factor. All in all, we enjoyed our meal and the newly redecorated space, and I wish them the very best of luck. we look forward to going back.

  6. I agree with raeven. It’s hard for me to see them competing with the higher end Italian restaurants in town. They would probably be better off focusing on being a pizzeria.

  7. I used to go to Leone’s often back in the day and it was good. I haven’t been there in a while but the last thing I ate there was the chicken savoy and it was awful.
    There are so many Italian restaurants in Montclair now so the competition must be tough.
    I like the owner Rose and it’s sad to see her son running the place into the ground.
    I really do hope they turn things around and are successful again.

  8. Michael got the shaft here. Granted, he did absolutely nothing to help. leone’s was going down the crapper prior to Rose’s departure. It needed a make over, food-staff-decor, 4 years ago. She is a terrible person to let him shoulder the blame.

    I went in once in 2004 to do a looksie for a shower I was throwing. Instead of being happy to see me, Rose sat there counting a wad of cash for over a minute before even greeting us.

    Went back 2 weeks ago out of curiosity. Little better. Had a Ramsay special, was ok. If I am going to go out, shall stick w fascino, osteria giotto, bar cara, etc.

  9. Leone’s used to be one of my favorite restaurants years ago when we first moved to town. My son loved when we got to sit at the sewing machine table with the pedals underneath. It lost some of its charm when they expanded. It used to be a relatively casual restaurant with better quality food. Now it seems more like an inferior fancy restaurant. I haven’t been there in a few years, but I might give it another try for old time’s sake…

  10. We ate at Leone’s on Sunday after wathching Kitchen Nightmares and the food was very good. Years ago after a terrible meal we vowed not to go back. The pasta with crab in a garlic and oil with a little touch of lime was a very unique dish and my wife loved the veal milanese. Pizza was excellent and desert was also very good. I agree that they could replace the big shakers of hot pepper etc. that you find in a pizzeria but food was good and reasonably priced. Michael cmae in to eat and left soon afterward and waitress says he is back to his old ways and leaving it up to the staff . We will try it again one day. I see alot of coomments about Osteria Giotto etc. but to me Bistro 18 is better than all of them?

  11. Better than seeing her smoke INSIDE the restaurant…..

    POSTED BY fanadink | October 05, 2011 @ 1:46 pm
    It was great to see Rose SMOKING outside the restaurant the other day.

  12. I’ve eaten at Leone’s twice since the makeover and both times the food and services was very good.
    My wife and I ate at Leone’s in August after the taping but before the airing to see if it had changed for the better. I had the Penne Turano and it was fantastic.
    I had that again this Saturday night with a large party. The CALAMARI ARRIBIATTA app was good, didn’t try the mussels marinara app but others liked them. All eight of us really liked our dinners and we tried each others’ dishes. We all thought the best dishes were the CAPPELINI ANGELICA, PENNE ZUCCA and PENNE TURANO. Also liked the LOBSTER RAVIOLI, regular ravioli also good, and both guys who got mussels were quite pleased.

    Also, one of the last things you’d ever see me order for dessert would be carrot cake, but it was fantastic.

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