Update (20070509): Earth has closed. An update can be found here (CLICK).
Update (20070731): Chef Lo Pinto can now be found at CRAVE in Fairfield. More info here (click).
Chef Lo Pinto earned my admiration and got my attention several years ago during my first visit to Fortunato, the Italian restaurant in Lyndhurst where he manned the stoves for a while. A friend and I sat at the bar for an impromptu dinner. Chef Lo Pinto was very pleased that we were interested in the restaurant and his menu, and graciously offered to prepare a multi-course tasting menu. We accepted.
Chef Lo Pinto is no dummy, and has the good sense to focus on customer service. This business isn't just about putting food in front of people, and he knows it. Too few owners realize this somewhat basic fact.
After seeing the Lo Pinto news on NJ Monthly magazine's Table Hopping with Rosie, I spoke* with the clearly excited and energetic Chef today at his new restaurant in Totowa, where he gave me a tour of the kitchen, and shared some insight into his new baby.
The name of his place, Earth, came to him in bed at 3 am one night, after he had been bandying about several ideas. Earth seems like a perfect name. I mean sure, obviously everything that we eat comes from Earth (alhtough a meal at Chicago's Moto might make you think otherwise). But "Earth" suggests to me a synergy of planet and food. Let me explain in depth: Earth's concept does indeed revolve around seasonal, pure, and clean ingredients, so, you know. See, I told you it was a perfect name. That's some compelling stuff right there. I should be a lawyer.
Earth just recently opened (February or March of 2007 methinks), and the Chef is easing into the menu a bit, building up a customer-base, and getting a feel for what people will want. The place is billed as "American Seasonal", and the menu reflects this somewhat nebulous description. I got the impression that he'll be branching out a bit with some more creative and perhaps even challenging dishes once the Spring is in full swing. "Creative" and "challenging" perhaps like those scallops and vanilla from Fortunato: an odd dish in concept, and on the palate, but undeniably interesting and tasty. If Chef Lo Pinto gets his way, and I know he will, this will be a chef-driven restaurant with an ingredients-driven menu. Music to my ears.
Earth is in the process of building their wine program, and they seem keen on having an informed staff (a challenge in any NJ restaurant, much less a brand new place - high turnover, lack of qualified servers, it's ugly out there). The staff tastes all of their wines, and with any luck will pick up a few things about those wines and pass that info on to the customers. I suggested to Chef Anthony that if he at the very least taught every server the specifics of presenting a taste and understanding a corked wine, he'd be well ahead of the game. Chef agreed, but it was clear he thinks I'm just a bit too upset about that whole issue. He's probably right.
Even in its early stages, the wine list has many wines-by-the-glass. And we're not talking 6 flavors of chardonnay either. I always like to see a great by-the-glass selection as it suggests to me that a restaurant is actually putting some thought into their wine program.
Earth is located in the old Lunello space. Lunello, long on my list of places to try (I literally keep a spreadsheet), recently moved to a new location in Cedar Grove...and it's still on my list, but a bit below Earth.
Earth : 331 Union Blvd : Totowa, NJ : 973.790.8100 : Website : www.restaurantearth.com (doesn't work with some versions of Firefox. stick with IE).
* For those who haven't picked up on it, I rarely if ever (never, actually) make myself know as a "food blogger" when I go to restaurants. My photos suck because I'm in a hurry and would never use a flash (and I don't know how to use my camera...I'm not a very good photographer), and my intell is usually flawed and based on speculation, hearsay, and supposition. In this instance I have met Anthony previously and he knows who I am. So stick it in your hat.