La Campagna, a fixture in Morristown for more than 15 years, didn’t miss a beat when it came under new ownership in January.
It’s still a reliable stop not only for traditional fare, but also for creative Italian food. Specials offer enticing combinations of taste and texture. A combo of beautifully grilled shrimp and baked polenta ($13.95), for example, forms the basis for wow when woven with pesto-encrusted asparagus, roasted tomato and Parmesan in a brilliant green vegetable sauce.
On the flip side, gnocchi with Bolognese sauce is an old favorite ($9.95/$16.95) enhanced by an artful preparation including ground filet mignon, sausage, celery and carrots. A bit of cream adds to the smoothness of this dish, with gnocchi that slips down so lightly your plate will be empty before you know it.
The proper mood is conjured by murals of scenes along the Amalfi Coast and touches of brick, as Italian music and Frank Sinatra play in the background at exactly the right volume. In other words, you can hear it, but it isn’t obtrusive. Hum along as a complimentary assortment of Parmesan, bruschetta and thin slices of fried zucchini provides the perfect segue into a pleasant dinner.
Brothers Benito and Sal Capello, who took over La Campagna, learned how to run a restaurant from their father, John Capello, owner of the upscale La Catena in Bridgewater. La Campagna is more informal, but still has style. The chef, Giovanni Depaz, trained in Italy and shows a flair for blending a variety of ingredients into concoctions with character.
A case in point: I ordered Vitello alla Gabriella ($22.95) with some trepidation. The list of ingredients seemed too numerous for a focus on the veal, but sage, prosciutto, eggplant and fontina cheese cooperated with each other, as well as plum tomato and spinach, to make a savory dish. Marsala in the sauce added a sweet little aura.
The same type of touch was evident on a smaller scale with the portobello mushroom ($11.95) in a shallot/white wine Dijon honey sauce. An herb-and-nut crust added interest and style to the depth provided by the mushroom.
Although the high end of the menu includes items such as grilled rack of lamb ($31.95) with an herb Dijon crust, there are many pleasant items for less than $25, such as the roasted vegetable-stuffed grilled salmon ($23.95) with fried leeks.
For dessert, an apple tart ($8.50) was lighter than the usual preparation because it was made with puff pastry — a welcome change. Tiramisu ($7.95), New Jersey’s ubiquitous dessert, had luscious balance in yet another version of a sweet that is always open to interpretation.
We felt well taken care of in general at La Campagna, except for a request for water that seemed to fall between the cracks each time we asked. Aside from that, the meal went smoothly, with pleasant service and courses coming out from the kitchen at a good pace.
La Campagna deserves its reputation for consistency. Interesting food, reasonable prices and the right atmosphere make this the kind of place that deserves return visits.
5 Elm St., Morristown. (973) 644-4943.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 5-10 p.m. Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays.
CODY KENDALL'S REVIEW: THREE STARS