Since opening Three A’s Bar and Grill almost 11 years ago, owner Cosimo Noto has dared diners to find one place that makes a better lobster ravioli. In those 11 years, says Noto, “nobody say they find better. Mine’s the number one.”
Those familiar with crustaceans know that lobsters have no backbone. Not so at Three A’s, where the lobster ravioli is clearly the backbone of the establishment. And that’s perhaps the hallmark of Three A’s – the ability to turn a diner’s preconceptions on their heads.
It starts with the location, six blocks off the beaten path of Washington Street at 500 Grand St. To some, a trip to a city’s less centralized streets may seem like a trip to the boondocks. A trip to Hoboken’s less travelled corners, however, is to be taken seriously. Serious Hoboken diners embark on Mecca-like pilgrimages to some of the city’s finest bars and restaurants. Three A’s is both.
Upon entering Three A’s, the first things one notices is the large wraparound bar, the large selection of alcohol, the large mirrors, the many plasma flat screen TVs – seven in all – and, in keeping with the theme, the many 20- to 30-year-old patrons. For those who prefer a little more intimacy within the bar area, booths are provided off to the side.
“Unbelievable…it just disappears in my mouth.”
Three A’s boasts an array of beers on tap and bottled beers, an extensive martini menu ($8-$10), house wine options ($5.50-$7.50 per glass), champagnes and sparkling wines, white wine chardonnay bottles ($22-$32), pinot grigio, and other options.
A rustic feel
More deals, in the form of an ever-changing daily specialty menu, can be found past the floor-to-ceiling velvet drapes, in the dining room. Walking into the dining area is like watching the last five minutes of a home design show, the long-anticipated after panoramic. It’s at that moment that diners know they have arrived at their destination.
The guides (or hostesses) to your table and eventual out-of-body experience are Noto’s daughters, for whom the resturarant is partially named. Upon purchasing the restaurant in 1999, Noto promptly named it after his wife and two daughters – Antoinette, Amanda, and Adriana.
The letter “A,” here, may also stand for “ambiance.” With soft, golden lighting provided by various chandeliers, hardwood floors, original piping, and exposed brick and a fireplace, all set off with strong brown, crimson, white, orange, and black tones, the feel here is rustic, cozy, and homey.
The effortlessness extends to the black-clad waiters, who record orders sans writing pad, and promptly fill glasses with water and diners’ nostrils with the sweet aroma of warm bread.
A quick glance through the menu assures diners that typical Italian fare – from the appetizers, salads, and pizza to the pasta, chicken, and meat dishes – is to be had, but the descriptions convey a certain sophistication of ingredients. It’s like the authentic feel of Little Italy, because it is. Before opening Three A’s, Noto, originally from Palermo, Sicily, and then Brooklyn, worked at Little Italy’s Zagat-rated Il Cortile.
‘Disappears in my mouth’
To start, my dining companion and I sampled the Buffalo mozzarella appetizer from the daily specials list. Three slices of soft buffalo mozzarella with basil sat atop tomato slices, and were surrounded by green and black olives and pepperoni slices, all flavored with roasted red peppers and balsamic dressing.
Next, we ordered baked eggplant ($7) off the appetizer menu. Within minutes, a piping hot plate of marinara and mozzarella-covered eggplant with ricotta cheese was brought to us. The soft, creamy dish prompted my companion to remark, “Unbelievable…it just disappears in my mouth.”
The varied appetizer menu choices ($5-$10) include seafood, such as fried calamari and baked clams oreganato; vegetables, such as steamed artichoke and fresh asparagus; traditional bar fare, such as southern style wings and chicken quesadillas; and soup and cheese platter options.
An extensive salad menu is also offered ($6-$11), as well as a pizza menu ($5-$8) that features combinations from the classic Margarita to the Pizza Pesto (homemade pesto, shrimp, plum tomatoes, olives, and mozzarella).
The disappearing act continued with our entrees – the 3 A’s Chicken ($17) and, of course, the famous Lobster Ravioli ($14). The expertly stuffed 3 A’s Chicken, with prosciutto, fontina cheese, asparagus, and roasted red peppers sautéed in a light tomato broth demi-glaze, was complimented by sides of soft, herbed mashed potatoes and broccoli. My guest, who ordered the homemade lobster ravioli in Three A’s traditional vodka sauce, was quickly won over by the dish, especially the soft, creamy, citrus-y sauce that added an extra kick.
For an entrée, diners may choose from pasta options, from the Farfalle with Chicken ($14) to the Rigatoni with Scallops ($16); chicken, from the Chicken Terhune ($14) to the Chicken Pancetta ($17); meat, from the Cheeseburger ($8) to the Steak Alla Amanda ($24); and seafood, from the Crab Cakes ($15) to the Chilean Sea Bass ($22).
Stuffed as amply as the ravioli, we forged on, ordering tartufo – more than enough for two people – for dessert. Three A’s tartufo, prepared as slices of chocolate and vanilla ice cream encased in a chocolate shell, was oddly reminiscent of the orange slices at the end of a Chinese meal, and had we received fortune cookies urging us to return in the future, I wouldn’t have doubted that wisdom.
Three A’s Bar and Grill, located at 500 Grand St., is open weekdays from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Brunch menu offered). For more information, call (201) 217-1650 or visit their website at www.threeasbarandgrill.com.