Looking for a fine dining experience for your family or date? How about a bar where you can hang out and enjoy a variety of tasty tapas offerings? Or maybe an inviting spot to hold a party for 150 or more?
North Bergen’s newest restaurant, 90 Park, has you covered. The large, comfortable space is divided into different sections, including a bar and lounge, a two-tiered dining area, and a banquet room.
Formerly known at Antonia’s by the Park, the restaurant changed its name about nine months ago when owner and head chef Antonia Vene was joined by her cousin Domenic Vitulli as a partner.
“We’re trying to make it more of a New York, younger style restaurant,” said Vene. “To give it a different spin.”
The food is the same mix of elegant Italian fare and Iberian cuisine that has garnered a local reputation for the restaurant over the years and led to it being featured on the Food Network.
Born in Italy, Antonia Vene spent most of her life in North Jersey.
“Believe it or not, I’m from the art industry,” she said. “I was a fashion designer for 20 years. In New York City I had a line of clothing in Bergdorf. I designed for Revlon. I had private clientele. I used to do very high-end clothing. I always loved creating. And my family and everybody else used to say I should open up a restaurant.”
So she did. “Noni’s” (from her nickname) was opened in Edgewater in 2001, in partnership with an old friend. A BYOB bistro with about 60 seats, it was popular with the lunchtime crowd.
Then, a few years later, the partners spotted a Turkish restaurant for sale in North Bergen. In May 2006 they took it over. Noni’s closed in September, and one month later, Antonia’s by the Park opened, with many of Vene’s customers following her to the new location. Her silent partner eventually bowed out, to be replaced by Vene’s cousin.
Originally an Italian restaurant, Antonia’s expanded the menu about three years ago to include Iberian food. “Our cuisines -- Italian and Spanish -- are very similar,” said Vene. “We use the same kind of ingredients, just a little bit different technique.”
Vene has been head chef through all the different restaurant incarnations. “I develop all the recipes, I do all the menus, I go in the kitchen and I teach my staff,” she said. “I make all the sauces, and I’m there when it’s busy.”
“The recipes I pull from different places and then I create it with my own technique.” --Antonia Vene
“We do a lot of events for fundraisers and stuff,” Vene said, “so I invite chefs to cook and help me. They donate their time, and a lot of professional chefs from Hell’s Kitchen and Food Network have come in and they told me my food is wonderful.”
“Our seafood we’re very well known for,” Vene said when asked about the most popular dishes. “Our salmon is unbelievable. We do an amazing paella. Short ribs. Those are our specialties.”
For St. Patrick’s Day she served her annual corned beef and cabbage special. “You don’t know how many phone calls I got from people from last year: ‘You making it? We’re coming in!’” Altogether she cooked about 150 pounds of corned beef over the weekend.
In addition to an extensive lunch and a dinner menu (including many gluten-free options), 90 Park offers a bar menu. “We do 21 different tapas at a $6 price, which people love,” said Vene. “At the bar we also offer pizzas, we offer burgers, sliders, wings. We do have customers that come in and they know we offer the tapas and they will ask for it [in the restaurant]. Just tapas for dinner. And that’s fine, we don’t have a problem with it.”
With a staff of about 12, 90 Park is very much a family affair. Vene’s son works there, along with another cousin who just came from Italy. Several of the staff members have been with Vene for years.
“I have one gentleman that’s working in the kitchen with me that’s been with me 13 years,” said Vene. “He was with me in Edgewater and came up here and he’s still with me. I don’t change my staff very often. I think that’s beneficial because you get better quality control. If you change the kitchen staff, your food doesn’t stay consistent. And then you wind up with people coming in and saying it was good last time, now it’s not so good. I don’t have that problem. People come in and say that it’s always good.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s not involved. “I’m a hands-on person,” she said. “It’s very difficult for me to relinquish my kitchen to anyone else. I’m always there. I step out, but like this morning I was there all day until 5:00, that’s when I got out of the kitchen. You need to be dedicated. Because otherwise the quality of the product suffers.”
Our meal began with a light, refreshing red sangria, garnished with a smattering of tiny fruit pieces. Accompanying this was a warm loaf of Italian bread served with both butter and seasoned oil for dipping.
The vast menu and specials offered a wealth of options to choose from. For appetizers we settled on tempura shrimp from the main menu and one of the daily specials: Portobello mushrooms stuffed with seafood.
The shrimp arrived alongside a salad of julienned fresh greens and sweet red peppers served with a dressing of oil, vinegar, and herbs. Lightly battered and fried, the shrimp were large and exceedingly flavorful, especially with the excellent homemade garlic aioli sauce. Also on the plate was a honey mustard sauce, which we bypassed for the delicious aioli.
The mushroom appetizer was another gem. Stuffed with crab, shrimp, and scallops, cooked in a white wine garlic sauce and topped with melted mozzarella, the dish was hearty and delectable. The mushrooms themselves were fist-sized and meaty, cooked to a rich consistency and served atop a bed of green leaf salad.
Our waiter, Oscar, who had been with the restaurant since it opened and knew every nuance of the menu, recommended the short ribs from the daily specials menu. My wife asked for it to be served over pasta, and she couldn’t have been happier with the results.
Antonia slow cooks the ribs for hours to get them especially tender, and indeed the meat not only peels apart with a fork but dissolves in your mouth. The rich, tasty gravy soaked into the pasta making for a delightful meal.
My Veal Milanese was a pan-fried breaded chop topped with a colorful spread of arugula, red onion, fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. A large and impressive cut of meat, it was cooked beautifully and tasted marvelous.
As a side dish we ordered the lumicone, a thick, cylindrical pasta with porcini mushrooms in a roasted garlic cream sauce with fresh diced tomatoes. My wife found the rich sauce too cheesy; I enjoyed it tremendously.
Dessert consisted of a chocolate lava cake for her and a warm apple walnut tart for me, both with vanilla ice cream. Accompanying this was a delightful cappuccino.
90 Park certainly didn’t skimp on either quality or size. The ingredients were all fresh and flavorful and the portions were more than generous.
Parties are a specialty at 90 Park. The Sunday we visited, there was a large group set up in a U shape in the spacious dining room, amidst the columns and chandeliers. This, Vene told us, was the fifth party of the weekend.
On Friday and Saturday nights the restaurant presents music in the cozy lounge area by the bar, including theme nights. “We do Elvis night, we do Frank Sinatra night, we do oldies, we do disco, we do salsa, we do flamenco, different things,” said Vene.
Upcoming on April 12 is France Joli, the 1980s disco queen, performing live.
The kitchen is open Sunday through Thursday until 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday until 11. The bar stays open until 1:30 a.m. Weekdays there’s a happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m., with a complimentary buffet on Fridays and other specials throughout the week. Check the website for details at 90parkrestaurant.com.
Appetizers at 90 Park cost $6 to $12, with main courses running from $13 for eggplant rigatoni to $29 for a rack of lamb.
A $19.95 “sunset menu” on Monday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. includes two glasses of wine and a three-course meal. And the $8.95 lunch special includes any of the pastas or sandwiches on the menu, along with a salad or a side and a soda.
90 Park is at 9011 Palisade Ave. in North Bergen, phone number (201) 868-0750. Free parking is available in the adjoining lot.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.