Luciano’s: A review

Saturday night was our first time to Luciano’s which has been open almost a month. All in all, it was quite good. We had somewhat of an early reservation (6 p.m.) so we were one of a few people in the dining room, but it filled up pretty quickly and by the time we finished about 7 p.m, it was pretty full.

As you walk in, the bar area is to the right and what appeared to be a private party room to the left. The main dining area is in the back. It’s a little more expensive and upscale than some of the other restaurants downtown but it’s not at the level of a David Drake. The bill came to $100 (not including tip). That included a round of martinis and a bottle of wine (we went with a low-end bottle, $25 I think, but they had a wide range in terms of $$$). We split an appetizer and each had a salad and entree (we happened to pick some lower-priced entrees).

Without question, my girlfriend Kathleen and I both enjoyed the spinach and artichoke fontina fondue the most. Whether we’re Champps in Menlo Park Mall or some Applebee’s, we’re big fans of spinach and artichoke dip. But this, this was on another level. They even brought out more foccacia upon request (because you know there’s always way more dip left over). The salads were pretty standard; Kathleen had mixed greens, I went with pear and walnut.

For dinner, I had chicken stuffed with spinach, proscuitto and provolone, along with whipped potatoes. There was a zesty type of sauce/reduction, just enough to cover the base of the plate; unfortunately, I’m forgetting what it was but it was real nice. Kathleen enjoyed her orriechette, which had no shortage of sausage and broccoli rabe with big hunks of garlic.

After filling up on bread, and then the foccacia with the fondue, I had no room left for dessert. But the menu looked nice, and included varied single-malt scotches and port wines, in addition to the sweets. [Dessert sidebar: We randomly stopped into The Waiting Room Friday night for a drink and decided to split a cheesecake (one piece, not an entire cake). When I think dessert, I don’t generally think Waiting Room, but I might now.]

As for the service, we really couldn’t have asked for much more. Even our waiter was named Luciano, and he was another highlight.

First impressions: This may sound odd, but the first thing that came to my mind was how big the tables seemed. Tables are set for four but it just felt like we could almost seat six comfortably. And the dining room appeared roomy, the tables weren’t too close together.

When we walked in, Kathleen got kind of a banquet hall vibe to it, but she warmed up, particularly thanks to our waiter. I think that may be because it’s an entirely new place, built from scratch and not renovated from a previous restaurant. I would expect some more character to permeate it over the years.

We met a friend for a drink at the bar after dinner, her first thought upon entering was something to the effect of, “Wow, this doesn’t look like Rahway.” This from someone who lives in Rahway; a good sign I’d say. Again, I noticed just how spacious the area behind the bar was. Not that it cut into the space on our end, it just struck me (again). There’s a flat-screen TV on either end of the bar, one above a big fireplace (that one was playing college basketball, the other News12).

All three of us enjoyed the bar. I thought maybe it was just me, but the others mentioned it too: I was taken aback by the bartenders in hot pants. Don’t get me wrong, they looked great, but it definitely surprised me, and didn’t strike us as consistent with the old-world Italian theme that Luciano’s seems to go for. What we also liked about the bar was the piano and bass duo playing in the corner. A nice touch; no too loud either.

If anything else comes to mind, I’ll post an update but I think that’s about it. Has anyone else been to Luciano’s yet? What did you think? If you plan to check it out, be sure to come back and comment on this post.

Rahway welcomes Hollywood

In the spirit of tonight’s 80th annual Oscars, as well as Rahway’s own Hollywood presence last week, we present our new poll question, below right. Be sure to cast your vote, and add your two cents in the comments section.

Continue reading Rahway welcomes Hollywood

Irving-Fulton traffic light on line by April

Between jetting off to Puerto Rico for a few days and preparing for fantasy baseball season, I haven’t been able to get to much posting this past week. I’ll try to make up for it in the coming week.
In the meantime, here’s a tidbit. The Irving-Fulton realignment project is ahead of schedule and the hope is to have a traffic light operational by the first week of April. The traffic light on East Milton Avenue was one of the conditions for Carriage City Plaza to operate.

New Moca Motion tenant under review

The vacant Moca Motion Cafe in the train station won’t be filled until sometime this spring. A new five-year lease is signed and being reviewed by the state Department of Community Affairs, according to a spokesman for NJ Transit. The review isn’t expected to be completed for another two to three months, which would mean April or May.

The 1,950-square-foot property is one of the larger retail spaces at NJ Transit stations. The lease starts at $2,450 per month. The previous tenant, which vacated the property after the five-year lease expired last year, paid $2,205 a month.

The spokesman described the incoming tenant as a similar service, a convenience store/coffee shop-type place, and was the only proposal received after NJ Transit put out a Request for Proposals (RFP).

There are an average of more than 3,000 weekday boardings at the Rahway Train Station, according to NJ Transit.

Developer seeks to bury utilities

Developers of Park Square are hoping to bury utilities instead of stringing wires across Elizabeth Avenue the old-fashioned way.

City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier told the Redevelopment Agency last week that he met with representatives of the Park Square project who asked that the agency intercede and meet with PSE&G.

“We are redeveloping downtown,” said Pelissier, who seemed to prefer underground utilities versus “unsightly wires, poles that are in the way, or could come down in ice storms.” He suggested PSE&G doesn’t want to bury utilities because it’s cheaper to put up poles. “We want to meet with them.”

Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Timothy Nash questioned whether developers have expressed a willingness to pay for the work, which Pelissier said they had not yet.

During the course of $4-million downtown renovations in 2000, the City of Summit opted to keep utilities buried (which it initially did in 1925!), with some of the cost picked up by various state and county grants and no-interest loans. There were some issues with underground fires one summer — as was the case in Morristown as well — which eventually was remediated by the power company serving Summit.

As brickwork continues on the first structure (photo above), Pelissier reported that Park Square has submitted plans for the second building in the development, which is waiting for approval on permits.

Parking, parking, parking

Expect some parking spaces to be lost downtown when two-way traffic returns to Main and Irving streets. The city will determine how the spaces will be reconfigured. Some will be eliminated because they are too close to intersections or just are not safe for traffic reasons. “It will create some concern,” City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said of the forthcoming reconfiguration. The city also is examining the best locations for loading/unloading areas, bus stops and 15-minute parking.

Pelissier also said there’s resistance to using the three-year-old parking deck, as it seems some people would rather drive around the block several times to find street parking. The Rahway Parking Authority is considering designating the first level of the parking garage for retail spaces so shoppers don’t have to go to the upper levels, he added. The Rahway Center Partnership also is working with merchants to devise an incentive in parking fees, such as a restaurant giving $1 off a customer’s bill so they only end up paying 25 cents for parking.

“I find it’s pretty full during the day,” Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Carlos Garay said during Wednesday night’s meeting, adding that he uses it “pretty often.” After 6:30 or 7 p.m, the deck is “quite empty from a restaurant standpoint,” Pelissier said.

There are about 150 spots currently used by construction workers and there will be 209 spaces set aside for the new condos at the adjacent hotel once it opens in the spring. The $11-million, 524-space parking deck opened in December 2004.

“There will be some problems when Lot B (behind The Waiting Room) is developed,” Pelissier said. “Those cars have to go somewhere.” Plans for The Westbury include a 324-space parking deck at the current site of Lot B, as well as 200-plus condos along Main Street.

Pelissier said parking rates also will have to examined in an effort to keep the Rahway Parking Authority solvent. Currently, 12-hour parking permits cost $65 per month. “We’ll see if we have to increase parking rates.”

Waiting for steel at The Savoy

The fences are no longer covered at The Savoy site at Main and Monroe streets, making visible what looks like the beginning of a foundation.

“It appears to be taking a long time,” said Redevelopment Director/City Administrator Peter Pelissier, as was the case with the Park Square project. He reported during last night’s Redevelopment Agency meeting that steel is waiting to be delivered and $300,000 was spent to determine if there were artifacts within 50 feet of the Rahway River. The state requires archaeological studies, which have been done at several of the projects around town. Steel has been an issue beyond Rahway for a few years thanks to China and the whole “globalization” fad.

Pelissier added that there has been some concern that Dornoch, also the developer of The Westbury and other projects, moved its offices out of downtown to a larger facility elsewhere, leaving behind several buildings on Main Street that were improved.

You say tomato, I say Thai

After jumping out to an early 9-1 lead in the early days of the latest poll, Thai held off Japanese to be the choice of Rahway Rising readers:

“What type of restaurant would you like to see downtown?”
Thai 38 percent (17/44)
Japanese 27 percent (12/44)
Indian 15 percent (7/44)
American 9 percent (4/44)
Chinese 4 percent (2/44)
None; plenty as it is, 2 percent (1/44)
Other 2 percent (1/44)
French 0 percent (0/44)

The poll results were record setting, smashing RR’s previous high of 30 votes — a 46-percent increase! (Of course, there’s no way to know if someone just ran around voting from different computers, but we’re on the honors system here!)

The choices in the poll leaned Asian as I tried to avoid offering choices that are already in the area (Portuguese, Mexican, Irish, etc.). Not sure if there’s a Thai, Japanese or Indian place on the way, but the four readers who favored American might be in luck. And to those two who favored Chinese, there’s still hope.

2008 could be the year of the restaurant in Rahway. On top of Cubanu and Luciano’s, another new addition could join the scene. Developers of Carriage City Plaza are in “serious talks with a steakhouse operater that is a New Jersey institution,” according to a representative of Elizabeth-based Silcon Group. “New Jersey institution” — any guesses? My first thought was Tiffany’s, but that’s more known for ribs, no? Another reader suggested Arthur’s, which has three New Jersey locations, none very close to Rahway.

UPDATE: You’ll have to come up with some new guesses. According to a representative of Silcon, they were approached by Tiffany’s and “rejected the concept as not being upscale enough.” Same goes for Arthur’s, though “we never talked to them.”

A 6,000-square-foot steakhouse (more along the lines of a Lone Star) also is planned to accompany a new 72-unit Sleep Inn to be built near the Best Western at East Milton Avenue and Routes 1&9. That project was re-approved by the Planning Board last month after several years of being tied up at the state for waterfront development permits, among other things.

Speaking of the hotel, Silcon is in the final stages of negotiations with a fitness center/spa that will open along with the Hotel Indigo in June. Other potential retail tenants might include a bank, dry cleaner and “several coffee house concepts,” among others. Homeowners are expected to be moving in some time in May. More than 100 of the 209 condos at Sky View have been sold, the representative said, and expect “to be sold out very soon.”

P.S. In case you’re interested, here are Rahway’s presidential primary results from Tuesday night.