Matthew Gavzie, head chef and co-owner of MK Valencia, calls his cuisine Italian American, in the sense that it's American with Italian influences. Gavzie says he strives to use his Italian heritage without being limited by it, and that is evident in a number of his dishes. A 1990 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he often develops his recipes from things he has seen or eaten elsewhere but that he wants to make his own.
They say a chef's soup is his bellwether, and the butternut squash soup of the day was indicative. Rich but not too thick, it was savory and well-seasoned. The crispy seafood fritti featured fried calamari, scallops and shrimp with capers and sage and was delicately seasoned, although there was a vague edge of iodine. Lobster salad is a must-get appetizer, with nice chunks of cool, fresh lobster meat. Oddly, maybe, my favorite part of the dish was the fresh, crisp string beans.
Spicy fish stew with clams, shrimp, calamari and lobster sits in a rich lobster broth that demanded repeated bread-dipping by everyone at the table. There was a hint of heat, but it wasn't particularly spicy, which could be disappointing if that's what you're anticipating.
Another special this night, monkfish osso bucco in a lobster broth reduction, was nicely cooked and was defined, though not overwhelmed, by the dominant fennel seasoning.
Grilled spice-rubbed skirt steak, served with mustard vinaigrette and goat cheese, was characteristically rich and cooked just as requested. A charred taste overpowered some bites, but overall it was well balanced, the cheese helping to blend and unite the flavors. We also ordered the special risotto, which was prepared with veal, red grapes, bitter radicchio and red wine caramelized onions. I found it a little gummy, but it had a big meaty flavor that everyone enjoyed.
All desserts are homemade, and I'm glad we left room. We really liked the molten chocolate cake served with amoretto gelato and the lemon meringue curd, but the trio of brulees – pistachio, amoretto and vanilla – was our favorite.
Gavzie's food is artistically presented and generally very satisfying. If you're a fan of subtle flavors, though, this might not be the restaurant for you. Every dish was bold and intense – almost in-your-face. The flavors aren't overly strong, per se, but they come right at you, and I was glad we were sharing dishes so I could enjoy some contrast.
Service was friendly and attentive, and while it occasionally bordered on the too-familiar, we found that more welcoming than intrusive. The elegant interior, designed by co-owner Kim Cheng, includes separate lounge and dining areas and an enticing outdoor space for when the weather permits.
Drawing a primarily local clientele during the week, the popular happy hour has led to a brisk dinner business. On weekends, though, MK Valencia is gradually building a following from the surrounding communities.
228 Main St., Ridgefield Park
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