MORRIS COUNTY — We can agree to disagree, but as far as I’m concerned, New Jersey lays claim to many of the finest Italian American restaurants in the Country. In the general Parsippany area alone, we are very fortunate to experience and enjoy a memorable dining experience at any of those elite eateries. I recently did get that opportunity with a visit to a relative newcomer to the local culinary scene, Elian’s Bistro Café, located in Pine Brook.
The color scheme of grays over natural brick, with minimal but tasteful décor, perfectly suits this small, family-owned, operated eatery. In the true sense of a bistro, the ambiance is one of a comfortable, intimate, warm, and welcoming atmosphere. Simple, yet with an air of unpretentious refinement. Ten small tables are spaced comfortably throughout the limited dining area to ensure customer comfort.
Large plate glass windows provide adequate and comfortable lighting throughout the entirety of the dining room. One large screen T.V. is set up quietly behind the host station, should that be of interest to anyone. The restaurant is named after Edgar and Merced’s five-year-old son, Elian.
Chef Edgar Sanchez, like so many accomplished chefs I have interviewed over the years, began his culinary journey working as a dishwasher at the young age of 16. Arriving in the U.S. from the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1997, Chef Sanchez first settled in the City of Hoboken, where his first job was at the City Bistro Restaurant Lounge, eventually moving on to the Sonoma Bistro in Rutherford, where his mastery of Italian cuisine blossomed.
Eventually, working his way up the chain from Line Chef to the gifted Chef he is today. Always hungry to learn, the Chef began to hone his impressive culinary skills by watching, studying, and emulating the many talented chefs he has worked with throughout his career.
Like all outstanding Chefs, his passion, pride, and Joy of cooking are reflected in all his creations. Now, Chef Sanchez brings those attributes, developed and enhanced by his twenty-plus years of refining his Italian recipes, to Elian’s Bistro Café, his first venture as a business owner, which he opened along with his wife, Merced, in April of 2022.
After hearing several highly complementary reviews regarding Elian’s, my usual group of Friday dining friends and I were anxious to give Elian’s a try. Outside the restaurant is a spacious off-street parking lot, providing ample parking, which is always nice. The stylish, inviting, brown brick and sparkling glass-faced restaurant, with green signage announcing American, Italian (Brunch-Lunch-Dinner), is situated on the side of a small business complex. Less than half a mile from the Parsippany border. On entry, most of the seating was filled with diners enjoying their lunch, but I made reservations, and several tables were set up and prepared to accommodate our group.
Our host and co-owner, Merced, cheerfully greeted us and ensured we were comfortably seated.
Wine bottles were uncorked (did I mention Elian’s is a BYOB), water glasses were filled, and menus quickly arrived. Between lunch and dinner, we all opted to order off the menu. Though not extensive, the menu (common for Bistros) offered a tantalizing variety of appetizers, main courses, pasta, soups, salads, sandwiches, and burgers. The Chef, who was busy in the kitchen, welcomed us to his restaurant, which is always a nice touch. After conversing with the owners during and following the meal, it was nice to see that Edgar and Merced were a beautiful couple who were immensely proud of and loved their new endeavor.
As usual, we ordered an assortment of shareable appetizers. Homemade Burrata Cheese (Orange marmalade, prosciutto di Parma, crostini, and crumbled candied pecans), Spicy Tuna Tartare (Avocado, jalapeno, sesame soy sauce, and crispy wonton), Crispy Fried Calamari (Hot Cherry Peppers, lemon, with house-made marinara sauce), and Guacamole en Molcajete (Fresh made guacamole, jalapenos, onions, lime juice, and fresh corn tortilla chips). Yes, I did say guacamole! What makes Elian’s unique is the eclectic nature of its menu. Besides gourmet-style Italian dishes and standard American fare, you will find several items particular to Chef’s homeland, including such dishes as Guacamole, Empanadas, and a Burrito Bowl (served with jasmine rice, lettuce, beans, corn Pico de Gallo, guacamole, mozzarella cheese, and homemade salsa) can be customized). Every app was fresh and delicious and quickly devoured, from the soft textured, creamy stracciatella Burrata Cheese (one of my favorites), to the light-tasting, soft tuna Calamari that was perfectly prepared and perfectly complemented by the tangy and tasty marinara sauce. Finally, the nutty flavor and smooth, creamy texture of the guacamole had that mild, sweet flavor one looks for in a well-made guacamole. I should note every dish was homemade and beautifully presented, utilizing only fresh, seasonal ingredients. The focus at Elian’s is clearly on quality, not quantity, though the portion sizes are more than adequate. Great start; every appetizer was a home run.
As we bantered with Merced while clearing our plates and as we sipped our diminishing wine, we began the challenging task of choosing our entrees. As I said earlier, the selection was not extensive, but every dish listed appeared more mouthwatering than the next.
For dinner, selections included pistachio Crusted Branzino, Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon, Braised Beef of Short Ribs, Homemade Pappardelle Pasta, and Spicy Cajun Rigatoni, to name a few. Soups, salads, and burgers were tempting, with selections like Lobster Shrimp Bisque and Candied Pecan Pear Salad. Not an easy decision!
For my entrée, I focused on the Braised Beef of Short Ribs (Truffle Manchego whipped potatoes and crispy onions). The short ribs were delectable, savory, moist, and juicy, and they broke apart at the touch of my fork. Absolutely exquisite dish, perfectly complimented by the Truffle Manchego cheese whipped potatoes, whose flavors were complex, earthy, and smooth. Masterfully made, well-balanced dish, equivalent to what I would expect in a high-end fine-dining restaurant.
Bobby A. ordered the Goat Cheese Potato Gnocchi (Italian hot sausage, petite broccoli rabe, toasted pine nuts, short ribs, and butter sauce). He loved it! The mild and lightly sweet goat cheese and flavorful sausage clearly melded perfectly with accompanying ingredients, all in a tasty and flavor-filled butter sauce.
Mike Z. chose the Bucatini Pasta (Homemade veal meatballs, Chile flakes, basil, pecorino cheese, and spicy pomodoro sauce). The hole-centered, thick spaghetti-like pasta clearly hit the spot as all our plates were cleaned. The pomodoro sauce, thicker but smoother than marinara sauce, was perfect for the pasta. No take-home containers this day! As for Rich C., he went in a different direction with the French Dip Sandwich (Sliced New York strip steak, caramelized onions, provolone cheese, horseradish cream, and au jus). Our dining experience was completed with a Cappuccino and a complimentary, decadent dessert sent out by the Chef, his Homemade Strawberry Cheesecake with almond cinnamon crusted and fresh whipped cream. Wow, you must try this when you visit!
The consensus was that this was a delicious and satisfying meal. The service and hospitality were outstanding. Chef Edgar created magic in the kitchen. If you are looking for a nice stop for brunch, lunch, or dinner, do yourself a favor and try Elian’s Bistro Café. (The brunch menu consists of many regular fares, including eggs benedicts, bananas foster, stuffed French toast, grilled steak sandwich, El Burrito bowl, truffle egg flatbread, Mexican pork carnitas chilaquiles, among assorted other choices).
Whatever you choose, you will taste Chef Sanchez’s true passion and love of cooking in every bite. And as he says on his site, “A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”
Cuisine: American, Italian, Mexican. Closed Tuesdays – BYOB
Hours: Weekdays, 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Dine In – Take Out – Delivery – Outside Dining (Weather Permitting); Off-Street Parking – Catering – Reservations Accepted.