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Corto: Classic Italian Cuisine in Jersey City

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Three years ago, when chef Matt Moschella and his partners were looking for a spot for their new restaurant Corto, they had a simple vision in mind — to make “simple, straightforward food.” The team eventually settled on a former bodega in Jersey City’s Heights neighborhood and transformed the bedraggled interior into a fun, lively dining space that doesn’t look unlike someone’s living room—wooden furniture, cheerful photo wall, and creamy white wall paneling that restored the room’s original look in the ‘30s. A small open kitchen is attached but is not separated from the dining room. The space is meant to be accessible and comforting, and so is the food. Read on to learn more about Corto located at 507 Palisade Avenue in Jersey City.

People started coming, first from nearby neighborhoods, then from Manhattan, Brooklyn, and even farther away places. National and local media have given raving reviews {This year, readers of Hoboken Girl have also voted Corto the best restaurant in Jersey City}. And the comforting style and strive for quality has remained strong as ever, even in the face of a pandemic.

corto italian cuisine jersey city

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

The Food

corto italian cuisine jersey city

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

The menu is small but ambitious, each item a thoughtful take of rustic Italian classics. “We don’t invent dishes that challenge the palate,” Matt told Hoboken Girl. “The idea is to present the ingredients to the best of [their] quality.” Most dishes are based on Italian recipes that are “generational,” as Matt puts it, “something you eat at a nonna’s house.” 

corto italian cuisine jersey city

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

Another consideration that goes into the design of the menu is the capacity of the kitchen, which is {very} small. “We can’t do a lot of preparation and refrigerate the ingredients for the next day,” Matt explained. “Fresh produce is brought in six days a week. The pasta is made fresh daily.” The exercise is, essentially, to “deliver a comforting experience within the limit of what can be executed.”

corto

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

Pasta is indisputably the highlight of the menu, a perfect showcase of “the whole greater than the sum of its parts.” The sauce is usually made from a short list of herbs, cheese, and sometimes cured meat. The flavors are simple, the portions restrained, but when paired with the right pasta shapes that bring out the merit of the sauce, the result is stellar. 

Some of our favorites include chewy casarecce, a short twist-shaped pasta} tossed in a silky, aromatic pesto, mafaldine {ribbon with wavy edges — to be enjoyed with a creamy sauce boldly flavored with speck and grana padano, and gnocchetti sardi, which is a small shell with external streaks that fully absorbs the rounded flavors of a tomato-chickpea-based sauce. 

corto

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

The pasta can also be enjoyed at home. Corto rolled out pasta kits for its then newly launched online store in March when local restaurants were forced to pivot to take-out mode due to the lockdown. “We noticed that pasta sells out very quickly in grocery stores, and customers were very receptive to home cooking,” Matt told Hoboken Girl back then. Although limited on-site dining has since become available, the online store {called “Corto Mercato”} has remained and expanded. 

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It now offers about a dozen gourmet pantry items, several freshly made pasta, and two kinds of house-made ravioli. Our team tried some of the meat ravioli at home, tossed in a simple butter sage sauce. The pasta wrap is tender and supple. And the pork filling is velvety and very flavorful.

corto

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

More interesting are the seasonal offerings, which draw inspiration from traditional dishes around Italy. “There are no set rules,” Matt explained when asked about where the ideas for seasonal dishes come from. Loosely speaking, southern Italian recipes are featured more during spring and summer; and in colder months, heart-warming northern dishes appear more often on the menu. 

Contemporary food trends also come into play. In the past summer, a light crabmeat ravioli was on the menu, which is garnished with sweet corn and shishito. The fall menu saw hearty ricotta gnocchi accompanied with nutty romanesco broccoli and caramelized cipollini onion. Most recently, in December, there was tortelli in brodo, a “meatier” version of Emilia Romagna’s iconic tortellini in brodo. 

corto

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

Non-pasta items are equally strong. In the appetizers, the popular items include a meat and cheese plate {shaped more like a tower} that changes frequently, and ricotta toast sprinkled with crushed pink peppercorn. The main dishes are substantial and festive. The “Angry Chicken”, a menu mainstay since almost day one, is slow-cooked with guanciale and Calabrian chili in a rounded tomato-garlic-based sauce. There’s also “pork stracotto” {pork shoulder with polenta}, or lamb shank on a bed of almost creamy lentil stew, a seasonal special.

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Local Resident

Matt shared with our team the restaurant’s approach to its food and service as customer-centered.  New dishes are introduced frequently to “always have something interesting” for repeat customers, while all-time favorites are kept on the menu for those who want something familiar, something that commemorates special occasions, or just something that embodies the essence of Corto’s cooking. 

corto

{Photo credit: @corto_jc}

As the weather gets colder, the team has conjured up dishes better suited for “dining al fresco” in the season—soups, risottos, dishes that are easily kept warm for outdoor dining. And of course, dishes are comforting to the body and soul.

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Yiwei was born and raised in China. She has lived extensively in Beijing and Hong Kong, before finally settling down in New York. She moved to Hoboken after a few years in Westchester and immediately felt at home here. Two years ago, she left her job at an investment bank to travel the world and explore her interests, and has since then taken on a few freelancing gigs in career coaching, college admission consulting, and writing. When she is not wandering wildly in the streets of Europe, Asia, or Latin America, she can be found sipping an espresso in one of Hoboken's coffee shops or trying out restaurants in Hoboken and Jersey City area.