New Greenwood Lake classic Italian restaurant run by gourmet celebrity chef

| 14 Feb 2012 | 02:53

GREENWOOD LAKE — Celebrity and award-winning chef Tony Kolaj and his partner Jessica Stillman recently opened Al Laghetto, 40 Route 210 (Jersey Avenue), a well-appointed and cozy Italian restaurant on the west shore of Greenwood Lake near the West Milford-Warwick border.

Kolaj, who previously worked in Manhattan and had a loyal following among the cast members of Saturday Night Live, displays a memorable photograph with his “fishing buddy,” actor and comedian Bill Murray. He can also rattle off names of well-known politicians as well as entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Robert Redford, David Letterman and Robert De Niro as among those who gave him a free hand in preparing their favorite gourmet dinners.

Personal service That was when he was the chief chef at Piero’s, a popular Madison Avenue spot frequented by celebrities in those days.

Kolaj has been cooking since he was a youngster in Albania and then professionally in the United States since 1970. At that time he was given political asylum after escaping the communist controlled nation.

In gratitude for the freedom he now enjoys in this country, Kolaj volunteers his service for many charities and for that reason, he is the proud recipient of the New York State Assembly Certificate of Merit.

According to Kolaj, diners who visit Al Laghetto can expect the same service, quality, and perfection in preparation that earned him the loyalty of wealthy celebrities but at much more reasonable prices. He intends to keep his restaurant affordable for local residents even though he refuses to compromise on quality.

Kolaj makes his own butter every day, picks-up bread fresh from the ovens of Rockland Bakery, a well-known premium bakery, creates special desserts by melting bars of fresh chocolate and orders prized Porcine mushrooms from Italy at $50 per kilo.

In a whimsical reference to some of the famous personalities Kolaj has served, his special entrées have titles like Raging Bull, Scarface, Charlie’s Angels and Shrimp Sopranos.

Kolaj is also happy to make the selection decision a la upscale Manhattan restaurants for any patrons that appreciate that type of personal service.

Stories behind the celebrities And if he’s not too busy, Kolaj is also a great storyteller with numerous anecdotes about the stars such as Sinatra’s habit of making his own drinks behind a restaurant’s bar or using his private jet to fly his favorite onions in from Bermuda.

Although he was born in communist Albania, Kolaj probably has a better knowledge of American and European history than most college graduates and he enjoys discussing that subject.

He has five children and six grandchildren that he could spend most of his time visiting, but Kolaj has no plans to retire.

“I’ll retire when I can’t stand up,” he said. “I enjoy it when my customers say, ‘This was the best food we’ve ever had.”

Essential information Al Laghetto is open every weekday except Monday from 5 to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. The owners plan to offer lunch and Sunday brunch beginning in the spring. Call 595-1800.