Our first visit to Rigoletto Short Hills didn’t get off to a promising start. Arriving late for our 7:30pm reservation, we stumbled in to find the first floor totally empty, save for a gaggle of wait staff whose chorus of “Irrashaimase” fell just a few decibels short of causing permanent eardrum damage. Before we had time to look around for tumbleweed, we were led upstairs to a spacious room lined with bookshelves and Arabic frescoes, and overflowing with wine and laughter—only to be seated behind a solid screen that blocked our view of the rest of the dining area. Our attempts to snag a different seat failed miserably. Already booked, apparently.
Things picked up considerably when we checked out the drinks menu and noted that all the bottles of wine—yes, bottles—were priced at ¥2,500. We’d normally consider starting off with an entire bottle of bubbly to be a bit frivolous, but at these prices, we couldn’t resist, and the crisp, fruity Ruggeri Quartese Brut Prosecco slipped down a treat. So did the next one. A “fine wine menu” is also available, with vintages including Girard Old Wine Zinfandel (¥8,200), the Moroccan Beni M’Tir Blanc (¥5,600), and Cantos de Valpiedra (¥7,400). We stuck to the cheap stuff.
The “fruits and herbs” cocktail selection, all ¥800, avoids the usual suspects in favor of trendier tipples like dry mojito, sangria, “Lots of Orange” (made with mandarin vodka) and “Berry Dance” (a blend of berries and spumante). A separate section allows drinkers to “Make Your Self,” though this turns out not to be an invitation for an existential facelift, but rather an opportunity to concoct your dream blend of Frangelico and tomato juice. (For the record, this would set you back ¥910, though we hope the bar staff would dissuade you before you got that far.) Heartland is available on tap (¥500), along with a few international bottles including Cruzcampo (¥650) and Casablanca (¥800).
Short Hills describes itself as a “Moroccan tapas” bar, though apparently no one told the kitchen. There are a few distinctively North African food offerings, including tajine (¥1,600) and a deliciously tender grilled lamb cutlet served with mashed beans (¥850), but they’re vastly outweighed by the Continental mishmash that makes up the rest of the menu. A range of ¥300 and ¥500 tapas dishes includes octopus ceviche, broccoli with anchovy sauce, and mushrooms al ajillo (¥500). The latter must be one of the most date-friendly renditions of the dish that we’ve ever had: gloriously buttery and not too heavy on the garlic.
Add a substantial range of pizzas and pastas to the mix, and the “Moroccan” bit starts to sound dangerously misleading. But, hey, the vegetable-laden Ortolona pizza (¥1,500) we ordered was delicious, so we aren’t going to get too picky. Moreover, by this point in the evening, even our secluded alcove was getting pretty lively. Dodgy first impressions be damned: this is one place we can see ourselves going back to.