Alberto Dautaj loves the fresh, pine-scented mountain air of West Milford. The location of his restaurant, Momento, set on a wooded lot on Morsetown Road, delights him. For the diner, his Tuscan villa-inspired facility is a feast for the eyes and his Northern Italian cuisine is a treat for the taste buds. Dautaj, 54, has been on the road to success for a long time. He left his native homeland of Albania for Italy and became involved in the restaurant business. From there he and his family moved to Quebec, Canada and he became a sous chef of French and Italian cuisine. Next stop was New York City, where he sharpened his craft at upscale restaurants. Currently, he and his wife Arta own several other eateries besides Momento. “I started and the success never stopped. I never stop working, it keeps me going,” said Dautaj.
He and his wife have fulfilled the American dream of being successful restaurant proprietors, he said. Old World Tuscany is famous for its artistic legacy. Stepping into Momento you get the feel of that tradition, with two-story, floor to ceiling windows shedding light on the beautifully appointed interior. The outdoor dining area, complete with a splashing cherub fountain, is inviting. Momento. What does that mean? “A moment. Take a moment, sit down and relax,” Dautaj said. He described his cuisine as Northern Italian with a Mediterranean touch. “Northern Italian is more tomato red sauces, more cheeses, a more delicate cuisine,” he said. Opened since 1996, Dautaj said he was immediately taken with the West Milford site. “I fell in love with the grounds, the Highlands. In 2000 I renovated it and made it a Tuscan villa. It’s unique, the fountains, the stream and the pines. You have to look for yourself at this style,” he said. Dautaj is the executive chef at Momento, so there’s plenty of experience behind every dish. He and Arta spend six days a week in West Milford. He’s a hands-on owner, preparing the specialties while his well-trained chefs keep the kitchen humming. Asked if he had a favorite special he said, “We have so many of them. We have veal that is absolutely outstanding, the lamb, the fish, they are all just great. Whatever you want, we can make it to order,” Upstairs in Momento is a private room for up to 60 people for catered, private parties.
Weddings, rehearsal dinners, showers, anniversary parties, brunches, benefits and corporate events, are all welcome to enjoy the good food and the villa atmosphere, complete with a fireplace. Music adds to the fun at Momento. In the lounge area you will find a white baby grand piano and each Thursday evening is jazz night. Dautaj was a singer at one time, he said, but overseeing his restaurants prevents him from doing that now. But he does sing the praise of West Milford and Momento. “I tell people I will promise them great food, great service and amazing surroundings. It’s just the woods, the air we breathe is different, it makes you feel like you are on vacation. Have lunch or dinner, take a walk among the trees, and you’ll be hungry again,” he said