New Jersey Restaurant Review
410 Bank Street
410 Bank Street
Cape May County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
May 23, 2005
The first thing that catches your eye as you step onto the porch at
410 Bank Street is the laminated restaurant review just to the right of
the entrance. Gleaned from the pages of the New Jersey section of the New
York Times, it bestows an "Excellent" upon this ever-popular Cape May
eatery. Then you notice the date: 1995. Still, more recent comments have been
equally effusive. Despite all the hype and hoopla that have been lavished on
this establishment, however, my own critique will, unfortunately, constitute a
Although it hardly seems possible, twenty years have passed since Stephen and
Janet Miller first opened their doors and Henry Sing Cheng and his cunningly
creative Cajun-Creole/French/Caribbean cuisine settled comfortably into their
kitchen. Needless to say, a great deal has changed on the Cape May dining scene
in the past two decades and, in my humble opinion, 410 Bank Street has
failed to keep pace. What was considered daringly innovative in 1985 has become,
in the summer of 2005, something of a timeworn culinary cliché.
And even before you ingest your first bite, there are subtle -- and, at
times, not so subtle -- hints that disappointment may be in store. The current
menu, celebrating the 20th anniversary, lists a number of appetizers and entrées
that were in place during the restaurant's first season of operation. A touch of
nostalgia. All well and good. But then compare this bill of fare to the
aforementioned 10-year-old New York Times review, and you will
immediately notice that a number of the items are exactly the same, having
changed not a wit.
There are, it should be noted, always daily specials, which allow the chef to
give vent to his more imaginative impulses... But any restaurant with these
lofty credentials, many of whose appetizers and entrées have remained the same
over a ten or, perhaps, twenty year period, is a restaurant in a rut... or
resting on its laurels... or both. Of course, the owners and chef could very
well make the case that their loyal patrons, who return year after year, would
be utterly beside themselves should some of their favorite dishes summarily be
put out to pasture.
... And the clientele, in point of fact, is the real tip-off here.
Discriminating diners beware; one glance will tell you: This is the grab 'n'
growl, clean plate club, proof positive that America has an obesity crisis
crowd. As long as the portions are ample, which, indeed, they are, heads remain
in a holding pattern over their plates until every last morsel has been sucked
into the void.
Which leads us, quite naturally, to the cuisine in question. Unremarkable
rolls in the company of foil-wrapped butter do not constitute, in my view, a
terribly auspicious beginning. Beyond this, however, my advice would be to stick
with the nightly specials, as they clearly demonstrate a lighter and livelier
touch than those that have taken up permanent residence on the printed bill of
Case in point: that battle-scarred veteran Cajun shellfish gumbo filé
($34.95). The lobster, scallops, shrimp, and mesquite smoked sausage are all of
impeccable quality... but they arrive swimming in a grayish brown morass that
bears uncanny resemblance to the regurgitation of an endangered species. The
accompanying rice pilaf and sugar snap peas are generic at best. Gumbo (of
whatever ilk) would certainly be classified as hale 'n' hearty comfort fare; and
while no one expects this menu mainstay to resemble a fashion "plate" -- if
you'll pardon the pun -- the hideous appearance of the representative proffered
here is enough to offend the indelicate sensibilities of a starving yak.
Finishing a close second in the dubious culinary sweepstakes department is
the mesquite grilled yellow fin tuna "with Chef Sing's signature Barbadian black
bean sauce" (Market Price; on the evening sampled, $32.95). Once again, the tuna
is of excellent quality but is cooked beyond its requested medium rare to a
nearly well done. And the overall presentation isn't particularly prepossessing.
A hefty slab keeps company with the omnipresent so-so-rice pilaf and sugar snap
peas and is submerged beneath an insipid and inordinately viscous black bean
sauce. The Atlantic swordfish (Market Price), drowned beneath a flood of
Champagne crabmeat cream sauce suffers a similar indignity.
The most praiseworthy presentation is a special starter of wontons filled
with diced shrimp and scallions surrounded by a ginger-sesame-nut sauce
($12.95). The three poached Chinese dumplings are both beautifully textured and
properly proportioned. And while many of the sauces are entirely too heavy
handed, the one encountered here is right on the money: delicate of disposition
yet delightfully assertive. The five wild mushroom sauté -- shiitake, oyster,
porcini, portobello, and enoki -- served in a heady Marsala demi-glace
($8.95) is another first-rate appetizer... although a puff pastry cornet
inexplicably replaces the promised toasted peasant bread.
A special entrée of slightly blackened pan-seared salmon ($32.95) is another
excellent choice. Perfectly prepared moist and tender filets surround an
epicenter of herbed mashed potatoes and recline on a mélange of Mediterranean
vegetables. Once again, the portion size is just right; and the colors, tastes,
and textures are nicely balanced without overwhelming either the eye or the
These are, without doubt, the pick of the litter; other options, while not as
problematic as those noted several paragraphs above, still fall short of the
mark... Among the preludes, for example, the special tuna beignets ($12.95) are
mixed with capers and a touch of spice, then breaded and sautéed à la
crab cakes. But they are on the dry side and taste slightly "fishy"; a situation
that is only partially ameliorated through the ministrations of a very nice
tropical fruit salsa. The fresh Jersey asparagus amandine (misspelled as
"almondine" on the printed menu) cozying up to a puff pastry cornet ($11.95) is
good -- the asparagus are crisp yet tender -- albeit rather one-dimensional. And
an unsightly pile (rather than a judicious smattering) of almonds mars what
would otherwise be a rather attractive presentation.
The other entrée sampled was the 410 steak ($34.50), with filet mignon
standing in for the AWOL New York strip. The filet was ordered medium rare
(characterized by a bright red center in my book); what materialized, however --
after an inordinately long interval -- was a very rare,
bleeding-on-the-waiter's-socks specimen accompanied by "volcano" mashed potatoes
that weren't very volcanic at all, and, you guessed it, the ubiquitous sugar
snap peas. The beef was baptized with a slightly gluey-textured barbecue sauce
that cooled down to the consistency of molasses. Not the kitchen's finest hour.
Desserts, courtesy of Chef Sing's wife, contain a goodly number of "buts."
The "slightly frozen" Key lime pie ($7.95), for example, isn't bad at all, just
the right color and consistency... "but" it is garnished with whipped cream
fresh from an aerosol can. The bread pudding with whiskey sauce ($8.50) has a
great deal to recommend it... "but" the lofty price tag successfully belies its
gastronomic credibility. The white chocolate cheesecake ($7.95) also might be
considered acceptable... "but" it swims in a pale and insipid pool of chocolate
sauce. No espresso here... "but" coffee goes for a hefty $3.00 a pop.
One final word... Compare the current menu with last season's and you realize
that prices on a number of items have taken major league jumps: Chilean sea bass
Creole, $31.95 - $35.95; Cajun shellfish gumbo filé, $31.50 - $34.95; New
Orleans voodoo shrimp, $29.95 - $32.50; baby rack of lamb, $32.95 - $35.95;
mesquite grilled veal chop, $30.95 - $36.95. There is no question that dining in
Cape May can be an expensive proposition; but this establishment pushes the
pecuniary envelope above and beyond. Given the current state of the cuisine, not
even the first-rate service and quaint and cozy surroundings can justify this
While 410 Bank Street will undoubtedly continue to appeal to the
seasonally swelling ranks of omnivorous culinary tourists, it is, in my
estimation, overrated, over-sauced, and overpriced. More sophisticated diners
would do well to consider the superior and, in many cases, more reasonably
priced options available in this lovely Victorian community.
Web Site: http://www.capemaytimes.com/Restaurants/cape-may/410bank.htm
Hours: May - October, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
daily; call for exact hours early and late in the season
Cards: All major
Smoking: Smoking is
not permitted in the restaurant.
Parking: Nearby parking lot
Handicapped Accessible: Two step up to
one dining room; restrooms not accessible