7908 Long Beach Boulevard
Harvey Cedars, Ocean County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
The Owl Tree had always been a popular year-round LBI watering hole.
In point of fact, whenever I was in the area -- usually early in the season,
scouting my "Top Ten at the Jersey Shore" for that particular year --
I would often stop in for a libation before moving on. Throughout its tenure,
however, the Owl Tree's food remained something of a mixed bag, never quite
living up to its potential.
Plantation, on the other hand, the stylish current inhabitant of this
venerable Victorian, lost absolutely no time in establishing itself as Long
Beach Island's primo dining destination. Marty Grimes -- also owner of
Philadelphia's Moshulu and Radnor's Passerelle -- along with partner Brian
Sabarese, are the proprietors in question; Passerelle's chef, Allan Vanesko,
the menu architect. And it is Jeff Alberti, the talented local power behind the
stove, who continues to turn out such a marvelous array of contemporary fare
with a decidedly tropical/island accent.
The bi-level interior is chic but casual, rife with rattan and reminiscences
of the South Seas. Just be aware, however, that the environs are far from
sedate. That is not to say inhospitable -- I have always found my sojourns here
extremely pleasant and the service more than up to the mark -- merely the fact
that the often boisterous, bustling atmosphere is more conducive to an
easy-going evening than to an intimate tête-à-tête.
Your first stop will undoubtedly be the comfortable bar. Here you may settle
in with one of the establishment's cool specialty drinks, frozen margaritas,
coladas, daiquiris, tequilas, or vintage rums. And be sure to take a gander at
the first-rate wine list, which also sports some very nice selections by the
glass. I would personally recommend the Selaks Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
and the elegant David Bruce Central Coast Pinot Noir (both $9.50).
Appetizers cut a rather wide swath. If you want to go retro, for example,
there is always a first-class rendition of the classic iceberg wedge adorned
with crumbled smoked bacon, diced tomato, and Maytag bleu cheese ($6.50).
Traditional items include a very nice Caesar salad with Parmesan and focaccia
croutons ($6.50), steamed Prince Edward Island mussels swimming in a zippy red
sauce awash with sweet peppers and Maui onions ($7.75), or New England clam
chowder with crispy clams and parsley oil ($7.00). All are right on target.
But Plantation is a restaurant where it pays to explore the more
exotic possibilities. So why not try the incredible grilled chicken quesadilla
($7.75)? Three triangles filled with moist shredded chicken and all the usual accoutrements
are accompanied by a dynamite guacamole and roasted corn and black bean salad.
The crowning touch, however, is a drizzle of ancho-lime crema, sporting
just the proper counterpoint of fire and ice.
Another highly recommended starter -- sampled on a cold March night, but
also just right for an overly cool early summer's evening -- is the Madeira and
tomato braised beef stew ($8.00). The flavors are rich and intense, the chunks
of beef extraordinarily tender, the catalyst a tender pillow of parsnip purée,
and the portion size just right. Utterly addictive.
Entrées also provide the diner with some equally enticing culinary surprises
and subtexts. The moist and wonderfully meaty smoked and grilled center-cut
pork chop is paired with herb-roasted fingerlings and collard greens (nothing
particularly new here)... and then absolutely sent into orbit on the wings of a
zippy Argentinean chimichurri ($23.00). The blackened Costa Rican tilapia is
teamed with sweet potato steak fries, grilled zucchini and squash... and
receives a new lease on life from a sensational tropical fruit chutney
The above presentations are typical of Mr. Alberti's proportional prowess.
He engages in just enough innovative permutations to excite the eye and the
palate without going over the top. And the wasabi-crusted Chilean sea bass
($26.00) is yet another example of his creative fine-tuning and restraint. The
fish itself is cooked through (and this is one specimen that should not
be translucent at the center) but still perfectly moist and enhanced with just
enough spice to add a bit of pizzazz without setting off any alarm bells. It is
then placed on a soft, sensual seabed of drop dumplings and surrounded by a
crisp Asian stir-fry, splash of miso, and provocative orange-ginger
Meatloaf is about as comfortingly commonplace as it gets; but the
caramelized onion and BBQ version encountered here ($17.00) displays its own
unique dash of the dramatic. A sun-dried tomato cream provides the proper
panache, while a luscious pillow of Colby cheddar mashed potatoes and florets
of buttered broccoli contribute an appropriate down-home touch. For those even
more carnivorously inclined, be sure to try the benchmark pepper-grilled New
York strip steak dressed in a heady blue cheese-horseradish sauce ($25.50).
Desserts, most endowed with an island accent, are also quite tempting. The
Key lime pie with raspberry sauce and touch of crème anglaise ($6.50) is
delightfully tangy and sports a first-rate crust, color, and texture; and the
sticky toffee pudding served up with vanilla ice cream and caramel cream sauce
($7.75) is a dieter's worst nightmare -- but worth every calorie. If you really
want to go native, however, I highly recommend the delicious fried bananas
dusted with Hawaiian sugar and embellished with rum raisin ice cream ($7.00).
Every once in a great while a restaurant comes along that seems to break the
mold, an eatery that is capable of firing the imagination as well as pleasantly
placating the palate -- and Plantation is just such a place. This
stylish and exciting establishment makes a wonderful addition to LBI's
ever-vibrant dining scene. And the best news of all... it's open all year
Hours: Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sun - Thurs, 4:30
p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 4:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Smoking: Permitted at the bar only
Handicapped Accessible: Yes