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New Jersey Restaurant Review

Black Duck on Sunset
1 Sunset Boulevard
West Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
(609) 898-0100

By The Artful Diner
June 14, 2004

Gone -- thankfully -- are those garish, optically assaulting hues of pink and green that characterized the former Peaches at Sunset. Chef/owner Christopher Hubert, also proprietor of the Union Park Dining Room, has transformed the exterior of this venerable clapboard building into an infinitely more attractive coalescence of sophisticated blacks, whites, and grays.

And once across the threshold, you'll notice some additional changes as well (and all for the better, I might add). Peaches' decorative scheme resembled Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" meets the Eagles' "Hotel California" -- with a little Salvador Dalí thrown in for good measure. These ambient oddities have, likewise -- if you'll pardon the pun -- vanished into the sunset. In their place, the discriminating patron discovers a series of crisp white rooms adorned with antique black and white photographs. The atmosphere is bright, breezy, and tastefully unencumbered.

But the most significant metamorphoses have taken place behind closed doors... in the kitchen, to be precise. Mr. Hubert and his able chef de cuisine, Chris Crookston, have made dining at the Black Duck a truly memorable and exciting gastronomic experience. The creative American fare comes replete with pronounced international accents and strikes an appealingly casual chord. It entices, it intrigues... but it never overwhelms.

Appetizers are extraordinary in every respect, and the kitchen appears to be particularly adept at the creative use of greenery. Should you choose to begin with the orange almond salad ($8.00), for example, you will note immediately that it is the fresh tangle of mixed greens gently caressed by a honey lavender vinaigrette that succeeds in beguiling your taste buds, while citrus segments and shavings of Locatelli cheese remain in important supporting roles.

In another provocative presentation, tart greens pillow a golden brown square of panko-encrusted goat cheese crowned with a tiara of spicy shallots ($9.00). Toasted pumpkin seeds, a heady balsamic reduction, and splash of chive oil add appropriate finishing touches. Greens also recline on a bed of prosciutto, aided and abetted by a mushroom salad, roasted red peppers, slices of poached pear, and a crisp Reggiano tuile ($9.00). The consummating culinary catalysts in this case prove to be a mellifluous truffle oil and invigorating Minus 8 (ice wine) Vinegar.

More exotic of disposition is the tempura shrimp and vegetables ($10.00). The batter surrounding the red & yellow peppers and sweet potatoes is utterly ethereal, and miso soup and hot mustard are provided for your sipping and dipping pleasure. Prefer something a bit more substantial...? Have a go at the barbecued baby-back ribs partnered with a rustic down-home slaw ($8.00). And if you can't make up your mind, the "Pu Pu Platter" ($22.00), the chef's tasting of appetizers for two, should fill the bill nicely.

Just one additional note with regard to starters... Offered one evening was a special Napoleon comprised of asparagus, red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, and morsels of lobster and crab luxuriating in a pesto butter sauce with melted Parmigiano-Reggiano ($11.00). If this delicacy should put in a guest appearance on the night of your visit, you are in for a rare treat, as it is simply superlative.

Dazzling appetizers often blaze a trail to disappointing entrées. Preludes appear to present all sorts of wonderful possibilities. Hope springs eternal... only to be dashed to pieces on the ever-slippery rocks of restaurant reality. This is a story that is far too familiar to Garden State diners. Happily, this disheartening dichotomy is not to be encountered at the Black Duck. Main courses, while a bit more robust than their predecessors, demonstrate the same style and finesse in both preparation and presentation.

As you would undoubtedly surmise, given the establishment's location, the fruits of the sea are an integral part of the kitchen's entrée entourage. The sautéed trout ($23.00) features two moist filets reclining on a bed of rustic country potatoes and spring vegetables embellished with a potent pomegranate vinaigrette. The salmon ($26.00) is the most perfectly pan roasted representative of this particular species that it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. Set on an island of sweet potato purée, it is dotted with lobster pot stickers and surrounded by a seductively sensual ginger red wine nage. And the sautéed jumbo lump crab cakes adorned with Yukon gold potatoes ($28.00), a nightly special, are succulently sweet and all crab.

But confirmed carnivores need have no fears, as meatier matters are also very much in evidence. A beautifully textured New York strip steak ($28.00), for example, is grilled to a juicy medium rare; thick slices are then set atop a mélange of vegetables and accompanied by impossible-to-resist potato pancakes and a savory house-made steak sauce. For those in search of more exotic fare, there is always the zesty Szechwan spiced beef ($22.00)... or, should you so desire, you may also add tempura shrimp to the proceedings ($28.00) and enjoy the kitchen's uniquely delectable spin on surf n' turf.

Homemade desserts strike a comforting chord, and all are worth saving room for. The clementine rice pudding with cinnamon cookies ($6.00) is a wonderfully updated version of an old favorite, and the chocolate mousse cake garnished with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream ($8.00) is rich and moist and marvelously decadent... Or you may opt for a more delicate denouement by teaming up almond biscotti ($4.00) with a potent cup of coffee ($2.00).

The Black Duck on Sunset offers its patrons memorable creative American cuisine served in a cool and casual setting. Now entering its sophomore summer season, this highly recommendable restaurant has already established itself as one of the Cape May area's premier dining destinations.

Cuisine: Creative American fare with international flair
Hours: Dinner: 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Open 7 days June - September; call for hours in the off-season
Credit Cards: MC, V
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Highly recommended; essential in peak season
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.blackduckonsunset.com

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