New Jersey Restaurant Review
1505 Ocean Avenue
Spring Lake, Monmouth County, New Jersey
The Artful Diner
February 14, 2005
Domiciled beneath the Sandpiper Inn, the Black Trumpet inhabits
a clubby, romantic setting that has been home to numerous eateries over the
years. Yet despite the irresistibly inviting ambiance -- three picturesque
walls of windows, rich carpeting, equally rich dark woods and wainscoting, cozy
faux fireplace, and the muted glow of shaded oil lamps -- the food at
these various incarnations has been, in my view, less than memorable.
The current chef/proprietor, however, on the scene since November '04, has
lost absolutely no time in significantly enhancing the establishment's
heretofore lackluster image. Mark Mikolajczyk -- who cooked up a storm at
Whispers just a few blocks away -- may have changed venues, but it is quite
evident that his sumptuous American fare is as congenially creative as ever.
And since he is joined in the kitchen by his long-time sous-chef and now
partner, David McCleery, you may rest assured that your discriminating palate
is in extremely capable hands.
In harmony with his successful sojourn at Whispers, Mr. Mikolajczyk's
presentations are innovative without being overly complex or ostentatious.
Ditto his menu, which is a study in simplicity: five first courses
(appetizers); four second courses (salads and soup of the day); and eight main courses,
with starters and entrées supplemented by a select number of daily specials.
The chef's signature starter, a "Panache of Appetizers" ($13.00),
features an extraordinarily creamy jumbo lump crab cake sharing the spotlight
with a duet of perfectly grilled shrimp. A diminutive wild mushroom salad
offers a nice textural contrast, ribbons of red pepper remoulade, a flavorful
zip and splash of color. In many ways, this presentation is archetypical of Mr.
Mikolajczyk's understated creations: they remain artistic without degenerating
into architectural atrocities.
And be sure to lend an attentive ear to the homemade pasta of the day
($8.00). Only nine orders are available each evening, so it is best to make
your preference known as early as possible. Recently sampled was a tomato
fettuccine surrounded by an exquisite pool of creamy basil pesto and topped
with a tiara of black trumpet mushrooms (the restaurant's namesake) and
sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. The portion size is just right, neither petite
nor prodigious; as is the seasoning, especially when tweaked with an additional
light dusting of cheese deftly administered by your server.
The curried carrot soup ($5.00) is yet another splendid opening move and
guaranteed to warm the heart on a cold winter's night. Brilliant of both color
and countenance, not only does it arrive at table at the proper temperature but
also endowed with just enough spice to invigorate rather than incinerate. The
unique take on Caesar salad ($5.00) -- a grilled sheaf of romaine replete with
first-rate dressing, Parmesan cheese, and smattering of crunchy croutons -- is
also quite good, although it does take a backseat to the chef's other
Entrées, like all that has preceded them, are both subtle and substantive.
And, once again, you would do well to begin your deliberations with the chef's
signature dish: day-boat filet of fluke ($24.00). This is a striking
composition; the entire fish is plated, hollowed out and filled with tender
morsels of fingerling potatoes and carrots and then topped with sweet and
succulent pan-seared filets and finished with an exquisite brown butter.
The presentation of diver scallops ($27.00) is equally dramatic. Five
beautifully pan-seared bivalves are circularly positioned on a crispy
potato/rock shrimp pancake, which, in turn, reclines on a sensuously soft
pillow of puréed parsnips. The consummating touch is a delicate pool of carrot
When it comes to meatier matters, a daily special of domestic rack of lamb
($36.00) is no less than extraordinary and certainly one of the best
representatives of this classic that I've sampled in a long, long time. Brushed
with Dijon mustard and coated with panko breadcrumbs, the rack arrives at table
medium rare, precisely as specified, carved tableside by the chef into four
diminutive chops, and served au jus in the company of homey puréed sweet
potatoes and green beans.
But, by all means, don't overlook the fact that the chef grills a mean steak
(in addition to his illustrious tenure at Whispers, Mr. Mikolajczyk also spent
a brief stint as the power behind the stove at Brennen's Steakhouse in Neptune
City). And the current menu features a prime New York strip ($29.00) that is
enough to quicken the pulse of any uncompromising, dyed-in-the-wool,
red-blooded American carnivore. Cooked to a flawless medium rare, it exhibits
just the proper texture, explodes with flavor, and is propelled into orbit on
the wings of a lusty port wine demi-glace. The sidekicks, of course, are
appropriately homespun and consummately complementary: utterly addictive lumpy
garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach that is impeccably fresh,
selectively seasoned, and just creamy enough.
Other entrée possibilities include: Atlantic salmon au poivre with
julienne snow peas and red beet couscous ($19.00); grilled chicken breast on a
bed of soba noodles and oriental-style vegetables ($16.00); and an incredibly
moist pesto-stuffed pork tenderloin in the company of whipped sweet potatoes
and shaved Brussels sprouts ($19.00).
And it goes without saying that desserts, courtesy of Mr. Mikolajczyk's
partner, chef David McCleery, are worth saving room for. Topping my list of
recommendations is his trio of crème brûlée ($7.00) -- white chocolate,
pear, dark chocolate -- all incomparably creamy and sporting beautifully
caramelized tiaras. Mr. McCleery also does his own unique spin on the venerable
peach melba ($8.00). A grilled white peach half is filled with crème brûlée,
set on a bed of homemade peach ice cream, and garnished with raspberry sauce
and whipped cream. Even in the bleak midwinter, it makes a fabulous finish. And
for those who enjoy more straightforward denouements, his New York-style
cheesecake ($7.00) is a superlative choice. Built on a scrumptious foundation
of Oreo cookie crust, the cheesecake itself is appropriately dense but still
manages to seduce the palate with its velvety texture.
The icy evenings I visited, the patrons were few and far between. I have no
doubts, however, that once winter relinquishes it gelid grasp upon the Jersey
Shore, Messrs. Mikolajczyk and McCleery will have all the business they can
handle. In the meantime, if you want to avoid the tourists and gastronomic
groupies who will inevitably descend like vultures once the word gets out, now
is the time to enjoy this restaurant's excellent cuisine and appealing ambiance
to the fullest.
Cuisine: Creative American
Hours: Lunch: Will begin first week of May; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:00
p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 8:00
Credit Cards: MC, V, Discover
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Parking: Ample street parking
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: www.theblacktrumpet.com