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Blue Restaurant
11th Street & Long Beach Boulevard
Surf City, Ocean County, New Jersey
(609) 494-7556

By The Artful Diner

Todd Rodgers & Bruno Pouget's stylish four-year-old eatery gives off some great vibes... and it is bound to strike your fancy the moment you cross the threshold. The interior is quintessential Jersey Shore -- bright and breezy -- boasting a colorful array of modern oil paintings, well-spaced tables, and a row of comfy booths. And Chef Mike Sheel, formerly of The Continental in Philadelphia, has succeeded in fashioning a bill of fare that is the perfect gastronomic mirror image of the casual yet classy decor.

You begin with a basket of homemade breads accompanied by an ingratiating variety of savory spreads. On one evening, you may be treated to a scintillatingly salty black olive; on another, creamy pesto or, conceivably, a sybaritic black bean. Whatever the luck of the draw may be, however, don't be shy about asking your server for another round, as these spreads are marvelously addictive and will prove the perfect cure for tired taste buds.

The menu is cleverly divided into "Lite Blue" and "Deep Blue" -- appetizers and entrées, respectively -- and provides an exciting culinary tour de force for diners with adventurous global appetites. The Cuban bread salad ($7.00), for example, makes an absolutely first-class starter. Two thick, crusty slices of homemade bread are soaked in herb-infused olive oil and sequestered beneath a mound of fresh field greens dotted with black olives, chunks of tomato, and tossed with an orange sherry vinaigrette; slices of avocado add a rich and unctuous counterpoint to the sprightly acidity. There is just enough going on here to quicken the palate without overwhelming it.

Plump and succulent mussels ($11.00), awash with the complex flavors of an exotic kaffir lime broth replete with tiny morsels of tofu, luxuriate on a julienne of carrots and jicama. Equally engaging are the roasted vegetable empanadas ($8.00), tasty turnovers brimming with the goodness of corn kernels, diced red peppers, and black beans. These lovely pastry islands rest on a bed of cucumber jicama slaw and are surrounded by an ocean of zesty black bean sauce...

And who would not gladly succumb to the silky sensuality of seared Hudson Valley foie gras embellished with caramelized pineapple, candied ginger relish, and vanilla jus ($15.00) or, perhaps, revel in the effusive sweetness of crab gratinée accompanied by a micro green salad and garlic chips ($11.00).

Entrées exhibit the same dynamic international flair and flavors as their predecessors. The chili-seared grouper ($19.00) tantalizes the taste buds with just the proper hint of spice and is spruced up with mashed coconut sweet potatoes and an equally provocative banana salsa. The pan-roasted sea bass ($21.00), on the other hand, displays a decidedly Mediterranean accent. Resting on a gentle embankment of toasted couscous, it is garnished with tomatoes, olives, onions, and capers. But should you prefer a still more exotic culinary encounter, the Japanese pepper-dusted scallops ($23.00) -- replete with lemongrass-soybean risotto and consummated with a gentle kiss of plum wine syrup -- are pure delight.

Those who enjoy carnivorous pursuits will find the possibilities no less enticing. The fire-roasted veal chop ($32.00) -- which was ordered medium-rare and arrived precisely as requested -- is thick, luscious & mouth-wateringly tender, accompanied by extraordinarily scrumptious potato-cheese pierogi, and finished with a forest mushroom demi-glace. Even the obligatory filet of beef ($28.00) is grilled to absolute perfection (medium-rare once again) and receives a new lease on life from a temptingly toothsome bacon & goat cheese potato salad and intensely flavorful red wine sauce.

Although portions are quite adequate, there are several accoutrements -- "Blue Sides" -- that you might consider sampling or sharing: The lobster mashed potatoes ($8.00) are a wonderfully decadent indulgence; grilled white and green asparagus spears ($5.00) are slightly crunchy yet tender; and the Israeli couscous vegetable sauté ($4.00) is spiffed up with tomatoes, fennel, onions, black olives, and caper berries.

In many restaurants, desserts appear to be almost antithetical to the rest of the meal, bouncing off on their own in a host of disparate directions. At Blue, on the other hand, denouements ($7.00) appear to be well integrated into the ultimate scheme of things. They are a smidgen more homespun than their forebears; however, after indulging in the international intrigue of such creative ports-of-call, this closing move seems to strike just the proper culinary chord, transporting your palate gently back to the pleasant confines of Long Beach Island.

A hint of Key lime adds an exciting twist to a superlative crème brûlée, and a wonderfully rich individual chocolate cake is surrounded by a sumptuous sea of white chocolate crème anglaise and garnished with fresh raspberries. Both are a hedonist's delight. Be that as it may, I would still cast my vote for the blueberry crisp partnered with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. It is elegant in its simplicity and a deliciously gratifying conclusion to any meal.

"Casual" and "lively" are the two adjectives that best describe Blue Restaurant... The ambiance is casually chic; the members of the wait staff are characterized by a youthful exuberance, yet they are quite competent in the conscientious completion of their appointed tasks; and the cuisine, courtesy of Chef Mike Sheel, is both energetic and innovative. If you are staying anywhere in the vicinity of the Jersey Shore, this bustling, dynamic eatery should be at the very top of your restaurant visitation list. Highly recommended!

Cuisine: Global
Hours: Summer: 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. daily; call for hours in spring and early fall; closed in winter
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended; essential during the summer season
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

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