12 Lackawanna Avenue
Gladstone, Somerset County, New Jersey
By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
Sequestered away on a quiet street just across from the railroad station, Opah Grille occupies the space formerly inhabited by Rudolfo Ristorante. Seafood is the name of the game here, and matters piscatorial are handled with dexterous panache. Add a casually chic ambiance, snappy, knowledgeable service, reasonable tariffs, and you have the perfect venue for a dynamite evening at table.
You cross the threshold and take in the cozy bar, tasteful aquatic décor, tables dressed in crisp white tablecloths & blue linen napkins... The hostess's smile is warm, welcoming... You feel at home already... But the sedate interior belies the unmitigated bustle of later evening. This place really jumps -- especially on weekends -- and the noise level can be somewhat daunting. Arrive early if you are dining à deux, or desire a bit of quietude to aid the digestion; otherwise, come with a group and join in the spirited festivities.
There's a select little wine list that is more than adequate to meet your libationary needs; and, as an added attraction, most vintages are also available by the glass. The 1999 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio ($6.95/$25.95) is a personal favorite, as is the 1999 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay ($9.95/$33.95). In the red wine department, the 1998 Sterling Merlot ($10.95/$41.95) is silky, seductive, and bursting with blackberry and toasty oak. You will also find an interesting reserve list, as well as a tempting selection of beers, sparkling wines, and single malt Scotch whiskies.
When ordering your main course, you have a choice of four salad possibilities to antecede your meal -- and each is outstanding. The Opah chopped salad is a delightful combo of cucumber, feta cheese, tomatoes, calamata olives, and roasted peppers; the "Classic Caesar" is just that, spruced up with addictively crunchy garlic croutons and Reggiano Parmesan; the poached pear & mâche is sprinkled with Matag bleu cheese and splashed with a sprightly maple raspberry vinaigrette; and the spinach salad is embellished with slices of crisp pancetta and finished with a smoky tomato vinaigrette.
With all this gratifying greenery just waiting in the wings, starters may strike you as somewhat superfluous... but I assure that they are not. The tuna sashimi ($8.99), for example, is a most auspicious prelude. Seared slices of tuna are fanned out, drizzled with a racy red pepper sauce, and accompanied by two vertical towers of Vietnamese spring rolls replete with chopsticks. An artistic and appetizing presentation.
Bivalve fans will find the clams steamed in a bracing garlic broth awash with mouth-watering morsels of andouille sausage ($9.99) impossible to resist. And crustacean lovers may indulge themselves with either the jumbo shrimp wrapped in pancetta with aged fontina cheese ($9.99) or the diminutive steamed shrimp dumplings served in an invigorating broth of lemongrass, garlic and basil ($9.99). There is also a raw bar -- featuring ceviche ($11.99), a variety of oysters ($9.99), and Rhode Island littleneck clams ($6.99) -- for those who are so inclined.
With but a brief nod to landlubbers -- grilled filet mignon ($22.99), rack of lamb ($25.99), and grilled herb chicken ($15.99) -- entrées, as you would expect, focus on the wild and wonderful inhabitants of Davy Jones' locker. If you decide to go the mesquite grill route, for instance, you may choose from such worthy representatives as Atlantic salmon ($17.99), yellowfin tuna ($19.99), mahi-mahi ($17.99), or the eponymous Hawaiian opah ($18.99)... Then feel free to match them up with such first-class accoutrements as smoked tomato vinaigrette, mango salsa, dill-lemongrass butter, or citrus vinaigrette.
And speaking of opah, it also tops the list of additional entrées. In this case, it is pan roasted with a ginger crust and served with leeks and snow peas ($18.99). The mahi-mahi also puts in another appearance as "Mahi Oscar," dressed to kill with jumbo lump crabmeat, hollandaise and asparagus ($19.99). Both are excellent choices.
Other favorites include: pan-seared ginger/soy-lacquered sea bass presented atop a mound of sticky rice and surrounded by an exotic wasabi vinaigrette ($17.99); moist medallions of salmon spruced up with roasted tomato sauce on a seabed of angel hair pasta ($16.99); and George's Bank scrod baked with a panko crust (coarse unseasoned Japanese breadcrumbs) accompanied by a lusty sweet potato crabmeat hash ($15.99).
Maine lobsters -- served up steamed, broiled, grilled, or scampi style over pasta -- are also available (1 1/4 - 1 1/2 lbs., $25.00/ 2 - 2 1/2 lbs., $45.00), as are such diverse offerings as fish and chips ($12.99), tuna burger ($8.99), lobster salad Napoleon ($14.99), and crab cake sandwich ($11.99).
Dessert-wise, crème brûlée ($5.99) and chocolate "molten lava" cake ($4.99) are about what you'd expect, good but not exceptional. The citrus cheesecake ($4.99) with a wonderful chocolate biscotti crust, on the other hand, is outstanding. But even better are the fresh berries luxuriating in a bracing elixir of mint, lemongrass, and melon liqueur ($5.99).
The only disconcerting factor here -- other than the, at times, excessive noise level -- involves the smoking arrangements. Since puffing is permitted at the bar, should you be seated anywhere in close proximity thereto, you may count on waves of smoke wafting gently over the diminutive wall and right onto your plate. A most disagreeable arrangement that needs to be rectified as soon as possible.
Other than that, you will find the Opah Grille charged with infectious electricity. Chef Michael Lakin, formerly of Verve in Somerville, is now holding forth in the kitchen, excitement is in the air, and people want to be a part of this lively culinary scene. If you appreciate the sensual subtleties of impeccably fresh and imaginatively prepared and presented seafood, this is one date with dining destiny that you can't afford to pass up.
Cuisine: Seafood plus
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 4:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Sunday Brunch: 10:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Attire: Sharp casual
Smoking: Smoking is permitted at the bar only.
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Handicapped Accessible: Yes