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Ray's Seafood Restaurant
Restaurant Now Closed
20 Route 34 (Opposite Delicious Orchards)
Colts Neck, Monmouth County, New Jersey
(732) 303-1339

By The Artful Diner
Special to New Jersey Online
9/21/98

Ray's Seafood Restaurant, as you are no doubt aware, is one of three. The other two establishments are located in Little Silver (125 Markham Place) and Long Branch (310 Ocean Avenue), respectively. The Colts Neck and LB eateries are more spacious and upscale than their LS sibling and also sport wine lists; with the exception of a few individual idiosyncrasies, the thalassic offerings at all three are basically the same.

The Colts Neck eatery is decoratively quite sedate... but don't let that fool you. The joint really jumps, especially on a madcap Saturday night when reservations are accepted for parties of six or more only. And be advised... should you be chowing down a deux, the main dining room is infinitely preferable to the somewhat cramped and noisy quarters on the second floor (especially if you happen to get stuck in the busy hallway leading to the restrooms). No matter where you finally settle in, however, you will undoubtedly encounter a casually-attired, extremely boisterous clientele replete with a varied assortment of rambunctious offspring. In other words, this is definitely NOT the spot for a quiet, romantic evening. People come here for one reason only: TO EAT. And they do so with reckless abandon.

And so, on to the food... Ray's first courses have a great deal to recommend them. Prince Edward Island mussels, whether served up in marinara or white wine and garlic, are so succulent they melt in your mouth. A starter of tequila and lime marinated shrimp is another palate-pleaser. The shrimp are grilled to absolute perfection, presented with a black bean cake, and both reap the benefits of an utterly delicious tomato/avocado salsa. You might also consider a variety of oysters on the half shell or a bowl of Manhattan or New England clam chowder.

Entrees, as a glance at the menu will quickly reveal, are a veritable ode to innovation... However, when it comes to seafood, the step between inspired creativity and irredeemable carnage is all too brief. Indeed, because of their delicacy, the great majority of finny creatures benefit most from those accoutrements that intrude the least. In other words, the less gussied up the better. This kitchen, unfortunately, seems to have penned yet another lamentable chapter in The Saucier's Revenge.

Case in point: the lovely white texture of a perfectly prepared grouper filet is ignominiously sequestered beneath a Parmesan and pine nut crust. And, as if to add insult to injury, its taste is all but obviated by a roasted tomato/balsamic vinegar/basil oil concoction that is far too assertive for its own (and the fish's) good. Another ill-advised match is a pan-seared Copper River salmon with tomato/corn salsa. This farm-raised species, which sports an outrageously high fat content, is the product of selective feeding designed to bring it to harvesting weight as much as a year earlier than would be possible under normal circumstances in the wild. While this may be "good" fat, laced with beneficial omega-3 oils, most palates (my own included) still quail before its unctuous assault. And when teamed up with the aforementioned salsa, which is entirely too opulent, the result is positively cloying. Several other menu items are semantically enticing... but ultimately fail to deliver the gastronomic goods.

On the other hand, grilled preparations (salmon, red snapper, tuna, swordfish, grouper, arctic char) and baked items (such as flounder, scallops and shrimp), relatively free of various forms of embellishment, are your best bets. Indeed, when chowing down at Ray's, one quickly learns that the less complicated the piscatorial offerings, the greater the chances of success.

There is a fairly-priced wine list here; tariffs commence at $18.00 (1996 Stone Creek Merlot) and peak at $90.00 (1991 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve). In between these two extremes, however, there are some interesting possibilities. The 1996 Silverado Chardonnay, for instance, is an excellent choice at $28.00. There's a minimum of oak, and just the right amount of acidity to keep it lively. Since this vintage retails for around $20.00, it is a relative bargain. If you're having tuna and/or salmon, the 1996 Estancia Pinot Noir at $22.00 is the perfect complement to these more assertive dishes. You might also consider wines by the glass. A very nice Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio goes for $6.50 per, as does the Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc and the aforementioned Estancia Pinot Noir.

Which bring us to the bottom line of restaurant dining... Namely: Given the quality of the food, service, ambiance and the dollar value of this particular restaurant, would you return... or opt to visit another establishment? In this regard, Ray's is something of a culinary conundrum. My wife and I recently shelled out $122.00 (including tax and tip) for the privilege of feeding our faces here. Pricey. A bit TOO pricey for good but not exceptional fare. Especially when you consider that, for approximately the same cash outlay (or a smidgen more, depending upon your choice of vintages), you could be dining at Doris & Ed's, the best seafood restaurant in the Garden State.

Is Ray's worthy of another visitation...? Perhaps. However, if I had my druthers, I would much prefer to pay a return call to his Little Silver establishment. The atmosphere is more casual, the menu a tad simpler, and you can save a sizeable amount of change by toting along your own liquid libations. It's your call...

Cuisine: Seafood
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.; Dinner: Mon - Thurs, 5:00 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.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant
Reservations: Sun - Fri: accepted for all parties; Sat: for parties of six or more only
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: License
Price: Appetizers: $1.95 - $8.95; Entrees: $14.95 - $44.95; Desserts: $5.00

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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