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Thyme Square
Restaurant Closed - Via 45 now in this location.
45 Broad Street
Red Bank, Monmouth County, New Jersey
(732) 450-1001

By The Artful Diner
Special to nj.com
June 25, 2007

Red Bank is certainly not a community bereft of dining possibilities. Indeed, they are legion. Be that as it may, however restaurant rich a town may be, there is always room for an establishment that serves up first-rate casually creative bistro fare at reasonable prices. Throw in pleasantly bustling surroundings, good service, and the fact that you may tote along a vintage of your own choosing, and you have a solid recipe for success.

And this is surely the sybaritic saga of Thyme Square, Red Bank's new kid on the block, a restaurant that has already captured the attention of the area's culinary cognoscenti. Rona and Steve Rosenstein are the proprietors -- Mrs. Rosenstein also turns out a tempting array of mouth-watering desserts -- and Chef James Corona is the power behind the stove. Mr. Corona's superb bistro fare with Mediterranean flair generally hits all the right notes and is sufficiently innovative while still managing to maintain a comfortingly homey touch.

You begin with a basket of assorted breads and olive oil for dipping. This is followed by a complimentary triptych of assorted olives, paprika hummus, and ricotta cheese spread -- or variations on the theme thereof. But control your primal urge to make short work of these delicious freebies, as appetizers also have a great deal to offer.

The beer-braised mussels and clams ($16.00) swim to table in a fabulously flavorful broth awash with piquillo peppers, chickpeas, zesty chorizo sausage, and crown of grilled country bread. The best bivalves I've sampled in quite some time, and the combo of ingredients is just right.

The fritto misto ($14.00) is another sensational starter. This is a combination of fried mixed seafood and seasonal vegetables presented in a metal spiral-encased paper cone with all the constituents -- spears of zucchini, three delightfully crunchy shrimp, and a plethora of exceedingly tender calamari -- locked in the loving embrace of an ethereal batter. The pièce de résistance, however, is a ramekin of addictive paprika aïoli.

Two other highly recommended preludes are the salt-roasted beets ($10.00) and the roasted asparagus ($9.00). The former is comprised of tender beet slices in the company of segments of ruby red grapefruit. Both are sequestered beneath a peppery pillow of baby arugula, sprinkled with Sicilian pistachios, crowned with a tiara of shredded goat cheese, and consummated with a lively citrus vinaigrette. This may at first appear to be a relatively simple presentation, but the colors, tastes, and textures all meld into a beautifully orchestrated gastronomic gestalt. The latter offering features tender yet firm spears of roasted asparagus that are garnished with earthy sautéed wild mushrooms, a soft poached egg, and gentle dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Entrées continue to highlight the chef's ability to turn out decidedly comfortable, bistro-infused contemporary cuisine that is pleasing to both the eye and the palate.

Simple but sublime is the phrase that best describes the messe-rigatoni ($16.00). The pasta is al dente and finds palatable partners in chunks of caramelized eggplant, fresh plum tomatoes, and touch of basil. Nothing fancy here, but an excellent combo of flavors.

The slices of skirt steak ($24.00) are remarkably tender and set atop a luscious array of pesto fingerling potatoes (also available as a side, $6.00). The crowning touch is a delicious dollop of red onion marmalade. A bistro fave... as is the incredibly moist organic chicken breast ($22.00) set on a bed of potato purée. Chorizo and green olives add a hint of spice, a topping of sweet and sour peppers a nice splash of color.

The only semi-disappointment in several visits proved to be the herb-seared halibut ($28.00), which suffered, in my opinion, from a severe case of the "blands." Though the fish was at the peak of good health and properly cooked, it could have used significantly more seasoning. And the accompaniments -- slightly chewy escarole, baby artichokes, and preserved lemon broth -- did absolutely nothing to either enhance the flavors or add some much-needed pizzazz to the innocuous color scheme.

Desserts, however, courtesy of Mrs. Rosenstein, were right back on track. The Key lime cheesecake topped with macerated berries ($9.00) was excellent... and the lemon sabayon backed by a butter-shortbread shell and pine nut crunch ($8.00) even better. Also highly recommended is the salted caramel ice cream sandwiched between layers of pecan shortbread.

In true bistro fashion, Thyme Square is a bustling, often noisy space populated by a diverse cast of local characters -- from the young tattooed and/or body-pierced set to refined Rumsonians and well-heeled Navesink River cliff dwellers. But that's all part of the fun at this top-notch, trendy newcomer. So stop in and become part of the lively Red Bank dining scene.

Cuisine: Mediterranean Bistro
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 12:00 noon - 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Sat, starting at 5:00 p.m.; Sun, starting at 4:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: Most major
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
Parking: Street parking and nearby metered municipal lots
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: www.thymesquarerestaurant.com

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