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Tisha's Fine Dining
322 Washington Street Mall
Cape May, Cape May County, New Jersey
(609) 884-9119
June 9, 2003

Note: Tisha's has relocated to a new location at 322 Washington Street Mall in Cape May

By The Artful Diner

Paul Negro's mother, Tisha, a graduate of Philadelphia's Restaurant School, opened her eponymous establishment in Wildwood in 1994. Unfortunately, the city was going through some rough economic times and the enterprise was short-lived. The following year, however, son Paul and his wife, Jennifer, reincarnated Tisha's in Cape May, where it has enjoyed a most successful run.

Interestingly enough, even though the restaurant is currently in its ninth year, it appears to remain one of this Victorian community's most closely guarded secrets. The eatery's location, of course, doesn't help the situation. Sequestered away to the right rear of the Cape May Convention Center, Tisha's isn't all that easy to find... but this is also a considerable part of its charm. The bright and airy dining area affords a lovely view of the ocean and beachfront; it also boasts a wall of windows that is gently parted to allow tables to spill out onto the boardwalk for al fresco dining in warmer weather.

Ambient attributes notwithstanding, it is Chef Paul Negro's exceptional cuisine that is the chief drawing card here. And in a community sated with New American victuals, the kitchen's Italian accents succeed in adding a good deal of pizzazz to the usual variety of over-visited gastronomic ports-of-call.

... And the quality of Mr. Negro's offerings surely belies the fact that he has received no formal culinary training. As noted above, his mother is a graduate of the Restaurant School in the City of Brotherly Love; and she is responsible for passing on that considerable knowledge to her son. This, along with his own natural aptitude, accounts for the superior caliber of his cookery.

The menu is a neatly divided document containing the chef's nightly specials (replete with prices) on the left side and more permanent residents (which change monthly) on the right. The bill of fare also has a nice balance of meat, fish, and fowl, with matters piscatorial leading the way in the specialty department. The majority of visitors to this charming community may, indeed, be omnivorous; but since this is the Jersey Shore, the proclivity for fresh, well-prepared seafood is palpable, and Mr. Negro does his best to oblige his discerning clientele.

So why not start things off with a generous allocation of Prince Edward Island mussels ($9.00)? These plump steamed bivalves may be ordered in either a red or white sauce and spicy or mild, depending upon your palate's predilection on a given evening. Recently sampled was the tamer white version, and it was utterly superb. Many shellfish broths taste decidedly "funky" or suffer from an overdose of saffron. Mr. Negro's rendition, on the other hand, is bewitchingly clean of countenance and awash with finely chopped garlic and fresh basil. So don't be shy about dipping in morsels of warm bread... as not a single drop should be allowed to escape.

The blackened shrimp ($11.00) are another worthy appetizer. Reclining on a seabed of baby spinach, the crustaceans are embellished with roasted peppers, goat cheese, kalamata olives, and an invigorating splash of balsamic vinaigrette. And the moist, meaty sea scallops -- whether grilled ($10.00) or blackened ($11.00) -- are also not to be overlooked.

But if you're truly feeling Italian and lyrical, you might want to indulge in more traditional preludes: classic bruschetta with mozzarella cheese on toast rounds ($7.00); escarole and beans sautéed in garlic & olive oil ($9.00); or a special pasta e faglio ($6.00), alive with a wonderfully rich tomato broth.

With regard to entrées -- and all matters Italian -- I have always considered veal saltimbocca ($25.00) to be an excellent test of a chef's abilities. It's a relatively simple dish, granted... but there are so many things that can easily go wrong: The veal can be of poor quality or overcooked -- or both; and the sauce can be so oversexed that it is guilty of assaulting rather than gently enfolding the delicate medallions entrusted to its care.

No such problems here, however. The veal is fork-tender, layered with just the proper proportions of prosciutto, mushrooms, fresh spinach, and mozzarella, and finished with an exquisitely tasty jus resounding with sage. And, as an added attraction, the saltimbocca is teamed up with a luscious mound of roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

Other meaty matters include a succulent Italian pork tenderloin filled with rosemary stuffing and finished with roasted peppers and provolone cheese ($22.00) and a pepper-spiced pan-seared filet mignon set atop those same addictive garlic mashed and consummated with a potent bourbon sauce ($29.00).

Returning to matters piscatorial... the special sautéed striped bass ($24.00) is marvelously moist and flaky, set on a pillow of couscous and asparagus, and finished with an excellent lemon and caper butter sauce. Mr. Negro is also quite fond of matching up his finny fare with shrimp, and all these culinary marriages are highly recommended. Grilled Thai salmon ($28.00), for example, is enhanced with a zippy Thai lime sauce; grilled Alaskan halibut ($29.00) is teamed with basmati rice and spicy honey soy; and blackened Hawaiian tuna ($28.00) with pineapple, prosciutto, and jalapeño.

All of the chef's creations are exceedingly well prepared and presented... but it is his attendant sauces, in my opinion, that are his most memorable culinary achievements. They are heady without being heavy... thoroughly invigorating but not at all intrusive; and they succeed nobly in the ultimate destiny to which many aspire but precious few attain: complementing rather than convoluting the objects of their affection.

Brooke Catanosa's delightful denouements ($7.00), of course, are no less praiseworthy. Her creamy tiramisù cheesecake comes wrapped in luscious ladyfingers and graham cracker crust; and her warm banana nut bread pudding embellished with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce is as comforting as it gets... unless, of course, you happen to be partial to her similarly adorned down-home apple pie. Individual fresh berry tarts are also present and accounted for, as are profiteroles, crème brûlée, and a retro chocolate fondue served up with assorted fresh fruits and Italian cookies.

Tisha's is an oceanfront dining experience that will charm your senses as well as your palate. It is not to be missed!

Cuisine: New American Fare with Italian Flair
Hours: Dinner: Open mid-April - mid-October, 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Summer: open seven nights; call for hours in the off season
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V, Discover
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Recommended; mandatory in summer
Parking: Metered street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Website: tishasfinedining.com

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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