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Top Ten Jersey Shore Dining 2000
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The Artful Diner writes restaurant reviews for nj.com. To receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted, send a note to artfuldiner@verizon.net.

Whatever your gastronomic and fiscal predilections on a given summer's day or evening -- flamboyant or frugal, fancy or funky -- you are bound to discover a multitude of tasty alternatives to tempt your palate. And one thing is certain... you won't go hungry at the Jersey Shore.

C'EST LA VIE
7807 Long Beach Boulevard
Beach Haven Crest, NJ
(609) 494-5372
Cuisine: French

Open since the summer of 1998, chef/owner John Albright's classy establishment has already become a Mecca for elegant and sophisticated dining on Long Beach Island. You settle in at table surrounded by rich tapestry, fine china, silver place settings, and brass wall sconces. But the ambiance, you soon discover, is only part of the story; the impeccably prepared and presented French cuisine is every bit its equal. You begin your meal with such delicacies as roasted duck breast with sweet potato puree and coriander sauce, terrine of quail with foie gras and apricot candied onions, or oysters on the half shell crowned with a white wine cream glaze. And entrees are just as exquisite: cashew-encrusted roasted red snapper finished with a lime vermouth sauce, veal medallions with a morel mushroom demi-glace, boneless roast rack of lamb with a spellbinding olive mint sauce. And be sure to save room for C'est La Vie's signature dessert, an ethereal creme brulee Napoleon. In addition to the a la carte selections, this fine restaurant also offers a six-course tasting menu priced at $60.00 per person. Expensive. BYOB.

DORIS & ED'S
348 Shore Drive
Highlands, NJ
(732) 872-1565
Cuisine: Seafood

When hearts -- and appetites -- turn toward the sea, the first restaurant that comes to mind is Doris & Ed's. You could certainly pay less, but it is doubtful that you could get more of a quality bang for your buck than you do here. In terms of a consistently satisfying dining experience, no shore eatery can lay a fin or a claw on this enduring and endearing establishment. For the past two decades, owner Jim Filip has been serving up the very finest seafood money can buy; and Chef Russell Dare, a 15-year veteran of D & E's kitchen, is part of the reason that this charming eatery is able to maintain such high culinary standards. There are no gimmicks, no stuff-your-face raw or salad bars, just wonderfully fresh fare served up in a simple yet elegant environment. Whether your tastes are traditional or more avant-garde, you are certain to find a host of palate-pleasing possibilities. Add an award-winning wine list, courteous and personable service, and a lovely view of Sandy Hook, and you know why Doris & Ed's is not to be missed. Expensive.

THE EBBITT ROOM
At the Virginia Hotel
25 Jackson Street
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-5700
Cuisine: New American

Despite J. Christopher Hubert's departure last spring, it is quite obvious that this tastefully-appointed romantic enclave has lost not a step. Thirty-year-old Michael Merlo, an alumnus of Philadelphia's Four Seasons and Striped Bass, has taken over the reins in the kitchen, and the transition has been utterly seamless. As of this writing, Mr. Merlo is in the process of revamping the menu to accommodate his own specific proclivities; in the interim, however, be assured that the New American cuisine continues to be both creatively presented and professionally served. Recently sampled, for instance, was but a harbinger of the chef's top-notch abilities: macadamia-encrusted halibut served on a bed of Israeli cous-cous... But the crowing touch came with the addition of an exotic coconut curry sauce. Superb! You will also find a first-class wine list to complement your meal. The Ebbitt Room is a totally civilized dining experience that is destined to be the high point of your visit to this lovely Victorian community. Expensive.

GREEN GABLES INN AND RESTAURANT
212 Centre Street
Beach haven, NJ
(609) 492-3553
Cuisine: Creative Continental

Should you possess a gastronome's sense of high adventure, you will savor the excitement from the moment the reservationist cordially confirms your booking. For he/she will also inquire as to whether you may be allergic to certain comestibles or possess any long-standing foodie phobias. After that, you are in Adolfo de'Martino's extremely capable hands, as you will find no printed menus here. Based upon his findings at market that particular morning, Mr. de'Martino will orchestrate either a three-course or five-course gourmet symphony that is without peer. Each offering is an exquisite revelation, lovingly crafted to both surprise and delight, the individual components carefully explicated by your server as the dish is placed before you. While the chef's creative whims vary from day to day, he does have a great fondness for lobster, and he will utilize this delightful denizen of the deep in a variety of delicious guises. If I had to choose his signature dish, it would undoubtedly be his highly imaginative "Lobster Club Sandwich." Slices of toasted brioche are interspersed with tender chunks of lobster, baby greens and tomato, and finished with a kiwi/lemon mayonnaise and splash of cilantro oil. A feast for both the eye and the palate. An incomparable dining experience awaits. Three courses: $45.00 per person; five courses: $75.00 per person. BYOB.

KAREN & REI'S
25th Street and Dune Drive
Avalon, NJ
(609) 967-4488
Cuisine: Eclectic

Karen holds forth in the kitchen. Her husband, Rei, the epitome of the charming host, does just about everything else at this diminutive and beguiling BYOB; he even bakes a bevy of delicious breads and rolls to accompany your meal. The cuisine here is a wondrously ebullient and eclectic amalgam of old favorites and innovative dazzlers. Salmon gravlax shares the appetizer spotlight with wasabi samosa, Indian dumplings filled with potatoes, wasabi, scallions, cilantro, candied orange rind and spices, and embellished with a tamarind chutney. Even the spinach salad is spruced up with a delightful warm red onion, blue cheese and shiitake mushroom dressing. When it comes to entrees, the spicy shrimp deglazed with Grand Marnier and honey served over angel hair pasta is pure gastronomic poetry... with just enough fire to keep things interesting. Karen also prepares a variety of daily fish specials. To conclude your meal, be sure to check out the fabulous "Encyclopedia of Desserts." Recently sampled were an absolutely decadent 'Peanut Butter Buzz" and scrumptious down-home deep-dish apple pie. Moderate. BYOB. Cash only.

THE KNIFE AND FORK INN
29 South Albany Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ
(609) 344-1133
Cuisine: Seafood

When the old Knife and Fork closed its doors, all of Atlantic City mourned. Fortunately, after a 2 1/2 year hiatus, Andrew Latz and his wife, Adrienne, completely restored their venerable family establishment and reopened for business in late April of 1999. And the new Knife and Fork is as ingratiating as ever. From the hunter-green awnings, to the warmth of its Tudor interior with Italian floor tiles and carved oak railings, settling in at table here is a grand and glorious step back in time. As spiffy as the surroundings may be, however, the cuisine is monumental -- and utterly delicious -- in its simplicity. Favorites include the lump crabmeat stuffed with lobster, shrimp salad, and freshly battered scallops. But the most popular entree is undoubtedly the incomparable deviled crab cake. Jumbo lump crabmeat is dripped in a spicy egg and mayonnaise mixture, then baked in an aluminum shell and crowned with a breadcrumb bonnet. And no meal at the Knife and Fork would be complete without indulging in the establishment's extraordinary lemon pie. There is also an exemplary wine list to complement your meal. Expensive.

LITTLE SAIGON
2801 Arctic Avenue
Atlantic City, NJ
(609) 347-9119
Cuisine: Vietnamese/Chinese/Vegetarian

If you happen to find yourself in AC and aren't wild about shelling out a small fortune for so-so-steak or nondescript Neapolitan at one of the glitzy casino eateries, Little Saigon continues to provide a welcome change of pace. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, and chef/proprietor Lien Pham's innovative Vietnamese cuisine has been wooing vegetarians and enthusiastic lovers of Oriental fare for the past decade. The accent here is on freshness and the creative use of fragrant herbs and spices. Begin with the sweet and sour fish soup or shrimp soup, and then move on to even more exotic entrees. While Ms. Pham's Asian steamed garden veggies over vermicelli with garlic sauce remains the most popular dish, carnivores will also find a suitable number of intriguing items to tickle their fancy. Inexpensive/Moderate. BYOB.No credit cards.

LOUISA'S CAFE
104 Jackson Street
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-5882
Cuisine: Eclectic

Louisa isn't exactly wild about publicity -- she feels it keeps her regular customers away -- which is why she doesn't bother to advertise. But word gets around. This tiny, cramped BYOB is near the top of just about everybody's Cape May dining agenda... and with good reason. The atmosphere is decidedly funky, the well-prepared cuisine decidedly diverse, and the prices decidedly modest. If you're a crustacean fan, you may wish to start things off with Louisa's justly famous crab soup laced with cream and move on to her equally illustrious crab cakes. Then again, be sure to check out the interesting variety of finny creatures or, perhaps, the grilled chicken marinated in fiery Jamaican jerk spices. The homemade desserts are comfort food taken to the max. Be sure to dig into one of the mouthwatering cobblers, or the extraordinary vanilla bread pudding with brown sugar/whiskey sauce. Tariffs are in the inexpensive/moderate range, you must BYOB, and reservations are mandatory. No credit cards.

MATISSE RESTAURANT
1400 Ocean Avenue
Belmar, NJ
(732) 681-7680
Cuisine: Global

Although open just over six months, this charming establishment is already the culinary darling of the Jersey Shore. Ensconced across the street from the picturesque Atlantic, the location alone is enough to lure you into its pleasant precincts. But there is a great deal more to Matisse than just a trendy venue or eye-popping view. This is a restaurant dedicated to those who truly love and appreciate fine food, as chef/owner Anthony Wall's carefully crafted "global" cuisine is guaranteed to utterly bewitch your taste buds. While other chefs attempt to dazzle their patrons with a host of rather dubious architectural anomalies, Mr. Wall is infinitely more concerned with flavors, textures, and the impeccable quality of his ingredients. His seared snapper prepared with ginger, garlic, cilantro soy and jasmine rice, for example, is positively pristine. And his rack of lamb with garlic potatoes, roasted fennel and grain mustard jus is the fulfillment of every discriminating carnivore's dream. Be sure to conclude your evening at table with a luscious warm apple crumb and vanilla ice cream or a plate of imported cheese and fresh fruits. Moderate. BYOB.

SISTERS CAFE
1321 Third Avenue
Spring Lake, NJ
(732) 449-1909
Cuisine: Eclectic

This cozy establishment couldn't be more aptly named. The O'Hearn sisters -- Kristine, Marianne, Roxane, Suzanne, and Roxane's husband, Jim -- have fashioned a diminutive space on Spring Lake's main street into one of the area's most popular BYOB eateries. No matter when you stop by, you're sure to feel at home. The welcome is warm, the atmosphere completely comfortable, and the service friendly and casual. Marianne and Kristine handle the cooking chores, and they turn out a select number of delightfully diverse and gastronomically exhilarating palate-pleasing possibilities. I have always been an ardent fan of Prince Edward Island mussels, and here they are steamed to succulent perfection in an intoxicating broth of apple cider, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Entrees, which change weekly, may feature a lovely filet of sesame-seared Atlantic halibut or even a hale-'n'-hearty German sauerbraten replete with potato pancake and braised red cabbage. Desserts are down-home and downright decadent. Moderate. BYOB.

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