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Top Ten Jersey Shore Dining 2001
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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.

703 Belmar Plaza
Belmar, NJ
(732) 280-7501
Cuisine: Northern Italian

The cuisine is anything but typical at Patrick Shalloo's popular Bella Luna. Northern Italian the fare may be, but Mr. Shalloo and Chef Clarence Johnson continue to dazzle their patrons with innovative and hearty variations on the theme. The firm yet tender homemade lobster ravioli bask in a beguiling saffron-ginger broth replete with chopped tomatoes and Italian parsley; and succulent littleneck clams and chunks of spicy andouille sausage swim in a savory sea of garlic and cilantro. Moving on to the main course, diners may revel in such delights as pan-tossed breast of chicken accompanied by mashed potatoes and a sauce of balsamic vinegar or a delicate tilapia filet topped with basil and sautéed with pine nuts and broccoli rabe on a bed of pappardelle. Dessert? Nothing beats the scrumptious sautéed apples in a crisp pastry shell topped with cinnamon ice cream. And the restaurant itself is every bit as upbeat as the food. The interior is light and airy, boasting warm yellow walls, numbered prints and crisp white napery. In warmer weather, you may also dine alfresco, as tables spill out onto a pleasant pedestrian plaza. BYOB.

11th Street & Long Beach Boulevard
Surf City, NJ
(609) 494-7556
Cuisine: Global

Blue is bright and breezy and completely irresistible. The casually chic interior boasts a blue-gray ceiling, modern oil paintings, well-spaced tables and a row of comfy booths. And proprietors Todd Rodgers & Bruno Pouget and Chef Mike Sheel have succeeded in fashioning a bill of fare that is every bit as hip and stylish as the ambiance. You may wish to begin your culinary journey with a hearty Cuban bread salad or, perhaps, the kaffir lime steamed mussels replete with tiny morsels of tofu and a julienne of carrots and jicama. Closer to home, who would not willingly succumb to the silky sensuality of seared Hudson Valley foie gras embellished with caramelized pineapple, candied ginger relish and vanilla jus? Entrées continue the global gastronomic tour with a delightful variety of piscatorial pleasures: chili-seared grouper, pan-roasted sea bass, Japanese pepper dusted scallops, and crispy soft shell crabs with lobster mashed potatoes and balsamic brown butter. Carnivores may comfort themselves with the fire-roasted veal chop or perfectly grilled filet of beef accompanied by bacon and goat cheese potato salad, ratatouille, and red wine sauce. Assuage your sweet tooth with a homey blueberry crisp and delectable dollop of vanilla ice cream. BYOB.

The White Sands Resort & Spa
1205 Ocean Avenue
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
(732) 714-2030
Cuisine: New French/American/Eclectic

A single glance is enough to convince you that this isn't just another run-of-the-mill shore eatery. Ensconced on the second floor of The White Sands, this charming restaurant sports elegant table settings, richly upholstered chairs, a diminutive attractive bar, and a lovely view of the Atlantic. Indeed, a touch of class pervades throughout. And since Messrs. Rech and Ignoglia, also owners of Heatwave Cafe in Bay Head, are the driving force behind this handsome eatery, you may be certain that the cuisine will be every bit as sophisticated as the ambiance. And chef du cuisine James Kavka and sous-chef Colin Piper, both CIA grads, appear to have carried on the eclectic culinary tradition with a definitive sense of style. A pairing of roasted pears and blue cheese, all the rage these days, matches up exceptionally well with the Bibb and endive salad decked out in candied walnuts and a spiffy port wine vinaigrette. Pan-seared scallops caressed by a lemongrass-ginger broth and a tantalizing twist of pickled mango is also an ingenious marriage. When it comes to entrées, creative seafood presentations take center stage... but carnivores may still feast on the filet mignon accompanied by Gorgonzola pommes purée, roasted shallots and a heady cabernet sauce. Desserts are equally as innovative as their predecessors.

171 First Avenue
Atlantic Highlands, NJ
(732) 291-2433
Cuisine: Country French/Northern Italian

Gold-washed walls, art deco lighting, attractive French prints and tapestries... A benevolent aura surrounds Indigo Moon. And chef/proprietor Adam Scott's skillful blend of country French and northern Italian is just as congenial, managing to both soothe the soul and awaken the drowsy palate. The menu changes seasonally, but Mr. Scott, who has great affection for certain victuals, will often maintain their presence while subtly altering both the accoutrements and modes of presentation. The jumbo lump crab cake may be gently kissed by an orange beurre blanc... or surrounded by a sweet pepper purée. The portobello may arrive filled with rich ricotta seasoned with fresh herbs and drizzled with balsamic emulsion... or adorned with spinach & Brie and embellished with an invigorating poached garlic sauce. And entrées are no less impressive. Mr. Scott's coq au vin is a vibrantly updated version of the robust French classic; and his Black Angus New York sirloin, succulent and bursting with flavor, is aided and abetted by an irresistible shallot confit and herb demi-glace. Desserts, courtesy of Mr. Scott's fiancée, co-proprietor Janet Cordasco, are deliciously engaging. BYOB.

25th Street and Dune Drive
Avalon, NJ
(609) 967-4488
Cuisine: Global

Housed in a converted summer bungalow on Avalon's main drag, Karen & Rei's casts its own unique magical spell. The diminutive digs may be on the funky side, but the food is sophisticated and decidedly diverse, a wondrous "melting pot" of culinary traditions. Karen holds forth in the kitchen, and her husband, Rei, a CIA graduate, does just about everything else -- and that includes being the perfect host and turning out a mouth-watering assortment of freshly baked breads. Starters run the gastronomic gamut... from the mahogany clam chowder -- a sumptuous spin on the New England version -- to samosas, delicate Indian pastries stuffed with lightly curried potatoes & scallions and spruced up with a spicy wasabi cream and tamarind chutney. Entrée-wise, you will find that presentations are a bit on the "busy" side. What counts, however, is how these various ingredients coalesce. And, for the most part, they are joined together in a marvelously flavorful syncretistic harmony. Matters piscatorial are prominent here, and you may rest assured that the fish won't get lost in the sauce. Dessert choices are plentiful and portions prodigious. Chocoholics take particular note! Karen & Rei's will spark both the imagination and the palate. BYOB. CASH ONLY.

2109 Dune Drive
Avalon, NJ
(609) 967-5779
Cuisine: Eclectic

Now entering its second season, Kipper'Z is the result of a pleasant partnership between Kip Phelps and his co-proprietor/chef, Jim Zalewski. Mr. Zalewski, along with his wife, Diane, also owns the popular Race Street Café in Frenchtown, where they have been turning out a palate-pleasing variety of eclectic vittles for the past eighteen years. In point of fact, many of Race Street's more enticing offerings have also made their way to the new Avalon eatery, which should prove a real plus for shore residents and visitors alike. The pear walnut blue cheese salad with raspberry vinaigrette is present and accounted for, along with the delectable salmon corn cake spiced with a jolt of jalapeño sour cream. The New York sirloin "Aldean" -- topped with a lively sauce of Dijon mustard, molasses and sautéed mushrooms -- has made the journey, ditto the delicious grilled brook trout adorned with roasted shallot corn salsa. In one respect, however, the Avalon eatery differs dramatically from its Frenchtown cousin. Compared to Race Street's cramped and quirky quarters, Kipper'Z, which seats approximately 69 patrons, seems positively spacious and is decked out in light wood furniture and a soothing assortment of soft tones and textures. A most rewarding evening awaits. BYOB.

Atlantic & Schellenger Avenues
Wildwood, NJ
(609) 522-7747
Cuisine: Eclectic

Ensconced in what was the old Midtown Lounge, this dramatically transformed eatery, festooned with artificial palm trees and a giant mirrored martini glass, is the first tangible evidence that Wildwood is attempting to reinvent itself -- architecturally and gastronomically. The funky doo-wop décor, which is carried over into the interior, doesn't particularly appeal... but the food is another matter entirely. I remember Steve and Maureen Horn fondly from their Philadelphia and Cape May days. While still maintaining their restaurant in Longboat Key, Florida, they returned last season to open a new eatery in what had heretofore been considered a culinary wasteland. The menu is decidedly upscale and trendy -- ditto the prices -- but the quality of the food is beyond reproach. Enjoy a preprandial libation at the martini bar, and then make your way into the industrial-chic dining room and start things off with a charlotte of crab and salmon, tuna Napoleon with wasabi vinaigrette, or roasted mushroom bowl. Entrée-wise, seasonal seafood specials are much in evidence, as are rack of lamb, osso buco, and Bistecca Tuscany. Kudos to Steve and Maureen. Cape May-style dining has at long last come to Wildwood.

160 Highway 35
Middletown, NJ
(732) 345-9977
Cuisine: New American

Located just a stone's throw from the beaches of Sandy Hook, Restaurant Nicholas is already making significant waves on the Garden State culinary scene. But don't expect gastronomic business as usual. Nicholas and Melissa Harary have unabashedly created a most civilized and cosmopolitan dining experience specifically designed to appeal to the adventurous and sophisticated of palate... The atmosphere is subtle and sedate, the service polished yet personable... and the cuisine is utterly transcendent. Depending upon your predilections on a given evening, you may choose from two courses, three courses, or the six-course tasting menu. Begin with such delicacies as braised sweetbreads dusted with licorice and mango or peekytoe crab salad presented on an infectiously crunchy coriander tuile and chaperoned by a scintillating red pepper vinaigrette. And entrées are no less extraordinary. The sea bass, absolutely pristine beneath its crispy rice crust, luxuriates in a star anise vinaigrette; the lamb shank is understated elegance, savory and tender, and accompanied by a spicy carrot purée and fingerling potatoes; and the braised suckling pig revels in a provocative cinnamon jus. The Hararys' passon for food is palpable... as is their passion for the fruit of the vine, which is lovingly represented in the exceptional selection of fine and rare vintages. A truly magnificent dining experience.

Hotel Macomber
727 Beach Avenue
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-8811
Cuisine: New American

The Union Park is both elegant and urbane, boasting cherry and mahogany furnishings, antique accents, and large, well-spaced tables lovingly caressed by candlelight and adorned with fresh flowers. And the New American cuisine, courtesy of Chef J. Christopher Hubert and Sous-Chef Clay B. Brandenburg, is every bit the equal of the sophisticated surroundings. Mr. Hubert, who held forth in the kitchen of the Ebbitt Room from 1992 to 1999, returned to Cape May's Union Park last season after a brief sojourn at the Sheraton Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. And his loyal following, overjoyed at his return, quickly persuaded him to reinstate two of his signature dishes: Yellowfin tuna in a sesame seed crust over stir-fry vegetables & crisp rice paper with hoisin & wasabi; and Cervena venison served with fingerling potatoes, apple & truffle tart and pomegranate jus. If you are so inclined, you may also avail yourself of the chef's tasting menu, featuring such delectable offerings as potato truffle soup with potato gnocchi, chestnut honey risotto, European chicken breast stuffed with spinach, prosciutto & portobello mushroom on a red pepper nage, and the chocolate sampler for two. A most rewarding -- and romantic -- dining experience. BYOB.

Beach Drive and Pittsburgh Avenue
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-1717
Cuisine: American/Fusion

Waters Edge is proof positive that you can't judge a restaurant by its cover. While the exterior is often derided as a "sunken Denny's," the interior is California casual and boasts an attractive bar/lounge that provides the ideal venue for a preprandial libation. The main attraction, however, is chef/proprietor Neil Elsohn's incredibly flavorful fusion cuisine. Indeed, the menu is a veritable lexicon of culinary exotica, with descriptions of ingredients often stretching on for several lines. But should you be thinking that this is just another overzealous exercise in semantic and gastronomic futility, you would be very much mistaken. Chef Elsohn is an absolute genius at creating incomparable culinary marriages of the most intriguing combinations of tastes and textures -- and all of his unions appear to have been made in heaven. Despite the fact that this fine eatery is located just a stone's throw (quite literally) from the Atlantic, beef is the big seller here. Aged rib-eye steak is the cut of preference, and it is served up with the establishment's legendary mashed potatoes. Be that as it may, those with piscatorial predilections will surely not be disappointed, as the kitchen's seafood offerings border upon the sublime. You will also find a carefully chosen wine list -- representative of many of California's premium small producers -- which will add immeasurably to your dining pleasure. A trip to this lovely Victorian community simply would not be complete without a visit to Waters Edge.

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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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