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Top Ten Jersey Shore Dining 2004
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Whatever your gastronomic and fiscal predilections – flamboyant or frugal, fancy or funky – you are bound to discover an infinite variety of dining possibilities to please your discriminating palate. One thing is certain... you won't go hungry at the Jersey Shore. Bon Appétit!

27 43rd Street
Sea Isle City, NJ
(609) 263-1010
Cuisine: Italian

Good Italian food is always in season, and Basilico's, located just a block from the roaring Atlantic, serves up lovingly prepared traditional favorites in surroundings – and at tariffs – that are as comfortable as the cuisine. South Philadelphians know a good thing when they taste it, and they have made this casual eatery a primo dining destination while vacationing at the Jersey Shore. Favorites include Chef Scott Oliver's moist and tender pollo parmigiana awash with homemade tomato sauce and baked with mozzarella cheese and his incomparable bracciole di vitello, medallions of fork-tender veal stuffed with sausage, broccoli rabe, and consummated with a rich demi-glace. But while visitors may prefer to indulge in the kitchen's nifty Neapolitan numbers, locals attack pizza-maker Vinson Powell's masterpieces with equal gusto. Just be advised... even in the off-season, Basilico's is extremely popular, so reservations are de rigueur. BYOB.

1 Sunset Boulevard
West Cape May, NJ
(609) 898-0100
Cuisine: New American

Domiciled in the building that was once home to Peaches at Sunset, chef/owner Christopher Hubert – also proprietor of the Union Park Dining Room – has transformed the once garish pink and green clapboard structure into a series of crisp white dining rooms adorned with vintage black and white photographs. But the changes have been more than stylistic... The food, in the capable hands of Mr. Hubert's chef de cuisine, Chris Crookston, has also taken a giant step forward. Begin with a Napoleon of asparagus, yellow & red heirloom tomatoes, and morsels of crab and lobster anointed with an extraordinary pesto butter sauce and melted Parmigiano-Reggiano or, perhaps, the tempura shrimp & vegetables or orange almond salad lightly tossed with a lovely honey lavender vinaigrette. Entrée-wise, I highly recommend the sautéed trout or grilled New York strip steak accompanied by potato pancakes. Desserts are equally engaging. A winner on all counts. BYOB.

100 Olde New Jersey Avenue
North Wildwood (Anglesea), NJ
(609) 522-0400
Cuisine: French Bistro

Three years ago, in its eighth season, Claude's migrated from sedate Stone Harbor to the wild and woolly environs of North Wildwood and found itself surrounded by an armada of rowdy Irish pubs (especially so when the Philadelphia Flyers are in action on the tube). Once across the threshold, however, you've been transported to infinitely more seductive surroundings. Here you may bask in the unmitigated charms of the French countryside while assuaging your hunger pangs with chef/proprietor Claude Pottier's beguiling bistro fare. The soupe d'petit pois is a particularly efficacious starter. Fresh pea purée (sans cream) is dotted with bits of lettuce, onion, petit lardoons (diced, blanched, and fried bacon), and croutons. The salade d'arugula - locally grown greenery sautéed with garlic & olive oil and tossed with toasted pine nuts - is also quite excellent... ditto the terrine de betterave, beets, fennel, and goat cheese layered over frisée salad. Main courses include classic Dover sole meunière, salmon à la provençal, special mixed seafood grill, and filet mignon served with a balsamic demi-glace and julienne of portobello mushrooms. Mr. Pottier's wife, Mary, handles the sweet denouements, and her signature dessert is an extraordinary japonaise, a strawberry shortcake embellished with fresh whipped cream and gently caressed by an ethereal almond meringue crust. BYOB.

Fisherman's Wharf
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-8296
Cuisine: Seafood

For many Garden State residents (and out-of-state visitors as well), the Lobster House IS the Jersey Shore... and it is infinitely more than just another restaurant. It has become the Holy Grail of seafood lovers, a gastronomic shrine for piscatorial pilgrims. Do I overstate the case? Well... maybe just a little. But since proprietor Keith Laudeman also owns a fishing fleet, you can be absolutely certain that the enthusiastically ingested inhabitants of Davy Jones' locker will be impeccably fresh. And there are several dining options: You may, for example, take the traditional route by collecting a beeper from the hostess and enjoying a preprandial libation on the American, a floating steel schooner, while awaiting your call to table in one of the interior dining rooms (reservations are not accepted); you may also elect to chow down more casually at the raw bar; or, perhaps, the most enjoyable and fiscally sound option of all... you may order "to go" from the fish market and park yourself out on the deck with a refreshing bottle of pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, or chardonnay. The simple charbroiled offerings – swordfish, tuna, salmon, mako – are the best bets here. Also highly recommended are the crab cakes and Cape May scallops. So enjoy the sunset... and have one on me.

1743 Boardwalk (at Indiana Avenue)
Atlantic City, NJ
(609) 344-0094
Cuisine: American Bistro/Mediterranean

Located in the very shadow of the Claridge/Bally's casino complex, Opa provides a welcome respite from the superstar cuisine – and superstar prices – dished out in many of the casinos' celebrity dining dens. Here you find a colorful and breezy décor, lively bar scene, bustling open kitchen, and first-rate American bistro fare with Mediterranean flair served up at significantly less than wallet-busting prices. If you stop in for lunch or an afternoon or late evening snack, you may choose from a number of delicious wraps – smoked turkey, tuna salad, tofu, or chicken Caesar – or "George's Greek Salad," which boasts romaine and assorted lettuces, cucumbers, red onions, peppers, kalamata olives, and ripe juicy tomatoes (even off-season) tossed with a tangy oregano vinaigrette and topped with four huge strips of feta cheese. For dinner, try the grilled swordfish with Mediterranean herbs, pan-seared Atlantic salmon, or crab cakes Santorini accompanied by white bean hummus, grapefruit vinaigrette, and steak-fry potatoes. A real find in a town populated by overpriced and overrated eateries.

837 West Park Avenue
Cobblestone Village
Ocean, NJ
(732) 493-3090
Cuisine: Innovative Italian

Sandwiched between a kosher restaurant and a tiny Chinese chophouse in Cobblestone Village, Piccola Italia is just a short drive from area beaches, Monmouth Park racetrack, and the Monmouth Mall. Originally a Neapolitan nirvana awash with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and red sauces, the restaurant was purchased two years ago by CIA grad Brian Gualtieri and transformed into a casually elegant dining establishment boasting colorful murals, imported tiles, and lovely flower arrangements. Mr. Gualtieri's menu is innovative Italian with occasional international nuances... like his incomparable grilled shrimp and soba noodle salad with soy-ginger and wasabi cocktail sauce (see photograph). Entrées include a beautifully prepared swordfish livornese set on a sumptuous seabed of sautéed broccoli rabe, fork-tender veal saltimbocca luxuriating in a rich marsala reduction, capellini al pomodoro with toasted garlic, extra virgin olive oil, basil, white wine, and freshly chopped tomatoes, and a "Lite Fare" menu that is sure to please the calorie conscious. Dessert-wise, don't miss the strawberry almond tart garnished with strawberry gelato and crème anglaise. Piccola Italia, a (comparatively) undiscovered jewel, is highly recommended. BYOB.

57 Inlet Drive
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ
((732) 295-6622
Cuisine: Seafood

If you're in the mood for a super casual chow down after a long day of baking in the hot summer sun, Red's Lobster Pot should surely be your port-of-call. Presided over by Louise and Kitty Stillufsen – Fisherman Red's wife and daughter – the 38-seat dockside shack comes replete with battle-scarred wooden tables, red-and-white checkered placemats & napkins, and soda bottles doubling as flower vases. Humble the surroundings may be, but the lusty and luscious seafood is well worth waiting for... and wait you will, as the restaurant is wildly popular and does not take reservations (also be advised that the diminutive space can only accommodate parties of five or less). But avail yourself of the outside raw bar and take in the sensuous sea air as you await the call to table. Once settled inside, begin with the scallops Provençale – plump bivalves swimming in a buttery white wine broth dotted with fresh & sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, basil, and touch of Parmesan – or, perhaps, the first-rate Manhattan clam chowder. Entrées (as Red's moniker clearly implies) include a variety of broiled and steamed whole lobsters and host of blackboard specials. Recently sampled, for instance, was a beautifully grilled mahi-mahi set on a seabed of root vegetables and finished with a zippy Provençale sauce. For dessert, don't pass up the Key lime or chocolate peanut butter pie. BYOB.

9700 Amherst Avenue
Margate, NJ
(609) 884-8296
Cuisine: New American/Seafood

Ensconced in an infamous former dining club that had fallen into disrepair and was on the verge of being demolished by the city, the 1936 structure has been lovingly restored and now boasts rich wood beams, vaulted ceiling, working fireplaces, classic bar, piano room featuring top-notch jazz musicians, and a dining room that affords a beautiful view of Margate Bay. The ambient accoutrements may be a big drawing card, but it is the excellent New American cuisine, courtesy of executive chef Kevin Kelly and chef de cuisine Warner Christy, that keeps locals and visitors coming back on a year-round basis. Seafood is the kitchen's strong suit, so you may wish to commence your evening at table with steamed littleneck clams, oysters on the half shell, or jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail. When it comes to entrées, "Warner's Bouillabaisse" – shrimp, scallops, crabmeat, fish, and clams swimming in a traditional saffron broth – is a culinary classic; and landlubbers may feast on such delights as filet mignon or grilled rack of lamb. Steve & Cookie's also features a tempting array of homemade desserts.

8307 Third Avenue
122 North Bay Avenue
Beach Haven, NJ
(609) 207-1200
Cuisine: New American

Now entering its third season, Sweet Vidalia is sweet, indeed. So enjoy a cold one at bustling, boisterous Buckalew's just across the street and then ferry a vintage of your choosing into chef/proprietor Michael O'Meara's more sedate surroundings. There is a definitive touch of class here... with regard to the cuisine as well as the décor. Mr. O'Meara, who is just twenty-five and a 1999 graduate of Philadelphia's Restaurant School, serves up an impressive array of creative American comestibles that belie his youth. You may wish to begin with one of the chef's signature dishes, his incredibly flavorful Vidalia onion soup comprised of caramelized onions, roasted garlic, Gruyère croutons, and splash of sherry. Even more impressive, however, are his pan-seared day boat scallops surrounded by a sea of beet oil, atolls of orange segments, and a tiara of mâche. Entrées include another of the kitchen's signature offerings: a roasted Vidalia onion filled with French lentils and consummated with a sweet/tart aged balsamic. Equally impressive are the grilled marlin steak swimming in a light tomato broth and braised lamb shanks served with roasted root vegetables and lavender scented jus. For a touch of sensuous sophistication at the Jersey Shore, Sweet Vidalia should be at the very top of your dining agenda. BYOB.

56 Shrewsbury Avenue
Highlands, NJ
(732) 872-2266
Cuisine: Contemporary American/Seafood

Windansea offers something for everyone... You may dock and dine al fresco in warmer weather or just watch the sun go down while sipping a cold one at the outdoor bar. The second-floor dining room/bar boasts a spectacular view of Sandy Hook and entertainment to boot. And while the restaurant is family-oriented – as the number of progeny present clearly attests – and quintessentially Jersey Shore, the ambiance has New York chic written all over it. But the most memorable aspect of a sojourn here is executive chef/proprietor Rob Higgins' excellent contemporary American cuisine. There are numerous options from which to choose, but seafood selections are particularly noteworthy. You might well begin with luscious mini crab balls, steamed littlenecks, coconut shrimp, or an excellent Manhattan clam chowder. And main courses include such delicacies as a moist and flaky broiled filet of flounder stuffed with shrimp and crabmeat; tilapia sautéed in white wine, lemon, butter, tomatoes, & parsley; and grilled salmon embellished with a sauce of shallots, capers, grain mustard, and touch of cream. For dessert, be sure to sample the Key lime pie or homespun rice pudding.

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