The restaurant had come highly recommended... but I was skeptical, I
admit it. Having grown up in Monmouth County -- just a few miles from the
location of this particular eatery, in point of fact -- I knew first hand that
a luxurious view could very easily spell gastronomic insolvency...
And, unquestionably, Windansea has the view -- and a great deal more.
The second-floor dining room/bar (which also boasts an open air porch in
summer) affords a picturesque panorama of Sandy Hook and entertainment to boot.
You may also dock and dine al fresco or just enjoy a cold one at the
outdoor bar. While quintessentially Jersey Shore, the establishment also
showcases an ambiance (including an array of space-age aluminum tables and
chairs) that has New York chic written all over it... with a touch of
the South Pacific thrown in for good measure.
Given these intriguingly festive surroundings, you expect the food and
service to be run-of-the-mill at best... but this is assuredly not the case.
The young black-clad servers and busboys are incredibly competent; and the most
memorable aspect of a sojourn here is neither the view, nor the decorative
oddities, nor the bustling bar scene... it is chef /proprietor Rob Higgins'
first-rate contemporary American cuisine.
Before making a decision as to your meal, however, you might want to take a
moment to peruse the wine list. There's nothing here that breaks any new
oenological ground, but the options are all solid and reasonably priced. In the
chardonnay department, there's always the reliable J. Lohr
"Riverstone" ($7.00 glass/$25.00 bottle) or a very nice Simi
($8.00/$30.00). And Santa Margherita's Pinot Grigio ($10.00/$38.00) offers a
refreshing alternative to California's often oaky excesses. Red wines include a
gutsy Rosemount Cabernet/Merlot ($5.50/$20.00), more delicate Estancia Pinot
Noir ($7.00/$27.00), and a personal favorite, Antinori's Santa Cristina "Sangiovese"
Another bit of prolegomenon: A house salad is included with your entrée,
which may very well leave you on the horns of a dilemma. Do you ignore the
impressive roster of preludes and fill up on the freebie in order to assuage
your hunger pangs and save a few bucks... or, assuming your finances are
reasonably in order, do you invest in several of the starters? In my opinion,
the greenery is strictly standard issue -- although the blue cheese and
lemon-herb dressings are both quite good -- and not worth losing your appetite
over. The appetizers, on the other hand, a delightful array of gifts from the
sea, are infinitely more deserving of your palate's attention, as well as an
additional bite of your long green.
The mini crab balls ($9.95), for example, are fried to a golden brown,
beautifully seasoned, and just bursting with chunks of sweet jumbo crabmeat.
And the special Canadian mussels ($7.95) are equally tempting. Plump and
succulent, they swim to table in a heady lemon/white wine broth awash with
garlic, tomatoes, and fresh herbs.
You might also consider starting things off with the wonderful steamed
littlenecks ($12.95) or crunchy beer-battered coconut shrimp accompanied by an
exotic sweet/sour mango sauce ($9.95). And for those who can't make up their
minds, there's always the chilled sampler ($32.95) -- half-lobster, jumbo
shrimp, clams and oysters on the half shell, and jumbo lump crabmeat adorned
with lemon and a zippy cocktail sauce -- that is most suitable for group
The Manhattan clam chowder ($2.95 cup/$5.95 bowl) is also highly
recommended. The tomato-based broth is just slightly thickened, the potatoes
are fork tender, and the morsels of clam are so tender they melt away on the
tongue. And if you happen to be in search of a curtain-raiser for landlubbers,
you can't go wrong with the deep-fried zucchini spears served up with an
incredibly addictive horseradish cream dipping sauce ($5.95).
Entrées run the gastronomic gamut. If you're a confirmed carnivore, for
instance, you may avail yourself of an 8-ounce grilled filet mignon, 16-ounce
boneless New York strip, or 16-ounce Cajun rib-eye (all $28.95). Then, of
course, there's always the Kentucky bourbon pork tenderloin with a lusty andouille
sausage gravy ($17.95) or "Veal Windansea" topped with arugula, diced
tomatoes, capers, lemon, and olive oil ($24.95).
But, hey, this is the Jersey Shore, seafood is the name of the game, and
piscatorial presentations are clearly this kitchen's strong suit. I am also of
the opinion that gifts from the sea -- especially finny creatures -- are best
served by sauces and other accoutrements that intrude the least. When
contemplating your entrée selection from Windansea's printed menu or
recitation of daily specials, therefore, I would urge you to give preference to
those possibilities that are the least convoluted, those that allow the
delicate denizens of the deep to speak with their own uniquely flavorful
The swordfish ($20.95), for example, is simply grilled and finished with a
touch of lemon and exquisitely light herb butter; the tilapia ($17.95) is
gently sautéed in white wine, lemon & butter, and dressed with diced
tomatoes and sprinkling of parsley; and the flounder swims to table
francaise-style ($16.95) -- egg-battered and sautéed -- or stuffed with shrimp
and crabmeat and broiled with lemon and butter ($19.95).
Several daily specials, specifically the red grouper ($21.95) and red
snapper ($21.95), also deserve mention... The former is grilled, adorned with
sliced tomatoes and a tiara of baby spinach; and the latter is sautéed in a
white wine/lemon/butter sauce awash with capers. The kitchen triumphs when it
emphasizes simple, straightforward presentations. The less gussied up, the
While all seafood items -- whether crustaceous, molluscan, or piscatorial --
are pristine of countenance and, for the most part, carefully prepared and
presented, desserts ($2.95-$5.95) appear to be something of an afterthought and
clearly represent the restaurant's weakest culinary constituent. If you must
indulge your sweet tooth, stick with either the Key lime pie or creamy,
homespun rice pudding.
One final note -- and an extremely important one. Despite the Jersey
Shore/Big Apple chic meets South Pacific cool décor, Windansea is
a family-oriented eatery. And when the joint is jumpin' -- which is most of the
time, early or late -- rambunctious progeny of every age, shape, and
description are very much in evidence. The surroundings, needless to say, are
far from sedate. This is an upbeat, slightly frenetic kind of culinary
happening. Go with that in mind, join in the fun, and all will be well.
Hours: Lunch: Mon - Sat, 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; Dinner, Mon - Sat, 4:30
p.m. - Close; Sun, 12:00 noon - 9:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: Ax, MC, V
Smoking: Separate nonsmoking section
Reservations: Recommended; not accepted on weekends
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Web Site: www.windanseanj.com
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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