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13 White Street
Red Bank, Monmouth County, New Jersey
(732) 345-7070

By The Artful Diner

Restaurant Dish -- although only a year old as of November 11th -- has already made a significant impact on the ever-expanding Red Bank dining scene. Indeed, so popular has this establishment become that reservations are absolutely essential during the week and are not accepted on Friday and Saturday evenings. During several recent sojourns, for example, we arrived at approximately 5:45 p.m. (the restaurant begins serving at 5:30 p.m.)... and by 6:30 p.m. the precincts were already full and overflowing.

Owned by Chef Anthony Ferrando and gracious front-of-the-house coordinator Judy Matthew, this is one eatery that is exceedingly well named, as its lemon-yellow walls are adorned with vertical and horizontal arrangements of, well, yes... dishes. Tables are decked out in navy blue tablecloths topped with white butcher-block paper and white cloth napkins. All very tasteful... and also quite noisy when the diminutive space is filled to capacity, which is most of the time. But, as Ms. Matthew confided to one patron: "Once you taste the food, you'll forget about the noise." And, for the most part, this is true. On the other hand, the atmosphere is clearly bustling bistro, and the spirited commotion is all part of the fun.

And the food fits right in. It is hearty, robust American fare with an occasional innovative tweak along the way. Take the New York strip steak with herb frites ($28.00), for instance; you can't get more unabashedly bistro than that. The beef, tender and succulent of countenance, is grilled to a perfect compromise between medium and medium rare, and the accompanying frites are extraordinarily addictive. The New York strip is also available au poivre ($30.00), likewise accompanied by those delicious spuds.

Among the treasures of the sea, the tilapia and shrimp combo ($19.00) is particularly recommended. The fish is pan roasted to a delightfully moist golden brown, pillowed on a luscious root vegetable mash, and crowned with appropriately crunchy crustaceans. The consummating touch is an outstanding roasted garlic beurre blanc. The grilled salmon, slathered with zippy barbecue sauce and set on a bed of Israeli couscous ($19.00), is also an excellent choice... ditto the Tuscan seafood stew, plump mussels & clams, shrimp, calamari, and chunks of red snapper swimming in an invigorating broth ($19.00).

Pastas also provide several first-rate choices. There's always the ubiquitous penne with vodka sauce ($16.00; $18.00 with chicken) or the special "Ravioli of the Day" ($19.00). Recently sampled, however, was the garganelli (a grooved, spiral-shaped pasta) with chicken, artichoke hearts, and tomato ($16.00). Excellent on all counts: properly al dente, nicely seasoned, adorned with shredded morsels of tender chicken, and even better when heated as a side for dinner the following evening.

As much as I enjoy the entrées the appetizers and desserts are, in my opinion, even more satisfying. But even before the starters hit the table, you are absolutely blown away by the focaccia, which is made fresh every morning in the restaurant's kitchen. Dense and chewy and sprinkled with sea salt, its ingratiating taste and texture are perfectly complemented by a small dish of assorted olives swimming in oil.

The crispy spinach ($6.00) -- fresh greenery deep fried in canola oil and enhanced with a dash of sea salt -- makes a terrific opener. During the Garden State's marvelous growing season, I also highly recommend the special panzanella ($8.00), an Italian bread salad dressed with chunks of meaty Jersey tomatoes and a zesty oil and vinegar dressing.

The "Mussels of the Day" ($9.00) are marvelously plump, in the peak of good health, and served up in a lusty broth awash with arugula and bits of roasted tomato. And the "Spring Roll of the Day" ($9.00) is actually four crisp mini rolls set on a bed of fresh mixed greens and filled with a sweet potato purée spiked with ginger. A ramekin of spicy duck sauce also adds a good deal of pizzazz to the proceedings.

Desserts ($7.00), all made in-house, are well worth the extra calories as well as the added expenditure. The peach sabayon parfait is quite good, but I much prefer the more rustic peach/berry crumble embellished with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. My absolute favorite, however, is the gloriously gooey white/dark chocolate bread pudding; served up warm with squiggles of rich caramel sauce, this is one sweet indulgence that will keep you coming back for more -- and be sure to wash it down with a potent jolt of excellent espresso ($2.50).

Since Dish is a BYOB establishment, you might want to stop by Red Bank's well-stocked Wine Cellar (which has moved from its previous location on Broad Street next to Sogno to 23 Monmouth Street) to pick up a few oenological treasures. If you don't feel like trotting over before dinner, or forget to ferry a bottle(s) from your own cellar, simply show a major credit card at the restaurant and the wine of your choice will be delivered from the store to your table. Two vintages I can heartily recommend -- purchased specifically for sojourns to Dish -- are a 2001 St. Aubin Puligny Montrachet ($38.99) and 2002 David Bruce Pinot Noir ($29.99). Not inexpensive, but both are of excellent quality and marry very well with a variety of culinary presentations.

Every town needs a restaurant like Dish, a pleasantly unpretentious eatery that serves up lusty bistro fare in attractive, convivial surroundings. Whether making the rounds of Red Bank's boutique shops and antique emporiums, taking in a movie, or paying a visit to the Count Basie Theatre, Dish should be at the very top of your dining agenda.

Cuisine: American Bistro
Hours: Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. CLOSED SUNDAY AND MONDAY
Credit Cards: All major
Attire: Casual
Smoking: Smoking is not permitted in the restaurant.
Reservations: Highly recommended on weekdays; not accepted on Friday and Saturday
Parking: Metered municipal and street parking
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Moderate/Expensive
Handicapped Accessible: Difficult

Website: www.dishredbank.com

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