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Top Ten Jersey Shore Dining 2002
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ANJELICA'S
1070 Ocean Avenue
Sea Bright, NJ
(732) 842-2800
Cuisine: Regional Italian

Decked out in a simple yet stylish decor, this charming establishment is the perfect venue for casual yet cosmopolitan dining at the Jersey Shore. The star of the show, however, is clearly executive chef/proprietor Ray Lena's sumptuous regional Italian cuisine. His homemade pastas are impeccable, his meat and chicken dishes melt in your mouth, and his seafood presentations are positively transporting. Mr. Lena, who makes a daily sojourn to market to secure only the freshest of ingredients for his daily specials, relies upon subtlety and finesse rather than culinary razzle-dazzle. His salmon poached with tomatoes, shrimp, and clams is superb; ditto his Zuppa di Pesce and grilled double-cut veal chop. Desserts, all made in house, are equally extraordinary. Located just across the main drag from Sea Bright's public beach, as you might suspect, Anjelica's really bustles in the heat of summer. So be sure to make a reservation... and to BYOB.

JOE & MAGGIE'S BISTRO ON BROADWAY
RESTAURANT CLOSED
8307 Third Avenue
591 Broadway
Long Branch, NJ
(732) 571-8848
Cuisine: International

Joe & Maggie's is a favorite with year-round residents as well as summer visitors... and it's easy to understand why. You cross the threshold to discover two floors of well-spaced candlelit tables enveloped in a casually sophisticated yet completely unpretentious atmosphere. Factor in reasonable prices and a skilled and experienced wait staff, and you have some idea of why the loyal legions keep coming back for more. And when it comes time to check out the seasonally changing menu, you will find that chef/proprietor Joseph Romanowski has succeeded in taking humble international bistro fare one step beyond. No matter what he sets his hand to, he always manages to add ingenious little touches that spark both the palate and the imagination. His creations are decidedly cosmopolitan in scope, yet he never indulges in the overzealous mixing and matching of ingredients out of mere caprice. A sense of harmony and of simplicity pervades throughout. The chef's way with duck is without peer, so be sure to check out his "Preparation du Jour." He also has a penchant for pork and seafood. Desserts are every bit as praiseworthy as their forebears... as is the select little wine list.

KAREN & REI'S
RESTAURANT CLOSED
8307 Third Avenue
1882 Route 91882 Route 9
Clermont, NJ
(732) 714-2030
Cuisine: Global

Formerly holding forth in a converted cramped summer bungalow on Avalon's main street, Karen Nelson and Rei Prabhaker are now comfortably settled in to fancier digs just a few miles away. The new location not only provides beautiful restaurant facilities but also a home for this charming husband and wife team and son, Lakshman. The eatery now boasts romantic booths for two, a cathedral ceiling, and wood-burning fireplace. Some things have remained the same, however. Even while inhabiting more spacious quarters, K & R's still accommodates just forty-five diners, the same as in their previous bivouac. Limiting the number of patrons is a conscious decision, as it allows Karen to continue to fly solo in the kitchen... and that is precisely the way she likes it. No prep or line cooks here; Ms. Nelson is responsible for all appetizers, salads, entrées, and desserts. Which leads to the most important constant of all: the incomparable quality of the cuisine. Starters run the gastronomic gamut... from a sumptuous mahogany clam chowder... to delicate Indian somosas. When it comes to the main course, seafood specials are always impeccably prepared and presented. At any time of the year, Karen & Rei's is tremendously popular, so reservations should be made well in advance. BYOB. CASH ONLY.

LA SPIAGGIA
357 West 8th Street
Ship Bottom, NJ
(609) 494-4343
Cuisine: Northern Italian

La Spiaggia offers a welcome respite from the acutely casual, often frenetic atmosphere encountered at many Long Beach Island eateries. Valet parking is the first indication that this will not be business as usual. Ditto the warm greeting and professionalism exhibited by the servers. And wall sconces, wainscoting, and crisp white napery provide simple yet elegant touches to the restaurant's interior. The cuisine, of course, is commensurate with the upscale décor and service. Chef Daniel Stragapede's northern Italian fare is understated but decidedly lusty. His Insalata con Caprino -- warm herbed goat cheese mixed with organic greens, roasted peppers, and wild mushrooms -- is formed into a rich, creamy disc and topped with a large garlic crouton. The cornmeal-crusted salmon is set over a seabed of mixed vegetables and embellished with a hearty tomato coulis. Linguini Michelangelo combines linguine pasta with sausage, broccoli, garlic, and pecorino cheese in a delicately spicy tomato broth. Desserts are also up to the mark. BYOB.

MAHOGANY GRILLE
RESTAURANT CLOSED
8307 Third Avenue
142 Main Street
Manasquan, NJ
(732) 292-1300
Cuisine: Eclectic/Fusion

True to its namesake, rich, dark wood is very much in evidence, both in the stylish bar area and in the chic dining room accented by hanging Tiffany-style lamps and cushy patterned chairs and banquettes. Not yet a yearling, this lovely eatery burst onto the Jersey Shore dining scene last summer like a culinary comet... and its brightness shows no signs of abating. Executive chef Chris Brandl departed recently, but former second-in-command Christopher Ross has taken over the reins in the kitchen, and the quality of the food has remained as exceptional as ever. If Mr. Ross has a magnum opus, it is surely his outstanding appetizer of duck confit spring rolls. Four vertical crispy towers are erected around an epicenter of shaved daikon sprinkled with black sesame seeds and gently caressed by a savory sea of Thai cranberry sauce. Truly memorable. You may then move on to the corn-encrusted salmon swimming in a lovely lemon-thyme beurre blanc or, perhaps, perfectly grilled veal paillards layered with garden vegetables and finished with a touch of red wine syrup. The interesting, reasonably-priced wine list is an outstanding complement to the cuisine. Since reservations are not accepted, and the restaurant is exceedingly popular, unless you want to cool your heels in the small foyer or at the bar, I strongly recommend that you plan to dine early in the evening.

MARIE NICOLE'S
RESTAURANT CLOSED
8307 Third Avenue
9510 Pacific Avenue
Wildwood Crest, NJ
(609) 522-5425
Cuisine: International

Those in search of an elegant evening at table need no longer cross the toll bridge to Cape May. From the moment you step inside, you will find Wildwood Crest's Marie Nicole's an Epicurean delight. Rich cherry wood is very much in evidence, both at the diminutive bar and in the dining areas. Well-spaced tables are accented with dark green and white napery. The atmosphere is luxurious yet decidedly unstuffy. Ditto the exceptional cuisine. The former sous chef now exec, Steve Cozzi, has fashioned a menu that succeeds in beguiling the palate with its marvelous interplay of colors, flavors and textures. Begin with Mr. Cozzi's remarkable shrimp tempura -- plump, crunchy crustaceans embraced in an ethereal tempura batter and kissed by a seductive black bean beurre blanc -- or, perhaps, his grilled marinated summer vegetables complemented by crispy, pan-fried buffalo mozzarella. When it comes to entrées, you may choose from such delights as braised halibut Provençal, pan-seared red snapper with Japanese rice and orange soy glaze, or dry-aged New York strip steak with a tarragon butter sauce and spicy fries. Dessert? Pastry chef Michael Schultz turns out a truly tempting array; and topping my list of recommendations is a delightfully decadent frozen peanut butter passion. There is a very nice wine list, including some excellent selections by the glass, to complement your meal. An exceptional dining experience!

THE PELICAN CLUB
RESTAURANT CLOSED
8307 Third Avenue
Marquis de Lafayette Hotel
501 Beach Avenue
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-3995
Cuisine: New American

The Pelican Club most assuredly belies the old adage that the quality of a restaurant's cuisine may be measured in inverse proportion to the splendor of its view. Occupying the sixth floor of the Marquis de Lafayette, the digs formerly inhabited by the Top of the Marq, this charming establishment not only serves up a breathtaking panorama of the Cape May waterfront but some equally breathtaking food as well. Under the auspices of the Crag family, also proprietors of the famous Washington Inn, the décor has received a much-needed facelift... And the New American vittles, in the capable hands of executive chef Walter J. Jurusz, are just as snappy and up-to-date as the ambiance. Mr. Jurusz, a CIA graduate who has been deeply influenced by Cuban cookery, surely knows his way around the spice rack; his assertive yet sophisticated seasonings succeed in tantalizing rather than traumatizing the taste buds. Be sure to sample his signature dishes: the grilled Cuban rubbed pork chop with red wine infused pork jus or his scrumptious crab and shrimp cake embellished with a roasted yellow pepper aioli. Desserts are also right on target, as is the carefully chosen eclectic wine list.

TOMATOES
9300 Amherst Avenue
Margate, NJ
((609) 822-7535
Cuisine: Pacific Rim/California

Now in its eighth year, the second at its stunning and spacious new location, Tomatoes remains one of the most popular eateries at the Jersey Shore. Awash with natural woods & metals and the light that pours in from the large picture windows fronting the bay, chef/owner Carmen Rone and co-proprietor Karen Sherman have fashioned a dining experience that is a sparkling feast for both the eye and the palate. Many of the stylish decorative touches are Oriental in nature and prove the perfect complement to the breezy, innovative Pacific Rim/California cuisine. In addition to the regular dining room menu and a tempting array of tavern-inspired tidbits available at the bar, Tomatoes also features an extremely popular sushi bar, where Kenny and Kevin perform their culinary magic. For those dedicated to the fruit of the vine, the restaurant boasts an impressive glass-enclosed, climate-controlled wine cellar, home to some two thousand reasonably-priced vintages. This charming establishment remains wildly popular, so be sure to make reservations well in advance.

WHISPERS
Hewitt Wellington Hotel
200 Monmouth Avenue
Spring Lake, NJ
(732) 974-9755
Cuisine: Creative American/Fusion

Ahh... Whispers... The perfect venue for romantic gastronomic encounters at the Jersey Shore. Tucked away in the Hewitt Wellington, a charming Victorian-style lakefront hotel, the diminutive jewel-box of a dining room exudes a casual elegance that is as tasteful as it is understated... And the food... The food is utterly exquisite. Executive chef Mark Mikolajczyk, who majors in sumptuous American fare creatively fused with a variety of diverse culinary traditions, consistently demonstrates a savvy that belies his thirty-two years. Mr. Mikolajczyk is a master of matters piscatorial, so be sure to try one of his signature dishes: skate and scallops or nori-encrusted center-cut swordfish stuffed with jumbo lump crabmeat. And you will never forgive yourself if you fail to leave room for one of David McCleery's extraordinary desserts. All of his sweet endings are made from scratch and, like Mr. Mikolajczyk's creations, they are artistic and innovative without being self-consciously ostentatious. This charming restaurant has long been a personal favorite. I recommend it highly. BYOB.

YELLOWFIN
B104 Long Beach Boulevard
Surf City, NJ
Cuisine: Eclectic Seafood/Pacific Rim

Yellowfin is the quintessential Jersey Shore eatery: bustling shoebox of a dining room; posse of youthful, black tee-shirted servers; and a noise level to challenge even the most ardent of conversationalists. It is casually chic, scintillatingly sensuous... and chef/proprietor Greg Mann's exotically infused cuisine is the perfect match for the bustling, go-go atmosphere and convivial clientele. With but a brief nod to the carnivorously-inclined -- a superb beef tenderloin caressed by a sweet red wine sauce and chaperoned by an addictive mound of garlic mashed potatoes -- the emphasis here is clearly on Mr. Mann's exquisitely prepared seafood. The succulent tuna sashimi accompanied by Asian noodles, cucumber salsa, and finished with an assertive miso vinaigrette makes a splendid opening move... as does the huge tricolor salad adorned with crumbled Gorgonzola. Entrée-wise, be sure to sample the spectacular bouillabaisse, pan-seared codfish, or proscuitto-wrapped salmon with braised fennel. Reservations are a must. BYOB.

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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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