Jun 29, 2011

Avenue (Long Branch, NJ)

On Saturday Jared and I had one of those perfectly perfect dinners where all circumstances unite for a dining-experience-to-remember. The weather was perfect. The waves were lapping. The food was incredible. The drinks were plentiful.

I've been trying to drag Jared down to Long Branch to go to Avenue for years. Literally. We finally made the trek and man oh man it was worth it.

Avenue has a really stunning outdoor dining area, a cordoned-off section of the boardwalk so you're literally eating right over the beach. I'd have prefered a little less techno James-Bond-esque music pumping thru the speakers and a little more ocean waves, but other than that, perfection.

The inside of the restaurant is also gorgeous. All very white-washed, open and beachy (though, more French Riviera than Jersey Shore). The bar was packed, even at 5 o'clock, and there was a wedding taking place on the roof deck.

Avenue also has an exclusive beach club (see photo above). We decided we are really going to need to pay whatever exorbitant fee is involved so we can remain close to the incredibly good cocktails while reading on those extremely enticing round beds.
To start, the Avenue Salad. You should really eat this. Mixed greens, just a hint of very thinly shaved veggies (tomatoes, radishes, carrots, mushrooms, cucumbers), fennel, avocado, and grilled shrimp. In a very light, non-overwhelming lemony vinaigrette. In my mind, an example of The Perfect Salad.
Also had a very tasty mojito.
Jared did the 3 course prix fixe menu. 1st course, shrimp cocktail.
Here, you can also see Jared's drink of choice - The Summerhouse (Hendricks, St. Germaine, orange bitters).
A quote from when we returned home that night: "That drink is all I want to ever touch my lips again."
So. There's Jared's recommendation.
Since I had a pretty substantial salad, I didn't want to overdo it on the entree. I was delighted when I saw that the seafood ravioli I'd been lusting over was also available as a half portion. Perfect serving size. And SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I hate to even utter it, because you know where my loyalties lie, but this ravioli was 10x better than Due Mari's (I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry!). Due Mari's was a little bit chewier... you actually got chunks of shrimp... but Avenue's ravioli was a perfectly delectable combination of crabmeat, shrimp, scallops and ricotta. Sitting in some sort of light lemony sauce, with a heartier fresh tomato sauce piled in the center. Good gracious it was excellent.
Jared got a burger. Or perhaps, as you can see from the picture, fries with a side of burger. But let me tell you those are some goooood fries. Burger was also very good, but to quote from the man himself, the bun tasted like it came from a Little League game. Let's work on the bun Avenue - it's a burger's crowning glory!
For dessert, Jared selected the chocolate pot de creme from the prix fixe. Smooth and not too sweet, he was a happy camper.
I was extremely full at this point, but felt it was my duty to sample the dessert selection as well (read: cannot refuse sweets). On the waiter's recommendation I got the classic profiteroles, which were very good, but a bit boring. I think I should have been more adventurous and gone for the pistachio cake or chocolate and pistachio crepes.

For a memorable meal right on the water, you should go here. Soon.

Jun 19, 2011

Due Mari (New Brunswick, NJ)

I'll just put it right out there and say that Due Mari probably has the most consistently fantastic food I have ever eaten. 
And paired with the comfortable ambience and extremely knowledgeable and always-accommodating staff, I will be so bold as to say it is hands down my favorite dining experience.

There are comfortable leather chairs. Clean but unfussy tables. A huge circular bar in the center of the restaurant that simply makes you want to sit down and order a drink. And stay there a very long while. 

I'm particularly enamored with Due Mari because that's where I held my October 2010 wedding reception. And it was perfect.
No catered dry salmon for this bride. Hells no. I do not exaggerate when I say the only thing I really cared about out of that whole wedding mumbo jumbo was THE FOOD. 

I picked the recently-opened Due Mari because it was a large open space that could accomodate 100 people and a dance floor (a challenge in the New Brunswick restaurant scene) and the food is just incredible.

As the name suggests, the specialty here is seafood. However, I dare you to find something on the menu that isn't excellent. The pastas are all homemade in-house and GOOD GOSH they are so good it will drive you crazy for days thinking back on the orgasmic meal you just consumed.

I've eaten there quite a number of times, including the wedding, and have never been disappointed.*

Last Sunday for dinner with my in-laws I enjoyed the following:
Fried calamari. Oh. Yes. Comes with marinara and a lemon cremai and it's perfectly crisped and not at all chewy and I promise you will reallllllllllly like it.
Even this very basic mixed greens salad tasted so light and fresh...perfect way to pretend you are being healthy (post fried calamari).
The brilliant goddess of a waitress actually encouraged us to split entrees... they could split anything, and serve it on these adorable little duo plates. So those of us who can NEVER make up their minds when it comes to menu selections had the glorious opportunity to actually have 2 things.
The shrimp and lobster ravioli with artichokes, leeks and herb butter was very good.
But the sea scallops with wild mushroom risotto, fava beans, and baby greens was out of this WORLD.
These two choices were the perfect balance of seafood and pasta.

(AND - they can also do a FOUR-WAY pasta split. So, if you and your three dining parters are game, the kitchen will happily give you each a plate with 4 little bowls of pasta so you can taste everything. Perfection.)
This is the Torta de Limone, with lemon curd and whipped cream and raspberry sauce. Oh yes. It is perfect.

Other things that are AMAZING:

- The branzino. The accompanying veggies change, but it's light and delicate and you will actually have room for dessert after.

- The organic roast chicken. It was on the fall menu. I don't even LIKE chicken much, but this birdie was mighty good. Perfectly tender and falls off your fork and into your mouth and sends you right into ecstasy.

- The garganelli pasta. If ever there was a perfect pasta dish, this is it. Served with parma prosciutto, mushrooms, peas, and white truffle butter... holy mother. This stuff is incredible. Always a favorite. (Let's just say I ordered the Branzino at my own wedding, and then spent half the night eating the garganelli off my mother's plate)

- The chocolate fondue (pictured at the very top). A pot of perfectly rich chocolate to dip, with homemade (incredible) graham crackers, homemade marshmallows, strawberries and bananas. Perfect for sharing.

- The Budino di Cioccolato. Not your mama's lava cake, that's for sure. Warm chocolate cake, toasted marshmallow, with caramel and vanilla gelato. Yes. That's right. And the cake is only mildly sweet, making room for the sweetness of all those heavenly accoutrements.

Jun 18, 2011

Mr. Pi's Sushi (Metuchen, NJ)

For me, finding a good sushi place is a little bit intimidating. Because there's always a chance that you'll happen upon a BAD sushi place. And then you're kind of screwed. 
I don't like to take my chances on raw fish. 

But I'd heard some positive things about Mr. Pi's right on Central Ave in Metuchen.
They have an extensive menu, with a ton of rolls - including a huge section of more complex chef's special rolls.
To be honest, I have a relatively simple sushi palette, and also have a hard time rationalizing $14 on a single special roll (mainly because I'm usually hungry ten minutes after eating a meal).

That said, my favorites are the standard California roll and the Boston roll (I had them add avocado.... because I can never get enough avocado). I also have a bit of a fetish for the Bahamas roll - the combo of salmon and sweet, refreshing mango is fantastic.

They also make great veggie gyoza. These pan fried dumplings are delicious, don't fall apart, and the sauce is addictive. I actually prefer to dip my rolls in the gyoza sauce rather than straight soy sauce. (I've also asked Mr. Pi's to do steamed veggie gyoza and they happily acquiesced). 

I've only done take out here, and the service is always incredibly speedy and accommodating. The restaurant is small, but always crowded, regardless of the day of the week, and there are a few cool booth-like tables with a communal feel that you actually have to climb into. 
(I have a feeling I am totally not conveying what these tables actually look like so you'll have to check it out for yourself).

Love it here. Go.

{Photo:  Bahamas roll on top, Boston roll + avocado on bottom}

Last night

I sat on the couch and read 3 cookbooks like novels. 
When I do that I always get so inspired. 
But then I realize I am only inspired to eat. Not to cook.

Jun 15, 2011

George Street Alehouse (New Brunswick, NJ)

Man, the photos just keep getting ghettoer, don't they?
The ghostly glow of that sandwich looks rather unappealing...but believe me! It was good!
Need to work on that. In the meantime, use your imagination!

The husband and I went to George Street Alehouse for one reason, and one reason only:  
Pulled. Pork
 I don't quite know why pulled pork is such an evasive and completely unavailable option in NJ, but that seems to be the case. There's a dearth of good BBQ. And sometimes a girl just needs some freaking pulled pork.

When George St. Alehouse opened and I perused the menu online I zeroed right in on that pulled pork. We tried going on Memorial Day to satisfy the mounting craving but, wouldn't you know, it was closed. I had made a point to check online and - yep, Monday, May 31 - open mic night, this, that. Open!
But no. A computer printout taped to the door that said closed.

We were QUITE displeased.

We tried again the following week and weren't disappointed.
The place itself is cute. Definitely more bar than restaurant, but with plenty of two-top tables around the perimeter and high cocktail-esque tables near the bar. Plenty of flatscreen TVs to satisfy the sports nuts. And clean. So clean!

And the menu? Freaking awesome.
Bar food with a twist.
The owner was previously the sous chef at Stage Left, so clearly the classier cuisine is still having an influence.

The pulled pork was good. Not South Carolina-good. But NJ-good.
Served with cheddar cheese and apple fennel slaw, it captured GS Alehouse's fancy pub vibe.
The one downfall was the brioche bun. Good in and of itself, but in my opinion much too sweet, and overpowered the savory BBQ flavors.

Would definitely go back.

Jun 13, 2011

Belmar Seafood Festival (Belmar, NJ)

This past weekend was the Belmar Seafood festival. The forecast said rain and t-storms all day, but happily the sun triumphed, making for a breezy, sunny, beautiful day to battle the hungry crowds and stuff yourself full of seafood.  The festival showcased food from over 50 vendors - with everything from whole lobsters to fried oreos to alligator bites. Tables were set up around Lake Como...a band jammed in the gazebo...and a fenced in Drinks Tent fenced in the booze-drinkers from the rest of the child-dominated crowd.
I got a mango madness smoothie. Pretty good, refreshing on a warm day... not quite worth $5.50, but hey, you're paying for the experience.
But the crab cake slider I got from Mud City Crab Cake Co.? Oh sweet mama.
These crab cakes are baked and grilled, not fried. So, no breading. No oily mess. No heartburn.
No. This is straight up hunks of crab.
Served on a perfect little roll (no wonder bread slackers here), with bacon, avocado, and jalapeno tartar sauce. Hell yes.
A friend tried the coconut shrimp - also incredible, with a sweet thai dipping sauce.
You can bet your booty I will be visiting the Mud City establishment at some point this summer.
Then, since I was completely unable to overcome my craving, I succombed to the fried Oreos.
Oh how I wish I had only eaten one.... even two....
Words of wisdom: 3 fried Oreos equals too many fried Oreos.
Is there nothing better than munching on fresh seafood and then wandering the boardwalk and looking out at this?
I think not.

*Apologies for the sad-ass cell phone photos. If I had remembered to bring a real camera, or if Verizon let me upgrade my old-school decrepit phone for a smartphone, they would be a wee bit less awful.

Jun 6, 2011

The Little Tuna (Haddonfield, NJ)

I was in South Jersey on Saturday - land of reesees peecees and I'm done my homework - visiting friends. We went into Haddonfield for lunch. Man is that town adorable. Very quaint and historic looking. One can almost forget she is in the uncharted waters of the southern half of the state.*

We ended up at The Little Tuna right on the main street and ate outside on the sidewalk. Super cute. The tables and chairs were slatted and wooden and kind of looked like they were going to collapse the moment we sat down but no worries - we all survived; the furniture was sturdier than it appeared.

In short, everything was delicious. Everything on the lunch menu looked amazing and was reasonably priced.
Alas, I have no photos because I was so busy shoving food into my mouth and delighting in the perfect temperature and stimulating conversation that I was too lazy to break out the (crappy) cell phone. Apologies.

I started with a cup of their famous lobster bisque soup. And oh yes. Ohhhh yes. It was mighty good. Creamy and not overly-salty... a sadly common occurrence in soup, especially seafood ones. Giant chunks of lobster - not the usual Where's Waldo-esque hunt for lobster remnants, but truly large hunks of lobster floating happily on my spoon. Awesome. Get it. A cup is very filling. I probably could have had that and a small salad and called it a day.

But no. That'd be no fun. So a friend and I decided to split two things. The Blackened Fried Group wrap was awesome - a tinge spicy, perfectly cooked fish, really tasty fries on the side. It comes with stoneground sauce (a mix of mayo and mustard) - but I got it on the side. The Garlic Charred Jumbo Shrimp salad was tasty - with a "limey Caesar dressing" - but I found the shrimp to be a bit too salty/garlicky for my liking.

The service was fast, outdoor ambiance was lovely, and very reasonably priced. A perfect Saturday lunch.

*Just kidding! But really - South Jersey is kind of a different beast....

Jun 3, 2011

Elements (Princeton, NJ)

Coworkers and I took a gloriously long lunch today to take advantage of Elements "You Pick 2" menu. The prix fix menu lets you pick two items from a short list of appetizers, entrees, desserts and wines.

The restaurant itself is lovely. From the outside it's almost remniscent of a recently-built municipal building, in an odd location right off of Route 206 in Princeton, but the interior is lovely. Very modern, carefully done. It was surprisingly empty the entire time we were there (noon until about 2pm), though I know it's hard to even get a reservation for dinner. Personally I always judge a restaurant by its bathrooms -- is there nothing worse than a beautiful restaurant with amazing food and a decrepit elementary-school bathroom? It can really break the mood. The bathroom was absolutely lovely. Two points for classy.

For my meal I chose the avocado & barley salad with apple, Griggstown chicken, walnut (though never tasted any), and raisin (normally $18). Absolutely delicious. Really light and refreshing with a beautiful presentation. Just the right balance of textures and tastes (I am normally not a huge fan of chicken, but this was tender and perfectly cooked - not the bland and rubbery grilled chicken that usually sits atop unsuspecting entree salads). I was expecting it to come on a bed of lettuce, but didn't even miss it. The addition of a few perfectly sweet orange slices was a welcome surprise. I'd definitely order it again.
For my second choice I got the bread pudding with creme anglaise and strawberry ice cream. The bread pudding was delicious - wonderfully moist and flavorful. I understood the intention of the fruity ice cream to balance the richness of the other flavors, but personally would have preferred plain vanilla. Probably could have done with about half as much - my skirt is really restricting my breathing now that I'm back in my cubicle.

The only downside was the very slow service. Everyone was perfectly nice, but we were left unattended a bit too much - no one ever checked to see how we were doing or if we needed anything else.

The lunch menu is a great deal, but don't bother if you have to hurry back to the office.