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May 16, 2008 09:09 AM

Bia in Ocean Grove ~ Jersey

Last night my wife and I tried a new restaurant called Bia located in the Majestic Hotel in Ocean Grove. The ambience was just lovely in every way. The hardwood floors were polished to a high gloss, the walls were muted soft green and the tables well spaced with crisp linens. Soft contemporary music was in the background and it added to the whole package. Our server, Chris was very nice, efficient and low key. Now for the food. My wife and I shared an arugula salad with a champagne vinegarette dressing, that was so light it was excellent.

What I liked was that the salad was split for two before it came to our table. For the entrée my wife had the swordfish with a Moroccan cream sauce (very light hand with the sauce, which seemed to have a touch of “heat”) with cous cous and lightly sautéed red peppers onions. It was just delicious. The swordfish literally melted in your mouth. She did not want to even let me have a taste, but she did. My entrée was crab cakes that were outstanding. Sided with jasmine rice that just melted in your mouth.

Desserts are homemade and we opted to share the warm chocolate bread pudding with ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream—bodacious! We had the opportunity to meet the chef also named Chris who graduated from CIA in New York and has real talent.

Bottom line $73 before tip for food, service and ambiance that were all truly outstanding - I would definitely recommend trying Bia before the summer crowd descends. It is located in
the Majestic Hotel on 19 main avenue about 1/2 block from the beach at Ocean Grove, NJ.

They do accept reservations for 2 or more people, open for lunch and dinner 7 days. They are BYOB and do not have a web site as yet. Their phone number is 732-775-6100.

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  1. Thanks for the review. It sounds like a place to definately try before the bennies arrive. May try it this weekend!!!

    1. Any Idea how long the place has been open?

      17 Replies
      1. re: equal_Mark

        It's interesting that you mention this restaurant. Last week, I noticed an ad in the local paper announcing it and noting that it had a AAA four diamond chef.
        Mark - I would therefore assume the restaurant just opened.

        1. re: bgut1

          OK, Thanks. I usually give a new place at least a few months to get their act together...

          1. re: equal_Mark

            They have been open for only two weeks, but they seem to have their act together already. However, a real test would be a busy Saturday night not an empty Thursday as was our experience. That said we will be going back again soon on a weekend. Off to Drew's Bistro this weekend for the first time based on all the great chowhound reivews...

            1. re: JerzeyShore

              I am going there tonight. I had the hostess rattle off some of the seafood on the menu and it was quite extensive. Cannot wait, will report back.

              1. re: Barbarella

                Barb - I look forward to your review and hope you have an enjoyable meal. BTW, see if you can grab a copy of the menu :)

                1. re: bgut1

                  I will try to remember and hopefully will.

                  1. re: Barbarella

                    I'm assuming no website yet...can't seem to find one.

                    1. re: charmel

                      I was there Friday night and the waiter confirmed that a site will be coming soon .And bgut1, I did snag a menu. The place was really nice. We reserved a table inside, but when we got there changed to the porch as there was a plastic blind on the west side and we were still able to view the ocean. The food and service were good. I started with the mussels in pesto cream sauce. they were served out of the shell, that was a first!! My DH and college student split the spinach salad and loved it. I had the chilean sea bass with some King (?) crab, spinach and fontina risotto and lobster sauce. My DH had the crab cakes, and my DD had the salmon. All were very good, although his crab cakes were a little burnt and should have been sent back. I believe cakes were not as tasty as should have been. This is not an inexpensive resto, my sea bass was $30 and it did not come with any salad. The menu was quite extensive, and I will probably go back in the fall.

                      1. re: Barbarella

                        Barb - I'm happy you enjoyed your meal and thanks for picking up the menu (I'm trying to figure out a way for you to post it).

                        1. re: bgut1

                          That is beyond my comprehension. Let me now and perhaps I can have someone at work do it.

                          1. re: Barbarella

                            Barb - I'm thinking of going this weekend. Could you please list a couple of the apps, entrees and desserts (with prices) from the menu? Thanks.

                            1. re: bgut1

                              I’m often asked to recommend restaurants in Asbury Park. Notwithstanding the legion of dining establishment, I have a hard time naming a good one to send friends. I’ve pretty much been to them all and but for Taka there existed none to recommend. That changed last night as I have found one to add to the list.

                              Bia advertises itself as a European bistro located on the first floor of the Majestic Hotel in Ocean Grove less than a block from the ocean. Bia has been open for the past 3 weeks and while it is suffering from some growing pains (inoperable A/C and amateurish service) its food shows a lot of promise. Bia is helmed by Chef Christopher Anthony Tavares a four diamond chef formerly of the Antique Garage in NYC and currently splitting his time with the Majestic’s sister property the Mansion Inn In New Hope, PA.

                              Our party consisted of six people and we arrived promptly for our 7:30 PM reservation. As previously mentioned, the space is beautiful, freshly painted in an off green hue, with white trim, dark hardwood floors and faux candles on chandeliers and sconces throughout the space. When we arrived, we were relieved of our wines (to be uncorked) and were quickly presented with bread plates consisting of two slices of French bread with a nice scoop of fresh made ricotta cheese topped with lemon zest (very different and refreshing). Upon being handed the menu you notice that this is not your typical bistro. The food runs the gamut from pierogies to fried calamari to tuna tartar then back to fettuccini, scallops and filet mignon. While somewhat pedestrian sounding, the preparations were far from it. For example, the mussels appetizer comes de-shelled in a lovely pesto cream sauce with charred plum tomatoes along with a beautiful piece of grilled Tuscan bread to sop up the sauce. The calamari appetizer was reminiscent of the excellent dish at Table. Perfectly fried (greaseless) pieces of squid accompanied with a bright key lime mayonnaise dipping sauce. My appetizer called the shrimp Tuscany was the best however. Two huge gulf shrimp wrapped in fresh basil and prosciutto grilled and served on more of the excellent Tuscan bread with a black olive tomato relish and drizzled with an aged balsamic reduction. This dish was pure heaven. The only app that missed the mark however was the crab and avocado dip. While not bad, it wasn’t anything special consisting of a decent guacamole topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and served with corn tortillas.
                              Several people at my table also seemed to enjoy the Arugula salad composed of granny smith apples, Vermont cheddar and candied walnuts in a champagne vinaigrette.

                              All the entrees were stellar. I truly enjoyed my sea bass perfectly pan seared set atop a perfectly cooked crab, spinach and fontina cheese risotto. My only recommendation to the chef would be to omit the Maine Lobster saffron broth which didn’t seem to anything to the dish but to make my risotto mushy (either that or give me a spoon to eat the broth). Other dishes I tried were the nicely cooked Asian marinated tuna over wasabi whipped potatoes as well as the jumbo sea scallops over lobster ravioli with an interesting coconut cream sauce with a mango-pineapple salsa ( another suggestion to the chef – pass on the ravioli – it didn’t add but detracted from the excellent scallops).

                              The meal was finished with the lot of us sharing a few desserts – notably the standard molten chocolate cake (decent but didn’t rock my boat) and the fantastic chocolate bread pudding with topped with a fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream (aptly described as bodacious by the OP above).

                              All in all an excellent meal and I would recommend with any hesitation. I will add Bia to my short list of stand by eateries. BTW, the cost per couple was about $110 inclusive of gratuity (apps range from $6 to $13, $8 to $10 for salads, and $18 to $34 for entrees). Good Luck and Enjoy.

                              1. re: bgut1

                                As we had an excellent meal at Bia two weeks earlier, we decided to push our luck and return last night for another dinner. This turned out to be a bad decision as the food was a notch below in quality and the service was atrocious. A pure Jekyll and Hyde experience if there ever was one.

                                Our party of four arrived promptly for our 8PM reservation and found the restaurant to be even more inviting than our prior visit. The room was pretty full, candles were lit and more importantly the room was cool (as the air conditioning system had been repaired). Interestingly, we were seated in the exact same location as before (along the right side of the room) except instead of having the entire banquet, a table that was used for six was now split into two tables of four resulting in a bit of a tight squeeze.

                                On our last visit when we were escorted to our table we were immediately relieved of our wines so that they could be opened. In this instance however, our wine was ignored. After about 5-10 minutes I decided to open the bottles myself (thankfully I had a wine opener). After what seemed like an eternity we were met by our waitperson who delivered menus and advised of two specials (Alaskan crab claws cocktail and a green curry and duck (yuck) entrée). As neither of the specials sounded appetizing (regrettably the swordfish special that everyone above had raved about was no longer available), we decided to order from the menu.

                                Our party ordered as follows: Appetizers – tuna tartar, Tuscany shrimp, heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad, and fried calamari; Entrees – (2) filet mignon wrapped in bacon with celeriac mashed potatoes and a bordelaise sauce, Tuna and sea bass (as ordered on our prior visit). It didn’t seem long before our appetizers were brought out to the table. Both the shrimp and the fried calamari were as good as the last time we had them (except instead of being placed on the side the lime dipping sauce was now drizzled atop the fried calamari). The other two appetizers however were deficient.

                                If I had not known that I had ordered the tuna tartar, I would have thought by looking at it that it was guacamole as it came delivered as a green scoop of avocado topped with two tortilla chips. After tasting this dish I was able to discern some tuna however its presentation and construction left a lot to be desired. The tomato and mozzarella salad on the other hand was beautiful with large slices of tomato layered between pieces of mozzarella cheese and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. While beautiful the dish lacked flavor and seasoning and called out for salt which was not on the table. Another criticism of this dish was that there was not enough mozzarella (half dollar sized pieces compared to the softball sized slices of tomato).

                                From this point forward the meal took a turn for the worse. Service which at this point was not horrible started to deteriorate fast. From the removal our appetizers to the delivery of our entrees seemed like an hour. It had taken so long to get our entrees that our waitperson came over and asked if we were ready for our desserts. Upon being advised that we had yet to receive our entrees she noted that they were almost ready (how would she know if she thought we had already finished them?). About twenty minutes after this exchange, the food runner brought over entrees. This individual had no idea who ordered what. We had to call out for our meals. Further, this person was unaware which steak was prepared to the ordered doneness (mine medium rare the other rare – It didn’t matter as both were medium). As far as the dishes were concerned, one diner proclaimed the sea bass to be excellent while my DW found the tuna to be good but for the added kumquats which were unannounced on the menu. As noted above, the filets were not properly cooked and mine was barely warm (otherwise it wouldn’t have been a bad dish).

                                Although we were a bit disappointed with this meal, we tried to make the best of it and order dessert. I had advised the table that the desserts were very good and my guests were excited to try both the molten chocolate cake as well as the bread pudding. As I noted in my prior post, the servers recite the dessert menu instead of presenting a written one. Bia would do well to change this procedure as our server had trouble remembering the dessert offerings. I had to remind her about the bread pudding – this time prepared with caramel and apples. Our waitperson also offered an unsolicited description of the molten chocolate cake – “it’s just like the one you get at Friday’s”. Are you serious? I thought I overheard her using the same description to an adjoining table. I don’t know about you but if I’m spending $30 + on an entrée, I do not want comparisons made to a causal dining chain restaurant.

                                At that point I had had enough and decided to speak with the manager who was very receptive to my comments. She explained that our waitperson was brand new (maybe she should’ve trained more before being on the floor?) and the Chef was not there that evening (on the busiest night of the week at a brand new restaurant?). Although thankful for our comments no accommodations were made.

                                I returned to our table and proceeded to order dessert: a molten chocolate cake, the bread pudding and a trio of sorbets. A few minutes after taking our order, our waitperson returned to tell us that the kitchen was now out of the bread pudding and the sorbets. Dumbfounded, we decided to pay our bill and leave and get some dessert at Bistro Ole in AP.

                                I still believe Bia is special enough to give another chance however I seriously hope they get there act together. While I anticipate returning I intend to give it some time to work out the kinks and look forward to reading other Hounds’ experiences. BTW, the cost for the dinner excluding gratuity was $190.00. Good Luck.

                                1. re: bgut1

                                  Boy oh boy bgut1. I was going to return sometime in the early fall, but now I think I will wait a little longer. I went before you did the first time and the "act" was better then. That is a shame it was worse.

                                  1. re: Barbarella

                                    Barb - Since they are so new, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The restaurant has so much promise that I sincerely hope they get these service issues ironed out. My only concern is that Chef Tavares can't be at two places at one time.

                                    1. re: bgut1

                                      Hey, bgut,

                                      It've never made it a secret that one of the things which drives me crazy is that I'll go to a new restaurant (either brand new or new to us), and the food will range from way more than passable to excellent, But on a second visit, especially when it come to the food, I feel as though I'm dining in a whole other place. I believe that's known as inconsistency. :-))

                                      As you know, we generally go out mid-week, so I'm thinking the service problems you encountered were because it was a Saturday evening? Not that that's any excuse.

                                      What's even more an issue is the food's quality. Seems obvious that it suffered because the excecutive chef was not there. Not good. And if he's splitting his time between two restaurants, unless he has a superb chef de cuisine or sous, this situation could continue to be problematical.

                                      If, at some point, I decide to try Bia, when I call to reserve, I will ask if Chef Tavares will be in the kitchen.

                                      1. re: RGR

                                        RGR - Good idea about calling ahead. As far as the service, while some of the problem was with the kitchen, I believe most of it was attributable to the inexperienced waitstaff. On our first visit, the waitperson was excellent. I guess it was the luck of the draw.

      2. After reading these reviews my husband and I decided to go to Bia this past Saturday night. First, let me say that we really wanted to like this restaurant given the lack of good restaurants in our area. When we got to the restaurant we were escorted to a table for two--nice enough but when we sat down there was a rush of cold air from a vent under our table. When we asked to switch our table to a nearby empty table (also for 2) we were told that the restaurant was too crowded for us to change so we stayed at the drafty table. My mussel appetizer was very good but my husband's shrimp appetizer was cold. We then waited at least 45 minutes for our entrees. Our waiter apologized, saying that it was a very busy night for the kitchen. When we finally did get our entrees, my crab cakes were burnt (it seems that is how the chef prepares them as others have voiced the same complaint) and my husband's tuna was raw (even though he had specifically requested that it be prepared medium) and his vegetables were cold. We then spent 10 minutes trying get our waiter's attention who, after seeing us, scurried into the kitchen. We finally found another waiter and requested that the tuna be cooked as ordered. Once again, apologies we made, with an explanation that the kitchen was very busy. By the time my husband got his tuna back, we were no longer in the mood to eat so we skipped dessert (we had already been there over 2 hours) and went home. I would suggest skipping this restaurant altogether.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Peaches13

          Peaches13 - We obviously were there on the same evening and I therefore can understand your disappointment. Clearly it was an off night for the restaurant and I'm sure had Chef Tavares been there it would have been different. While I can appreciate you not wishing to return (as most restaurants get only one opportunity to make a lasting impression), I intend to give them another shot after allowing things to "calm down". Notwithstanding the service issues, I still believe that Bia holds substantial promise. Good Luck.

          1. re: bgut1

            Where else does Chef Tavares work?

            1. re: Barbarella

              The Mansion Inn in New Hope, PA. - the Majestic’s sister property.

        2. The menus (brunch, lite fare (UGH), lunch, and dinner) are posted here:

          1. My friend and I just came from lunch at Bia. First of all let me say the food was really good, quite good infact. But the entree portions were extremely small. More like appetizer sizes. We both had crab cakes(notice there was an s on the end but we each had one tiny one) and mashed potatoes with fennel. Water cress was on top. We normally don't have dessert, but we were still hungry. I had cheese cake with apples and caramel and my friend the molten chocolate cake. The desserts were larger than the entrees. No bread is served with lunch. Great food, but the lunch portions leave much to be desired.

            2 Replies
            1. re: SusieQQ

              Susie - Good to hear that the food quality has improved. I noticed however that the online lunch menu doesn't list crab cakes as an entree (only a sandwich). Has the menu changed? I would hope so as I haven't considered returning due to the fact that there hasn't been any revisions.

              1. re: bgut1

                The menu was not the same as the one on the web site.