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Looking for the BEST restaurant South Jersey shore, Atlantic City to Cape May. Any recommendations?

b
bcsuka Aug 6, 2008 09:32 AM

Howdy my fellow CH'ers! My wife and I are joining family for a vacation in Ocean City, NJ at the end of the month, and I'm hoping the two of us can steal away for a night of fine dining. We are willing to travel to make that happen. Any thoughts/recommendations? We are foodies through and through, so we would be looking for a superlative, Per Se-quality meal. Does anything fit the bill (or at least come somewhat close to the neighborhood)?

I've done some research already and have come away with the following thoughts so far:
410 Bank Street -- Over priced, over rated and not worth the time
The Ebbit Room -- Seems like a potential winner, I'd love to hear more opinions should anyone care to share
Washington Inn -- I've read good reviews, but the menu on their website doesn't really get me fired up. Do they have more to offer?
Chef Volas -- Seems you either LOVE it or hate it. My wife, however, isn't jazzed by Italian food (no offense meant as she actually is full blood Italian, she's just bored with the cuisine)
The rest of AC -- ummm, anything?
Nicholas -- we are willing to travel but Red Bank is just too far

We are both on the short and thin side, and therefore aren't major wine drinkers. I'll enjoy a glass with my meal, but not much more than that -- so it's really the food (spectacular, top-quality food) that we are looking for, not the wine list. I, in particular, am always interested in a meal that will challenge my pallette and/or expand my culinary horizon. We are both BIG fans of tasting menus.

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions. If nothing perfectly fits the bill, I'd be looking for the next closest thing. Thanks in advance and I will, of course, share my review when we get back!

Brad

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  1. t
    tom246 Aug 6, 2008 09:49 AM

    Blackfish Avalon is the sister restaurant of Blackfish in Conshohocken, outside of Philly. Excellent dining experience. I don't think you can do better.
    Website is http://www.blackfishrestaurant.com/bf-avalon.html

    Another favorite but we have not been this year is Karen & Rei's. Very good modern American cuisine with a decided Asian slant.
    Website is http://www.karenandrei.com/indexa.htm

    Let us know where you wind up going.

    1. k
      KungFilly Aug 6, 2008 10:35 AM

      I"d recommend Sea Salt in Stone Harbor. Check out my review in the Mid-Atlantic section. Very fresh local food. BYOB. It is very small and you must make a reservation. They have a prix fix for 3 courses for $58.

      1. ChrisOC Aug 6, 2008 03:54 PM

        Don't come to Ocean City

        1. b
          billfish Aug 7, 2008 09:00 PM

          In Atlantic City,with no $$ restrictions,I dont think you can do better than the Knife and Fork Inn.Besides being a totally amazing building it's a fine restaurant,might not be a cutting edge place but it does what it does really well.A lot of $$ has gone into upgrading it,and I dont know anybody who came away disappointed.
          If you want to go over to the Mainland,the Renault Winery and the Rams Head Inn have always been expensive and reliable.

          1. b
            bcsuka Aug 8, 2008 08:48 AM

            Thanks all for the input. I really like Blackfish, Karen & Rei's and Sea Salt (I wish that Sea Salt had a sample menu on their website!). Rams Head Inn looks pretty good as well. I'll let you know which we decide on and report back on the experience!

            As an aside to ChrisOC, I certainly understand your point, and I was perhaps a bit off-base in throwing out the Per Se comparison. I know going in that I'm not going to find a similar experience in the OC area. What I was looking for was a meal that is a cut above (hopefully several) the fried seafood and crappy family fare that you normally find at the beach. I'll certainly stuff my face with plenty of Mac & Manco's and ice cream while there, but for one night I was hoping to find an adult meal. And I think I've definitely got some good candidates to choose from!

            1. b
              bcsuka Aug 20, 2008 02:11 PM

              Quick update -- I had decided on Blackfish, however they are not open on Sundays, which is the best day for us. So Sea Salt it is. Sunday, August 31 for the Chef's Tasting Menu.

              Report to follow upon our return...

              1. l
                liz19401 Sep 25, 2008 06:53 PM

                A little late on this one, but we just stopped by Ocean City on a whim today to find a place for lunch. Happened upon "Nags Head" a small (20 or so seats) restaurant. 801 Asbury in the Crown Bank Building. One pleasant efficient waitress and the best crab cake I have had in a long long time. Instead of overly sweet and overly rich their pumpkin soup was thick, tasty and spicy with a kick, perfectly steamed fresh veggies and tender roasted potatoes. Homemade bread. I only wish I had room for dessert, because among their offerings were key lime pie and flourless chocolate cake. I have been in OC before but never heard of this place. I can't wait to go back.

                1. b
                  bcsuka Mar 6, 2009 05:18 PM

                  Several months later, and I'm finally getting around to posting my report on our meal at Sea Salt. I'm an unabashed workaholic and sometimes just let everything else slide. At any rate, the meal was, in a word, Terrific.

                  My reservation was originally for just my wife and I for the Chef's Tasting Menu, however a few days prior we found out two of our friends were going to be in the area. I called Sea Salt and they were only too happy to change it to a party of four. I was very impressed with how accomodating they were, particularly given the late notice.

                  Since they are a BYOB, I brought two bottles. One a gorgeous Viognier, the other a fun Pinot Noir. Our friends also brought along two bottles, however we decided to go with mine. The Chef's Tasting Menu is not on the menu and must be ordered ahead of time. Chef Lucas was there and presented each of the courses to us. Here is our menu and my thoughts on each course:

                  Sea Salt
                  Chef’s Tasting Menu
                  Sunday, August 31st

                  Amuse – Rutabaga soup, served chilled in a shot glass, was an earthy, yummy tasting that definitely served the purpose of waking up our taste buds. I detected a hint of nutmeg and found it a clean and pleasant way to open the meal.

                  Course 1 – Cape May oyster shooter with finely diced radish, cucumber and celery all floating in vodka (sorry, can’t recall which brand). A single raw oyster floating in top-quality vodka? Delicious, light and fun to consume! My only complaint was that it was a little difficult to scrape out the diced vegetables that didn’t make it out with the initial shot.

                  Course 2 – Cape May oyster served with a fresh jersey tomato gelee and a horseradish mignonette. Another fresh, single raw oyster, this one served on the half shell. Three small bites to start, all very delicious, very clean and very fresh.

                  Course 3 – Cape May oyster “stew”, topped with diced sautéed baby potato and a bright orange carrot puree. The best tasting dish so far. Another single oyster, served this time on a spoon stewed in a light cream-based soup. Loaded with oyster flavor, rich and buttery. The potatoes on top added a bit of texture while the carrot puree brightened the flavor palette (and was a visually stunning bright orange). A definite winner. Each of the oysters we had to this point were extremely fresh – and of top quality – so we were, admittedly, wondering if all of our dishes would be featuring oysters. They didn’t:

                  Course 4 – Scallop ceviche with avocado, cucumber, green and red bell pepper. I really enjoyed this dish. I felt that the peppers woke up the entire dish and added nice texture, without overpowering the other, more delicate, components. The scallop was extremely fresh and complemented perfectly by the acid from the lime.

                  Course 5 – Hamachi tartare. This is the one dish that I didn’t take appropriate notes for, other than that it was delicious. I do recall that this was definitely one of my personal favorites of the evening, as I am a big fan of fresh hamachi.

                  Course 6 – Kobe beef tenderloin over pickled eggplant with white bean puree. A small cut of perfectly medium-rare American Kobe beef. Tender and juicy, it paired very well with the white bean and eggplant components. This was a surprisingly light-tasting dish given that beef was the main component.

                  Course 7 – Fresh Jersey tomato and Jersey peach soup with lump blue crab salad. Wow, holy smokes, was this yummy! A perfect combination of acid and sweet, topped with a heaping helping of lump blue crab. It looked beautiful – a vibrant shade of ruby – and was perfectly seasoned. My only complaint would be the unfortunate piece of shell that made its way into my crab.

                  Course 8 – Seared bay scallop served over seaweed “salad” (not the wakame seaweed that is normally found in a sushi restaurant, but a brown seaweed that had a nice firm texture and pleasant, mild flavor – sorry, can’t remember the actual name) with butterscotch melon sauce. When I first heard “butterscotch sauce”, I immediately recalled with horror the fiasco from Top Chef Season 4 when Dale served his universally reviled Scallops with Butterscotch Sauce dish. Heck, it’s the dish that got him kicked off. Now, I may be taking a leap here, but I’m guessing that this may have been Chef Lucas’ answer to that “challenge”. And guess what? He passed with flying colors! Maybe it was the inclusion of the melon to the sauce, or maybe it was months of trial and error, but that sauce was fantastic!

                  Course 9 – Rabbit confit with house-made sopprasata, pickled mushrooms, frissee salad and brown butter vinaigrette. I’m a bit torn on this dish. There were parts of it that were excellent – the sopprasata was superb, the mushrooms and frissee very nice. But the overall dish had an extremely cloying mouthfeel that I didn’t particularly care for. I’ve never really experienced that before with any confit dish, so I’m a bit unsure what led to that. In total, even though I definitely liked aspects of the dish, I would have to call this my least favorite of the evening.

                  Course 10 – Braised pork belly with five-spice fried tofu, roasted fennel, cabbage slaw and a vegetable spring roll (broccoli, snow pea and sprouts). What could be better than slow-braised porkfat? Not much. This dish was spectacular. The tofu was firm, slightly-spicy and delicious. The accompaniments paired so well with the rich pork. And the sauce – thick, dark and rich – brought all of the components together.

                  Course 11 – Miso-marinated roasted escolar with lima bean sprouts, roasted black mission fig and tomato. As the dish was served, a fresh-brewed apricot tea was poured onto the plating. Another winner. The escolar was perfectly prepared, moist and tender, and complemented very well by the aromatic tea. I always enjoy a bit of the tableside presentation, so the pouring of the tea was very fun. I’m also a sucker for figs, and the roasted fig included in the dish was great!

                  Course 12 – Crispy braised shortribs served atop a Columbian corn flour cake (like a polenta but grainier) with salsa verde, butternut squash, grilled pineapple and mole. By this point, I was beyond stuffed, and really didn’t eat much of this. It’s a shame, because normally I love shortribs. The few bites I did take, I actually did not care for. I’m willing to blame that more on myself, and the fact that I was over-stuffed, more than the dish. I will say that I did enjoy the pineapple because by this point, my palette was craving something more on the sweet side of life.

                  Course 13 – Their single dessert of chocolate pudding topped with house-made whipped cream and a touch of fresh-grated nutmeg. This was perfect. It sounds simple – and it is. It is not pedestrian at all though. It was delicious. Light and airy, a small portion, and perfectly sized given how full I was. Really capped off the night perfectly for me.

                  So all in all I would give Sea Salt a big thumbs up. Chef Lucas is extremely inventive, and definitely very talented. He focuses strictly on using only the freshest seasonally available produce, and it showed in all of his dishes. I definitely plan to return this year for (hopefully) another tasting menu

                  1. njchowgal Mar 7, 2009 05:20 PM

                    i would skip ebbit room- great atmosphere and nice menu, but the dishes are not executed as well as they should be for this type of establishment. i would recommend it for the live music and a nice cocktail, however.

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