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Aug 15, 2011 10:24 AM

Labrador Lounge, Normandy Beach

My wife and I managed to wrangle up a babysitter last night for a relatively nice evening out. When deciding where we wanted to go we knew that we wanted to go the BYOB route since we have a ton of wine at home already, and we wanted to stay local. We tossed around a few different ideas, Whispers, Daniel's Bistro... Well, we decided to go slightly more casual and head over to Labrador Lounge.

It had been years since our last visit to this eclectic shore spot. We remembered that the decor was less than inspiring, but upon our arrival we realized that "less than inspiring" was an understatement. I know that they're going for a shore casual theme, but I would term it more as "surfer-shab-chic". Ok, not a big deal. We weren't there for the decor, we were there for service and food, both of which we remember as being good from our last visit. Obviously things have either changed since our last time there, or we mis-remembered those aspects of the restaurant as well.

Let me preface the remainder of my post by saying that yes, I am a service, food and wine snob. However, I am also a realist. I don't walk into Applebee's and expect their steak to be as good as Morton's or walk into a strip mall BYO Italian joint and expect the service to be as good as Nicholas. BUT, when an establishment has Zagat ratings of 25 for food and 22 for service I enter the experience with a certain level of expectation.

Looking at the menu some of the items seemed interesting, but by and large it wasn't so much eclectic as it was repetitive. I asked the server about one of the specials (given on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard) and she then proceeded to pick up said clipboard and read it to me... Not the answer I was looking for. I then asked her for a first course recommendation and her answer, after a ten second pause, was "I don't know." Oh boy. So we made our decisions and placed our order, each of us starting with shrimp app's (one from the menu, one from the specials), then moving on to sushi as a mid course, then our entrees.

The first course came out and the plates were visually appealing, but the flavor was only OK. Although the two appetizers had different flavor descriptors the shrimp in both dishes tasted exactly the same. Mine was served over a mofongo (a Dominican/Puerto Rican mashed plantain pancake of sorts) which was pretty good though it seemed slightly under cooked.

For our second course, which came out approximately 90 seconds after our first course was cleared, we each did a different sushi roll. I went for a specialty lobster roll and my wife did a specialty shrimp tempura roll with avocado... both were topped with spicy tuna. They were pretty good, but considering they were $16 and $15 respectively they should have been great. My lobster was slightly overcooked and the spicy tuna on both was lacking the spicy aspect.

The third course was put down AS the sushi was being cleared (I was actually still chewing). One of my biggest pet peeves on this earth is having food thrown at me. This must have been apparent on my face because my food runner took one look at me and started to apologize profusely... But that didn't change the fact that my food was there. In addition to being rushed, apparently no one found it necessary to give us silverware. So we sat there for at least two minutes before I was able to flag down a busgirl and ask for utensils. My wife ordered a Caribbean themed chicken entree that looked like a hot mess on a plate and the chicken was bone dry. At points she had a hard time even cutting through it. I went with their version of surf & turf which was a NY Strip topped with a "jumbo lump" crab salad, also on the plate were an assortment of veg and mashed potatoes. I have difficulty believing the crab was jumbo lump, it certainly looked like fin meat to me, my mashed potatoes had no flavor and were very obviously left over from a day (or days) prior and had been sauteed to bring them back to life, and my steak was overcooked. In addition to being overcooked, the meat was of a lesser grade, either a lower tier choice or possibly even select. I get better meat at Stop & Shop on special for crying out loud.

Throughout all of this, at no point did anyone take it upon themselves to stop by and check on us and our level of satisfaction. The most attentive person the entire evening was a busgirl keeping up on our water and clearing our plates. The only part of the evening we weren't rushed was after dinner, when it took our server ten minutes to come by, with our check in her hand, to ask if we wanted dessert. We stated that we did and she actually looked annoyed.

Dessert was a tropical fruit bread pudding and a cappuccino creme brulee. The bread pudding wasn't actually bread, it appeared to me to be sponge cake that they warmed, mashed up and placed vanilla ice cream on. I also am positive that it was microwaved considering bread pudding typically takes 8-10 minutes to warm up and this came out in 3 minutes. My wife's creme brulee was watery and bland. She LOVES creme brulee and orders it every time we go out if the establishment offers it. She said it was the second worst brulee she's ever had...

The server finally got her way and dropped the check after we pushed aside our lackluster desserts (again not asking if we liked them)... For the money that we spent on this dinner we could have had a VERY NICE evening at any number of BYO's in Ocean and Monmouth County, and even a few restaurants with liquor licenses. The point on my last statement is this: If you're going to go for the casual, laid back, we don't care type restaurant theme, then you cannot justify charging prices similar to much finer establishments. If you are going to charge those prices, then you better step up your game. 25 for food... 22 for service... You've got to be joking.

Daniel's Bistro
115 Broadway, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742

Labrador Lounge
3581 State Route 35 N, Normandy Beach, NJ 08739

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  1. Nice write up, but sorry to hear the restaurant was so disappointing. Have been toying with taking the drive to vist Lab Lounge for a couple of years, but never got around to it. See no reason to do so based on your review.

    1. I've noticed in recent years that Marilyn Schlossbach seems more interested in opening new establishments with different themes than in maintaining the quality of previous ones.

      1. Wow have not been there for two summers, sounds like a really bad night with poor if totally missing management.

        I have noticed a pattern in the establishments that serve sushi rolls as well as plated appertizers/entrees that timing the roll offering is difficult with what comes out of the rest of the kitchen, I had a long converstaion one night at Mr. C's about that with the new sushi chef there.

        But your experience just does not have any excuse at all in a place with such a great reputation, and most folks we speak with still sing this place's praises.

        But Marilyn certainly has expanded the portfolio quite a bit and sounds like a managment issue to me - heard similar service issues at lunch today about Trinity and The Pope on Saturday night from a friend in Asbury, he said their entress and apps actually came out together!

        4 Replies
        1. re: carlylecat

          We had a delightful dinner Sunday night. What made it delightful? The cozy atmosphere, the friendly service, byob, the food was perfectfully fine not great, and it is the beach which counts for a lot! The service was a little out of sync, but it is the beach not 56 th St!

          1. re: Emilymartha

            So it's ok to be below mediocre but charge for better just because it's the beach? That's an interesting line of reasoning... likely what got this establishment it's 25 food rating.

            1. re: JerZ Wine Geek

              I would have tipped the busgirl and stiffed the waitress. :)

              1. re: MarlboroMan

                I'll be at their northern sister, Langosta tomorrow for cocktails and perhaps some small plates (on my vendor's dime as they're from out of state and want the Shore). I agree with WineGeek and most definitely not with EmmieMartha. He indicated that he was ok with decor, but when you pay a hefty amount of jing for a 3 course dinner with $#it service, that's where I have continued to draw the line here in AP - and he most definitely was not equivocating it with an UE restaurant. Not even remotely close to that parallel universe.

                Further, Mark, you're so right on the money. ( MS is more interested in opening new establishments with different themes than in maintaining the quality of previous ones). And the service, or lack thereof, has ALWAYS been my gripe and I'm easy when it comes to being served and nowhere near pompous. I love when a server knows what the menu, the specials are - does not have to read verbatim, or can offer a suggested alternative, be it appy, desssert, etc. What we have with the hiring practices of the Scholssbach empire is -The worst when it comes to hiring servers - they're looking for hip and what they get is disinterested bobbleheads who want maximum gratutity yet aren't willing to do what is necessary to earn it (informed, interested and pleasant profiles).

                I'm in town a couple of times a week, and I see the out of towners gravitating to her eateries like it was the only place in town. It's so damned frustrating to live so close, enjoy what AP offers, yet have to settle for the subpar restaurant empire of MS.