Last week, the Inquirer's Craig LaBan put together a little round-up of specifically Jersey Shore seafood restaurants, and this week, he does Philly another solid, and found five must-try new spots along the New Jersey coast: Cardinal Bistro, Daymark, Exit Zero Cookhouse, Hank Sauce, and 414.
Cardinal Bistro is 24-year-old chef Michael Brennan's take on a Philly BYOB transplanted down the shore. After only being open for just a few days, LaBan found great promise in the yellow-walled bistro in Ventnor City:
Chef Brennan made a strong case to be one of the young chefs to watch this year at the Shore - especially when it came to poultry. His pan-roasted Lancaster chicken was just perfect, its skin crispy yet still juicy inside, beside a tagliatelle in sundried tomato sauce with artichokes. The dry-aged duck was also exceptional, the leg flavorfully stewed confit-style and roasted to a crackly crunch, the breast perfectly tender and pink beneath the sweet rosemaried shine of a maple-bourbon glaze.
Barnegat Light's Daymark is the reinvention of Rick's American Cafe, an old Barnegat "standby for live music." But with new owners (brothers Brian and Paul Sabarese) at the helm, Daymark brings the shore town "inventive modern twists on the seafood house tradition."
The most memorable plate? That unusual surf-'n'-turf, which literally looked like a giant, bone-in hunk of short rib fell onto a lobster. In fact, the lobster cooks with the tender braised beef sandwiched between its split shell, and the effect is both disorienting and stunning, blurring the pleasures of land and sea into one rustic, messy, juicy ode to meaty luxury.
A magazine editor-turned-restaurateur is the man behind Exit Zero Cookhouse. Scotsman Jack Wright is a New York transplant living in Cape May, jonesing for some real-deal curry, so he opened a restaurant off-shoot of his regional magazine with Thai shrimp soup and Bombay crab chowder, and something called "the Kraken":
True chile heads, though, should sail bravely for the Kraken, a truly odd but defyingly great shrimp curry that's jet black from squid ink, boozy with Kraken rum, and blazing with a habanero-cayenne heat rounded out by a fruity dose of pineapple. If you survive it all, you even get a T-shirt.
Hank Sauce is more
hot "zingy and herbaceous" sauce plant than it is a restaurant, but the adjacent summertime taco shop/burger bar "is the best advertisement for their product's versatility":
The most obvious are the addictive wings, which get double baked here in Hank's rub (this kitchen has no fryer or walk-in - so everything is super fresh) then slathered in the sauce of your choice. We loved the Camouflage, which brings more vinegar swagger. The popular tacos have obvious street appeal, and I thought the mahi version, which sizzles first with the cilantro sauce on the griddle, was satisfying beneath greens and pineapple salsa.
LBI's 414 is Cafe Aletta reconceptualized. Now a seafood and chop house, LaBan found some good eats to be had, primarily from the "new steakhouse-style broiler that has been installed to blast big chops like the 28-ounce Cowboy steak for two ($65) and 12-ounce filet ($40) to tamarind butter-basted goodness."
Philly Mag's Jason Sheehan hit up Chestnut Hill's Jansen for his weekly review, and from the way it reads, there's a very apparent soft spot in Sheehan's heart for food of 90s and 00s — the food of his culinary past. Chef David Jansen brought him back, and executed those towering dishes, frilled up with "christmas trees of thyme", flawlessly:
It means that everything has to be perfect.
And so much of what Jansen does is—if by perfect you mean museum-quality replicas of dishes 15 years gone from the boards and tables of American restaurants that have substituted innovation for technique. On a Saturday night, Laura and I are seated in that low-ceilinged white room with white banquette seats and white tablecloths and a back door opening onto a patio with a white canvas tent roof and white twinkle lights in the trees. We drink cucumber gin with lime (too full of pulp), and I eat grilled shrimp curled around each other in an embrace, balanced atop a wide, floppy, tender truffle ravioli in a pale pinkish-brown shellfish reduction that is so delicious, rich and deeply flavored that I wish I could have it as a shot. The reduction is spotted with green peas and swirled with the creamy, green-flecked butter sauce in which they were cooked until it all comes together like the blobs in a lava lamp. Pop art made into dinner.