Location, Location, Location! With the picturesque Navesink River as the sparkling backdrop, and part of the setting sun visible through the three expansive glass door-walls on the night of our visit, 26 West on the Navesink has a very special location with a killer view from the main dining room.
Bright white walls, high white exposed ceiling, and royal blue accents give the tastefully designed restaurant on Front Street in Red Bank a Cape Cod/East Hampton/Ralph Lauren-esque vibe. Add a menu with lots of fresh fish and seafood, as well as some meat, pasta and poultry for balance, and all the elements are in place for this unique restaurant to become a fixture on the Jersey Shore. Although open only about four weeks when I ate there, and still sorting out some service and timing issues, I really enjoyed a number of dishes.
Carried away by the view, we went all out and ordered The Yacht ($150), which allowed us to sample the raw bar selections served on a three-tiered, crushed ice laden “tower” displaying 12 plump middle neck clams, 12 briny oysters (half East Eoast/half West Coast), 12 impressively large (U-8 size) shrimp, with jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail and a nice chilled lobster cocktail on the uppermost tier. Besides the usual cocktail sauce, a piquant house-made tomatillo sauce was also served. Fear not, there are also smaller assortments starting at $18 and ascending from there, as well as shellfish sold by the piece ($1 to $3).
Not one, but two variations of the much beloved Lobster Roll (both $24) are offered. Block Island Lobster Roll showcased a generous amount of good-sized hunks of chilled tail and claw meat done with white wine, garlic butter and chives, and served in a toasted New England Roll with a side of french fries and pickled slaw. Maine Lobster Roll, with the same toasted roll and fries, was distinguished by a dressing of lemon aioli, minced celery and chives, which provided a creamier, richer texture. Which one was better? We enjoyed them equally, and might have to order them both again to decide!
Chef Meg LaManna makes her own pasta and although the kitchen ran out of the fettuccine with clams, which we were eager to try, we opted for a very tasty Jersey Corn Agnolotti ($12); little pockets of dough stuffed with corn and mascarpone cheese, sat in a pool of corn nage with crispy mushrooms. A large, tender Crab Cake ($18) arrived atop a thick corn mousse and was topped with that ubiquitous pickled slaw. Yes, we are entering corn season, so now is the time to have “corn everything,” and savor it!
One of my favorite appetizers, Grilled Octopus ($17) was both pretty to look at and delicious. Tender chunks of fat tentacles, purple Peruvian potato salad, crunchy garlic chips and a ring of salsa verde made for a memorable dish.
Inexplicably, there was a long wait for the entrees to appear, which I attributed to the kitchen still working out some start-up kinks.
Pistachio Crusted Yellowfin Tuna ($29) with watermelon radish slaw, toasted blood orange couscous and Yuzu aoli was very creative and cooked properly rare, but would have been even better with a thicker cut of tuna.
Our favorite entrée was Faroe Island Seared Salmon ($26.); cooked medium rare and served with its crispy skin, on a bed of sautéed rainbow Swiss chard, underpinned with white bean puree and a drizzle of blood orange reduction. Very satisfying.
Half a Bell and Evans Chicken ($23) was paired with a mushroom risotto, dark chicken jus, and local microgreen salad. The juicy meat was nicely prepared and flavorful, but compared to some of the previous dishes, not very interesting.
Clearly, much of this food begs for white wine. We enjoyed a fruit-driven, minerally, 2013 G. Boulay La Cote Sancerre with the raw shellfish, and a stunning, almost fat, 2010 Comtes Lafon Clos de la Barre Mersault with the Lobster Rolls and other appetizers. We paired one red, 2007 Sperino Lessona, a fragrant Nebbiolo-based wine, with the salmon, tuna and chicken dishes. Even one guest who is not an Italian wine lover had to admit he enjoyed it.
Desserts of Chocolate Mocha Cake ($9), and Cheesecake ($9) were pleasant, but not unique. It must be assumed that once the house has some mileage under its belt, they will offer desserts at the same level as the appetizers.
Indeed, 26 West on the Navesink shows much potential, and with a location that is truly special, a very pretty room, and a number of dishes already worthy of a return visit, it is clear that it will only get better with the passage of time. I’m still thinking about those lobster rolls and that grilled octopus!
26 West on the Navesink
26 West Front St.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the July 6-13, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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