Looking for a rich serving of history along with your dinner? If so, the restaurant at the Hotel Tides, on a quiet side street in Asbury Park, will fill the bill nicely. In existence since the late 1800’s and originally named the St. Laurent, it was renamed the Tides Hotel in 1941, and finally became Hotel Tides sometime in the late ‘60s. Walking through the lobby and retro-modern-looking bar/lounge area, diners experience a definite time shift upon entering the softly lit dining room, which still has its original tin ceilings and walls, chandeliers, and even plates, all lending a gracious, but unstuffy feel to the ambience. Yet, the menu is creative and contemporary and offers a number of unique preparations featuring fresh seasonal ingredients.
Just the name Eggplant Meatballs ($12), sounded too intriguing an appetizer to pass up. Although the somewhat softer texture would not pass for a true Italian meatball, it did not matter; stuffed with eggplant and peas, and plated with a light morel cream sauce, the two good-sized spheres were satisfying and savory, and certainly worthy of their popularity on the menu.
Octopus and Fava Leaf Salad ($10), was indeed served cold as a salad. Nicely tender, marinated and braised octopus pieces, were plated with an exceptional fava bean puree, crispy Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), melted heirloom grape tomatoes, and fava bean leaves. This unique preparation with its contrasting textures and flavorful components was very enjoyable, but I found myself wishing I could taste it as a hot appetizer, instead of a cold one, as I felt it would have been more harmonious and delicious that way.
An appetizer of Spring Littlenecks, ($12) was prepared with bits of guanciale (pork cheeks – think: bacon), and fresh English peas, in a tasty broth of ramps (wild spring onions), and white wine, with a hint of rosemary and tarragon. This dish was good, but would have been even better, had there not been a fair number of clams with cracked or broken shells in the bowl.
A large, pretty, white bowl of Leek and Asparagus Soup ($9), flavored with spring onion and scallion oil, topped with Cotija (a crumbly feta-like cheese from Mexico) and tarragon pumpernickel croutons, had a terrific consistency: not too smooth, not too coarse. I really liked this.
Four large Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($32), accompanied by a luscious smoked carrot puree, mushrooms, char-roasted purple dragon carrots and crispy peas, were cooked perfectly, gently browned on the outside with a juicy interior. The sweetness of the scallops was highlighted by the smokiness of the puree, but the crispy peas were overdone and too hard to bite without risking a tooth, and the carrots could have used just a bit more cook time to better soften them. Worth a return visit.
A 14-ounce Mesquite Rubbed Veal Chop ($38), dressed with rhubarb- dried apricot compote, atop a creamy mascarpone and herb polenta with a pleasing smokiness, was satisfying even if slightly overcooked, but that did not diminish our enjoyment of the dish.
Served piping hot and topped with vanilla gelato, a very credible Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp ($9) preserved the flavor of each ingredient. The light topping of brown sugar and oat crumble provided just a bit of sweetness and allowed the berries and rhubarb to be the stars of the dish. Very good.
The wine list is rather basic with a few interesting choices. We selected two glasses of white: 2013 Maso Canali Pinot Grigio ($9), light bodied with lemony overtones, and 2014 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand ($8), an archetypical example, with crisp acidity, grapefruit and decent body. Two reds by the glass: 2014 Hangtime Pinot Noir ($10) and 2015 Gascon Malbec from Argentina ($9) were decent, if unremarkable. Of note is the fact that the restaurant allows corkage, so that diners may bring in their own bottles for a fee of $20 per bottle. Considering the quality of the food, this is quite reasonable, and a good chance to pop open some special bottles from one’s own cellar.
The service was exemplary, both relaxed and professional, with our server explaining each dish, offering up the specials of the night, and advising us of all ingredients. Among some other details, he also told us that the restaurant has been open for 10 years and that the menu changes four times a year.
The food at the Hotel Tides is quite good, the setting truly unique. The high tin ceilings and walls with their soft decorative paint, stained wainscoting, high banquettes along two walls, and mellow vibe of the room, all provide a wonderful counterpoint to the inventive food. A slice of time travel, served up in an eye-catching room, with a good dinner to boot, is certainly a nice change of pace.
408 Seventh Ave., Asbury Park
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the May 25-June 1, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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