By Bob Sacks |
There is no shortage of trendy, loud restaurants at the Jersey Shore, with new ones continuing to open on what seems like a monthly basis. Exotic cuisines, small plates, farm-to-table; all the latest genres pop up with regularity. So imagine the culture shock we experienced walking into San Remo in Red Bank. It was like traveling in a time machine back to an Italian/Jewish grandmother’s house of the 1950’s: the windows of the dining room were covered with heavy brocaded drapes and curtains, which effectively blocked most outside light; chandeliers and candelabras provided dim, subdued interior lighting, and there was soft background music you could actually hear. There were some large hand-painted wall frescoes, and a small faux fireplace, for ambience; had there been a living room, I would have fully expected to see those ubiquitous plastic slipcovers on all the furniture. But don’t let the décor lead you astray: the food is far more contemporary than the furnishings; nothing cutting edge, but tasty, well-prepared classic Italian dishes, with some nightly specials that push the envelope a bit.
As a dedicated soup lover, how could I not order the special soup of the evening in an Italian restaurant, even if it was an unconventional offering? No, not minestrone, pasta fagioli, or Italian Wedding soup, but rather, Seafood Gumbo ($12), and I am very glad I did! Sweet shrimp, shredded Chicken, carrots, potato, and thin discs of spicy chorizo, in a chicken stock broth, made for a very elegant, but deeply flavorful soup.
Fried Calamari ($16.95), lightly breaded, greaseless rings of tender squid, accompanied by a fresh-tasting, mildly spicy tomato sauce for dipping, was a good rendition, but was not appreciably different from the same presentation at numerous other restaurants. I know some people are put off by the tentacles, but I missed them.
One guest raved about her Salad of Fennel and Arugula ($11.95), with toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced strawberries and pineapple, and a luscious vanilla dressing which made the dish.
A special appetizer of the evening, a velvety ball of Burrata cheese ($15.95), plated with discs of grilled zucchini, drizzles of balsamic reduction, and two bruschetta with curls of parmigiana cheese, was tangy and creamy; an ideal light starter.
Barba e Arugula ($10.95), a salad of thinly sliced Beet “Carpaccio,” arugula, goat cheese, sprinkled with sliced toasted almonds, and dressed with a zesty lemon vinaigrette, had all the textural elements in place: crunch from the almonds, lushness from goat cheese, and acidity from the dressing. We would have liked the tangy beets to be more dominant in the dish, but it was a good mix of flavors.
A very generous serving of Veal Danielle ($26.95), sautéed cutlets of tender veal, atop a small mountain of al dente angel hair pasta, slices of wild mushrooms, and coated with a cream sauce with a touch of brandy, was deeply satisfying and one of the favorites of the night.
Equally enjoyable was the herb-encrusted salmon ($27.95), a thick slab of medium rare fish plated with whole shrimp, diced tomatoes, wild mushrooms, and lightly sauced with a very credible Beurre Blanc.
Veal Milanese ($27.95) showcased a thinly pounded veal chop, which was then lightly breaded and fried. Served under a salad of arugula, chopped fresh tomato, olive oil and garlic, the outside was crisp, the meat within, tender and juicy; it was a good rendition of this classic dish.
San Remo is BYOB. We first opened a bottle of one of our favorite Italian white grapes, 2015 Vermentino, from Terre Bianche, produced in Sardinia. The refreshing acidity, saline minerality, with hints of lemons and peaches, made this an ideal aperitif as well as a good companion for the appetizers. Arianna Occhipinti’s 2013 Frappato, made from this lesser known red grape grown in Sicily, was fruity, highly aromatic, and lighter in weight, somewhat reminiscent of a high grade Beaujolais. For a larger scaled red to pair with the richer veal dishes, we opened a Marietta Cellars Christo Lot Number 3, a non-vintage, Rhone style blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier. This bold, California wine carried over 15 percent ABV which was well hidden by the lush, black fruits, and jammy finish.
Homemade cannoli ($9.95), with a crispy shell, freshly filled with cinnamon-scented ricotta cheese, was just sweet enough to sate our sugar craving at the end of the meal. They also offer a variety of commercial fruit sorbets ($9.95) served in the shell.
If you are seeking well prepared traditional Italian food, in a comforting “old-school Italian” setting, with friendly service, and enjoy bringing your own wine selections, conveniently located San Remo, is a good choice for dinner in Red Bank, before a show or play at the nearby venues, or just a relaxing night out.
115 Oakland St.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
This article was first published in the Feb. 8-15, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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