We are in Ocean Grove and step into SeaGrass, a storefront restaurant. Next to the reception desk, we admire a large, all glass, saltwater aquarium. The high-ceilinged room displays big framed paintings of brightly colored fish along the length of the walls, front to back. So, it should be no surprise that this place offers a wide variety of fish and shellfish, but they also have a number of selections for landlubbers: steak, lamb, pork, and duck, as well as pastas. However, that night, we were there to focus on food from the sea.
For starters we chose a Ahi Tuna Tartar ($12); although it’s frequently seen on many menus of diverse cuisines, it is done quite well here and worth ordering. An ample cylinder of cubed ahi tuna atop diced avocado, seaweed slaw, sesame soy, and addictive, crispy fried wontons for textural contrast, was creamy, nicely balanced, and very satisfying.
Harvest Salad ($12), mixed field greens, gorgonzola, candied walnuts, Craisins and crisp apples, dressed with a refreshing raspberry vinaigrette, was a perfect light starter.
An appealing variation on a classic, Red Beet Carpaccio ($10) was plated with Champagne crème, crumbled fresh goat cheese, and toasted hazelnuts, and a small salad of baby arugula, dressed with herb-infused olive oil and vinegar. The thinly sliced roasted beets were sweet and meaty, but inexplicably, the salad on one order was dressed perfectly, the other, too heavy a hand with the vinegar.
A luxurious Lobster Risotto, with small hunks of the shellfish, was excellent, and played a supporting role by providing a different makeup to the Herb Encrusted Alaskan Halibut ($30), sauced with Beurre Blanc; also sharing the plate was a small citrus arugula salad. We really liked the cook time, firm texture, and freshness of the fish, but had one minor quibble: we wished for a little more sauce on the plate to better flavor its mild taste.
A special of the night, Pan Roasted Grouper ($27), served in a deeply flavored broth of fresh tomatoes, fennel, white wine, and garlic, with steamed PEI mussels ringing the plate, was flat-out delicious.
A miss was the Baked East Coast Cod ($27). Topped with lobster and seasoned breadcrumbs, lemon, butter, a bed of tasty Red Bliss potato mash, and an asparagus bouquet, it had been cooked just past ideal, rendering it mushy, and was too heavily salted for my guest’s taste.
Well-browned on the outside, sweet, tender, and juicy inside, Seared Jumbo Day Boat Scallops ($28) sat over pea, tomato and asparagus risotto. The lushness of the scallops was set off by the less rich risotto which, not surprisingly, did not seem as interesting when tasted side by side with the Lobster Risotto. Nevertheless, this dish earned high marks from all of us at the table, and should not be missed.
Happily for wine lovers, SeaGrass is BYO. For my taste (pun intended), the all-one-size wine glasses are OK for whites, but a bit small for red wines; better than many, but if you are bringing the level of wine that this ambitious food deserves, you might want to tote along a few of your own large glasses. We opened two whites displaying an interesting contrast in wine making approaches: 2014 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay; traditional California style, with lots of pear and apple fruit, lots of oak, and 14.5 percent ABV, was pleasant but lacked complexity; and a 2010 Sandhi Sanford and Benedict Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, a relatively new winery that is part of a movement to less oak and lower alcohol (13.5 percent ABV), in the quest for more balance, a la France. This had discernible fruit, tempered with a mineral quality, and some bright acidity. A perfect wine to cut through the richer fish dishes. One of my guests never met a white wine he liked, so he brought a 2014 J. Lohr Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir: fruity, with a whisper of acidity, soft, uncomplicated and easy to drink.
Of the six dessert choices, we chose one of the three house-made offerings, and were very happy with the Pumpkin Cheesecake ($8). Creamy, but light, it tasted of pumpkin and spices, and was not overly sweet. I really liked this. There was also a tempting sounding Key Lime Pie, but that will have to wait for a return visit to be sampled.
Summer is gone, and it’s too cold to dine outside at the tables in front, but you can still get a taste of the Jersey Shore inside at SeaGrass. Sit on one of the spacious banquettes that span the center of the room and one wall, or at a table, and choose from a wide variety of fish, shellfish, and meats; gaze at the aquarium, and enjoy a relaxing evening in Ocean Grove.
68 Main Ave.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here.
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