By Bob Sacks
Surf’s up! In Tinton Falls? For sure, dude! Even though nighttime temperatures have sunk into the 20s, and there are still mounds of dirty snow on the edge of the roads, Woody’s in Tinton Falls provides a welcome escape to the sunny California warmth of the Beach Boys, surfboards, and SoCal/Southwest food. A sister restaurant of the original Woody’s in Sea Bright, this location offers a similar menu and theme of casual food and fun, in a bright, airy setting. Despite the fact that we were miles from the beach, the natural wood tables, surfboards on the walls and open ceilings made for a laid-back seaside feel which welcomed diners of all ages.
Spring Lake Spinach Salad ($14), baby spinach, cubes of roasted sweet potatoes, jicama, crispy chorizo, pumpkin seeds, slivered red onion, queso fresco and avocado ranch dressing, was very fresh and satisfying and indeed lent a summery feel to our meal.
I enjoyed the Poke ($16); cubes of tender tuna, marinated in a soy ginger sauce, garnished with cilantro and black and white sesame seeds, and served with tortilla chips, was a generous serving of high-quality fish. In fact, all of the dishes were more than ample; we saw many diners taking home “doggie bags.”
From a choice of eight different tacos, we opted for The Baja ($12), said to be their “signature” fish taco; mild white fish, lightly breaded and fried, served on a corn tortilla with shredded red cabbage, shredded Jack Cheddar, pico de gallo (diced tomato, onion, cilantro), and “Woody’s secret spicy sauce,” it had great textural interest, but was surprisingly bland. A few squirts of juice from the accompanying lime provided some much needed zip.
We were back on track with the Calamari ($12). Opting for the sweet and sour version, we were rewarded with a large plate of gently breaded, tender rings and crunchy tentacles, drizzled with a rich sauce that tasted of honey and chili sauce, which was hard to stop eating. This dish is worthy of a return visit.
PEI Mussels ($12), sautéed in a flavorful but light, green curry coconut broth, were some of the largest mussels I have seen in a long time. Juicy, totally grit-free, and not overcooked, they were spot-on. The crusty piece of toasted bread that shared the bowl with them was an ideal way to sop up that mildly creamy broth.
There were a number of intriguing-sounding fish entrees offered. We chose a pan-seared Grouper Verde ($28). Plated with perfectly cooked rice and black beans, the fish was sauced with a mildly spicy avocado tomatillo salsa. My only issue was that this gently flavored, tender fish was totally buried under a small mountain of rich, highly flavored salsa, which unfortunately masked the delicate taste of the fish and dominated the plate. I would suggest ordering the sauce on the side and use it for dipping, which would then make this dish an excellent choice.
Honey Glazed Atlantic Salmon ($24) was pretty much an ideal plate of food. Ordered medium rare and served that way, it arrived with fluffy and fragrant coconut rice, and four large fried plantains. The gentle spice of the glaze cut the richness of the fish and all the flavor elements came together nicely.
There is a large menu of cocktails, beers, mixed drinks, tequilas and wines by the glass and bottle. Individual glasses of wine are served in 8.5 ounce quartino mini-carafes, which is a classy touch. I enjoyed the grapefruit/lime freshness of a 2016 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($10 /glass) from New Zealand, and thought it paired well with the more assertively flavored dishes by providing some acidity and zest. 2015 Decoy Chardonnay ($12/glass), a second label from Duckhorn, was mild, pleasant, and not overly oaky, but was too low in minerality and acidity to allow it to be an ideal pairing for most of the dishes. For red wine, a glass of Lyric Pinot Noir ($14) a second label from Etude, was bright, soft, fruit-filled and low in tannin, making it easy to drink and particularly good with the salmon dish.
Dessert anyone? Sure! A slice of traditional Key Lime Pie was correct in every sense. The tender graham crust and creamy, lime filling was an ideal, not too heavy, finale to the meal.
If you can’t escape the cold, gray, dreary weather of our New Jersey winter with a trip south, I can think of no better getaway than a quick visit to Woody’s in Tinton Falls. The spacious dining area, beachy-surfer surroundings, and fresh tasting Cali/Southwest food will instantly transport you away, even if only for an hour or two!
1202 Sycamore Ave. Tinton Falls
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restau- rants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
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