Restaurant Review: Anjelica’s

December 5, 2018
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By Bob Sacks |

Why would people go out to dinner the night before a big Thanksgiving Day feast? Why aren’t they home cooking? Going easy on the calories before the massive carb-fest and post-meal turkey coma? Anjelica’s is why!

This Southern Italian restaurant in Sea Bright has been wildly popular for more than two decades. So crowd-pleasing that local folks and those from further afield keep it humming, no matter what night of the week or time of year.

Juicy and tender grilled octopus sat on a tasty bed of warm fresh cannellini beans flecked with bits of crispy pancetta.

An appetizer of Grilled Octopus ($16) was excellent; two large tentacles, sitting on a bed of warm, fresh cannellini beans flecked with crispy bits of pancetta, were dressed with aged balsamic vinegar and topped off with a sprinkling of microgreens. The octopus was tender, meaty and juicy, with no trace of chewiness.

A special of the night, Shaved Artichoke Salad ($14) was refreshing and light. Artichokes were plated with baby arugula and thin curls of shaved pecorino cheese, all in a citrusy vinaigrette, which popped with the addition of some squeezed lemon juice and a twist of fresh black pepper.

An infrequently seen special offering, Crostone ($18), the Italian word for “crust,” is best described as a large bruschetta. In this rendition, a generous hunk of toasted multigrain was slathered with a layer of creamy house-made ricotta, pieces of roasted butternut squash, and capped with piquant caramelized onions. The rich ricotta contrasted well with the mellow squash and jam-like onions. This is definitely an appetizer to share.

Shaved Artichoke Salad with curls of pecorino and baby arugula, was a light and refreshing starter.

Another special not to be missed if offered, was a Farro Salad ($16). Farro is an ancient grain derived from wheat and resembles a nuttier, pleasantly chewier version of brown rice. Here it was served warm, mixed with goat cheese, fresh spinach, pieces of crunchy cauliflower and cubes of butternut squash, making for a perfect blend of flavors and textures. Excellent.

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The pastas are fresh homemade. We opted for Orecchiette with Sausage ($28) and were very happy. The “little ears” of al dente pasta were mixed with pieces of lean, flavorful sweet sausage, and broccoli rabe cut into crunchy bite-sized pieces – not at all bitter – with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese playing a supporting role. This was a favorite.

Cacio e Pepe ($28), a classic dish (in this case spaghetti), is essentially just pasta, cheese and pepper, so all of the ingredients must be of the highest quality, and they were. The three elements were in perfect balance, but we would have preferred another minute or two cook on the pasta to render it more tender.

An entrée of Veal Milanese Salad ($28) showcased slices of thinly pounded and fried veal scallopini as the star on the plate, with a small salad of arugula, red onion, cherry tomatoes and curls of pecorino creating contrast to the crisp texture of the veal.

A favorite of the night, Seared Black Sea Bass, shared the bowl with plump mussels and clams in the shell, and a chopped clam-studded broth.

Fresh Branzino ($46) was offered either whole on the bone, or filleted in the kitchen; my guest chose the latter. The large, moist piece of white fish, was served simply with lemon and parsley, wedges of roast- ed fingerling potatoes, and charred artichoke hearts. My dish of the night was a special of Black Sea Bass ($36). The perfectly seared filets of fish were juicy and succulent, served in a bowl with some large mussels and clams in the shell, Fregola (small balls of toasted semolina pasta), and finished with a white clam sauce which contained numerous bits of chopped clams. This dish was a conversation stopper for me, as it commanded all of my attention.

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The wine lover in me is always happy when the restaurant is BYO, and that is the case with Anjelica’s.

We opened a 2012 Brovia Roero Arneis for our white wine. Made of 100 percent Arneis grape from the Piedmont region of Italy, this was crisp and dry, with floral aromas and a hint of roasted nuts. It paired perfectly with the octopus, both salads, and the Crostone. Arneis can sometimes be very acidic, but that was not the case here.

We also opened a red wine: 2014 Uccelliera Rapace. This wine from Tuscany is a blend of Sangiovese-Cabernet-Merlot, and is made by Uccelliera, a well-known producer of excellent Brunello di Montalcinos, so my expectations were high, and I was not disappointed. The wine was ready to drink and had plenty of ripe fruit with soft tannins, and just enough acidity to hold it all in check. It was very enjoyable with the pastas, veal and even the black bass. Worth seeking out.

We had no room for dessert, so that will be on my list for my return visit in the near future.

By the end of our meal, I understood why Anjelica’s was packed with people even on the night before The Thanksgiving Eatathon. The food was that good!

ANJELICA’S RESTAURANT
1070 OCEAN AVE.
SEA BRIGHT
732-842-2800
ANJELICAS.COM

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 Nov. 29-Dec.5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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