“The art of cooking” is an oft-used phrase. Many great chefs have elevated food to an art form, but what do you get when an acclaimed artist is a renowned chef as well?
The answer is Dennis Foy, who prepares delicious dishes in his own unique way, with exceptional results. He has returned to the Jersey Shore after a long absence, while creating other restaurants, and has recently opened Café Loret in Red Bank. The emphasis here is true locavore, farm-to-table cuisine that is best described as contemporary American with the intention of making dining tasty, relaxed, and in his words, “a happy experience.” He has succeeded in all respects.
The sleek space is long and airy-feeling, topped with a high ceiling covered with acoustic tile to eliminate the all-too-common high noise level found in many restaurants…bravo! One long wall, running front to back, is devoted to Foy’s distinctive artwork, hung and illuminated gallery-style.
We started with a signature dish, Tian of Crab ($18); a cylinder of sautéed crabmeat, thyme, celery, and shallots, with a streak of aioli sauce on the plate, made for a complex interplay of flavors, providing a lush, but light and satisfying experience.
Tuna Tartare ($16), cubes of tuna, cinnamon apple, cucumber, chive and rice wine vinegar, plated with infused oils, was perfectly balanced, fresh tasting, and resonated with sweet, savory and mildly acidic notes. Excellent!
A preview of autumn was found in the Butternut Squash Soup ($14). Amazingly, there is no cream in this, despite the rich, creamy texture and silky mouthfeel. We learned at a follow-up conversation that the stock for this is made from all the trimmings, the flesh of the squash slow-roasted, and that each bowl is produced to order.
A special of Puree of Golden Chanterelle Soup ($16); local chanterelle mushrooms with a dollop of parsnip mousseline and chive in the center of the bowl, was quite good, but would have been even better with a bit more assertive seasoning.
Dish of the Night went to the Amish Whole Roast Chicken for Two ($52). Cooked from scratch for each order, the moist, juicy, deftly seasoned organic chicken is plated with an excellent potato puree and perfectly roasted carrots. A great example of utilizing a few fine ingredients, skillfully prepared, to create a memorable dish.
The fish lover in me was drawn to a special of Ahi Tuna ($42); seared rare, with confit of tomato, fennel, slices of orange, roasted garlic and olives, chunks of sushi-grade tuna were done admirable justice by combining them with a bit of each of the accompaniments in every mouthful. Yum!
One guest was very happy with his Halibut ($39); two generous slabs of moist fish shared the plate with a local sweet corn compote, roasted garlic, and sauté of diced potato, in a light butter sauce, which all came together to complement one another, making it impossible to leave unfinished.
Café Loret is BYO. We started with white: 2007 Fevre Chablis Les Clos was pure mineral and acidity, with a lemony-like crispness that worked well to balance the crab, tuna tartare and squash soup. Of the two reds we opened, 2002 El Nido Clio, a Spanish red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre, was lighter bodied, with soft tannins and notes of black cherry, and paired well with the chicken and fish dishes; fully mature, it will hold a bit longer. A 1995 Pahlmeyer Red Blend of predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with touches of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, etc., was bigger, more fruit forward, and richer. Will hold for many years.
Chef Foy is an accomplished pastry chef as well, and makes all the desserts himself. Lemon Tart with Meringue ($9) is not curd based, but rather a lemon zabaglione and was deeply flavored, but light and not overly sweet.
Apple Pie (Mom’s Recipe) with Apple Ice Cream and toasted walnuts ($9) was our favorite dessert, but picking one over the other was pretty hard to do. The texture of the pie with the firm apples and soft crust, creamy ice cream, and crunch of the walnuts was addictive.
Chocolate Royal ($9), a disc-shaped mousse made of semi-sweet and bitter-sweet Valrhona chocolates, was set atop a base of hazelnut praline (flakes of hazelnut, white chocolate, and hazelnut puree), resulting in both richness and airy lightness at the same time.
Chef Dennis Foy’s passion for both food and art is readily apparent when you step inside Café Loret, visually and in the harmony of his dishes. Does his skill as an artist inspire him to be an exceptional chef, or does his talent in the kitchen stimulate him to create striking artwork? You decide!
128 Broad St., Red Bank
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob. Read his reviews here.
This article was first published in the Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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