B2 Bistro + Bar has a cool name and a chill vibe to go with it. It occupies the space of the former Blu restaurant and has a revivalist industrial feel, with brick walls, exposed heating pipes, and a bank of tall windows, kind of Chelsea Market-style. There are two rooms: the bar, which has pub-height tables, and a dining room. Owners Andrew Rasizer and Cesare “Chez” De Chellis have clearly spared few expenses on everything from the plates to the open kitchen, and they wrapped it up with a “city influence.” You can tell the team has good culinary training. And we were pleasantly surprised to find out that everything is made there, right down to the bread and butter, using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. The enthusiastic staff seems to really want you to enjoy things, and we had to keep them involved, as we needed frequent help with the menu. I’m not quite sure why it’s as cryptic as it is; I guess it’s cool to use a free range style, but I found the menu design more tiresome than exciting. I don’t want to have to guess what this or that means; I want to feel more in command of my choices than this menu allows. That being said, we enlisted a lesson from our server and we were off.
We were served an opening basket of bread with an incredibly delicious bowl of goat milk butter. Everyone enjoyed it very much. We started with a charcuterie of three cheeses: a creamy Challerhocker, a light blue Cambazola, and a savory Emmental, served with house-made pickles, crostini, and Prosciutto Di Parma, sliced pastry-sheet thin on a Berkel slicer, the Cadillac of meat slicers. We also ordered the Clam offering from the Dough section of the menu, which we learned means pizza in B2 Bistro + Bar speak. It came topped with big juicy chopped clams, an abundant amount of garlic, and arugula. The pizza is large enough for sharing, but it could serve as a personal entrée. The pizza showed off the wood-burning pizza oven that is the centerpiece of the open kitchen.
The wine list is large and quite interesting, with a comprehensive selection of well-priced wines by the glass and red and white sangria. The long bar offers 16 different craft brewed beers, many from local and micro brewers. There is a happy hour.
For our entrees, our first guest chose the daily special, a blackened sea bass, served over a salad. The smallish portion of fish was well-cooked, and the arugula-based salad was loaded with just-picked yellow pear tomatoes. Our second guest chose the shaved pork, which came with an intriguing combination of plums and cantaloupe, dressed with what was weakly seasoned mustard vinaigrette. Again, that menu tripped us up. The portion was small plate/appetizer-sized, which looked oddly small compared to our three other dishes. It’s pretty mildly flavored, too, in comparison to the other dishes. Guest three selected the half roasted chicken that is served with a side of heirloom tomatoes, croutons, and avocados – or at least that is what the menu described. The actual dish came with a puzzling assortment of mystery vegetables, which were still quite tasty, but a little confusing. The chicken was quite good; well-cooked and juicy with a nice “off-the-grill” char to the skin. I selected the slow-cooked pig, which is served with a sweet and sour raspberry sauce with bitter greens, topped with a beer glaze. I really liked this dish. It is made of shredded and compacted pork shoulder, a very flavorful cut of meat, and finished with a crusty oven-toasted top that showcases the pork flavor at its best.
We tried three desserts, each of which were very interesting and richly flavored, but small enough that we finished them all. Here again, the hip-style ruled and the platings tried so hard to make a statement, but fell short of the mark for visual appeal. Our caramel goat cheese cheesecake was very creamy and the clear taste of goat cheese was tempered by a rich caramel sauce, topped with pistachio and an elegantly thin graham tuile on top, but it was served in a mason jar. I’m sure there are lines down 14th Street in the Meat Packing District where people eat cheesecake in a jar, but I’m much more of a traditionalist. The trio of egg-shaped sorbet scoops, served on a huge white plate, was densely flavored and very satisfying. We also had crème brulee that was amazingly rich, creamy, and delicious, but the presentation seemed to distract from its tastiness. This crème brulee comes served in a darkly colored stoneware ramekin that looks like a mini-chili bowl. Perfectly sized to cover the entire top is a black cookie – black, on a dark ramekin, making it look burned. We bravely lifted the cookie and it tasted yummy, and the top cracked with a loud snap to reveal the tasty goodness below. That cookie seemed to make the dessert look like it was trying a little too hard. In general, that may be the thing; the food is good enough that they don’t have to work so hard. The coffee is a real winner, served in a large French press. There is a children’s menu available, but this probably not the first pick for a place to eat with kids.
The cost: Moderate
What we liked: The quality ingredients; the fact that everything is made there, even the butter; the large selection of wines and craft beers; and the free parking lot
What could be better: The silverware (like everything else, it’s top quality, but so weighty it slides into the bowls); the explanation of the dishes on the menu; the hard-to-follow menu (did I mention the menu?)
We give it 4 J’s.
B2 Bistro + Bar is located at 141 Shrewsbury Avenue in Red Bank. Call (732) 268-8555 or visit www.b2bistro.com.