Much has been written over the years about culinary master Dennis Foy. He has been credited with being a driving force in the farm-to-table cuisine movement, and his string of incredibly successful restaurants includes The Tarragon Tree in Chatham, Dennis Foy in Tribeca (Manhattan) and d’floret in Lambertville.
So when news that Foy and his lovely partner and wife, Estella Quinones-Foy, would be bringing their brand to Red Bank, food enthusiasts were naturally enthusiastic. Getting a reservation was a prize, as eager eaters waited for their turn at the new Café Loret.
The restaurant has a great corner location, which allows it to offer patio dining in good weather and a wall of windows that looks out onto Red Bank’s busy streetscape. The minimalistic décor is highlighted by an opposing wall that serves as a gallery for the chef’s original artwork. I especially liked the starry chandeliers that look like sparklers in the sky.
It is a clean, efficient space, with a long banquette on one side. The glassware and tableware is well-chosen; chrome and black leather chairs have a modern European look and feel. The menu, too, reflects this simple, understated energy with hints of American, French and southern European influences. We were a large group and had the chance to sample much of the offerings.
Appetizers include soups du jour, and we tried both. Butternut squash soup was sweet and spiced with autumn flavors, but mushroom soup was the standout. The aroma is powerful and the taste backs it up. It is a robust cream of chanterelle mushrooms with a center of parsnip puree, topped with chanterelle mushrooms. Do try this if it is available.
Another favorite was chilled cucumber salad with tomato confit, shallots and green beans. The warm goat cheese tart over tomato confit with balsamic vinaigrette was tangy and very tender, and tian of crab was a luscious, moist circle of crab. It’s very rich and can be shared by crab lovers.
Now for the entrees. Diner one had slow roasted halibut served with a Jersey corn compote. This was a definite hit. The halibut was served perfectly cooked, and the crunchy, sweet corn compote was a lovely companion. It tasted like a day at the bay.
Diners two and three paired their plates to try the whole roasted Amish chicken for two. Before serving, the whole chicken is brought to the table, then it returns back to the kitchen for carving. It re-emerges on two plates and is served with pomme puree and roasted vegetables. It is quite juicy with almost no seasoning, which gives it a homemade dinner taste. At $28 per person, it seemed a little pricy for chicken, but there is no doubt this is a quality bird.
One of our diners is a vegetarian who selected the gnocchi appetizer served as a dinner-sized portion. The sautéed gnocchi is served with mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and a dusting of chives. The diner enjoyed the dish but felt the gnocchi was very, very soft. Gnocchi should be soft, but if you like yours a little firmer, please ask first, as this was very tender. Still, they were light and pillowy with an earthy taste.
I chose the dry aged sirloin that rests on a bed of fingerling pomme puree, with roasted vegetables. It was a big steak, nicely charred on the outside, but I was looking for just a little more of the robust taste that comes with dry aging. It was good, but perhaps next time I will select a different entrée.
We ordered three desserts, which were all served very simply. In the spirit of autumn, we selected an unusual offering – apple ice cream, with candied nuts and apple chunks. The ice cream delivered on its apple taste, though it does have a bit of a gritty texture. If you like apples, you will enjoy it; if you crave the pure slippery creaminess of ice cream, opt for their homemade vanilla.
We also chose chocolate royale, a dense chocolate mousse medley served in a slice so it is easy to share. This very rich, deeply chocolate delight offers a melt-in-your-mouth cocoa explosion. Our third dessert was a happy lemon meringue pie. It is flat, more like a tart, with a showy toasted topping of swirled meringue. The bright yellow lemon filling is crisply intense, not too sweet or too tangy. We thought the shell was a little hard, but we enjoyed the bright personality of this choice.
In general, Foy fans should be very happy with his latest offering. He has a light hand with seasonings, which pushes the natural flavors to the forefront. Café Loret is high on the radar of foodies all around, so reservations are necessary. BYOB.
What we liked: The very fresh and aromatic dishes, the straightforward and exacting preparation, the tableware, the location. We also appreciated the visits to our table from Chef Foy and his wife, Estella.
What could be better: We understand that this is fine dining, but the pacing of the meal was slow. Also, maybe a few more selections for pasta and vegetarian fans.
We give it 4 and a quarter J’s.
Café Loret is located at 128 Broad St. in Red Bank, 732-430-2250. Open Thursday through Sunday from 4:30 pm to closing; Sunday Brunch served from 11 am to 3:30 pm.