Nov 17, 2020

Dining Farm-to-Table at ‘Semolina Restaurant’ in Red Bank

By Lori Draz

With the spirit of the harvest season in our hearts, we headed off to one of the area’s most popular farm-to-table spots, Semolina Restaurant in Red Bank. Semolina is run by brothers Chuck and Tylar Lesbirel who have cultivated a fan club of people who remember them from their times at David Burke’s Fromagerie in Rumson, Raven and the Peach in Fair Haven, Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, the Atlantic Highlands Yacht Club and Little Beet Table in New York City.

The compact space at Semolina Restaurant feels almost like a European country kitchen with white walls decorated with framed black and white oil paintings of cows by Fair Haven’s fine artist Jen Donaldson. It is a simple, clean space that extends to the white tableware. The enthusiastic staff is well-informed of the menu items. Farm-to-table dining is a matter of taste. While much of the published menu is available, there are specials and menu modifications based on the seasonal availability of some ingredients. The restaurant staff is proud to share the list of local purveyors where they source their high-quality ingredients. Additionally, the restrictions of the current times have them running a tight ship on the length of stay at your table, requesting diners limit their visits to an hour and half.

We were served a basket of warm, rustic bread with a chewy crust as the server opened our wine. We began with three appetizers. Our first was irresistibly named Jersey Girl Burrata with shaved local carrots, walnut pesto and pickled cranberries. The burrata was extremely creamy, and it is a lovely dish. I thought the topping was a little strong for this delicate cheese, but again, its’s a matter of taste. Our second selection was the Roasted Beet and Bread Salad with red onions, cashews and gorgonzola cheese, topped with carefully chosen and placed sorrel leaves, which gave a bright green contrast to the deeply colored beets. The beets are cooked to just-tender, and the big chunks need to be cut with a knife. If you like your beets closer to raw, you will enjoy this. Also in the salad are chunks of a rustic bread, like croutons, which soak up some of the juices, making them a little soft to the bite. Our third pick was the Crispy Hen of the Woods Mushroom with a caramelized onion dipping sauce. This is a showy but delicate mushroom, and the crisp is light. The onion dipping sauce was a nice companion, and I could see it going beautifully with so many other things.

Now for the entrées. Diner one selected the East Coast Halibut, with a dark, crunchy crust that looked nice against the snow white fish. It comes served atop creamed local kale. I loved the salty topping, but our diner thought it was a little strong. The flaky halibut is a good-sized portion, and she finished her entire entrée without feeling overstuffed.

Diner two chose the Ricotta Agnolotti with pumpkin, sage and brown butter, sprinkled with spiced pumpkin seeds. Our diner appreciated seeing this selection, which is not common to many menus. These little purses were packed with a lovely, creamy cheese. I recognize that cooking this pasta is a tightrope, but for me it was a little al denté. Let them know if you want it well cooked.

I chose the Cocoa Fettuccine with pork ragu, local figs, parmesan and rosemary. It’s a dark, earthy dish. The unsweetened cocoa gives a deep brown color to the pasta that is a visual cue for overall taste of this densely flavored dish. If your tastebuds run to the delicate side, you may want to try another item, but if you’re in the mood for complex flavors, give this a try. The pasta was well-cooked and tender.

The dessert menu offers three choices, and we tried two. The Fresh Zeppolis are dusted with cinnamon sugar and come with local apple butter for a fall-flavored dip. They were golden, fluffy and lightly sweet. We also chose the Honey and Lavender Panna Cotta with local figs, hazelnut crumble and vincotto. It’s a beautiful dish, topped with edible flowers. It was nice to find panna cotta on the menu, and the taste and texture were a nice finish without being too sweet.

There is plenty of municipal parking near the restaurant. BYOB.

 

Cost – Moderate

What we liked – The quality ingredients curated from numerous small local farms, the tableware and the clean, crisp interior

We give it 4 and a half Js

Semolina Restaurant is located at 13 White St. in Red Bank. 732-945-6816. It is open Monday through Saturday from 5 to 9 pm and Sunday from 4 to 9 pm. SemolinaRestaurant.com