There have been big changes at the Channel Club of Monmouth Beach. Gone is the catering hall that hosted so many weddings and special events. The scenic marina is now home to Abbiocco, and that’s where we headed. This is the offspring of George Chrysanthopoulos, known to many as a board member of Lunch Break. This team clearly took its time creating this elegant and approachable spot. No detail in the décor was skipped – from the creamy beige and white-washed pearl colors, the dark ceiling with stained glass windows, the sophisticated bar, the comfortable leather furniture and scalloped booths, even the glass-walled wine room. There is also a beautiful outdoor waterside dining area for the warm nights of fall. The wait staff is exceptional, swiftly filling glasses and delivering plates. Our server, Jeff, was cheerful, knowledgeable and so much fun to chat with.
We enjoyed a basket of chewy, double-crusted bread with some expertly concocted cocktails. Mine was a specialty drink called the Italian Holiday, a rum-laced blend of citrus and pineapple. It was one of the tastiest drinks I’ve had in a long while. Abbiocco has a competent wine list along with their skillful mixologist’s creations.
We selected three appetizers, each traditional and tasty. The Calamari is golden and comes with a lemon aioli along with marina. For a little fun, they add some battered lemon slices, so see if you can find one. The Insalata Tutto is blend of radicchio, fennel, celery, white beans, soppresisata, topped with shaved parmigiana that tastes like a golden sun-kissed afternoon in Tuscany. The third is simply named Mozzarella with Tomato and Basil. Maybe we hit it on the perfect day, but that assortment of red, green and yellow heirloom tomatoes was the stuff of Jersey tomato fans’ dreams. With the help of Mother Nature, this dish was the snapshot of summer, and I hope yours is just as good.
Now for the entrées. Diner one selected the Salmon Stagione: Faroe Island salmon with artichoke, in a parmigiana broth that had summer squash, peas and carrot. She remarked that the fish was a perfect medium as she requested and that the broth was subtle but nicely flavored which allowed the salmon to shine.
Diner two chose Sorrentino. It’s veal scaloppini with prosciutto, sage, eggplant, tomato and cheese. This diner is not an everyday veal eater, but he was in the mood that night and said, “This is exactly what I wanted.” The veal was not overly pounded, making each bite a meaty mouthful. It was gently prepared, and the quality ingredients gave this dish a leg up.
I picked the Giambotta, a 16-ounce double thick pork chop with sweet and hot peppers. The generous chop is also in a light broth with some peas and onions, and the whole thing is topped with crispy potato chips. Again, simplicity is the rule, and this lovely pork chop had a summery taste, thanks to that broth which is oh so tasty. Our server had the kitchen adjust the hot peppers to my liking, and you can set your own temperature too.
The dessert menu is simple with only four selections, and we were having such a lovely time that we tried three. The first was three scoops of Pistachio Gelato that was as smooth and creamy as the interior design. Our second selection was the Affogato: a scoop of vanilla gelato, which gets a tableside shot of espresso poured on top to create a fragrant, coffee-flavored delight. The Zabaglione has a pronounced amaretto taste, thanks to the crumbled cookie topping. It came with four of the biggest strawberries in the patch, bursting with juicy flavor.
There is plenty of parking with valet available, and it is particularly easy to navigate for wheelchairs too. For a restaurant to start out this strong, we are sure it will quickly become an area favorite, and we look forward to a return visit.
Cost – Moderate to high
What we liked – The lovely interior décor, including the ceilings, with its flowing blend of soft color and varied seating areas; the booths and furniture; the sophisticated bar; the outdoor dining area with wonderful marina views; the well-made cocktails and well-selected wine list; the attentive and engaged staff; the lighting and acoustics; and the big parking lot with available valet.
We give it 4 and a three quarter Js
Abbiocco is located at 33 West St. in Monmouth Beach (at the former Channel Club). 732-229-3131. It is open Monday through Saturday 5 to 10 pm and Sundays 2 to 9 pm.