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Ocean Avenue Kitchen 

By Lori Draz

One of the greatest Superstorm Sandy success stories is Sea Bright, which has been on a steady and quite impressive rebuilding campaign. As the rebirth of this town continues, many new businesses have joined the Sea Bright landscape. Among them is a new restaurant called Ocean Avenue Kitchen (OAK). OAK is located, no surprise, on Ocean Avenue. It was a bitterly cold and windy night when we visited. The front of the restaurant is a wall of glass windows that will be a treat in the bustling summer months but was downright chilly in the winter, so if you want a window seat, bring a sweater. The look is minimalistic – blue and beige walls and wooden tables and chairs. It was hard to tell if the interior reflected the finished look of the design statement or if it was a work in progress. The lighting is nice as are the acoustics. We were brought a basket of bread, and the owner stopped by for one of a couple visits that night. He seemed genuinely concerned that each patron has a good meal. After listening to the specials, our server opened our wine and we placed our appetizer order.

We chose three. The Baked Clams are a good-sized portion of local little neck clams made in the classic oreganata style. They were true to the traditional recipe of this dish. Our second choice was a showier selection called Shrimp Sugo, which was a nicely plated combination of sautéed shrimp, pancetta, cremini mushrooms, grape tomato, garlic, shallots, herbs, brandy and a hint of cream served on crostini. The combination of flavors was really good; that coupled with the pretty presentation is why this is one of the most popular appetizers and worth a try. Our third was the crispy eggplant with fresh rosemary in clover honey. The eggplant was beautifully done – golden in color and not greasy. I don’t think of putting honey with eggplant, but this Spanish-inspired flavor combo really worked. I could have eaten the whole order on my own.

I mentioned it was cold that night, so soup was in order. They offer two, and we tried both. The OAK Chowder is a rich, creamy New England-style bowl of locally harvested clams, celery, onion, bacon and potatoes. The robust soup had good solid seafood taste. I had the Five Lilly Soup, an inspired name that caught this writer’s attention. It’s described as “Spanish red onions, shallots, leaks and garlic are the five lilies used to make OAK’s rendition of classic onion soup,” and I just had to try it. In the end, it was classic onion soup, but digging through the thick layer of melted Gruyere cheese was a heavenly exercise. The soups were a toasty, warm treat, and both were good enough to add to your meal.

Now for the entrées. Diner one selected the Fettucine Al Burro which is a very comforting combination of sautéed peas, pancetta, garlic, shallots and herbs in a light cream sauce. It’s a big steamy bowl and the light touch on the cream made it a meal you could eat without feeling over-stuffed. I would ask for pepper.

Diner two chose the Grilled Certified Imported Scottish Salmon which was well-cooked and well-plated, resting on a bed of whipped potatoes topped with asparagus spears. On the other side was a bed of asparagus sauce and melted leaks. Our diner really enjoyed the dish and was especially fond of the asparagus sauce.

Diner three had the Seared Scallops. He asked for them to be well-done and the chef delivered the crispy edged, firm scallops that he requested and enjoyed. The plating was fun – the scallops sat in the four corners of the plate, separated by sautéed spinach, with a band of vegetable Israeli couscous in the center that was flanked by red bell pepper coulis. It is a pretty pick and not too heavy, especially if you have had a bowl of creamy chowder to start.

Maybe it was the cold night or my surprise at seeing such a home-kitchen style selection, but I picked the Salisbury Steak which was a big patty of chopped Angus beef with caramelized onion purée, with carrots and peas and whipped potatoes and mushroom onion gravy. It delivered that familiar flavor, and the beef had a really nice char. Nothing fancy – just tasted like a meal your mom would make, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Now for the desserts. OAK does not show a dessert menu, but the night we were there they offered three and we tried them all. The crème brulée had a nice crack and color, though the inside was very soft. If you prefer yours on the creamy side, you might try this. The rice pudding is served in a very homey bowl, topped with whipped cream and dusted with cinnamon. I would have preferred a bit more vanilla or even bourbon, but the creamy dish had a nice snowy Sunday feel. Our third was a chocolate mousse cake. This was our favorite. It stood close to three inches tall with a deeply chocolate crust and topped in chocolate shavings. The mousse middle was very light without sacrificing any of the cocoa punch. They may or may not be available on your visit. The coffee was fresh, and the bathroom was tidy. BYOB.

Cost – Moderate

What we liked– The sincere owner, the straightforward menu, the location.

What could be better – A little more décor and a few more desserts. A kids menu would be nice and maybe one or two more entrees.

We give it 4 and a quarter J’s.

Ocean Avenue Kitchen is located at 1132 Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright. 732-747-5200. Ocean Avenue Kitchen is open Wednesday to Saturday 5 to 10pm. Closed Sunday to Tuesday.

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