Feb 10, 2020

This Charming Red Bank Eatery Could be the Perfect Spot for Valentine’s Day

By Lori Draz

“Bonne Saint Valentin,” which is, “Happy Valentine’s Day” in French. So, have you guessed what kind of food we selected in this month of l’amour?

We chose the light-hearted Cé La Vi in Red Bank. This little charmer, just off Broad Street, is part backstage at Cirque du Soleil, part children’s book illustration and completely unique. The interior is all black and white with boldly striped walls and Paris-inspired wallpaper. There’s even a miniature Eiffel Tower. Now, this is not French cuisine in the Jacques Pepin sense; it’s fun French for everyone, with loads of crepes, a bistro feel and a wonderful smell of waffles that permeates the air.

We began with two appetizers. The Mediterranean Platter is a colorful combination of vegetables, sliced crostini and a trio of intensely flavored tzatziki sauce, red pepper hummus and olive tapenade. We also tried the classic Spinach Artichoke Dip. Where the first dish was light, the other was a bubbling skillet of creamy spinach, artichoke and cheese sauce served with toasted crostini bread. It is decadently rich and so good. There’s plenty to share and worth the try.

Cé La Vi is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with one menu that runs the gamut from breakfast crepes and waffles, to salads and paninis, to a big selection of savory crepes and burgers, which we have been told are among the best around. I didn’t get to order one, but I’m looking forward to giving one a try.

Now for our entrées. Diner one chose Mediterranean Stuffed Shrimp. These are four jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab and scallop, served on a bed of spinach, sautéed with herbs, garlic, shallots and lemon. The shrimp are really large, and the filling is pure seafood, not breadcrumbs. The flavors were strong but not overpowering, and the dish was so good she took two of the shrimp home.

Diner two chose the savory Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepe which is a breaded chicken cutlet, prosciutto and Swiss cheese, folded into a whole wheat crepe with a Dijon mustard cream sauce and salad on the side. He commented that the authentic flavors were forward, yet restrained enough to be completely enjoyable. He began recalling his own time spent in France, which was a wonderful side effect of a dish that clearly left him satisfied.

Diner three took a lighter approach and combined the French Onion Soup, topped with gruyere cheese with the Goat Cheese Salad. This beautifully assembled plate is ringed with sliced beets and three fried goat cheese balls, arugula and topped with candied walnuts and lemon vinaigrette. Very fresh, this would make a terrific lunch selection as well.

I went true French and picked the Beef Bourguignon, which is a hearty portion of fresh pappardelle and roasted vegetables and short ribs, braised in a red wine sauce. I was surprised at how well-made this dish was and at the large portion. It is earthy, with plenty of fork-tender pieces of short ribs and delicate carrots cut into big, bite-sized chunks. The pappardelle was cooked just right, not too al dente, and I will definitely order this dish again.

The dessert menu offers a myriad of combinations of waffles and crepes and some other dessert items like a flourless chocolate cake, bread pudding and crème brûlée. We neared dessert in as the restaurant seemed to be quietly approaching closing time, and then all of a sudden it was show time. Within minutes, the tables filled with dessert addicts from teenagers to seniors and crepes of all kinds came rushing out. It was clear Cé La Vi is the non-alcoholic nightcap spot at this end of Red Bank. We enjoyed our choices of the dulce de leche crepe which is filled with banana and swimming in a caramel sauce and the zabaglione waffle with mixed berries. The crepe was our favorite, though the attractive and tall waffle was also good. We thought it could have used a dipping syrup. The beverage menu is most impressive with more than two dozen concoctions including espresso, fresh-squeezed orange juice, Nutella hot chocolate and almond joy lattes. Between the crepes, the desserts and the hot chocolates, I would love to know how much whipped cream Cé La Vi uses each month, and I’m sure not a drop is wasted by any of the diners. There is a lightness and playfulness that makes this a great try and a good stop before a Count Basie show.

Parking is on the street. There are no stairs. BYOB.

Cost – low

What we liked – The charming black and white interior, the big beverage menu, the affordable prices, the very fresh and well-made entrees, the youthful energy, the bright but comfortable lighting, the acoustics, the aroma of waffles and crepes and the touches of France in the décor.

What could be better – Perhaps a sampler of cheeses (French of course).

We give it 4 and a half Js

Cé La Vi is located at 16 Monmouth St. in Red Bank. 732-747-0076. CeLaViCafe.com. Open Sunday through Thursday 8 am to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday 8 am to 11 pm.