Monday, July 19, 2010

On the Road Eats: New Jersey

Plans for a recent trip down to the Jersey Shore were thwarted by weather reports of an 80 percent chance of heavy rain. Though the skies remained ominous all day, the rain never materialized. So, in the late afternoon my dining companion and I set off anyway for dinner at Bay Avenue Trattoria, in Highlands, NJ. Yes, we had made a dinner reservation even for a trip to the beach. We had a car, but Highlands is actually accessible by ferry from New York City.

We made it down early and decided to walk around the beach in nearby Sea Bright, NJ. Our parking spot seemed fortuitous — right in front of an ice cream shop with one of the funniest names I've ever heard of for for an establishment, Gracie and the Dudes. So, how could we resist a little pre-dinner snack?

There's something about being near the beach that makes me feel carefree, that stirs the child in me, making ice cream a perfect, almost necessary treat when I'm near the sand and sea.  The small size here was actually a two-scoop cone, so I of course chose two different flavors — peanut butter cups and strawberry; I so rarely opt for something so basic, but strawberry was one of my favorites when I was a kid. Admittedly, they were not the most complementary flavors, but nonetheless the ice cream was wonderfully tasty and exceeded my expectations.

Bay Avenue Trattoria is on a small street, not right on the shore, but nearby. It's a small, unassuming Italian joint but one with a chef that has been a James Beard Award nominee. My dining companion and I wanted to focus on seafood dishes, but given that it is an Italian restaurant, we thought the pastas were probably a good bet as well.

We started with the jumbo lump crab cake that came with a jalapeƱo remoulade. This was a terrific, chunky rendition with large pieces of sweet crab, the way it should be, and minimal breading. And I couldn't help but dip every bite into the remoulade.

The Seafood Pescatore was a bowl of shrimp, scallops, clams & pieces of fish simmered in a white wine garlic broth. The plate was plentiful with seafood and the pasta was deeply infused with the flavor of the oceany creatures.

For our dip into the pasta plates, we chose the cavatelli and broccoli rabe with home made wild boar sausage, roasted peppers and Locatelli cheese. This was an excellent dish with a lot of garlic, but also strong flavor and juiciness from the broccoli rabe.

So, even without a day at the beach, Bay Avenue Trattoria is reason enough to go down the shore.

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