At Milford Oyster House in Milford, you naturally expect to get sparklingly fresh oysters. And you do. But are there other reliable choices? Read Jill P. Capuzzo's review.
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Based on its name and its location a few blocks from the Delaware River, you might expect Milford Oyster House to sport a casual, dockside vibe. But despite a blue-and-white color scheme and nautical wall hangings, this long-running Hunterdon County restaurant feels more like a country inn, thanks to its massive stone fireplace, exposed beams and stenciled tin chandeliers. The mixed messages continue. On two recent visits on busy nights, service ranged from hurried and impersonal to overly attentive, and food either hit just the right notes of freshness and flavor or seemed tired and predictable.
Chef and co-owner Ed Coss says the seafood concept came with the restaurant, which he purchased in 1997, when it had been open 15 years. “It fit a lot of criteria I was looking for in my first restaurant: size, affordability, great reputation,” says Coss, a CIA graduate who previously cooked at the Inn of the Hawke in Lambertville, the Marquis de Lafayette in Cape May and the Ryland Inn in Whitehouse. “I had plenty of seafood experience from working at the Shore, so I wasn’t afraid of that.”
The best food we tried was, appropriately enough, the oysters. Sparklingly fresh Fisher Islands from Block Island were bracingly briny, and sweeter Peale Passages from Washington State had a pleasing cucumber finish.
Chesapeake Bay oysters, lightly breaded and flash fried, were deliciously juicy. Alas, the same cannot be said for broiled flounder Florentine, which was chewy and bland; sea scallops, described as sautéed, had no discernable browning. Stacked in a pyramid, they were topped with a sprightly tomato-leek sauce. Halibut mornay needed a little more time in the sauté pan. Much of the protein in the combined shellfish stew and shrimp-and-scallop scampi was notably overcooked, turning the lobster tail, normally the prized item, rubbery. The kitchen did better with our one landlubber choice, filet mignon, cooked as ordered and bathed in a luxurious cabernet glace de veau reduction.
Among appetizers, a favorite was smoked lemon-pepper mackerel with zesty lime mayonnaise. Sautéed mushrooms in balsamic cream sauce deserved no beauty prize but delivered rich, punchy flavor. If you’re a garlic fanatic, try the garlic salad, with a Caesar-like dressing that Coss says includes “lots and lots of garlic”—a little too much for one of my dining companions.
Desserts, made by pastry chef Mike McGovern (except the cheesecake, from co-owner Amy, Coss’s sister), lean heavily toward chocolate. “It’s what the customers want,” Coss says. German chocolate cake was dry, but the thick icing nicely married silky chocolate with shredded coconut crunch. Crêpes came with three scoops of ice cream in delicious chocolate sauce. Espresso-chocolate pudding offered intense dark chocolate flavor but grainy texture. Coconut-cashew pie was gummy. Best dessert? Peanut butter gateau—fluffy peanut butter cheesecake topped with chocolate ganache.