Iron Chef José Garces, who had three restaurants rocking at the Revel when it shut down in 2014, has returned to the Boardwalk with two winning concepts in the Tropicana. Olón, devoted to the raptures of South American seafood—raw, marinated or cooked—faces the Atlantic through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. On a slender patio, one can sit in summer sipping a tropical cocktail. The entrance to Okatsche is through a disguised door inside an inconspicuous little candy shop next to Olón’s expansive bar. Wink, wink. Step inside and settle into a darkly atmospheric Japanese izakaya and sushi bar.
Tropicana, 2831 Boardwalk, 609-340-4050
Like its former sister restaurant A Toute Heure, 100 Steps is a new restaurant under new ownership. The raw bar still glistens under new owner Jack Tagmouti and new chef Joe Beninato, whose pedigree includes the Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick and the glory days of Ursino in Union. Beninato brings creativity to seafood, as evidenced by a marvelous recent fillet of orange roughy with apples, cipollini onions and kohlrabi in a cashew brown-butter purée. He and Tagmouti have added more meat to the menu, like a ravishing lamb shank braised in chicken stock and (we kid you not) root beer. All breads, burger buns and pastries are baked in-house.
215 Centennial Avenue, 908-276-0153
In one of Monmouth County’s smallest towns, Randy (the chef) and Ally Forrester have made a big statement about the vibrancy of Italian cooking. The young yet experienced and well-traveled couple’s frequently changing menu features sybaritic pastas like cannelloni with marsala-braised duck, and mains like bone-in lamb with honey-brined olives. Their 24-seat byo is worth seeking out.
4 South Main Street, 609-223-2395
Chef Phil Manganaro’s BYO serves dinner just three nights a week and has just 32 seats, but that’s not why it’s so hard to get a table. It’s the stunning food, adventurous and wide-ranging, and the genuine hospitality. Manganaro excels at seafood, meat and pasta, no mean feat. Examples include his white sturgeon with foraged mushrooms, his Colorado lamb shank with chanterelles and terrific pappardelle with venison Bolognese. See review.
7 East Park Avenue, 856-662-2200
Chef Leah Cohen made her name at Pig & Khao, a skinny storefront on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that injected youthful shazam into Southeast Asian flavors, especially of the Philippines, her mother’s home turf. About 10 Pig & Khao storefronts could fit into the glass-walled space in the Harborside development that houses Piggyback Bar. The food and cocktails are as piquant and professional as they are playful, but ogling Lower Manhattan through those windows adds a shazam all its own.
200 Hudson Street, 201-345-7775