Executive Chef at Shore Restaurant Wows

Ama is Latin for "love," as well as the name of a Tuscan town. It's also a spectacular Sea Bright restaurant, where a young chef puts out stunning dishes.

Press dinners are usually a win-win for all. The chef has a chance to strut his stuff, and we have the opportunity to experience his or her culinary abilities—or lack thereof. At Ama, the very talented 26-year-old executive chef, Chuck Lesbriel, wowed us. He has been at Ama since it opened in 2012, and was named executive chef in the spring of 2014. Previously, he was executive chef at Raven and the Peach, Fair Haven.

Ama, which is located on the second floor of the Driftwood Cabana Club, is owned by the Stavola family who have been its proprietors since 1957. Sit at the bar and watch the sunset over the Shrewsbury River or sink into the comfy padded leather chairs in the Tuscan-inspired dining room and view the Atlantic Ocean. Before being seated, check out the tempting antipasti selections that are displayed on a granite buffet table. Peruse the menu while munching on the crusty, hot Italian round bread from Brooklyn Bread Company, which you can dip into the Ama Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. The olive oil is quite tasty and available to purchase, as are the wines from the wine list.

Ama has a special salad which changes monthly and features a seasonal ingredient. Ours featured blood oranges with thinly sliced heirloom yellow and red raw beets, toasted hazelnuts, fresh mint, shaved fennel and a very light and refreshing blood-orange dressing. A beautifully composed salad of fresh-shucked peas with finely chopped red onion, mint, crispy pancetta enhanced with a lemon and extra-virgin olive oil dressing was served in a radicchio cup and with a soup spoon to make eating the peas easier.

Two tastings of pasta followed: a delicate dish of fussili with lemon zest and fava beans topped with Grana Padano and a rich and satisfying bowl of rigatoni with crumbled Italian sausage, English peas, tomato, cream and Parmigiano Reggiano.

The Brooklyn bread found its way as cubes in our next course of Prince Edward Island mussels swimming in a pleasing San Marzano tomato and fresh basil sauce; another example of the chef using a deft hand and allowing the ingredients to shine.

Butternut squash, pomegranate seeds and faro surrounded a fresh-tasting, crisp bronzino filet with a citrus gremolata. Another stunner was a medium-rare rib eye seasoned with course herbs and olive oil served with baby spinach and potatoes.

The base of a glass held a rhubarb marmellata (jam) that provided a sweet counterpoint for a sheep milk yogurt panna cotta, topped with pieces of almond cake and strawberry halves, while a semi-frozen Meyer lemon semifreddo was also a real treat with its’ lip smackin’ acidity. Also enjoyed was a visually pleasing creamy ricotta cheesecake, artistically topped with dried orange slices and strawberries.

Wines & beverage director Beau Keegan, who earned his sommelier degree from L’ecole de Savignac in France, has a totally revamped wine program with a new wine list, new specially priced monthly wines available at retail, and new monthly winemaker dinners. The majority of these wines are not available in retail markets.

Keep in mind if you dine here that the following daily specials are offered: Tuesday, half-off bottles of wine on Ama’s entire list and limitless spaghetti and meatballs for $15; Wednesday half off all pasta dishes and half off select wines by the glass; Thursday, half off all cocktails and a free bowl of mussels with two or more entrees; Friday, 5 to 6 PM, three-course, prix-fixe for $30 and 5 to 7 PM Happy Hour; Saturday, 5 to 6 PM, three-course, prix-fixe for $30; and Sunday no corkage fee and a three-course, prix-fixe for $30.

Ama Ristorante is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 5 PM and Sunday at 4 PM.

Here is a recipe from executive chef, Chuck Lesbriel for Blood Orange salad:

BLOOD ORANGES AND SHAVED FENNEL WITH BEETS, MINT, AND HAZELNUTS

2 Blood oranges (segmented and extra juice reserved)
1 Fennel bulb
3 Baby Beets (color doesn’t matter)
4 Mint leaves
Pinch of toasted hazelnuts
Salt and pepper
EVOO

Shave the fennel bulb, and baby beets paper thin into a bowl. Mix in the mint leaves and segmented blood oranges. Mix the ingredients in the bowl with a teaspoon of the reserved blood orange juice, a tablespoon of EVOO a pinch of salt and pepper. Place in a serving bowl and garnish with the toasted hazelnuts. (If you would like a more acidic salad a touch of fresh lemon juice will do the trick.)

Ama orangeIMG_1844

Blood orange salad. Photo courtesy of Ama Ristorante.

Ama peas 1
Peas with finely chopped red onion, mint, crispy pancetta in a radicchio cup.

Ama steak

Rib eye seasoned with course herbs and olive oil served with baby spinach and potatoes.

Ama desserts
Panna cotta, Meyer lemon semifreddo and ricotta cheesecake.

Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

Ama Ristorante
Driftwood Cabana Club
1485 Ocean Ave
Sea Bright
732-530-9760

PHIL DEFFINA

Phil Deffina, previously executive chef at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson is the corporate chef for Char Steakhouse with locations in Raritan and Red Bank.

CHRISTINA HINDS

Christina Hinds is the new sous chef at Mémoire, 16-18 Chestnut Street, Ridgewood (201-857-8899); BYO. She previously worked for Hilton Worldwide and the Alpine Country Club. Along with the new spring menu Memoire also offers a small plates menu entitled “A Taste of Memoire,” which will be available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

CHRISTINE NUNN OF PICNIC ON THE SQUARE

Executive chef/owner Christine Nunn from Picnic on the Square, 26 Wilsey Square, Ridgewood, is now serving lunch, indoors and outdoors, Tuesday through Friday from 11:30 AM to 2 PM. Some menu items include: Salad Daze containing kale ribbons tossed with avocado, grilled chicken, pear tomatoes, chopped egg, cucumbers, sprouts and hummus; quiche of the day with green salad; lobster roll; house-roasted turkey, brie, raspberry jam, and arugula on a pressed on baguette; and open-face tuna melt with choice of cheese, bacon and tomato. Reservations: 201-444-4001; BYO.

HOWARD STILIANESSIS

Howard Stilianessis, previously from ARIA Resort & Casino, Las Vegas is the new executive chef at Artisan Kitchen & Bar, a Mediterranean restaurant and wine bar at 142 Goffle Road, Hawthorne (973-310-3333).

TANYA NEWELL

Tanya Newell, who previously worked for Daniel Boulud, Jacques Torres, and Pluckemin Inn, is now pastry chef at Artisan Kitchen & Bar.

Please send press releases and restaurant news, including information on staff changes, wine tastings, and cooking classes, to [email protected].

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