Restaurant News

This week Rosie tells us about Ama Ristorante in Sea Bright, 12 West Restaurant & Bar in Montclair, Elijah’s Promise Fund-raiser and much more news about NJ restaurants.

AMA RISTORANTE, SEA BRIGHT
On our first try, Sandy visited New Jersey and we canceled. On our second try, there was a snowstorm and we canceled. The third time didn’t work either, as there was a threat of a snowstorm. On our fourth try, we finally got to dine at a press dinner at Ama, Latin for love and the name of a small town in Tuscany, and had a most stellar meal. Amiamo Ama.

Executive chef Pat Trama, who has been at Ama since it opened, was previously chef/owner at Ama Ristorante Tuscana in Atlantic Highlands, which he closed in May 2012 and reopened in Sea Bright in September. He worked at the River Café in Brooklyn with restaurateur Drew Nieporent, and was a chef at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson.

If you dine early, you can watch the sunset on the Shrewsbury River or the changing light on the ocean. There is a private dining room that is used on busy evenings with a wood-burning fireplace and a hand-painted mural of a Tuscan farm. Take note of the rooster in the mural as is known in Italy as a symbol of good fortune and is the restaurant’s new logo. It has also been used by the Stavola family, owners of Ama, for several generations. The bar area has four oversized HD TVs where you can have a cocktail or a casual bite. The dining room which seats 120 guests has chandeliers, white linen-clad tables set with dark napkins (thank you), comfortable booths, leather-padded chairs and mesmerizing water views.

The menu features seasonal, traditional and newly created Tuscan-inspired cuisine prepared with the highest quality ingredients. Italian boutique wines dominate the wine list with many choices in the $30 to $50 range. We had a 2011 Il Chiuso from Castello Di Ama winery, one of chef Trama’s favorite vineyards.

Antipasto of roasted red and yellow peppers; eggplant caponata; broccoli rabe; cipollini onions; spaghetti squash with a honey syrup; roasted asparagus; and shiitake mushrooms.

When we walked into the dining room our eyes zoomed in on a long granite table showcasing an antipasti bar consisting of worthy starters such as roasted red and yellow peppers; eggplant caponata; broccoli rabe; cipollini onions; spaghetti squash with a honey syrup; roasted asparagus; and shiitake mushrooms with a 25 year balsamic. All were excellent and could have been an entrée for a vegetarian. Eating the warm, crusty bread with a fruity Frantoio extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, specially bottled for Ama by Carter & Cavero, made us happy campers. The chef offered to cook a tasting menu, so we moved on to the next course which would have also thrilled a vegetarian: creamy burrata from Italy with a panzanella salad of heirloom tomatoes, onion, cucumbers, and cubes of bread; raw fava beans topped with year-old pecorino Tuscano; shaved, raw, baby artichoke salad with lemon juice, black pepper, olive oil and Reggiano; and colossal Maine crab with beefsteak tomato, red onion, mint and 25-year-old balsamic. Chef Trama lets the vegetables speak for themselves, and as veggie lovers we were thrilled that he took these vegetables out of the background and put them in the forefront.

Burrata with heirloom tomatoes.

A pasta tasting came next and, if available, try the risotto with cockles and rock shrimp or the house-made tortellini filled with a creamy ricotta. The pasta was followed by four entrees for us to share. All of the fish were exceedingly fresh, a testament to the superb ingredients used at Ama. The Maine sea scallops with a spring-pea puree, red-pepper preserves and guanciale were tender, buttery tasting and beautifully browned. Red snapper came with crispy zucchini chips and cherry tomatoes on the vine, a colorful presentation. Bronzini with asparagus and nutty flavored fregola sarda was an absolute knockout. If you are not a fish eater, opt for steaks, veal chop or a Murray’s chicken. We also had the chicken, which we found to be juicy and a cut above other chicken dishes we have recently tasted. Yes, we had dessert and the classic tiramisu with espresso soaked ladyfingers was distinctive because we could actually taste all the ingredients, especially the espresso. The ricotta cheesecake with a biscotti crust was moist and also highly recommended. Both were perfect endings to a glorious meal from a very talented chef. Flavors we experienced were exquisite and service impeccable. We will be back.

Scallops with spring-pea puree, red-pepper preserves and guanciale.

Also keep in mind, if you dine here that the following daily specials are offered: Tuesdays 20% off selected bottles of wine; Wednesday ½ off wines by the glass (bar only); Thursday $7 specialty cocktail (bar only); Fridays from 5-7 PM, $7 Specialty Cocktails (bar only); and Sundays $3 draft beer (bar only), no corkage fee, and a 3-course pre-fixe for $32 and $38 with a glass of house wine.

Red snapper with zucchini chips and cherry tomatoes on the vine,

Ama Ristorante is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, year round, starting at 5 PM.

Ricotta cheesecake.
Photos courtesy of Lowell Saferstein

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

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12 WEST RESTAURANT & BAR, MONTCLAIR
The first thing you notice when you enter 12 West Restaurant & Bar, located in a renovated train station in Montclair, is that it is loud and packed with people. Make a reservation.

Although the menu has Asian influences we found the nonAsian options more to our liking. An appetizer of seafood quesadilla was chock full of lobster, crab, Jarlsberg, an avocado emulsion and cilantro was a perfect comfort dish. We were fighting over the last piece. However, the hot-and-sour soup was not hot or sour and the poached summer spring rolls were crunchy but had too much mint for our taste. A baby arugula salad was fresh, but the balsamic vinaigrette too sweet. And while we thought the bok choy on the ginger-garlic braised short ribs was pleasant, it wasn’t enough to buoy up the unbalanced citrus-soy gastrique or slivers of meat. You can’t go wrong with the perfectly cooked and tender cast-iron seared Long Island duck breast, which was served with winter root vegetables and spinach in a colorful blackberry-madeira sauce. Although it was a hefty portion, the pad Thai noodle dish with pulled chicken, tofu, egg, bean sprouts, tamarind, peanuts, paprika and lime was lackluster and the grilled Atlantic salmon overcooked. Kudos to the chef for not only having a vegan option, but three other vegetarian options: porcini risotto; caponata cassoulet; and a simply grilled marinated vegetable plate. For dessert, the ice cream or sherbet can be recommended.

12 West Restaurant & Bar
275 Bellevue Ave
Upper Montclair
(973) 337-5813

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ELIJAH’S PROMISE FUND RAISER
On June 3, Chef’s Night at The Palace at Somerset Park will be held at The Palace at Somerset Park, 333 Davidson Ave, Somerset, to benefit Elijah’s Promise Culinary School, which offers a full-time, intensive training program that prepares participants for employment in the food-service industry. Over 30 NJ chefs will be preparing and serving food including: Bent Spoon, Brandl, Carol’s Creative Chocolatez, Christopher’s Restaurant at the Heldrich, Clydz, Eno Terra, Evelyn’s, The Frog and the Peach, Greek Taverna, Harvest Moon, La Tavola Cucina Ristorante, Little Spain, Tula, Portuguese Fisherman, Promise Culinary School, The Brothers Moon, The Palace at Somerset Park, TPC Jasna Polana, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Princeton, Sophie’s Bistro, Steakhouse 85, and more. 6 to 9 PM; $135. For tickets, log onto: www.elijahspromise.org or call 732-545-9002 ext 126.

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OUTSTANDING IN THE FIELD DINNERS

There will be two Outstanding in the Field dinners in NJ this September.

On Sunday, September 15, an Outstanding in the Field dinner will be held at Great Road Farm, 1459 Great Road, Skillman with host farmer Steven Tomlinson and chef Josh Thomsen from Agricola in Princeton. 3 PM; $200.

On Tuesday, September 17, there will be a dinner held at Stonybrook Meadows, 82 Stonybrook Road, Hopewell with host farmer Laura Del Campo and chef Scott Anderson from Elements in Princeton. 3 PM; $200. For information or tickets, visit: http://outstandinginthefield.com/.

Outstanding in the Field mission statement is “to reconnect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.”

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HAPPY 21ST BD TO STAGE LEFT, NEW BRUNSWICK
On May 26, Stage Left, 5 Livingston Ave, New Brunswick, will celebrate their 21st birthday with a cookout on the sidewalk featuring The Stage Left Burger, specialty meats, Spanish Jamon Iberico, specialty wild boar chili dogs, their entire steak menu and fresh fish along with summer wines and great beers. At 5:30 PM, owners Francis Schott and Mark Pascal will blow out the candles of a birthday cake and share complimentary cake and a champagne cocktail with attendees. The menu is a la carte; 1 to 7 PM; Reservations: 732-828-4444.

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DINING DEAL

On Thursdays, Maritime Parc, 84 Audrey Zapp Drive, Liberty State Park, Jersey City offers a half-dozen oysters, Maritime Parc burger, tap beer or glass of wine for $20. Phone: 201-413-0050.

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LOOKING AHEAD
Watch for the opening of Ah’ Pizz at 4 West Main St, Denville at the end of June (www.ahpizz.com). The restaurant, which also has a locattion at 7 N Willow St, Montclair (973-783-9200), specializes in authentic Napoletana pizza that is cooked in 90 seconds in a 1,000-degree, wood-burning oven. Their lunch menu has new offerings for a steal: Zuppa E Insalata (soup and salad) for $6.99; Il Bambino (pizza and salad or soup) for $7.99 and Il Panino sandwich with soup or salad for $8.99.

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Congratulations to the following winners of the 2013 James Beard Foundation cookbook awards:

Cookbook of the Year: Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla, owner of Cucharamama and Zafra in Hoboken.

General Cooking: Canal House Cooks Every Day by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer (http://thecanalhouse.com).

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

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