Scurrying down a sleet-slicked sidewalk in a residential part of Asbury Park toward what looks like a house (but for its red neon sign) feels a bit disorienting for someone used to the sandy beaches of summer. But stepping into the sleek lobby of the St. Laurent, the recently opened boutique hotel and social club, and from there into the bright and airy Heirloom at the St. Laurent, brings reassurance.
With its white walls and bleached-wood floors, shimmering pressed-tin ceiling and widely spaced tables, Heirloom feels like an oasis, even on a cold night. The staff are welcoming, and the chefs in the open kitchen are on full display—especially to those, like us, lucky enough to snag seats at the chef’s counter.
“We wanted people to be able to have an elevated dining experience without the white tablecloths,” says co-owner Neilly Robinson, who, with her partner, chef David Viana, brings the same high standards set at Heirloom Kitchen, their NJM Top 30 retail shop, cooking school and restaurant in Old Bridge.
Just before Covid threw a wet blanket on the restaurant industry, Robinson and Viana, both residents of Asbury Park, had been planning to open a flagship place in Philadelphia. When that deal fell through in March 2020, the team began running pop-up restaurants in Philly. At one of these in late 2021, they were approached by the new owners of the Tides, a historic 20-room hotel in Asbury Park. They wanted Robinson and Viana to run the restaurant at what would become the St. Laurent. After four months putting together menus, designing the open kitchen, and selecting tableware, they opened last July.
“It was a wild ride,” says Robinson. “We were packed every night from day one.”
In summer, diners can enjoy the club atmosphere when glass garage doors facing the pool and patio retract. Even in winter, sun was streaming through those doors at lunchtime, when we enjoyed a tasty mezza platter of dips, roasted vegetables and house-made pita, followed by a crispy chicken sandwich, a spicy double burger with cheddar and bacon jam, and a mozzarella in carozza sandwich topped with fried egg. Being able to experience the restaurant both ways—the relaxed lunchtime scene, or the more formal dinner service—is another plus at Heirloom.
The dinner menu focuses on inventive combinations of seasonal, local ingredients, with dishes that executive chef Josh Pierson says are designed to “not only show off our talents, but also show off New Jersey, which is not on the culinary map at all—even with all its access to farms and the ocean. It’s a culinary hidden gem, and we want it to be recognized as that.”
With seamless handoff of plates from grill to saucing station to artful presentation, high-level skill is evident. Pierson, who previously cooked in Brooklyn and at the Aviary in Manhattan under chef Grant Achatz, says he prefers an open kitchen, where “the guests enjoy it and the chefs enjoy it too, interacting with diners and really being part of the restaurant, not just in the back.”
Right out of the gate, the showmanship became clear, with sublime veal sweetbreads. From Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors in North Bergen, they were soaked overnight in water, then poached in milk and herbs before a light breading and pan fry. Toothsome, they were nicely paired with caramelized fennel, puréed cauliflower and pearl onions in a mustard vinaigrette.
Tuna tartare caused us to do a double take. A pink plate arrived covered by a tented slice of pink deli meat. Where was the tartare? Under that drape of mortadella. Created by Viana as a play on surf-and-turf, the combination worked, with the salty, somewhat fatty pork balancing the diced yellowfin with shallots, jalapeños, pickled currants and pistachio butter.
The single raviolo, filled with lobster and potato purée, was topped with whipped ricotta. Smooth and creamy? Yes. Lobster flavor? Not so much. The optional bread service, which on this evening featured three slices of Benchmark, a local sourdough, and a diminutive dollop of lobster butter, underwhelmed as well. I might not have resented the $18 upcharge if there had been a bit more butter and a couple extra slices of bread.
The second course was also eye-opening, but in a good way. Thickly sliced roast duck breast with a pink center and a seared crust was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented—three slices encircling black sticky rice rich with seaweed umami, persimmon and charred endive (which the chef hit with a blowtorch tableside before serving). Pan-seared scallops, properly cooked, came with caramelized sunchokes and kohlrabi. A porcini-crusted strip steak boasted a crust artfully criss-crossed with grill marks.
Equal attention was paid to desserts, skillfully prepared by Lauren Klein. The ample chocolate-and-banana dessert combined chocolate budino with caramelized bananas, tahini brownies, ice cream and a drizzle of dulce de leche. The squash-infused flan had more taste and better texture than traditional flans and paired nicely with pomegranate sorbet and a smattering of pumpkin-seed granola. Olive-oil cake was delicate and moist, enhanced by passion fruit sorbet and a sprightly citrus yogurt.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:New American
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Lunch: starters and mains, $16-$38; dinner: $89 prix fixe for three courses
- Ambience:Chic pool club
- Service:Engaged and knowledgeable
- Wine list:Specialty cocktails and wine by the glass