Restaurant Review

Sanzari’s Oyster Bar and Grill

When a well-known chef opens a new restaurant, most critics sit up and take notice. They usually have preconceptions based on the chef’s previous performance, although these no longer may be accurate. This certainly is the case with Jamie Milkman and me. I always found the food at his previous restaurants, Jamie’s in Englewood Cliffs and Ninety Grand Grille in Englewood, merely pleasant. But at Milkman’s new place, which he co-owns with Michael Glavan, John Lupo, Thomas Scuderi, and CEO Joseph Sanzari, the food is particularly inventive and quite good. If only it were consistent, Sanzari’s would receive a higher rating.

Sanzari’s occupies the building that once housed an eatery named America. Its first floor is now set up as an attractive urban bar, with several tables and a one-way window along one wall through which patrons can view the kitchen. The main dining room, which seats about 80, is on the second floor. The restaurant is busy during each of my visits, and I understand that this has been the case since it first opened on Friday, January 13—a date that turned out to be lucky for Chef Milkman and his partners.

The menu is available in the dining room and at the bar. Sometimes a familiar dish is tweaked to a point where it becomes a very different dish. An old standby like carpaccio has been reinvented, the paper-thin slices of raw beef arranged on a bed of baby arugula; topped with tomato, shaved Parmesan, and a warm, soft poached egg; then drizzled with a lemon-and-truffle-oil vinaigrette. This one dish is worth a trip to Sanzari’s. Another winning appetizer is the Montauk lobster rolls, four mini hot-dog buns filled with an excellent lobster salad. Mussels steamed with lemongrass, ginger shallots, and lotus slices are enticingly addictive, as are the crisp pan-fried oysters plated with sliced apple, slivered red peppers, and curried beurre blanc. The lobster empanadas with chopped avocado relish and the lump crab cakes with fennel slaw and tomato-caper mayonnaise are highly recommended. Moo shu quail, on the other hand, is a misconceived dish in which the ingredients overpower what little flavor the quail might have had to begin with.

Even the salads are intriguing. A warm disk of sautéed goat cheese tops an arugula salad with mango and beets—a special—while a warm molded Gorgonzola custard garnishes a julienned endive-and-apple salad with walnuts.

Successful main courses include a fricassee of lobster, shrimp, and scallops with lobster sauce, served in the lobster shell, and very tender if somewhat fatty braised short ribs with parsnip purée. Three pieces of battered monkfish accompanied by a green-lentil salad and candied lemon-ginger vinaigrette is a tasty rendition, and so is the pork fillet paella-style—tender, well-cooked pork sliced and served on a bed of risotto with mussels, shrimp, clams, and chorizo—even though it lacks the saffron requisite for paella. On the down side, two lamb chops served with a sweet-pea-sweet-potato purée and very salty teriyaki-date-ginger sauce are fatty. Shrimp Two Ways—two bouncy little shrimp cakes accompanied by three shrimp and soba noodles—is good enough to order again, but the roast duck is too tough to cut easily and is missing half its crisp skin. When our French waiter suggests that we try the macaroni-and-cheese side dish, we decide it has to be special, and it is; the creamy, cheesy individual portion is topped with breadcrumbs and toasted for a final luscious touch.

If only all the desserts were as good as the creamy, intensely flavored frozen lemon soufflé with raspberry sauce or the delicious tarte Tatin. But the panna cotta and the orange-and-chocolate Bavarian are rubbery, the pecan cake is as heavy as lead, the molten chocolate cake isn’t molten, and the butterscotch crème brûlée is sticky. You might prefer the cheese plate—three cheeses, a Morbier, goat Brie, and Petite Basque along with sliced pear and apple and toasted brioche—although serving it with a small dish of sickly-sweet port wine crème brûlée is a mistake.

Reviewed in: May 2006

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    American - Fusion/Eclectic
  • Price Range:
    Expensive
  • Ambience:
    Upscale casual
  • Service:
    Very good
  • Wine list:
    Very good
  • Sanzari’s Oyster Bar and Grill
    115 County Road
    Tenafly, NJ 07670
  • Hours:
    L: Mon - Fri, 12 pm to 3 pm.
    D: Mon - Thu, 5 pm to 10 pm; Fri - Sat, 5 pm to 11 pm; Sun, 4 pm to 9 pm.

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