The inspiration for Shipwreck Grill comes from principal owner William Cleary, an attorney by profession, a restaurateur by avocation, and a diver for the love of it. Located almost underneath the Route 35 bridge over the Manasquan River, it looks like many Shore restaurants—casual, with a deck for summer dining; inside, the dining room features a lobster tank in the center, a bar, informal tables, and cases displaying finds that Cleary brought up from the deep. But there’s one major difference: Chef/co-owner Terry Eleftheriou, formerly of Jamie’s in Englewood Cliffs, runs a terrific kitchen.
Eleftheriou’s menu is a little more sophisticated than the surroundings would lead one to expect. Starters such as a warm goat cheese tart with oven-roasted grape tomatoes and black olives and an aged balsamic reduction and an addictive, rich, and chunky corn-and-clam chowder provide enough reasons to return. Tender, well-flavored mussels steamed with white wine and tomatoes, a crab cake bursting with super lump crabmeat, and a burnished-orange lobster bisque are better than the broiled clams with lobster and truffles, which seem to contain more breadcrumbs than anything else. One dish, tuna tartare and cured salmon carpaccio, is misnamed, because both the salmon and tuna are chopped, but the fish tastes freshly briny, and its added dollop of caviar and drizzle of lemon oil only enhance it. Tuna sushi tempura, which seems to be all the rage nowadays, is excellent; it comes with mounds of seaweed and pickled ginger and a sesame seed–spiked soy dipping sauce. Oysters and clams on the half-shell are as fresh as they could be.
There isn’t a loser among the main courses. I particularly like a special of seared, firm-fleshed barramundi topped with poached oysters and the pan-roasted cod topped with sautéed fennel. Seared halibut served with sautéed spinach, lump crabmeat rouille, and a slight curry-flavored oil and pistachio-crusted grouper with a creamy horseradish sauce and roasted beet-fennel compote are both excellent. Winners also include the seared tuna encrusted with black and white sesame seeds and served with a ginger-soy vinaigrette, braised cabbage, and pea shoot salad. Even the veal chop—brown, tender, and juicy; garnished with foie gras and a small goat cheese polenta cake; and served with green lentils drizzled with rosemary oil—is excellent. The one less than perfect dish is the butter-poached lobster with leeks, roasted tomatoes, and creamy mustard sauce over fresh saffron fettuccine, and only because the lobster tails are still in the shell, making it awkward to eat.
For dessert, I’d recommend the whole poached pear stuffed with pistachios, black currants, and mascarpone cheese and served with pistachio gelato, the lemon-lime cheesecake with mango-strawberry compote and sweet cilantro oil, or the lemon-thyme crème brûlée. Skip the mixed-berry crêpe, which tastes of the refrigerator, and the dry raisin-hazelnut bread pudding.
Reviewed in: June 2006
Cuisine Type:American - Seafood
Wine list:Good, varied