Pier Village in Long Branch now has three upscale restaurants. A wall of windows inside the modern buildings of all three gives a view of the Atlantic that is almost unparalleled. At Sirena—an Italian trattoria created and co-owned by Michael Cetrulo, who also owns Scalini Fedeli in Chatham and Manhattan, Il Mondo Vecchio in Madison, and Porto Leggero in Jersey City—patrons dress in casual attire, and the tables are equally minimalist.
The food at Sirena is hearty rather than delicate or inventive like the fare at Scalini Fedeli. The pasta fagioli, which comes in a standard rimmed soup bowl, is good, but a large Portobello mushroom coated in Parmesan, hazelnut, and thyme, then fried and covered with gravy, is not as tasty. The crab cake is superior, with big lumps of crab and large breadcrumbs soaked in egg, which tastes better than it sounds. Sicilian mussels with tomato sauce, currants, capers, pine nuts, and couscous are good but spicy. Bufala mozzarella is made in house, but it is dry and spongy and separates into layers. The arugula salad, however, paired with slices of bresaola (air-dried beef), is a nice combination. Shrimp arrabbiata is also good, but there are only two very large shrimp in a spicy garlic and white wine sauce with broccoli rabe.
The square ravioli will be familiar to Scalini Fedeli regulars: They have an intense porcini filling with a creamy truffle sauce that is good enough to use as perfume. Thick strands of perciatelli with a spicy Amatriciana sauce and pappardelle Bolognese topped with mascarpone are delicious and hearty enough for a main course. The spaghetti carbonara, with lots of pancetta along with the onion, egg, and cheese sauce, is exceptional.
Tender, sage-scented veal saltimbocca with prosciutto, roasted potato, spinach, and Marsala wine is good, but the veal capricciosa has been pounded so thin that there is more breading than veal. Chicken scarpiello is fine despite being made untraditionally with boneless chicken; it comes with sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe, and fingerling potatoes, and the touch of vinegar in the sauce cuts the richness. Slow-braised lamb shank with orange rind, rosemary, and risotto Milanese is meltingly tender and flavorful.
The best main course is the seared halibut served with slivers of black olive, fennel, and a roasted tomato sauce. It is perfectly cooked, moist, and superb. Branzino fillet with the skin is a bit overcooked, but the olive oil, lemon juice, and caper berries add a nice touch, as do the Parmesan dusted fingerling potatoes. Seared tuna is thin, overcooked, and positively chewy.
A simple orange panna cotta is the best dessert, followed by a lemon curd tart, tiramisu, and strips of an intensely flavored chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. Zabaglione has a strange flavor, and the braised peaches in the phyllo summer peach tart need to be cooked more.
Reviewed in: October 2006Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:European - Italian
Service:Depends on the server
Wine list:Very good