Paul Revere's famous warning "two if by sea" provides the name for a good restaurant in Ocean's upscale shopping center Cobblestone Village. Despite the historical reference, neither the restaurant nor, thankfully, the food is Early American. A recent face-lift has transformed the homey bar-like interior into a contemporary-but-casual dining room, where small shaded lights cast a dim glow over each table.
The service here would pass muster in a top Manhattan restaurant, and the food itself is worth the detour. Proprietor Scott Farrar, who runs the front of the house, formerly managed the Frog and the Peach in New Brunswick and owned the Riverfront Caféin Harrison. He describes the restaurant as an American caféand seafood grill, and the menu perhaps typifies what American food has become--a melting pot of cuisines with an American twist.
One evening, for instance, they serve an appetizer special of fresh lobster with sizzling garlic, parsley butter, and spinach on an indented plate in the fashion of escargot. What a delicious combination! Equally good is the Portobello sandwich, composed of a large mushroom filled with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes and topped with smoked mozzarella and a balsamic-vinegar glaze. I love that the crab-cake appetizer, accompanied by a perfect combination of mushrooms, frizzled leeks, and pesto mayonnaise, is jam-packed with lump crabmeat and practically nothing else. Baby manilla clams in a white-wine-and-garlic broth are delicious but meager. Spinach ravioli, unfortunately, are so undercooked that they practically crunch.
Both the leek-and-potato soup and the mushroom soup are very good, although the lobster bisque needs seasoning. The price of the meal includes a decent mixed salad.
I like the rack of lamb special with wild-mushroom-and-wine sauce and the excellent veal chop special with spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. The salmon, roasted with a caramelized onion crust and served over lentils, is delicious. House-made rigatoni with prosciutto, mushrooms, and cream receives an unusual and exciting lift with orange zest. My favorite main course is the slow-roasted duck topped with Grand Marnier sauce and accompanied by Israeli couscous and vegetables; the duck is beautifully cooked: crisp, as requested, and moist and tender. I would travel a long way to have it again.
There are problems with a few of the main courses. The dry-aged sirloin strip steak is cooked to the point of incineration, and I dislike the texture and fennel flavor of the monkfish special. Lobster Cardinale--chunks of lobster meat in a very good lobster sauce--could have better accompaniments than the plain baked potato and tough, salty sautéSwiss chard; the lobster, too, is strangely mushy, as if it had been frozen. Farrar claims, though, that all his seafood is flown in fresh from Browne Trading Co. in Portland, Maine, a supplier to some of the East Coast's first-rate restaurants.
All desserts are enticing, except for the rather mundane apple crisp. Standouts include banana ice cream, blood-orange sorbet, pineapple sorbet. A delicious strudel is made with pears, raisins, and walnuts, and a fine Valrhona chocolate cheesecake comes topped with raspberry sauce. --V. S.
Cobblestone Village, 839 West Park Avenue, Ocean (732-493-0009). Dinner: Monday through Friday, 5 to 10 pm; Saturday, 5 to 11 pm; Sunday, 5 to 9 pm. Wheelchair access easy. All major credit cards. Dinner for two averages $72.