A Birthday “Blend”

Each summer as July nears, we usually plan an annual trek to the Jersey Shore—around my birthday weekend if possible. Over time, we’ve stayed at numerous B&B’s but are often drawn back to the Ocean House in Spring Lake, aka “The Irish Riviera.” And we’ve dined at most restaurants in the surrounding area so I felt an urge to venture further away for my celebration dinner. Yes, it was time to “blend” into more areas of the shore…

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An example of one of the “summer cottages” along Ocean Ave. A summer getaway for barons of industry in the mid 1800s, this small community has retained much of the exclusive aura of its Victorian heyday.

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The pristine white sand beach and wide boardwalk stretch for 2 miles. 

Wanting low-key and an ocean view for dinner on the first night in town, we made a res at La Terrazza which has a patio right on Ocean Avenue in Belmar offering outdoor seating, perfect for people watching as they strut the promenade. Keeping it simple, we ordered a large specialty pie, the Capricciosa, assembled with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, ham, artichoke hearts and mushrooms.

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I couldn’t even finish two slices, so we had nearly half a pie to take back for lunch the next day.

Back in my twenties (many of you remember hanging with me between the towns of Belmar and Point Pleasant), some good friends rented cottages in Manasquan, just two towns south of Spring Lake (SL) which, at the time, was way too ritzy (read costly) for our meager pocket books. Fast forward several decades and Spring Lake is where hubby and I now hang our hats when the shore beckons.

But since we’ve feasted on the finest SL and Belmar had to offer over the years, I made it a mission to broaden our culinary dining scope. Thus Manasquan, being in such close proximity to our digs, made for an easy endeavor and I booked a birthday res at the highly acclaimed eatery Blend on Main.

Chef and Owner Lou Smith opened Blend in Manasquan on March 1, 2014. His homegrown Jersey roots are what inspires him when creating the menu for Blend. Lou likes to cook in tune with the seasons and uses ingredients that are readily available—A-OK with us!

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But first, the wine. Russ wanted to mark the occasion with a special vintage, so while I got ready for the evening, he made a jaunt to the town liquor store and procured the Marques de Riscal Gran Reserva, which holds a special place in our hearts and is not all that easy to find. You see, years ago while on our honeymoon in the La Rioja region of Spain, we visited the The Marqués de Riscal winery, the oldest and most traditional of the area bodegas, and fell in love with the fruitage. In contrast to the winery, the stunning ultra-modern hotel, shown below, was erected in 2006 and designed by world-renowned architect Frank O. Ghery.

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We arrived at Blend right on time only to be confronted with a packed vestibule, and the hostess looked dazed when we asked about our 8:00 reservation. Uh-oh, not a good start. But within 5 minutes we were shown to our banquet seating along a back wall in the vast dining area which was smartly appointed with a soaring ceiling, a central two-way fireplace, and ample space between tables.

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A stock photo showing the fireplace. When we were there, the place was packed!

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A quote from Julia Child stenciled on an adjacent wall.

Our only complaint would be the almost deafening noise level amplified by the live guitarist amid the chatter of the diners. Our friendly waitress Jean luckily had a voice that carried and she was able to rise above the din. So while she opened our coveted Gran Reserva, she reviewed the night’s specials with us.

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Knowing we would patronize a steak house the following night, we concentrated on seafood, after all, we were at the shore. While perusing the menu, the busboy presented a plate of large pretzel-like buns with a side of the most delicious raspberry horseradish dipping sauce. Neither one of us eat much bread but we couldn’t resist each having a roll with that fabulous sauce (I have to try and mimic that recipe!)

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To start with, we shared the Blend Salad, artfully displayed on a large square platter with rocket greens, shaved fennel, pickled fennel vinaigrette, blood orange, and almond cloaked goat cheese. Not that we needed them—but we were celebrating my birthday—so for seconds, Russ decided on the Tuna Taco small plate consisting of tuna belly, sriracha aioli, wasabi tobiko roe, napa cabbage, yuzu soy, and toasted sesame. He thought they were great!

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I was all about the Crab Cake appetizer, an all lump molded crab round with no bread fillers, paired with roasted corn relish and baby micro greens, resting on a schmear of chipotle aioli. It seemed lighter and less dense than many crab cakes I’ve eaten, and it had a surprising crisp edge that added an interesting texture.

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Pretty full at this point, I still had an entree in the works, and in keeping with the seafood theme my choice was the Halibut, an onion crusted east coast halibut fillet nestled on sun choke puree, with a splash of lobster buerre blanc and topped with baby micro greens. The photo doesn’t do it justice, the portion was huge! As you may have guessed, three-quarters of the meal was packaged to go.

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My man also stayed with seafood and selected the Scallops Succotash consisting of four large, plump, perfectly sautéed dayboat scallops, atop a colorful sweet corn and lima bean succotash with a swash of chipotle tarter sauce. I had a taste and loved them! Right up there among the best scallops we’ve ever had.

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Pretty much bursting at the seams, and not a dessert eater, I opted to forgo any sweet ending. Russ couldn’t eat another bite either, so after paying the check and procuring my doggie bag, we bid adieu to Jean and sauntered back to the car for our ride to Ocean House, a few short miles away.

Next up, a blog on our third night out at Prime 13 in Point Pleasant….

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