In full disclosure, the meal was provided to me for free. As always, all views and opinions are my own.
As a person who’s lived her entire life at the Jersey Shore, one may expect that I would tend to veer away from places that, at first glance, seem like nothing more than a tourist trap. For me, that was Pier Village, until I actually ate at what may be one of the finest restaurants at the Jersey Shore—Le Avenue.
Sitting where the sand meets the land, Le Avenue is a physical presence on the boardwalk. It is a two-story building that blends the luxuries of St. Tropez, with the beautiful scenery of the Atlantic. If you’ve been there, you know this already. What you may not know is that Executive Chef Dominique Filoni is back, and he brought some world-class French cuisine along with him.
Since I had never actually dined at Le Avenue (mainly because of my misconception that it was a tourist trap), when an invitation arose to enjoy a mezcal tasting menu with Chef Filoni, I jumped at the chance.
Chef Filoni recently returned as Executive Chef of Le Avenue after a brief hiatus working in Miami. The St. Tropez, France, native’s passion for cooking is not surprising, especially his fondness for incorporating seasonal ingredients into both classic and not-so-classic French dishes. His career began in France, and now he finds himself at the Jersey Shore, earning him an induction into the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France in 2003 and recognition as one of America’s Best New Chefs by Food & Wine in 2004. Tasting his delicious creations, you realize that those 10 years were well spent, as he perfected his repertoire. Okay, back to the food!
To start off the evening, Thierry Carrier, general manager and director of operations of Le Avenue, recommended a few cocktails including the lemonade, which features lemonade, homemade marmalade, smoky mezcal, and a rosemary sprig, along with the Rye Sour, an agave, rye and cognac drink, that for containing heavier-feeling liquors, was surprisingly refreshing for a warm evening. It resembled a cold ice cream shake, but super light with the perfect amount of foam. Our meal was later complemented by a light French pinot noir recommended by the sommelier.
Now onto the food. For starters, we ordered the shaved organic kale salad, along with a dish of the homemade tagliatelle (because when your dinner companions recommend pasta for appetizers, you say yes). Turns out, the French may know how to make pasta just as well as the Italians. (Sorry!) This selection tasted just as I would imagine late spring would taste like—with fresh asparagus, wild mushrooms, and spring onions.
We were surprised by Chef Filoni’s tomato tart, a new dish on the summer menu, featuring blanched and peeled plum tomatoes set on a flattened puff pastry and garnished with olive oil, sugar, and salt. For me this dish exemplified Chef Filoni’s commitment to combining quality ingredients in a beautiful and yet simple presentation. We also dug into the Dungeness crab salad, which was recently added to the menu. If you’re looking for a crunchy, creamy, light seafood dish, order this. (The reason you may fall in love with it is the Banyuls vinegar, a red wine vinegar made from Banyuls sweet French wine).
And there was more. Chef Filoni continued to wow us with another homemade pasta dish featuring lumps of king crab, the leaf of broccoli rabe, tarragon, fresh lime, chervil, lemon, and one of my favorite ingredients, bottarga. What was so apparent throughout the meal was Chef Filoni’s commitment to fresh vegetables, seafood, and homemade ingredients.
Our main course consisted of the duck steak, which Chef Filoni prepared in what I learned was a summer version of the original menu item. Two pieces of perfectly cooked duck, seasoned to perfection, on a bed of baby potatoes cooked in duck fat, lollipop kale, and a sprinkling of Maynard pickled cherries. It was rich. It was decadent. It was delicious. Add on a French class, boeuf bourguignon, and steak frites and I had myself a meal worthy of the best brasserie in Paris.
And if that wasn’t enough, we ended the night on a sweet note. Pastry Chef Stuart Marx delighted our taste buds with profilteroles, a white chocolate raspberry Napoleon, and toasted coconut cake drizzled with mango salsa and kaffir Anglaise.
After this dinner, actually after my first bite in, I realized I should have never judged this book by its cover. This local will brave the crowds this summer just to eat any creation that Chef Filoni has in mind. As for you, I suggest heading down to Le Avenue and trying out the must-have summer menu.
23 Ocean Avenue