Disclosure: The food/beverages covered in this post were provided to Jersey Bites for free. As always, all views and opinions are the writer’s own.
Crispy edges. Tender inside. Salty like the ocean…in a very good way. That’s what scallop daydreams are made of. But wait—it wasn’t a dream. It was reality and it all happened at Ama Ristorante, an Italian restaurant set on the shores of Sea Bright.
A culinary gem lies among the Ocean Avenue beach clubs. Located in the midst of Driftwood Beach Club is a little Italian oasis. Trust me, and just look for the stairs and dark wood walls. Lush carpets. Extravagant chandeliers. The complete opposite of what you would probably expect a Jersey Shore restaurant to look like. The best part, besides the food and wine list, is the view. Panoramic windows overlooking the Atlantic Ocean are just the tip of the iceberg.
The restaurant opened three years ago, and Executive Chef Charles Lesbirel has been cooking up a storm since assuming his current role in the spring of 2014. Lesbirel is no stranger to high profile kitchens. He has honed his skills as the executive chef at Raven and the Peach in Fair Haven, as a chef at David Burke Fromagerie in Rumson, and David Burk & Donatella in New York City. Known for his uncompromising commitment to quality and consistency, Lesbirel goes to great lengths to procure the highest quality local and global seasonal ingredients.
Lesbirel’s passion for freshness and seasonal flavors was on full display when he sent out the beet tartare appetizer as we began our meal on a warm fall evening. Looking for a way to fool the carnivores at your table, this dish exemplifies what Ama Ristorante is trying to achieve, inspiring dishes that break the mold using flavors reminiscent of the season. At least that’s what I got out of it as I took a bite of the cool, earthy beet tartare (yes, it was cold, just like beef tartare), which was highlighted with tangy orange infused crème fraiche and nutty pistachio dust. I would never have put those four things together, but man, oh man… it worked! General Manager Ryan Liepa explained that the beet tartare is the complete opposite of how root vegetables are normally presented (warm). It’s really a fun play and the perfect unexpected fall dish.
The Misto di Terra didn’t disappoint on the seasonal front as well. As my husband noted, it’s the perfect appetizer to order so you can feel a little better about your entrée and dessert choices. Packed with roasted vegetables including agrodolce cipolini onions and salty olives, it was light and the perfect filler for what was yet to come.
For our entrees, we decided, with the urging of our server, Elizabeth (if she’s your server when you go, be sure to ask her about the red bracelet she wears), on the seared scallops with roasted fennel and olive tapenade, and the fettuccine featuring squash blossoms, thinly sliced zucchini, and shaved black truffles. That’s where my scallop daydream began. Four plump day boat scallops, perfectly seasoned and seared. The pasta dish was tasty as well in a light olive oil sauce.
Before I get to the sweet highlight of my meal at Ama Ristorante, I must tell you about the wine selection. This year Ama received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. If you ama (meaning ‘love’ in Latin) wine, Ama can be your mecca. The unique and extensive wine list includes everything from Italian to boutique wines so no matter what dish you order, there’s a complementary wine to accompany it. (Make a note, on Tuesdays all bottles of wine are half off and every Wednesday select wines by the glass are half off. It’s the perfect excuse to try that bottle of wine you’ve been eyeing for the last few months.)
We ended our meal with a house-made strawberry balsamic glaze that accompanied a honey ricotta cake. To get the incredibly thick, almost gelatinous texture of the cake, Lesbirel cooks the cake, and then rewhips it, letting it set more than once. It will stick to your mouth and your ribs, but it’s worth every bite. We paired the ricotta cake with the traditional Tiramisu featuring Kahlua and espresso soaked ladyfingers, which comes in a fair and tasty second on the dessert rankings.
Wine, Tuscan dishes, dreamy desserts, the beach, and absolutely no need to wear a bathing suit: Ama offers the ideal setting for you to enjoy every last bite in your slimming black sweater.
1485 Ocean Avenue