Between the boulevard and boardwalk, something fresh is happening in Seaside Heights. Over the summer, farm-to-table eatery Free Range opened its doors, serving locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Owned by Rick Lee, whose family also owns the popular Chinese bistro Xina in Toms River, this seasonal spot serves up the freshest ingredients for early risers and midday snackers at the beach.
Although the restaurant is closed for the season, Lee and his team at Free Range are throwing five course pop-up dinners where the fare highlights the flavors of the season and is paired with a variety of wines! As a tried-and-true farm-to-table foodie, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a dinner at Free Range, where I was delighted to see Lee and Executive Chef Paul Keyser’s concept come to life.
When my friend and I arrived for the pop-up wine dinner, we were greeted with a freshly poured glass of champagne (which all appropriate greetings should include!). Then we were greeted by Lee himself, shook some hands, and were seated at a long family-style table. The ambiance was bright and airy.
Flatbread with Honey Goat Cheese and Port Infused Fig (pictured at top)
Lee reappeared table-side with an appetizer. We split a family-style honey goat cheese and fig flatbread with the party next to us while sipping on our champagne. As a huge fan of honey goat cheese, I was excited to see this ingredient. The flavor profile in this cheese complemented the caramelized onions, figs, and drizzle of balsamic perfectly.
Diver Scallops and Berkshire Pork Belly | Wine Pairing: Chardonnay, Imagery 2016, Sonoma County, CA
Our glasses were filled with a Sonoma County Chardonnay and then the first course was served. Scallops and pork belly—need I say more? The presentation was simple: the scallops sat a top the pork belly and underneath a simple puree. The scallops were sweet and the pork belly was crispy. Things started off very, very well.
Roasted Quail and Egg | Wine Pairing: Merlot, Cakebread 2009, Napa, CA
Which comes first—the chicken or the egg? In this case, it really doesn’t matter. Chef Keyser’s roasted quail and egg dish was texturally on point. The flavors came together very well and the addition of both green and white asparagus spears was a nice touch! Paired with a merlot, it was a superb second course.
Colorado Lamb Loin and Root Vegetables | Wine Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Slow Press 2014, Pasa Robles, CA
The root vegetables and lamb loin were cooked to perfection. The savory taste and notes of vanilla and black pepper in the Pasa Robles Cabernet complemented the components of this dish as well.
Chocolate Mousse and Mandarin Orange | Wine Pairing: Petit Syrah, “Sweet Velvet” Prospero 2008, CA
When it comes to pairings chocolate and orange is not one of my favorites, but I very much enjoyed this dish. The chocolate mousse was light and airy. The mandarin orange was warm and bright. The perfect ending to a fantastic meal!