Where I Was
Sirena Ristorante, Long Branch, NJ
Tuesday, April 9, 1:34 p.m.
Where I Sat
The bar is rather large, running three full sides with one side used as a service area. I walked straight down the length of the bar, toward the ocean, and jumped to the far corner spot. This gave me a full two-sides view of the glorious Atlantic as I faced South. I looked across to the other long end of the bar with great expansive views of the beach and water. Simply beautiful!
Who Served Me
Mike, the bar manager. He’d been a customer for a long time, then heard they were looking and jumped to the other side.
Bartender’s Favorite Bite
As Mike dropped my cocktail off, he quickly turned to go when I popped my regular question, “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” Mike was quick with his response. “Everything on the menu is pretty good.” You know me, I pressed him further. “My favorite pasta is the pappardelle bolognese, it’s just really, really good. And they do a really good mushroom ravioli. Both are heavy but very, very good.” Without much to go on, I ventured back to the menu to find my tasty bites for the day.
The Vibe and My Vantage Point
Drenched in natural light, Sirena is bright and comfortable. Blonde wooden, cushioned dining chairs set against crisp white table linens throughout the dining room and dark wooden bar stools in the bar. The breathtaking views can be seen from any seat in the house—whether you’re sitting in the bar area or dining room proper. While narrow, the dining room is divided into two levels, and allows for a great view for all. Comfortable box cushions accompany banquette seating and the fireplace at the near end of the dining room adds a warmth against all the bright and shiny glass that lines both sides of the dining room—one set looking out to the boardwalk of Pier Village, the other to the Atlantic.
What Quenched My Thirst
Pompelmo’s Fire, $13
Don Julio Blanco, grapefruit Pellegrino, grapefruit, and lime
Nothing like tequila on a Tuesday afternoon. Another exquisite, if not simple cocktail experience. It took great restraint to develop this cocktail creation. Subtly effervescent, the grapefruit Pellegrino was evident and balanced out the fresh juice and heat of the tequila. Punchy yet quiet and refreshing. A cocktail I’d surely come back for.
What Fed My Soul
Veal, beef, pork, ricotta served in tomato sauce
For those of you who read this column regularly, you’ve heard about my mom, Nina. Queen of meatballs (among other things); baked, not fried. No, not plopped, raw, into the sauce to cook for hours. So my affinity for meatballs basically begins and ends with my mom’s (and now mine ’cause I learned from the best!). In spite of my predisposition to this great Italian delicacy, I am determined to forge on with an open mind and give this meatball a go.
Most meatballs, like those at Sirena, are steeped in sauce. So the consistency is markedly different than “our” version. I pause to take in the gorgeous coloration of the sauce against the meatball and the mound of ricotta plopped center stage with a lovely sprig of fresh basil jumping out of the top. It made me smile. The mixed of heat and cool, cooked and raw. I do love a dancing tastebud extravaganza, so I break into the center of a meatball, ensuring sauce and ricotta are in good proportion. Tasty for sure. I am somewhat easy to please: I LOVE FOOD! But my role here is to help you decide if you want to order this when you show up. So let me try to break it down. The sauce was good—not remarkable, but solid and fresh. In fact, in this presentation the sauce is part of the supporting role, not the star and in so being it hit the mark. The meatballs themselves were a bit flat in flavor. The mix had a nice texture and they held nicely against the weight of the ricotta but it was hard to discern the blend of typical ingredients that make up the magic of the meatball. I didn’t really sense any traditional Italian herbs or garlic even. So for me, this was a nice dish but not the home run I was hoping for.
Shrimp all’ Arrabbiata, $18
Sautéed garlic, pepperoncini
A portion of five medium-sized shrimp arrived on a far-too-large rectangular plate. I was loathe to photograph the entire dish as it lacked finesse-to-garnish proportion. Everything looked so fresh—you could see the herbs, garlic, on the shrimp and it was perfection. I dove right in for the first overly enthusiastic bit and immediately stopped in my tracks. WAIT! Where are the peppers? Where’s the heat? Where’s the all’arrabbiata? Once again, this is a cautionary tale about expectation. To me, and according to Eataly Magazine, “Leave it to the fiery Romans to give us pasta all’arrabbiata. Cooked in a tomato-based sauce, this ‘angry’ pasta is spiced with crushed red peppers.”
Arrabbiata means “angry” in Italian…” Well, guess what? Now we had one angry Italian (not really!). I was expecting a red-based spicy tossed shrimp. What arrived was essentially shrimp scampi. It was tasty and well prepared but definitely not served as described. In taking a closer look, I saw that I should have asked more. The name of the dish and the description contradict one another, which I didn’t realize until it was too late. Buyer beware!
Mozzarella, ricotta, Grana Padano, yellow squash, prosciutto di Parma, and maple syrup, topped with fresh arugula
To know me is to know I am curious by nature. I cook a ton, have had the pleasure of eating out a lot, living in Italy, and traveling a significant amount. Always hunting down the best food, restaurant, or epicurean experience. With that in mind, it’s safe to say I may have an opinion or two. So before I put in the order, I query Mike about the pie I was eyeing when we pondered the chef’s choice to add yellow squash to the combo presented. As I mused and rambled on about how the chef may have landed on yellow squash, Mike blurts out, “You don’t like the yellow squash, don’t get it!” So of course, I say, “No, I’ll take the Parma!”
It arrived with absolute aplomb, almost jumping off the plate. The yellow squash was sliced so finely that it curled into its lightly caramelized state mixed among the colorations of white, cream, reddish brown, and bright green. I could not wait another second. I dove right in, audibly mmmmm-ing as I let the flavors roll over my tongue. Taste buds in full Elaine-from-Seinfeld-dance mode. It was stunningly delicious and had so many great elements about it. I really do love nothing more than when a dish presents all its flavors balanced and playfully commingling to make the perfect bite every time. Hats off to the chef for his unique ability to find this ideal use for a yellow squash indeed.
What’s on Tap
Sierra Nevada $7
Asbury Seadragon $7
Sam Adams $6 (changes seasonally)
Peroni is the mainstay, however two taps are on a continuous rotation. Please call for the most up-to-date selections.
Moscato D’Asti Elvio Tintero Piedmont $10
Spumante Lamberti Veneto $10
Prosecco Superiore Brut Jeio Veneto $10
Champagne Moet & Chandon Imperial $18
White Zinfandel Montevina California $8
Granache Blend Chateua Gassier L’Espirit Provence $11
Reisling Pierre Sparr Alsace $9
Sauvignon Blanc Brancott Estate New Zealand $10
Sancerre Daniel Chotard France $15
Gavi di Gavi La Scolca White Label Piedmont $12
Belmundo Sicily $9
Nals Margreid Alto Adige $14
Esk Valley, $10
Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc, $11
Whitehall Lane, $12,50
Domaine Fouassier Sancerre, $14
Santa Rita 120 Riserva Especial Chile $10
Drouhin Vaudon Chablis $16
Merlot Hanging Vine Parcel 9 California $10
Malbec Trapiche Oak Cask Mendoza $11
Langhe Rosso Produtorri del Barbaresco Piedmont $15
Montepuliciano D’Abruzzo B Cornacchia Tuscany $9
Super Tuscan Lucente Tuscany $16
Straccali Tuscany $9
Classico Borgo Scopetto Tuscany $14
The Seeker France $10
Routestock Willamette Valley $12
Concannon Paso Robles $11
Justin Paso Robles $1
What Else to Know
Daily happy hours, Monday through Saturday
Sunday: Happy hour all day!
When to Show
Monday through Thursday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon to 9:00 p.m.
Know Before You Go!
Hours, prices, and menus are subject to change. Please check the website for more information.
27 Ocean Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
A Lady Walks into a Bar™ is owned and trademarked by Gabrielle Garofalo.