The writer was invited to visit Blu Grotto and the meal was complimentary.
Blu Grotto is located on the grounds of Monmouth Park in Oceanport, a Garden State shore town. The eatery focuses on modern and classic adaptations of regional Italian cuisine, and has recently reopened its expansive outdoor dining spaces for its loyal local customers and shore visitors, and for live horse-racing enthusiasts.
The three outdoor patios have been reconfigured to allow for proper social distancing of its 84 seats, overlooking the lavish gardens and Monmouth Park Racetrack.
Blu Grotto also offers a popular Beer Garden, with a casual small plates menu featuring items like the traditional Maine lobster roll, a burger and a hot dog by meat purveyor extraordinaire Pat LaFrieda, and signature pizzas from Blu Grotto’s outdoor, blue-tiled pizza oven. The Beer Garden is open Thursdays (bar and food available at 3:00 p.m.) and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (bar opens at 1:00 p.m., food is available at 2:00 p.m.).
About Executive Chef James Corona
Executive Chef James Corona is a Batali and Bouley alum who’s best known for tapping into “modern Italian cuisine with a soulful yet minimalist approach.” Chef Corona features high-quality ingredients in his cooking and plates dishes without complicated additions or fussiness.
About the Food and Libations
Blu Grotto’s menu ranges from salads/antipasto to primi to secondi to dessert, in proper Italian fashion. The restaurant offers an interesting wine list with some fan favorites but also some more obscure finds that I could really get into. We really enjoyed artisanal cocktails, like the Grappolo: a blend of Codigo 1530 tlanco tequila, Giffard grapefruit, lemon and soda. And the buds, berries and bubbles: a combination of Lillet Rose, Aperol, strawberry, raspberry, lemon, and soda. Both were well made, refreshing on a warm day, and delicious.
Chef Corona’s made some changes to his modern Italian menu to accommodate outdoor dining and will continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery service.
For our appetizers, we started with burrata mozzarella, short-rib meatballs and grilled octopus. We loved that the burrata was served with peaches instead of the typical tomatoes. The addition of peppery arugula, crunchy pistachios, and aged balsamic created a perfect summer starter. The meatballs, we need to talk about. Could these be the very best meatballs we’ve had at a restaurant? We believe so. They’re light and moist with big, beefy flavors from the short rib and smartly served over creamy polenta with some dollops of whipped ricotta—AMAZING. The octopus was tender and nicely grilled and served over a chickpea puttanesca, a great dish.
The restaurant’s charming manager, Alessandro Latini, graciously brought us a tasting portion of the fettuccini Bolognese and we’re thrilled he did as it was one of our favorite dishes. The delicate, hand-made fettuccine was cooked to a perfect al dente doneness and tossed in a flavorful meat sauce made of veal, beef and pork. I thought I made a pretty great Bolognese until I tasted Chef Corona’s version—back to the drawing board for me!
For our entrées we selected two of the daily specials: veal marsala and branzino piccata. The veal was fork-tender in a rich broth with intense mushroom and marsala flavors. The branzino was cooked to perfection with ultra-crispy skin and just-cooked flesh.
For dessert, while we “couldn’t possibly eat another bite,” we devoured the beautifully plated lemon tart with a blueberry compote. The tangy and sweet flavors were a perfect pairing and a wonderful way to end an outstanding meal.
On a return visit, we’ll sample some other handmade pasta dishes as we were so impressed with the fettuccine. Perhaps the linguine and clams with garlic, Calabrian chili and Bottarga breadcrumbs as it sounds scrumptious.
Blu Grotto is currently open for dinner, weather permitting, with a maximum table size of eight guests. Reservations are highly recommended via phone at 732-751-7900 or via OpenTable. Guests are required to wear masks upon entering and when visiting restrooms.
Blu Grotto (blugrottonj.com)
200 Port Au Peck Avenue
Oceanport, NJ 07757