Psst. It’s me, Lisa. Is it safe to talk? I…I think I’m feeling a bit better. But I’m afraid to say so because the last time I thought I was done with this $&^$&%*@ morning sickness, I promptly tossed my cookies. All of them. However, I must be, because last night I was starving and really wanted seafood; so off we went, down the street to the Shark Fin Inn.
To be honest, we haven’t been in a while because I heard the original chef left and wasn’t sure what we’d find. I’m not sure of the details and I won’t spread a story I know nothing about- I heard that there was some bad blood between the chef and the owners, and have no idea who, if anyone, was at fault. I will say this, though: not much has changed, which is a mostly a good thing. It’s generally family-friendly, but it is also known for it’s crowded bar and karaoke nights (so don’t bring the kiddies too late in the evening). Unlike most “casual-nice” seafood establishments at the shore that take their decor cues from the Krusty Krab (I don’t mind that look if we’re talking about a good ol’ fashioned seafood shack where you wear your flip flops and bring your favorite beer, but do we really need another place with nets on the wall and a “Capn’s Platter?”), the Inn has a laid-back, modernist, tropical feel to it . It’s unexpected and not overdone; the bold, solid colors and tropical prints on the walls are just enough to give it an upscale feel with a nod to kitsch-it always feels like summer in there.
So you might, seeing all of this with the appetizer choices (Shark Taco! Big Bangkok Shark Bites! Lobster Flatbread!), think this is one cutting-edge place. Well, it is a step up from the choice of “battered and fried” vs. “broiled in butter and sprinkled with paprika”. Last night, John ordered some pristine clams on the half-shell and his old standby, the Blue Claw Saute. The promise is garlic crabs “without the fuss,” and it delivers. It is simply wonderfully fresh, garlicky, and plentiful crabmeat plopped on top of angel hair pasta. A simple slice of heaven. Julian ordered his favorite off the kid’s menu, the fried flounder. It’s a huge slab of fillet, freshly breaded with panko breadcrumbs and fried. The new chef (a nice, easy-going guy!) was actually out shmoozing the tables, and when he came over to ours, Jules, ever-inquisitive and chatty, asked how he made it. He confirmed that it was prepared from start to finish in their kitchen. When I think of the numerous places that would just throw Mrs. Paul’s into the Fryolator for unsophisticated little palates used to Kool-Aid and chicken nuggets, I have to respect them. How our little squirt put the whole thing away in one sitting is beyond me, though. I ordered the Crab and Lobster Bisque to start with. Does anyone out there remember the comedy troupe “The State” on MTV? Do you recall “Barry and Levon”? Because the only way I can express my joy and the intensity of this soup is with an “Awwwwwwww, yeeeeeeeah!”. Really. You’ll want to bathe in it.
Sadly, the Drunken Garlic Shrimp was a disappointment. “Sauteed in the finest of spirits, with garlic, diced tomato, and herbs”-but something about it was flat. The shrimp were plump, fresh, just terrific…but it needed, I don’t know, “brightening”. I borrowed the lemon from Julian’s plate and squeezed some on, which helped a bit, but I got the feeling I could have made a tastier sauce at home. And I HATE eating anything out that I can make better at home. Grrrrrrr.
Other “point-of-view translations” of things we’ve tried previously are :
Big-Bangkok Shark Bites-Yup, it’s shark. Breaded and fried with a sweet/spicy dipping sauce. Ever have “alligator bites”? Same thing, different animal.
Tuna Tartar Nachos-If you love sushi and you haven’t had “tuna tartar” before, you’ll like this. My only complaint is that I’ve had it in other places with a wasabi dressing, and I missed it when I had this. The citris aoli seemed too weak.
Fire and Ice Cocktail-Just ho hum. The build up sounds exciting, but when it arrives, you’re struck with “Is that all there is?” Yes, it’s just a shrimp and crab meat cocktail with a creamier, spicier sauce to dip it in. S’ok.
Maui Coco-Mac Shrimp– Large, fresh shrimp, but don’t be fooled by the description (“breaded with sweet coconut & macadamia nuts; served in a fresh coconut shell with a raspberry-mango coulis”) it’s “Coconut Shrimp With a Dipping Sauce”, and you’ve had this before. If it’s your thing, you’ll love it; too sweet for my taste.
Lobster Ravioli Newburg– Lobster-stuffed pasta with a cream sauce. Been there.
Hemmingway’s Treasure– Broiled seafood platter. Done that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trashing the place. The seafood is top quality, the atmosphere is nice and a bit different, the service is good- just make sure you go in knowing that despite the promise of adventuresome eats, there’s nothing too new here. It’s simply a good, solid, seafood-made-with-love joint. And it’s just up the street. What more could I ask?
Shark Fin Inn – Rt. 9, Forked River. (609) 971-5440
UPDATE – The Shark Fin Inn closed in 2013, leaving a large property tax bill. As of this update (January 2014), the space is still unoccupied.