Wow, what a week. As John mentioned on Friday, our “baby” became a kindergartner and I became incredibly busy; so I think this is the perfect time to reminisce about our oh-too-short, luxurious anniversary weekend (but mostly about our dinner at Sea Salt).
After a lazy afternoon lounging about Harrah’s decadent new pool (an artificial tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, private cabanas, and poolside food and beverage service, set under a giant glass atrium at a temperature of 82 degrees, year-round), we readied ourselves for the main entertainment of the evening: dinner. It was a bit of a trip from Atlantic City to Stone Harbor, but that didn’t cool our determination to experience something upscale and out-of-the-ordinary to celebrate our 7 years of wedded (ahem) bliss. After driving along a quiet, remote causeway for some time, we suddenly came upon the jumping main street; with all of the cute little shops, restaurants, and J. Crew-clad summer people, it looked like, for better or worse, a hidden version of the Hamptons. But our destination was off the beaten path: a little 10-table BYO tucked into a residential section. Sea Salt’s decor was simple and subtle, but it had a warm, cozy feeling, without any pretensions, and we were greeted by the staff in the same manner.
Our server was cheerful and knowledgeable; when he explained that the highly seasonal and frequently-changing menu was divided into three a la carte sections (Firsts, Seconds, and Mains) but had a more “fun” option to do the prix fixe tasting ($58, choosing one course from each), I knew we were in the right place. Fine dining should be fun!
The first item brought to our table was a cute, rustic little bucket filled with a multi grain flat bread, served with a white grape aoli for dipping. Before we could even utter the first “ummm”, a chilled rutabaga soup arrived (“compliments of the kitchen”), served in a shot glass. It reminded me of a perfect, but less-sweet, butternut squash soup.
At last, we came to what we had actually ordered. John had the Cape May Salt Oysters on the half-shell, drizzled with a tomato water gelee and horseradish. I didn’t taste it (again, pregnancy safety dictates not going near any raw seafood, sniff!), but John assured me they were pristine: briny, with just a hint of tomato-y pep. My Cape May Oyster Stew was divine. Light, cloud-like oysters (which must have been placed in at the last moment, just barely cooked) hiding amongst potatoes and bacon in a cream broth, and topped with a “leek fondue” (read: a cute little haystack of heavenly caramelized leeks).
Second for John was the pan-seared scallops atop hijiki (Japanese seaweed salad) and roasted celery root, served with-no, we’re not kidding-a butterscotch melon sauce. I admired this one because it challenges the diner a bit, but John is still (seven days later) puzzled as to whether he liked it or not. I can vouch for the perfection of the scallops and hijiki, and the celery root had a caramelized, savory flavor that was addictive; the sauce, I’ll admit, worked with a bite of scallop, but on its own had a strange buttery, cantaloupe flavor. My “Second” was yet a second soup-Jersey corn chowder. It contained rock shrimp and corn in another cream broth, and was drizzled with a bit of chorizo oil. I really liked the “bite” I got with the oil, but I would have liked more to offset all of the sweet creaminess: my palate was getting tired of cream soups, I suppose, but I was limited in my expectant state (no marlin or tuna-mercury content; no fish “Tartar of the Day” or sushi- can’t risk eating things raw; no, I wasn’t in the mood for chicken or steak…this baby is making me an uncharacteristically picky eater!).
Our “Mains” consisted of John’s miso-basted marlin served over thin noodles with a coconut foam and roasted Jersey peaches, and my bouillabaisse. The marlin was cooked perfectly, and the foam and roasted peaches gave it a tropical essence without being sticky-sweet (this was still very much a savory dish). The bouillabaisse had a tomato-paprika base and contained a gorgeous piece of skate, shrimp, octopus, calamari, and mussels and was complemented by a creamy polenta dyed black with squid ink, but rich with the essence of fish broth (in no way fishy, folks). Despite being ready to explode, the waiter commented as he cleared our plates, “I’ll bring dessert.” DESSERT?!?! Well, yes. There is no dessert menu, but, again, “complements of the kitchen”, came a sweet little demitasse cup filled with homemade chocolate pudding, topped with hazelnut cream. I commented to John it looked “wafer-thin” (Python fans will read this phrase with a goofy French accent) as I struggled to make room between all that food and the baby. It went down easy- delicious, rich (but not too rich), and just enough.
Basking in the glow of a wonderful meal and the joy of a newly-discovered favorite, we returned to our room at Harrah’s to relax and digest in front of this view:
Ah, sweet food coma.
Sea Salt– 8307 Third Ave, Stone Harbor. 609.368.3302.
FYI: If this is making you hungry enough to consider making reservations, do it soon-Sea Salt is only open May through October (click on the link above for restaurant details).
UPDATE: Sea Salt has since closed, and Chef Lucas has taken his skills to The Ebbitt Room at the Virginia in Cape May.