Everything about our visit to this restaurant seemed familiar. As my guest and I slowly drove along winding East Lacey Road, I knew I had been there before, especially when we approached the building that sits along the river at the end of the street. In fact, I had been there five years ago to review this restaurant when it was called Southwinds (the marina where it's located is still referred to as Southwinds).
I remembered enjoying the food and the ambiance and hoped this time I would be equally delighted. As it tuned out, I was, and even more so. This visit, however, was at the end of October instead of early September five years ago, when daylight was longer, and the outside deck was hopping with summer-like activity.
For the most part, we were the only patrons in the place, so we couldn't accurately get a feel for how Latitudes operates in full swing, but I had a pretty good idea from my previous jaunt there.
The mid-sized carpeted dining room, which was once on the ground floor, has moved to the second floor with views of the decks, docks and river. The color scheme has been switched from nautical blue to chic black and white with little ornamentation on the walls. But who needs extra decor when the windows present such a lovely setting all around?
Our waitress, a vivacious young woman, was as charming as they come. Oftentimes, I'm surprised at how, on a slow night, servers can miss the little things that matter such as refilling water glasses or knowing when to stop by to see if anything is needed. This server didn't miss a trick. From the moment we sat down to when we said goodnight, she delivered spot-on service, and we appreciated her caring manner.
The food stood up as well. I've said before that dishes don't have to be overly fancy to win me over as long as they are cooked correctly, and that's what we found here.
Our meal got off to a great start with two dandy appetizers.
Three gigantic butterflied, coconut-coated, perfectly deep-fried shrimp ($9) were greaseless, crunchy and not too sweet. A zesty horseradish and mustard infused raspberry dipping sauce added spunky flavor but was almost unnecessary. The shrimp shone alone. Just as delicious were tender, coriander and pepper dusted, seared-to-rare tuna slices ($12) served on crostini with cilantro reduction that were accompanied by a finely minced tomato-cucumber salsa.
The summery Boca Raton salad ($9) - made with field greens, grape tomatoes, chopped avocado, fresh oranges and bleu cheese crumbles - was tossed with simple balsamic vinaigrette. The amount of dressing used on a salad can make or break it. Someone was on the dot with this one.
My guest ordered the herb encrusted pork tenderloin ($18) cooked to the chef's preference. It arrived medium rare (yes, pork may be eaten while still fairly pink) and oh-so-tender and flavorsome with the apple and dried cherry compote that came on top of it.
Sauteed mixed vegetables and garlic smashed potatoes may seem ordinary, but these side dishes were properly prepared and very tasty, which elevated them several notches.
Chicken Saltimbocca ($18) was mounded with fork-cutable, boneless, chicken breasts covered with Italian prosciutto, a sliced hard boiled egg and melted provolone cheese, bronzed with a glossy Madeira wine sauce then perched on a bed of spinach. Included were the same snappy assorted vegetables that came with the pork. We found hints of garlic in almost the whole lot, but nothing was excessively seasoned.
Having house-made desserts is another plus in my book. A traditional key lime pie ($7), made with thin, graham cracker crust and creamy, citrusy filling, was sweet, yet it had a subtle tart snap. We devoured each addictive mouthful.
Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting ($7) had all of the ingredients of a terrific cake, but we found it dense and somewhat dry, especially along the edges. In spite of the texture problem, it tasted fine.
Latitudes stays open all year. Waterfront dining is just as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer, and you won't have to battle any crowds during the off-season.
The portion sizes are bountiful; the prices are reasonable, and the service is polished.
If you haven't ventured to Forked River for dinner, you might want to go there. Five years ago I said it was worth the trip, and I haven't changed my mind.
Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Features Editor Steve Cronin at email@example.com. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
Latitudes on the River
361 E. Lacey Road
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays, noon to midnight Fridays and Saturdays
Liquor license: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: Most major
Price range: Appetizers $8 to $13, entrees $15 to $38
Our bill for two: $80 plus tip