SURF CITY - Long Beach Island is bursting with interesting places to dine, from flip-flop casual to upscale and everything in between. With an eclectic menu and understated d�cor, complete with white tablecloths and a pumping metro soundtrack, Plate seems to have found a comfortable place for itself on the trendy track.
We were especially pleased to see on the menu locally caught fish and seafood, an organic chicken dish and a vegetarian entr�e. This may not be a big deal to city folks who are used to finding such items when they eat out, but to those of us from smaller towns who have waited for restaurants to feature truly natural foods, it's a welcomed addition.
So, how could we pass up an appetizer cocktail plate ($15) featuring Cape May oysters, Barnegat little neck clams and grilled shrimp with lemon horseradish tomato salsa? We didn't; and, for the most part, we were happy with what we had. You can't go wrong with freshly shucked oysters and clams that hail straight from Jersey shore waters, but it was the overdone shrimp that disappointed us.
However, a deliciously warm, oven-baked baguette and Indian style flatbread with olive oil for dipping made us happy even though the bread doughs could have used more salt.
Although I've seen it before, I liked the chef's twist on Caesar salad ($10), which usually comes chopped and topped with mediocre croutons and garlicky, sometimes bottled, dressing.
This one had two bountiful, whole romaine hearts topped with plenty of aged pecorino cheese, creamy dressing (albeit a little too much), an extra crispy crostini, and a wonderful, deep-fried five minute egg with a perfectly soft middle and a crunchy outer crust. The dressing had just the right amount of garlic in it, but I would have enjoyed a punch of lemon or anchovy to brighten it up.
Because it's usually pretty bland, flounder is only worth eating if it's off the boat. The impeccably cooked, chardonnay basted, pan seared fluke ($26) we had was just that. It needed nothing else but the breath of wine to enhance it. I was less enthused about the vinegary wild mushroom relish floating underneath the fish, but handmade spaetzle in traditional alfredo sauce and simply grilled asparagus nicely completed the dish, which could have gone awry had the fillet been cooked too long like some I've had over the years at other fish eateries.
The Flying Fish beer-braised baby back ribs with mildly spicy mango barbecue sauce ($26) were quite good and very tender, but the roasted potatoes accompanying them tasted old, spongy and reheated. For twenty-six dollars, these ribs should have been served with sizzling fresh potatoes. A mound of sweet corn coleslaw was also dreadfully tired to the point that we couldn't eat it, and we didn't find much corn in the mix to boot.
The high point of this meal came at the end and left a lasting impression.
If you've considered moving on from cr�me brulee because it's everywhere you go, this recipe may change your mind. Lavender scented custard made with real vanilla bean had a scrumptious, delicate burnt sugar topping. Served with a scoop of blood orange sorbet, homemade whipped cream and a medley of berries, cherries and chopped mango, this version ($8) was the best I've had in a long time. Another crowd pleaser-flourless chocolate cake ($8)-was equally luscious with chocolaty dense texture, a layer of raspberry jam and a chocolate ganache coating. Whoever made these confections deserves applause.
The manager of the restaurant doubled as our waiter, so without a doubt the service was excellent. He was especially friendly, took great care of us, and we noticed he did the same for others as well. At the time we were there it wasn't busy, so we didn't see the place in full swing, but I imagine he would make sure that good service is a priority. He set the example.
What I'll remember most about our dinner is the outstanding flounder we had and the fabulous desserts. No kidding … I can still taste them.
(Taylor Yarborough is the pseudonym of a southern New Jersey food writer. Write to Yarborough c/o Food Editor James Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Restaurant-ratings guide: 4 stars, extraordinary; 3 stars, excellent; 2 stars, good; 1 star, fair; 0 stars, poor.)
1402 Long Beach Blvd.
Hours: Dinner 5 p.m. until closing; brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Liquor license: BYO
Wheelchair accessible: Dining room, yes; restrooms, no
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers, $10 to $13; entrees, $20 to $36
Our bill for two: $93 plus tip