SOMERS POINT - When the legendary Mac's reopened its doors after a long hiatus, its new owners renovated the interior into a modern facility with chic d�cor. It was a welcome change that gave the place a much-needed boost.
Current proprietors Sandi (the restaurant's namesake) and Dan Anderson have now taken it to a new level by providing creative cuisine that expresses a contemporary point of view. Plus, the addition of a weekly live jazz night in the ballroom has sparked a lot of uplifting energy for music lovers.
Clearly, the menu's focus is on fish and seafood, but there is no shortage of meat and poultry items to choose from. When I find a menu that excites me while reading it, I have high hopes that the food will do the same thing for my palate. This one did both.
Even though we ordered appetizers, my guest and I couldn't resist having bistro-made kettle chips with two dips ($4). Four dollars is a small price to pay for a big basket of house-fried potato chips that were warm, crunchy and devilishly addictive, especially dunked in zesty, hand-chopped tomato salsa or wasabi sour cream dip that reminded us of the old fashioned kind with onions, only better. We saved some chips to take home, and they were equally yummy the next day.
The assorted chilled seafood platter ($19) was large enough to share with two each of perfectly cooked jumbo shrimp, clams and oysters on the half shell, and hefty servings of tender lobster and lump crabmeat, all served with cocktail sauce and lemon. The oysters were as fresh as they can get but not as sweetish as they can sometimes be, a negligible complaint.
Beautiful wedges of heirloom tomatoes ($7) were drizzled with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Tomatoes are not yet in season here, so obviously these heirlooms were imported from elsewhere. They tasted lovely, but they were ever so slightly under ripe.
What we enjoyed most about the house salad - made with spring mix, shredded carrots, dried cranberries and croutons - was its unfussiness and the delicious homemade blue cheese dressing (on the side) that we picked from several options. Too often, blue cheese dressing is so goopy you have to scrape it off the spoon, but this version poured nicely and tasted great with a subtler blue cheese flavor than we're used to.
A cup of creamy Southwest chicken and corn chowder packed with aromatic vegetables and tickled with a hint of cumin also had ideal consistency, hovering between think and thin.
I was absolutely delighted with my entr�e, the grilled fish of the day ($19). With its utter simplicity, it brought to mind a meal I once had in Italy. Napped with delicate lemon butter sauce, a whole trout arrived head and tail intact with soft, buttery flesh that easily flaked from its bones. Plain whipped potatoes and steamed broccoli florets can be dull, but when they're prepared properly as these were, they make good accompaniments.
The veal scallopini forestiere ($24) came in a bowl brimming with angel hair pasta topped with pounded veal medallions and loads of wild mushrooms in a rich, glossy brown sauce. Missing was the spinach described on the menu, and there was more sauce in the bowl than we thought necessary, but we liked it nonetheless.
Our dessert was a little misleading. What was supposed to be a piece of banana cream pie ($5) was presented more like a pudding. A metal saucer with a layer of chocolate cookie crumbs was mounded with sliced bananas and velvety banana cream. It wasn't exactly a pie, but it was probably served that way to keep the fruit from turning brown as can happen when a banana is peeled from its skin. There was no whipped cream on top like you'll find on a traditional pie, but that didn't stop us from devouring it.
Our waitress was delightful. In a bistro setting, we don't expect white glove service, but we do appreciate when servers pay attention to details, and ours did. The busboy, however, could have been a tad savvier. When soiled cutlery is removed, it needs to be replaced before the next course is delivered.
We were one of a handful of tables on the night that we dined, and from start to finish it took two hours to complete our meal, which was longer than we anticipated on a midweek evening. But terrific food, a cozy ambiance, and a sophisticated jazz soundtrack made every minute we waited worth it.
(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.)
Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro
908 Shore Road
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; dinner, 4 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Liquor license: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Price range: Appetizers, $5 to $19; entrees, $15 to $29.50
Our bill for two: $78 plus tip