A recent trip up to the other end of the Monmouth County coastline had us finally taking the advice of the northern faction of the family and stopping by this restaurant. While I may sometimes question their choices of neighborhoods, I’ll have to stop questioning their choice for this type of Italian food.
I’ll omit much discussion of appearances or FOH issues beyond noting that this Ocean Avenue joint is efficient, comforting, and welcoming - traits similarly exhibited by its staff. Now, onto the important stuff . . . .
We ordered quite a bit of food for two, mostly from the excitement borne out of trying a new spot. Appetizers were a cold antipasto of Italian Meats, Pecorino Tartuffo, Crab-stuffed Mushrooms, and a Fennel Salad. The Entrees were a massive Veal Chop and the Angry Lobster. A small cup of Honey-Fig Gelato seemed like a good idea as a sweet, final taste.
Simply stated, I was impressed with everything I ate - and I pretty much ate everything. The Pecorino app was stellar. I had forgotten what a lovely chord the taste of those three notes - aged sheep’s milk cheese, black truffles, and honey - could sound as they reverberate across the tongue. Frankly, my biggest mistake of the night was not ordering a second plate.
The antipasto meats were all cured - prosciutto, salami, sweet and hot capicolla - and the sort of offering that always tends to get my attention. The meats were room temperature - avoiding that all too common mistake many kitchens make with this simple offering. I hit up the bread basket a bit with this - good, rustic bread served with a slightly peppery olive oil (probably as peppery as one would want to serve to a diverse public, but not the kind of “scratch the back of your throat” stuff I like to keep at home).
The stuffed mushrooms may have been my least favorite dish of the night. The elements were certainly present - decent chunks of crab, not much breading, a rich-yet-balanced sauce both buttery and lemony - but, something about it seemed to get stranded at third. I’m thinking just a bit of salt might have helped, which suggests that the problem may have been with the order in which we gorged. This delicate dish probably didn’t stand much of a chance after the cured meats and pungent cheese.
The fennel salad, consisting of the anise-hinted root, baby arugula, toasted walnuts, orange sections, and more of that lovely pecorino was dressed gingerly with a shallot vinaigrette. The acidic-honeyed balance and freshness of the greens cleaned up our palates perfectly for the richness that was still to come.
The porterhouse-style, 24 ounce veal chop was wonderful. I ordered it to be done at whatever temp the chef recommended and was informed it will come “medium”. Honestly, I’m glad I did. The behemoth was perfectly pinkish in the interior - a doneness I’ve seen categorized as “medium-rare” at many other restaurants. There’s not much more to say about it than, this is a meat-guy’s veal chop. Oh, and one tip, tell the server you have a dog - that way you won’t have to miss any morsels and can gnaw at the bone in the car without any shame.
The Angry Lobster was likewise delicious. The chopped pieces of a whole, pound and a half lobster, sautéed in a dry chile-flecked, fruity olive oil worked a tasty ying-yang balance. The bug’s sweetness balanced by the chiles’ heat. If we were to order it again, however, I think I’d ask for a thicker pasta for the bed. Papardelle might be better than the
spaghetti noodles ordinarily offered.
The house-made, gelato was a perfect finish. Just gently sweet, the figs chunks were able to retain their inherent flavor. A couple, little scoops were all we needed to cap the evening’s experience and left the tastebuds a thought to savor for the ride home along the Atlantic.
All told, we had a great deal of food for two - but, took a great deal of pleasure from the meal. The tab was one fifty-something before tax and tip, as the place is BYOB.
The vagaries of geography may mean some time will pass before we get a chance to go back, but one thing is absolutely certain. So long as Angelina’s is around, there’s no reason to set foot in Undici ever again.