By TOM CHESEK
Those who cherish a favorite Red Bank restaurant or two probably don’t know the half of it. A walk around the streetside smorgasbord of the business-district is a world-class international excursion in its own right, abuzz with culinary accents: French, German, Irish and Italian; Japanese, Mediterranean, Mexican and Thai.
There are even tantalizing tastes of such exotic far-flung locales as Brooklyn and Philadelphia along with a couple of cool fusions that we’ve yet to triangulate with our gastronomic GPS.
With the weather turning walkable once more, the folks at Red Bank RiverCenter are encouraging hibernators to abandon the burrow for the borough that’s long stood as Monmouth County’s premier dining destination. Dine Downtown, a promotion effort that’s as sure a harbinger of Spring as the first pitchers-and-catchers report, returns for a fourth fab year, and the enticement is on every Tuesday and Wednesday evening in April, with sixteen eateries offering a range of special prix fixe menus that include appetizer, entre?e and dessert for a lusciously low price (beverages, tax and gratuities are not included).
The promotion has been a successful one for the RiverCenter partnership, now under the direction of Nancy Adams. While the list of participants continues to spotlight both long-establish landmarks and buzzworthy newcomers with vibes that span the comfy side of casual to the cutting edge of cosmopolitan there’s been some fine-tuning done since the first Dine Downtown went down in March, 2005.
For one thing, this spring’s event has been transferred to the generally friendlier climate of April from its former month-of-March neighborhood. Plus, the promotion now offers up prix fixe deals at four distinct price levels $15, $25, $30 and $35 per person; a development that better reflects the variety of dining experiences available within borough borders. And with RiverCenter expanding its mission to the west side of town, Dine Downtown is just as likely to mean Bridge or Riverside Avenues as it does any address in or around Broad Street.
As RiverCenter’s PR puts it, the promotion “offers a great opportunity for people to try a new restaurant and afterwards catch a show at Count Basie Theatre, Two River Theater or Clearview Cinemas.” Numerous pairings come to mind: a visit to 2 Senza followed by the revival of the stage classic The Glass Menagerie (April 2 and 9 at the Two River); a rare in-person appearance by TV medium John Edward (April 29 at the Count Basie) preceded by a medium-rare steak at Danny’s Steakhouse; or enjoy the European artistry at Dish, and then step over to the Clearview for that European art film everyone’s dishing about.
The choice is yours, of course, and foodies in search of their fixe can choose from the following:
$15.00 PRIX FIXE
Broadway Grill 80 Broad St./ 732-741-2611 Solidly satisfying, affordably priced fare, with songs by Broadway’s best.
New Corner Restaurant 22 East Front St./ 732-530-1007 Casual, family-friendly pizza-pastaria puts on no airs and packs ’em in with a full menu of robust ristorante favorites.
$25.00 PRIX FIXE
Basil Ts Brewery & Italian Grill 183 Riverside Ave./ 732-842-5990 Big Vic’s legacy carries on at this ever-popular West Side welcome-wagon, with Rallo family specialties and custom brews by the mug or growler.
Bienvenue 7 East Front St./ 732-936-0640 Frederic Vidal’s acclaimed and romantically intimate bistro is a petit bit of Southwestern France in the heart of downtown.
Dannys Steakhouse, Seafood & Sushi Bar 11 Bridge Ave./ 732-741-6900 Visionary owner Danny Murphy pioneered destination dining on his block, with a place that’s stayed fresh and current while losing none of its neighborhood-landmark status.
Dish, A Restaurant 13 White St./ 732-345-7070 A tiny titan where a seasonally-changing menu features accents of practically anywhere on the gastronomic globe.
Gaetanos 10 Wallace St./ 732-741-1321 Tom Capello’s bustling bistro with the convertible-front dining space is a fine place for a gourmet pizza, special entree or intriguing dessert.
La Pastaria 30 Linden Pl./ 732-224-8699 The family Angelo’s recently relocated favorite offers an expanded menu, custom-sized portions and an array of personalized pizzas.
Molly Pitcher Inn 88 Riverside Ave./ 732-747-2500 Million-dollar panoramic views and bracingly fresh seafood classics at this grande dame of Navesink River hospitality (gents wear jackets after 5p).
Osteria Dante 91 Broad St./ 732-530-0602 A fresh new Mediterranean perspective is introduced to a fine menu of Northern and Southern Italian favorites.
Red 3 Broad St./ 732-741-3232 Downtown’s cool and designey multi-level meet-and-greet has an intriguing way with traditional steakhouse/seafood fare, along with signature specialty drinks. (Prix Fixe available Wednesdays only.)
Sogno Ristorante 69 Broad St./ 732-747-6969 Perennially ranked among the top Italian eateries in New Jersey, the Blassi family’s establishment is that little room with the great big reputation.
$30.00 PRIX FIXE
The Bistro at Red Bank 14 Broad St./ 732-530-5553 As fine a place as any to watch the world go by, this essential downtown fixture has been positioned by the brothers Lyristis as a culinary world tour in itself.
The Melting Pot The Galleria, Bridge Ave. and West Front St./ 732-219-0090 Fondue is for lovers at this tantalizing dip into communal dining.
$35.00 PRIX FIXE
2 Senza Ristorante The Galleria, Bridge Ave. and West Front St./ 732-758-0999 Jill Green and her staff have made this West Side sensation a true destination for steak, seafood and past with a Mediterranean flair.
Thyme Square 45 Broad St./ 732-450-1001 Owners Steve and Rona teamed with Chef James Corona to create a real “crossroads of the world” with a stylish approach and a passionate, eclectic menu.