By JIM WILLIS
It was a dark and stormy cocktail that kicked off our dinner at Red Bank’s new B2 Bistro with a bang.
The bartender flipped opened the swing-top bottle of housemade ginger beer and it popped with a raucous expolosion that turned heads and captured the vibe of pent-up excitement that surrounded this West Side bistro’s opening.
We chose wisely in deciding to grab a drink at the bar before sitting down to dinner. B2’s cocktail menu presented some interesting drinks that tastefully incorporated the bar’s array of homemade mixers. The Lemon Thyme Bramble ($11) – a combination of gin, St. Germain and blackberry brandy– is flavored with a homemade lemon and thyme simple syrup.
Our invigorating Dark and Stormy incorporated a sweet but very nicely-spiced homemade ginger beer with Gosling’s dark rum and lime.
Cocktails ring in at $11 per, which puts them right between Gotham’s $10 cocktails and Robinson Ale House’s $12 to $13 drinks.
B2 boasts a lengthy beer list, with pints coming in at $5 to $7. The inspired wine list is a pleasure to peruse, playfully substituting a Picpoul for the pedestrian Pinot Grigio, and offering a great selection of bottles ($24 to $110, with a sweet spot around $40 to $50) and wine by the glass ($6 to $12).
The restaurant has enormous windows along Shrewsbury avenue that allow the afternoon sun to draw out the warmth of the wood bar and decor. Divded into two airy rooms, the restaurant has a bar area with taller bar height tables and a traditional dining area packed bistro-style with traditional tables. It was still early in the evening when we decided to grab table for dinner and opted to sit on the more lively bar-side of the restaurant.
An informed selection of charcuterie and cheese ($9 to $25) kicks off the dinner menu. When a restaurant gives dishes like chicken liver pate – made in-house with a balsamic peach jam – or pork rillete top billing, it’s got this eater’s attention.
B2 general manager Andy Rasizer tells PieHole that cheeses– including a six-year-old gouda and soft goat milk with cow cream Kunik – are selected with assistance by Stephen Catania, of Monmouth Street’s Cheese Cave, and round out our favorite part of this menu.
Following the menu down through the salads – such as the watermelon with avocado, cucumber and tomato ($12) – brings you a handful of plates, including the dry-aged burger ($15), suckling pig ($25) and New York strip steak ($39).
The keen reader will notice that we’re now a full three-quarters of the way down the B2 menu and we’ve yet to see a single pasta or pizza dish. This, combined with charcuterie and cheese leading off the menu, sends a strong signal that B2 is breaking out of the tired (though unbelievably successful) Yo, valet-park my Maserati so I can eat spaghetti and meatballs! template that has come to define the somewhat monotonous food court that we call Red Bank.
Rasizer tells PieHole the menu is that way for a reason. “We wanted to showcase the other things that we’ve got going on here at B2,” says Rasizer. “We didn’t want to be just another pizza place in Red Bank.”
Sitting at the bar, repeat B2 customer William Alexander, 31 of Lincroft tells PieHole that Red Bank desperately needed something totally and completely different, and he’s found it.
“You’ve got to hop the tracks to the West Side to find something besides pizza and bar food,” says Alexander.
B2 chef Cesare ‘Chez’ De Chellis obliged PieHole’s request to pick out a few items from the charcuterie and cheese selections and pair them with a glass of wine. We sampled the country pate, Mangalica ham and chicken liver pate with gouda and Kunik cheeses. Rasizer paired this sampling with a 2008 Saint-Émilion. We plowed through the plate and thrilled with each new taste. The soft velvety fat of the Mangalica ham makes it a delicious alternative to the usual prosciutto that is readily found around town. Though the standout was the Bordeaux region wine paired with the chicken liver pate.
As much as we enjoyed the food, what we relished even more was being in town at a restaurant that was breaking out of the Red Bank template. A place bold enough to open on the West Side and lead off with charcuterie. A place with a staff that is so enthusiastic and energetic about doing something new in town that they were bubbling with energy, on the verge of bursting like the bottle of homemade ginger beer that kicked off our evening.