WHAT’S FOR LUNCH? A DIP IN THE OCEAN CAFÉ

090215oceancafe4Seared tuna in a rice-paper wrap and a mixed fruit smoothie for lunch, with a picture-window view of Monmouth Street thrown in, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

090215oceancafe5It’s the first week of September, but still hot as blazes outside. So the fun, beach-themed mural seen through the floor-to-ceiling front window of the Ocean Café in Red Bank beckoned us to chill out and take a little extra time for lunch.

Overindulging during the month of August, PieHole was looking for some dietary balance, and the menu here skews to healthier fare such as salads, wrap sandwiches, soups and sandwiches on reliably good French bread. Deciding to go all-in with a lighter, cooler, less-fattening lunch, we found a myriad of options at this Monmouth Street getaway.

090215oceancafe2Customers came in for takeout orders while others had a more leisurely lunch in the beach-themed café. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

Dithering over the many refreshing choices, it took us more than a few minutes to decide. Maybe there was something in the air, because the people at the next table also seemed indecisive. Fortunately our waitress was patient.

It wasn’t more than a couple of minutes before the Tropical Storm ($5.50) hit our table. An icy cold Power Smoothie, it combined fresh mango, pineapple, banana, orange and coconut flavors that could be sipped through a straw. This is just the sort of libation that makes you feel like you’re cheating on a healthy lunch, but in this case is all fruit. The absence of sugary additives made it a little tart and a little less cloyingly sweet, and oh so satisfying.

The menu offers six different summer rolls, which are basically salads wrapped in pliable, sticky rice paper. At about 20 calories for an average rice paper wrap, compared to an average flour wrap at about 144 calories, it’s a dietary bargain.

A tuna steak summer roll ($6.95) included a thin slice of rare tuna, as requested. Stuffed into the roll were carrots, avocado, cucumbers and lettuce. It also comes with a small container of tamarind sauce that was rather thin and more like a sweet salad dressing.

Other summer rolls are accompanied by a thicker peanut sauce or pesto mayonnaise, which would work better as a dip. The side salad, or garnish, if-you-will, was redundant, as it mirrored the filling in the roll.

The menu here offers many vegan and vegetarian options, such as a grilled tofu wrap and a hummus bar featuring five different varieties, served with whole wheat pita bread.

Ocean Café, at 21 Monmouth Street, is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The four-restaurant chain also has locations in at 44 Broad Street in Shrewsbury, as well as Long Branch and Manalapan.

SUSAN-ERICSON