By SUSAN ERICSON
Gone are the heavy velvet drapes and dark, brooding atmosphere that once decorated Red in Red Bank. Renovated and re-dubbed the Belmonte, the Broad Street restaurant and bar with the panoramic front window is now lighter, brighter and much more inviting.
A cool, marble-topped bar elicits a bit of Old World charm. Banquettes lining the walls promise comfort, while high-top tables arranged down the center aisle of the room offer a variety of seating or standing options: playing off the primarily tapas menu, it’s a mixture of this and that.
Traditionally, Spanish tapas are salty little snacks served in the early evening hours before dinner. Bits of Mediterranean-style ham, chorizo, sardines, cheeses and olives are served on small plates, accompanied by a glass of wine or sangria.
Promoting this concept of relaxed conversation while enjoying a small plate of food, the Belmonte has the right idea. The menu is full of bite-sized tapas, such as deviled eggs, a cured meat-and-cheese board, and the trendy roasted Shishito peppers served with a side of romesco aioli (a somewhat spicy mayonnaise).
An offering of three versions of taquitos caught our attention. One, a wild mushroom-and-chickpea-filled adaptation ($10), appealed to the vegetarian in our group. Transitioning from Mediterranean style to Mexican, we expected the filling to be rolled in corn tortillas and deep-fried. Taquito might be a misnomer for this dish, because the miniature corn tortillas were actually tacos.
The chickpea-and-mushroom mixture accompanied by slices of avocado, salsa and crema were tasty. Authentic? Not at all, but it seems that most of the dishes offered here are a little right of center. Not what you might expect, but to an open mind and palette, distinctive and fun just the same.
The sangria menu was also the Belmonte’s own rendition. Instead of large pitchers or glass punch bowls filled with wine, cut-up fruit and and fortified with brandy, here, the sangrias are made to order. We tried the sangria sunrise ($10), a wine glass filled with tequila, St. Germaine Elderflower and Bodega Norton Reserva Malbec.
Floral-scented, and not overly sweet, the sangria sunrise made for a lovely punch, but not so much what you’d expect from a tapas bar.
The lunch menu is a shortened version of the dinner menu, listing salads and tortas or sandwiches with the abbreviated tapas options. There are more tapas choices and entrees, such as skirt steak and a paella for two on the dinner menu.
The Belmonte, at 3 Broad Street, just one door in from the corner of East Front Street, is open at 11:30 a.m. for lunch daily