Bill Boggs Corner Table: Joe Amiel's Bay Pointe Inn, Highlands, New Jersey: Waterfront Dining Perfection
Every once in a while, when we are very lucky, the right restaurant, with the right owner, opens in the right place, at the right time, and delivers exactly the right food.
So it is, with the brand new, spectacular, Joe Amiel's Bay Pointe Inn, located at the Sandy Hook Bay Marina in the historic and picturesque town of Highlands, New Jersey.
Joe Amiel is a restaurateur, who in the vernacular of jazz musicians was "raised right." His family owned and operated two legendary Manhattan hot spots, Jack Dempsey's and The Turf Restaurant. During his fifty-three year career, he's consulted on dozens of restaurants and owned or operated fourteen of his own, including The Rainbow Room, The Symphony Cafe, and for 27 years, one of the most popular dining destinations in New Jersey, The Old Mill Inn in Spring Lake. Most recently, he was at the helm of Sallee Tee's in Monmouth Beach, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene. Joe reopened it, only to witness it being totally destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. The Bay Pointe Inn is not just an execution of his vision of a perfect waterfront dining experience, it is also his comeback story.
The story starts with Joe's commitment to seafood, using only wild-caught fresh fish, never farmed. He embraces the notion of a waterfront seafood restaurant that has the all-American concept of showcasing recipes that reflect coastal areas of the country, like Florida snapper, Pacific Northwest salmon, Maryland crab cakes, Maine steamers, and spicy Louisiana shrimp. When he heads inland, its Amish Country roast chicken, grilled Colorado lamb chops, and Prime aged center cut New York sirloin. Joe's particularly proud of his specially-supplied and aged steaks and the vintage 1600 degree broiler that prepares them.
"You can go to a steakhouse and usually get a great piece of fish," Amiel told me, “but seafood restaurants rarely have steakhouse-quality meat and preparations. We do. We've got the best beef you can buy, and all of the skillet steaks are broiled and finished in the pan.”
And now, the menu please: Among the appetizers I sampled, my favorite was the excellent jumbo lump crab cake, with corn and pepper hash and spicy remoulade sauce. The Bay Pointe Inn has the best seafood I've had in ages and the crab cake was just the start. The seared North Atlantic tuna is presented with a seaweed salad with micro greens and ginger, and wasabi soy glaze. As we know, seared tuna has been a mainstay of both good and bad restaurants for more than a decade. The Bay Pointe Inn's version, with its alluring, smoky aftertaste, is as delicate and fresh as the dish can be. Bravo!
Soft shell Crabs? They're terrific. coconut shrimp, exactly what you want. From the raw bar, the fresh jumbo lump crabmeat cocktail is a hefty five-ounce portion; and the Captain's Shellfish Assortment of jumbo shrimp, Maine crab claws, iced oysters, and clams is a great value at $18.00 per person. I've seen lesser versions of the same concept in Manhattan for twice the price. Of course, there are Maine and Canadian live lobsters, lobster tails Francaise, surf and turf platters, a broiled fisherman's platter, and a fried seafood combination platter that's prepared with a particularly deft touch.
My favorite entree from the seafood selections is the seared sea scallops with herb butter pan sauce and saffron rice. Anyone who saw a few of my Bill Boggs Corner Table shows on Food Network might have noticed that my dish of choice while dining on camera was scallops; The Bay Pointe Inn’s scallops compete with the best I've ever had. They’re giant, hand-harvested scallops; sweet, tender, and cooked to perfection. Try them.
There's a vast drink menu featuring eight different kinds of martinis, specialty drinks that include a classic Pimms Cup, and the Sandy Hook Sour, which is Wild Turkey, honey, fresh lemon juice, and bitters. There are six frozen drinks that make for the perfect outdoor cocktails to sip outside at the beautiful Captain's Bar which offers its own entertainment and abuts the marina. So, yes, it's possible to "dock and dine," because there are fifteen boat slips next to the restaurant.
I love the design and layout of the place as well. There are three distinct dining areas, each of which has an intimate feel. In the main dining room, huge windows offer a panoramic view of Sandy Hook Bay. A large, square bar that seats twenty-eight guests greets you and generates energy in the dining room, which has several booths and perfectly spaced tables. No one will be sitting so closely that they can hear your conversation, a big plus in any restaurant for me. Acoustic piano music charms the dining room. There's also an outdoor dining space with a heated floor, and one level down The Captain's Bar juts out into the water.
The Bay Pointe Inn offers excellent food, spectacular indoor and outdoor atmosphere, and gracious hospitality. And by the way, if you're a New Yorker, The Sea Streak ferry from Manhattan stops at Highlands, just a short walk from the restaurant.
Bay Pointe Inn, One Willow Street, Highlands, N.J. Phone: 732-629-8000.