The Diving Horse Restaurant in Avalon, NJ
While we were in Avalon, New Jersey on vacation, I enjoyed a near perfect day at the beach. It started with a daily 2-mile walk on the beach with my wife Meg, a little grocery shopping and then an afternoon on the beach in Sea Isle with some friends who have daughters my girls' ages.
It was one of those perfect summer days, hot but not too hot with a gentle breeze from the ocean. The water was incredibly clear with August water temperature. Waves could have been bigger but good enough for some competitive body surfing challenges. Watched my oldest ride waves and play in the water for 3 ½ hours with her friend while I enjoyed a couple of adult beverages with my friend Matt.
It was one of those nights you could have stayed for hours after the lifeguards left except we had dinner reservations with our Sea Isle friends Matt and Michelle at one of the hottest restaurants in Avalon called The Diving Horse. What made the day not perfect were the green flies that appeared late in the day when the wind shifted -- and these flies are nasty. Chased us right off the beach.
Matt and Michelle dropped their kids at our house for a spaghetti and red sauce dinner while we headed out to the Princeton, a local watering hole, for drinks before dinner. It cooled off just enough to be comfortable to be outside but still have that summer night feel.
A cocktail on the outdoor patio at the Princeton and then over to The Diving Horse restaurant across the street for one of the best meals I've enjoyed in all the years I've been coming to Avalon. (I'll look more closely at "what makes a great night dining out" later in the post.
We had reservations for inside but because it was such a beautiful night we decided to sit outside at one of their "open community tables" where we joined a family of three already into their appetizers and two couples who appeared to have arrived just before we did. We checked out what the family of three ordered and knew we were in for a treat.
For the record, they only take reservations for inside and I think this is where most people want to eat. I'm guessing this is because some people don't like communal dining and when it's really hot outside in July and August, it's more comfortable to be indoors.
What Made Dinner at The Diving Horse Perfect
I'll post a blog later this week about What Makes For a Perfect Night Out Dining but for now I want to tell you what made this evening so great.
- The setting couldn't have been better. It was one of those warm summer nights - not too hot and not much humidity. We were outside at this giant wooden table surrounded by enough plants to give us privacy from the street. And because we were at the beach, there was a smell of the sea in the air.
- The service was impeccable. Our waitress was knowledgeable about food and knew the menu and specials without having to refer to notes. You could tell she enjoyed her job and wasn't there just for the money. She was attentive to our needs but not in our face when we didn't need her. That balance is hard to find and in my opinion the mark of a great server.
- Every dish served was imaginative and spot on. Everyone at the table was pleased with what they were served. I tasted almost every dish ordered that night and each was better than the next. The ingredients were fresh and local. You can see from my descriptions below the food was clean and simple which allows the flavors to shine through without too much confusion.
- Value - yes this was a very expensive restaurant and unless you are a one percenter, a special experience but there was value. Most of the high-end restaurants in resort towns are going to be overpriced but they are not all going to have the same quality of food and service. I would rather pay up for incredible food and service than feel overcharged for a mediocre meal or the service that was poor. We had a couple of those meals on this vacation too.
- Friends - What makes any night out special is whom you are there with. Your spouse, your family, friends. This night we were out with one of our daughter's best friends parents whom we knew for years but have not spent much time with so it was extra special getting to spend this night over a great dinner. I'm sure there will be many more fun nights like this one.
Here are some samples of what we enjoyed on this perfect night. It turns out my friend Matt and I were on the same wavelength and ordered the same appetizer and entree.
Not sure why Matt ordered the short ribs but I ordered them because we brought a couple of really nice red wines - a San Simeon Paso Robles Syrah from 2003 and a Girard 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa County. (The Diving Horse is BYOB.) The other reason was because I had been eating so much seafood all week that I was craving a little red meat.
Here's how the menu described our dishes:
Matt and I started with oysters on the half shell with a classic mignonette cocktail. Meg's choice was Chilled Silver Queen Corn Soup that was incredible. I am trying hard to get Chef Adams' recipe for this one.
Michelle ordered the Crab Iceberg Wedge with 7-mile island dressing (Avalon is on a 7 mile island), crispy prosciutto, red onion, fine herbs & jumbo lump crab meat.
For entrees, I already mentioned Matt and I ordered the Creekstone Farms Short Ribs with Swiss chard, Lyonnais potatoes and tomato conserva. I looked up Creekstone Farms and it looks like they are located in Kansas and began their beef program on Black Angus cattle. I'll see if I can contact them to find out more about their meats and availability.
On to the ladies - Meg ordered the Carolina Mahi Mahi and I wrote Chef Adams for a description of this dish and this is what he said,
"The mahi mahi was sourced locally through our fish monger Ed Purcell. It is short trip mahi from North Carolina. The garnish is poached fingerling potatoes, plugs of zucchini, young patty pan squash and piquillo peppers. There is a green purée that we call zucchini pistou (a delicate French pesto made with zucchini, onion, garlic, spinach and basil) and a bouillabaisse inspired sauce made from traditional ingredients. The final flourish is a few fried cape cod mussels. "
Wow, now that's what I love about food. What a great description.
Michelle dined on the Barnegat Light Scallops with toasted faro, silver queen corn, chanterelle mushrooms and summer truffle nage. Nage is a poaching liquid often used with cooking seafood and is flavored with vegetables and herbs and in this case truffles. After used for cooking, it is reduced and then thickened with some cream or butter. Powerful stuff!
For a side dish, Matt ordered Fingerling Potatoes fried in duck fat and served with Old Bay hotel butter. Rich but delicious!
Conclusion - If you are anywhere near Avalon, New Jersey this July and August, make it a point to try out The Diving Horse for a great night of food and atmosphere. I think you will really enjoy your dining experience.