DINING REVIEW #1: IRON PIER CRAFT HOUSE

I have many happy memories of Martini Beach, which used to be in the space now occupied by The Iron Pier Craft House in Cape May. As such, it can be somewhat sad to walk into the restaurant and remember what used to be. But things change over time, and while we shouldn't forget any of the people, places or events that made us happy over the years, no good can come from living in the past. So it was, having heard some early buzz, that I, Patrick, and my younger brother Brett decided to give one of the town's newest establishments a try.

Getting seated on the balcony overlooking the beach as a minor storm rolled in, in a half-circle shaped table which essentially had everyone facing the scenery, was the first pleasant surprise. The service was wonderful and friendly, with much care taken to ensure we enjoyed our evening. But however nice the atmosphere and staff were, the real star was the food.

We were presented with a complimentary bowl of Old Bay popcorn right after ordering. It was a cute touch, and was seasoned just right, though admittedly we didn't eat much of it, preferring to wait for what we had ordered. The wine we selected, a 2015 Torrontés / Riesling blend from Argentinian winery Amalaya was an excellent choice, perfectly crisp and refreshing with just a hint of sweetness, which wound up pairing wonderfully with the food that followed.

The first item to arrive from our choices was the Bavarian Pretzels plate. The pretzels themselves were closer in size and consistency to dinner bread, but with a pretzel crust. When paired with the included cheese sauce or mustard it was a tasty way to start things off, if not the most exciting of our selections. Next came the Crab Cakes. Things immediately became more impressive at this point. The filler was minimal so the crab really shone through, while the corn salad and lime crème fraiche chipotle aioli that they were served with complimented them perfectly. Quickly after that the Scallops plate arrived. Each was cooked perfectly and only made more delicious by the sea beans, sauce, and vegetables surrounding them on the plate.

At this point we were already thoroughly impressed by the food we had received. Little did we know how great the sushi would be. The quality of the seafood was higher than any I have ever had in the area and each was perfectly thought out and executed. The Iron Pier Roll (spicy tuna and avocado, topped with seared sashimi tuna and sesame) was superb, with fish so fresh it practically melted on the tongue. The Fujiyama Roll (shrimp tempura, cucumber, and jalapeño topped with kani salad) was absolute heaven, with each flavor combining in perfect harmony, and an unexpected warmth that only enhanced our enjoyment. I can honestly say that the quality of the 2 rolls we were served has at least temporarily spoiled all other area sushi for me.

We capped the evening off by sharing a soft pretzel bread pudding with fresh berries for dessert, in a way coming full circle on the meal. It was a unique take on the classic dessert that, despite being quite full, we could barely stop eating. It was a fantastic dinner that none of us will soon forget, and I suspect we will be coming back to make more memories here in the near future.

GRADE: A+

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