News / places to eat in cape may

DINING REVIEW #7: THE BLACK DUCK

The last time I ate at West Cape May’s Black Duck restaurant was at least 10 years ago. On that visit everything was fine, but not exactly impressive, and as such, I haven’t been back since. That is until this June when my brother decided he wanted to give it another try for his birthday. So, 9 of us went to dinner there on a recent Sunday night and discovered that things there had changed, and much for the better.

It is still the same chef and owner but his menu has become much more refined and his skills, while never poor, are much improved. The décor has also been freshened up and is now cleaner and more modern in appearance. We were lucky enough to be seated at a table in the rear of the restaurant in what is almost a private room surrounded by windows overlooking the garden, though all the rooms seemed enjoyable enough as we walked through. Our server was fun, knowledgeable, and also helped to make the evening a delight.

I began my meal with an order of the Southwestern Duck Confit & Goat Cheese Egg Roll which was delicious, the contents of which blended wonderfully with the sweetness provided by the surrounding ginger-plum coulis and apple plum chutney. Others at the table ordered the Blue Crab Spring Rolls which were also a treat and the Shrimp Toast with Cucumber Crab Salad, which was really the best of the 3. I think we all agreed that we could have eaten those Shrimp Toasts all day long. My parents split the Pu Pu Platter which included all of the above plus ribs and dumplings and were quite happy with everything on that very large plate as well.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their entrees, and the chef was very accommodating to those who have special dietary restrictions, ensuring they were able to enjoy a night out just as much as the rest of us. Patrick ordered the Honey Roast Half Duck and has declared duck one of his favorite proteins as a result. I was quite impressed with how well cooked it was, with the fat being rendered down perfectly and the meat being perfectly seasoned. The apple smoked bacon and sweet potato risotto were both nice compliments as well.

I was especially impressed with my selection however. The salmon served with lobster risotto was easily one of my favorite meals of the year. Every element was cooked flawlessly, with the salmon itself being particularly impressive. It was just the lightest bit crispy on the outside, yet so soft on the inside it practically melted in my mouth. Blended with the excellent risotto and red wine syrup each bite was exquisite, even managing to outshine the lobster, which for my tastes is no small feat.

By the end of that we were all stuffed to capacity, but had to share a dessert so we could sing “Happy Birthday”. We opted for a blueberry crumble and it was an excellent choice, deliciously fresh and light. This meal wound up being another highlight in a year that has so far been full of them, and it has sent The Black Duck straight into my Top 3 area restaurants. The next time you are in or near West Cape May, make sure to find the time to dine here, it is a truly delicious experience.

GRADE: A+

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DINING REVIEW #6: PETER SHIELDS INN

Having lived most of my life near Cape May, there are very few established restaurants that I haven't visited yet, but for whatever reason, this was one of them. Last night I finally gave it a go, and I am disappointed in myself for not having eaten here sooner. Located on the ground floor of a stately, old mansion, the dining rooms are elegantly appointed and many tables have spectacular views of the ocean. The staff was very pleasant and helpful, and was more than happy to let each table enjoy their meal at their own pace. That all certainly contributes to a great evening, but what about the most important part, the food?

It could easily be described in one word: perfect. I started things off with the jumbo lump crab salad, which was served with a slice of smoked salmon and topped with mache, a wonderful blend of flavors ideal for Spring. Patrick's 1st course was the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with cherry purée, fruit compote and brioche. This was such a masterfully conceived and executed dish, it may be worth visiting this restaurant just to try it. Each ingredient played off the other so well that you were taken on a journey with each bite. Next, we each had a serving of the charred steak tartare, served with a quail egg, dijon, haricot vert and Grana Padano. This was another impressive dish, and was easily the best tartare preparation I've ever had. Perfectly seasoned and all-around delicious. Patrick's entree was the seared Yellowfin tuna, served over parsnip purée with Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon. Admittedly I haven't ever liked parsnips, but in this presentation it worked. Everything was fresh and perfectly cooked and combined to make another stunning dish. For my main, I selected the Alaskan day boat halibut, with an English pea purée, potato chive gnocchi, asparagus, morels and a truffle nage. Given that many of the ingredients included in it were among my general favorites I fully expected to be happy with this dish, and my expectations were still blown away. Every part was flawless and worked in beautiful harmony with each other, with the cook of the fish itself and the pea purée especially being highlights. Each bite of this spectacular dish brought a smile to my face. For dessert Patrick enjoyed a deliciously creamy Vanilla Crème Brûlée, and I opted for a cheese plate of Mrs. Quicke's Cheddar, Tete de Moine and Shropshire Blue served with slightly sweet toast points and diced figs. Both were exactly what we wanted and were excellent caps to an already stellar meal. 

Everything about this meal was exceptional, and we are both eager to get back and try some other items that caught our attention. Everyone who visits Cape May should make it a point to try this restaurant, as on the basis of this dinner alone, it is easily our new favorite.

GRADE: A+

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DINING REVIEW #5: The Eat Well

From the outside, you might not even notice this unassuming little shop near the intersection of Bayshore and Town Bank Roads in North Cape May. Several businesses have tried their hands unsuccessfully in the spot, but the Eat Well, with its promises of fresh baked breads, grilled sandwiches, soups and smoothies, might be the first to have a real shot at making it.

We have paid 2 visits to the eatery, and have been pretty impressed both times. On our initial trip we tried the Eat Well Cuban sandwich and a grilled cheese special. We were both satisfied with the quality and flavor of the fillings, and the pickled onions the chef threw in on the side were a nice touch that added a good bit of extra flavor to the next few sandwiches I made for myself over the following couple days. But it was our 2nd visit that really stood out, when we each opted for a special version of the Grilled Italiano sandwich. It normally features prosciutto, capicola, sopressata, provolone and roasted red peppers, which is a pretty winning combination in and of itself. For the special however it was served with a delicious pesto spread and on some truly phenomenal olive and rosemary bread. Everything came together to make for a truly delicious sandwich, so good that even typing this review is making me crave another. A small cup of cole slaw was served on the side, which was also a flavorful treat, if not quite the best I've ever eaten.

The hours are limited (as is the parking), so make sure to check their Facebook page (linked to below) to be sure it's open first. But this is a spot that is definitely worth seeking out for some good, fresh food. We will be looking forward to our 3rd visit and wish them all the success in the world.

GRADE: B+

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They are located at 508A Town Bank Rd, North Cape May, NJ 08204, in case you want to put it into your GPS.

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DINING REVIEW #4: The Taco Shop

Cape May Brewing Company is one of our favorite places to go in the county, but as a result of using a special New Jersey law that allows breweries to serve their beer without a liquor license, they are not allowed to serve any food. You could have some delivered or bring your own, but the first option feels odd and the second one requires some more advanced planning than one often puts into such things. As a result, it's a bit surprising that it took this long for anyone to decide to open any sort of food-oriented establishment nearby, but someone has finally done it.

The creators of Cape May Point's acclaimed Red Store bring us The Taco Shop. The urban/modern design of the restaurant fits in wonderfully with the industrial nature of the complex, doing a perfect job of making the space fun, trendy and inviting while still utilizing the warehouse feel, much like their neighbors have done so successfully. Business seemed to be doing well as people were both getting take-out to enjoy with a beer next door, and enjoying the small dining area in the back.

As for the food, you can see it being made in the open kitchen, which is always appreciated, and which allows the tempting aromas to mingle throughout the space. Patrick and I ordered ours to bring home, as we felt we had already drank enough for one night, and the mouth-watering scents emanating from the bag had us absolutely ravenous by the time we reached the house. I ordered 3 shrimp tacos and Patrick had a chicken quesadilla, with us sharing sour cream and pico de gallo toppings. Neither of us was disappointed, to say the least. The ingredients were all very fresh and everything was bursting with flavor. The tacos were a blend of traditional Mexican flavors like cilantro, with some unexpected ingredients like radish, which gave them a wonderful, earthy taste. Patrick raved about his quesadilla, which also featured mole poblano and pickled red onion, frequently using the word, "delicious," between mouthfuls.

All in all it was a sensational experience, and one that we will be returning to again and again to try the different varieties (the chorizo sausage filling sounds especially tempting to me). It seems like a perfect match for the variety of beers served up next door and is definitely worth a visit the next time you're there.

GRADE: A

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DINING REVIEW #2: SHAMONE

Immediately upon hearing of this new restaurant’s concept, I was intrigued. For $30 per person, you are given 15 “courses” of the chef’s choosing. Having a curated dinner experience with all the decision making left in the hands of the kitchen is a unique experience, and one I was eager to have for myself. So it was, that Brett, Patrick and I excitedly made this our next dining destination.

The first “course” was a homemade herbed butter and bread, which was very good but did feel vaguely like cheating, since complimentary bread is somewhat expected wherever one goes. Things got more interesting immediately after that. You may note that I have been putting the word course in quotations. This is because each round is really more of a taste than a full course as we Americans have come to imagine it, and because in some cases, multiple “courses” were presented simultaneously. I in no way mean that as a complaint however, as when all was said and done, we were all quite full, and every time more than one dish arrived at the same time, there was a clear logic to presenting them together.

I absolutely loved every bite presented to me, with the standouts being the sausage soup shooter, pork pâté, the charcuterie courses, and a chicken wing that was cooked perfectly and served with a delicious Asian-influenced sauce. The salad was also a delight, consisting of radishes, onions, cucumbers, and soft bread croutons that soaked up the dressing, providing bursts of flavor each time I bit into one.

The service was very pleasant and knowledgeable, always providing a thorough description of each item presented. The chef even makes it a point to come out and talk to each group, which adds a pleasantly personal touch to the whole evening. The décor is unlike anything I’ve seen in any other local restaurant and gives the place a special, quirky charm. Between the quality of the food and the manner it’s presented, I feel like I now know what it must be like to be a judge on “Top Chef” on a day when all the contestants are really on point. This was a dining experience I won’t soon forget and one I hope to replicate again soon.

GRADE: A

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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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