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Craig LaBan
Philadelphia Inquirer
Published: Sunday, July 11, 2004

I know more than a few vacation snobs who like to pooh-pooh the Jersey Shore. It's too built-up and crowded, they say, and more than that, it's simply too close to be a real getaway.

For many other people, though, it is exactly this sense of familiarity that gives the Shore its charm, as if all your neighbors had simply shifted to the beach for summer, and usually to the same one. South Philadelphians have traditionally flocked to Sea Isle City. Cherry Hillers love Margate. The boardwalk leading to Wonderland in Ocean City has lately become the playhouse extension of my kiddie-centric Center City block.

This summer, you're likely to get that local feeling when dining out, too. That's because more than a few familiar names have fired up stoves by the sea, from the Moshulu's Marty Grims to Alfonso Constrisciani, formerly of Circa and Opus 251.

Grims, who also owns Passerelle in Radnor, has crafted one of the best restaurants to hit Long Beach Island in years at Plantation. Opened in the old Owl Tree space in Harvey Cedars, this double-floored, custard-colored Victorian building has a seductive South Seas rattan ambience reminiscent of the Moshulu, which Grims also took over last spring.

Under the direction of partner Brian Sabarese, Plantation has delivered a similarly impressive package of cool style and quality food. The wine list is excellent. The cocktails are lush with rum (try the vintage St. James). The service is professional, but not uptight. And the menu, overseen by Passerelle chef Ed Vanesko and talented on-site chef Jeff Alberti, offers an appealing selection of contemporary ideas with a tropical flair.
Tortilla soup is rich with the roasty corn flavor of pureed tortillas and a tingle of chipotle spice. Succulent strips of pineapple-braised short ribs are paired with the cool crunch of a napa cabbage slaw. Seared Jersey scallops are absolutely succulent over a garnish of wilted romaine dressed in crisp prosciutto and mustard cream.

The crabcake could have been more exciting, since it was overshadowed by the slices of juicy heirloom tomatoes on the side. But I loved Alberti's take on escolar - the fish of the moment - a buttery slice of thick Pacific white fish crusted with an earthy pomade of wild mushrooms, set over a zesty pool of yellow gazpacho.

Excerpted from Dining A La Coast, Part 2, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 11, 2004.