Straight From The Table: Fresh

By Lori Draz

The name says it all. Fresh is dedicated to offering farm-to-table selections using fresh, locally sourced fruits and vegetables, and high-quality ingredients. And they do. The menu is fairly small, and that is to accommodate the nightly specials that showcase the fresh items of the day. Fresh is small, but its lemony walls and neat tables don’t make it feel crowded. The tables are roomy, the plates and flatware are comfortable, and the ceilings are high enough to keep the sound down. The meal is well-paced and the servers are very knowledgeable and attentive, without being over-involved. There are those that love this restaurant and we were excited to try it.

Three of us met on a not-too-busy night, although we understand reservations are hard to come by on the weekends. We were treated to a very thorough explanation of the appetizer and entrée specials, while a second waiter opened our wine (it’s BYOB) and brought us some bruschetta.

We started with three appetizers; the grilled shrimp chimichurri on toasted ciabatta, the fresh mozzarella with selected tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil, and the special – tomatoes with burrata. We knew the two tomato dishes were very similar, but we wanted to try the freshly made cheeses. The presentation was gorgeous. The tomatoes were a deep, rich red – a pleasant sight in October – and the plates were dotted with aioli, pesto and balsamic vinegar. The mozzarella was cut into very thick slices; plenty for each to try. The burrata was soft and creamy. Pretty as they were, they were so mild in taste, it was almost absent. The grilled shrimp was our favorite. It had lovely, flavorful grill marks and it was cooked just so. Nice job.

We ordered a Caesar salad to share, and it was perhaps mildest I have ever had. The shaved cheese on top was barely enough to boost the taste. The familiar mixture of lemon, olive oil, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and fresh pepper seemed to miss the plate altogether. The dressing was so light that the salad tumbled on the plate. This is a skip, especially if you love a robust classic Caesar.

Now for the entrees. We were told the signature dish was the sautéed lobster and asparagus, so guest one opted for that, choosing to have the low-carb version plated over spinach rather than mashed potatoes. She enjoyed the dish and the fact that the spinach option was offered. Guest two and I were not quite so impressed. Guest two chose the grouper special, served over mashed potatoes. It was well-prepared with a lovely golden crust, but the seasoning was so delicate that it left him disappointed, especially since we were so eager to try the restaurant. I had the fresh tagliatelle with grilled eggplant, garlic, tomato, and basil. There is something to be said for al dente pasta, but this was almost too al dente. It seemed like it needed another 45 seconds in the water. The cubed eggplant and olive oil mixture was okay, but I realized after dumping my third spoon of grated cheese on top that this dish, too, was missing seasoning. We wanted more; we wanted the dishes to taste as good as they looked. I respect the chef’s palette, but he is cooking for an audience who must enjoy the most delicate of flavors, so if that’s you, you will probably enjoy it. As for our table, we were looking for bolder more explosive flavors.

Now for dessert. We chose three. The first was the chocolate crème brulee. It came in an oblong dish, longer and flatter rather than tall, which actually affected the taste. The color resembled skim milk in coffee and it tasted more like chocolate cereal milk than the dense chocolate we were hoping for. We also selected the house-made cheese cake. It’s creamy and pretty, but bland. Our third dessert was the recommended peaches and cream pie. This was our favorite of all the desserts because you could actually taste peaches. Ordering dessert is your option, but you might want to save that course. The coffee also was fresh, but just okay. Fresh is BYOB.

The cost:  Moderate to high

What we liked: Though small, it is a warm atmosphere; the attentive and well-schooled wait staff; the very fresh and high-quality ingredients; the beautiful plating.

What could be better: We’ve said it – it needs a little more boldness in the flavors.

We give it 3 and a quarter J’s.

Fresh is located at 144 Bay Avenue in Highlands. Call (732) 708-0328 or visit www.fresh-cuisine.com.