Blackfish Stone Harbor Featured in The Ticket!

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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Blackfish Stone Harbor — A Shore Thing for Excellence

Published: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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Chef Chip Roman, at his new restaurant, Blackfish Stone Harbor, presents a plate of Cape May Salt Oysters.

By Frank D. Quattrone
Ticket Editor

Its décor bears a striking resemblance to classic black-and-white photography. White tablecloths are entirely apropos here, as is the white wooden “sculpture” of sea reeds that greets guests as they enter. The white wood walls and fluted lanterns also fit well.

So don’t expect marlin or tuna stuffed and swimming vainly on the pristine walls — or lobster traps, fish nets, buoys or other overt reminders of the Jersey shore. This is, after all, Blackfish Stone Harbor, and Chef Chip Roman will have none of that.

Believe it or not, there is warmth to the place that compliments its utter lack of pretension. Perhaps it’s the staff — earnest, hard-working, happy to be there in the chef’s new shore restaurant, an extension, with appropriately nautical notes, to his flagship Blackfish in Conshohocken.

Beloved by Philadelphia magazine (which recently placed the Conshy restaurant among the Top 10 of its 50 Best Restaurants for the second consecutive year) and food lovers throughout the region, Blackfish has been setting a new standard in what has been described as “progressive American gastronomy.”

And the focus at the Stone Harbor restaurant, of course, is seafood — but not just seafood, as the chef hastens to point out.

“There’s a ready availability of great seafood here. And the local produce, including Jersey corn and tomatoes, are also great. So expect the menu to be fun. After all, it’s the shore, and I love to make customers happy. It’s all about the experience, about having a great time.

“We’re trying to create a relaxed atmosphere here, with great service and great food. And no one is turned away.”

Sure enough — on the night of our visit, the restaurant was filled with guests wearing everything from pantsuits and Bermudas to suits and ties, and everyone looked comfortable and happy to be there. After all, Chef Roman’s credo is, “You don’t cut corners. Give quality and extra special service and people remember that Chip took care of us.”

He is ably assisted at Stone Harbor by General Manager Kip Phelps, who used to own Kippers, an upscale restaurant in Avalon, by Bar Manager Ed Affrunti, who has worked with the chef for about seven years, and by some very professional servers, like Harold Best, who has worked with Roman ever since the chef opened his own catering company, Charles Roman Catering, in 2004.

The 30-year-old chef has learned his art from the best. He worked with Marc Vetri at his signature restaurant for a year-and-a-half and then he worked at Le Bec-Fin (for a time, as sous chef) with Georges Perrier, among the most demanding of tutors, who offered to pay his way through college (Drexel’s excellent culinary program).

“I learned to like cooking from Marc,” said Roman, “but I learned to cook from Georges.”

The proof is in the details that you might not find elsewhere. The appetizers provide a fine example. Among the chef’s (and guests’) favorites are House-smoked Loch-Duart Salmon ($13), wrapped around a deep-fried egg on a layer of sour cream and capped by a sheet of crispy potatoes; and Cape May Salt Oysters ($13), served in the shell with carbonated Meyer lemon, tiny cubes of watermelon and pink peppercorn.

“They’re like having champagne and oysters,” said Chef Roman.

Although he changes the menu every few days — “to keep it interesting,” he said — some items remain constant because they are in such demand, such as Yellowfin Tuna Tartare ($14), served with kimchee dressing, crispy wontons and cilantro.

A new, seasonal item on the appetizer menu is Blue Crab Salad ($15), served with local asparagus, English peas, black truffle and 63-degree egg. Talk about details! Chef Roman said that the egg is cooked for one hour at 63 degrees, has the texture of toothpaste, and, almost like coddled egg, “it sings summer.”

This is a man who sincerely loves what he‘s doing. He said, “I can’t believe I’m making money doing something I love. Still, I want to retire young and run a small restaurant.” Understandably, running two restaurants 100 miles apart takes its toll. But Chef Roman keeps his priorities straight.

He said, “Because I have such great staff helping me run two restaurants, I’m able to keep somewhat normal hours, so I can spend time with my wife Amanda and my two kids, Charlie, who is 3, and Caroline, who’s now 2.”

Amanda, whom he met 10 years ago when she worked at Henny’s, the venerable Stone Harbor restaurant that Blackfish replaced, works with him three days a week. When he was younger, the chef used to spend May through September at his shore home. An avid and excellent fisherman, he worked on a fishing boat at the time and often dropped in at Henny’s.

Among the entrees on the menu are Blackfish Bouillabaisse ($34), seasonal fish poached in a saffron broth and served with crusty bread and rouille, a fiery-flavored sauce; Troll-caught Mahi-Mahi ($29), served with warm beluga lentils, pimentos and watercress in a lemongrass emulsion; Line-caught Alaskan Halibut ($32), served with ratatouille and fresh basil in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette; Black Angus New York Strip Steak ($34), served with pommes frites, truffle and Parmesan in a bordelaise sauce; and the chef’s signature dish — Surf and Turf ($34), a magnificent dish of glazed beef short ribs and day-boat scallops in a parsnip puree with horseradish.

And desserts? Don’t leave Blackfish without some. In addition to Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee (probably the best I’ve ever tasted), Warm Chocolate Cake with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and blackberries and — the best of the lot — Vanilla Beignets with raspberry and vanilla bean sauces.

There is also a blackboard menu for lunch in the bar (whose tables are made of the polished remains of old ships), as well as bar food (think Clams Casino, $9; Steak Frites, $18; Scallops & Lentils, $14; and many other offerings).

Chef Roman hopes to keep Blackfish open all year round, with a possible closing in January and February. Open only two months now, the restaurant has drawn a significant buzz among the locals and many loyalists to the Conshohocken restaurant. Although the emphasis at Stone Harbor is seafood, the chef said, “Eventually, what you see in Conshy, you’ll see here.”

So brace yourself for more of the best from Chef Roman at the current location, for starting this fall, construction will begin on a new project called Shelter Haven Resort and Span, to be situated across the street from the restaurant. It is planned as an environmentally-friendly hotel that will house 25 bayside hotel suites with waterfront views. Upon completion, that will also be the home of Blackfish Stone Harbor. The last phase of the project will be completely reconstructing the building currently housing Blackfish with additional hotel suites and a spa.

“I heard great things about this talented young chef and approached him about the project,” said first-time restaurateur John Sprandio of Chestnut Hill. Echoing the chef’s credo, Sprandio said, “Our goal is to create a total dining experience with exemplary service and creative, yet approachable food. Chip Roman fit the bill 100 percent.”

Blackfish Stone Harbor

9628 Third Ave.

Stone Harbor, NJ 08247

Phone: 609-967-9100

Fax: 609-967-9103

www.blackfishrestaurant.com

HOURS: Lunch:

11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. daily,

except Sunday Brunch,

9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Dinner:

5 – 11 p.m. daily.

Reservations recommended.

All major credit cards.

Full-service bar, open later.

Available for private functions.

Dinner entrees: $26 – $34.

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