Open Thurs • FRISAT • SUN from 5pm  | 9510 Pacific Ave, Wildwood Crest, NJ 08260 |  609-522-5425  
Marie Nicole's
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Marie Nicole's leaves culinary afterglow
added to this newsletters 'Best' list
By Lisa Provence
Ed Hitzel’s Restaurant Newsletter

It’s midnight and I’m nibbling on a moist tender morsel of veal, bathed in delicate, but rich garlic cream sauce.  When it’s gone, all I’ll have in a memory.  The memory of one remarkable, soul-satisfying meal at Marie Nicole’s.  Culinary afterglow, if I may be so bold.

Marie Nicole’s is a small jewel located in Wildwood Crest, an area that is rapidly developing into a chic haven for the elite.  With a classically elegant, airy atmosphere and a trendy. Creative menu. The restaurant is suited to its surroundings since it offers what can best be described as Cape May-style dining experience, one where expertly prepared cuisine and impressive service blend seamlessly into a first-class experience.

Just without the crowds, traffic, and parking problems encountered in that popular Victorian enclave just over the bridge.

The cuisine and service we experienced at Marie Nicole's are on a par with some or the best restaurants we've visited, such as Daniel's on Broad way and Water's Edge in Cape May and La Campagne in Cherry Hill, among others.

Fabulous veal la russe. Astonishingly light tempura shrimp. Succulent grilled rack of 1amb, simple but perfect. A delicate, crisp duck spring roll. Good quality sauces. And a pot au chocolate, topped with freshly whipped cream that made the average good-quality chocolate mousse seem like "snack-pak" pudding from the grocery store.

We were delighted by impressive service from Christine, a skilled, capable service professional who was knowledge- able and enthusiastic. Equally proficient were her service assistants, who diligently monitored our table with a courteous demeanor. And from our observations at our our-of-the- way corner table, it certainly seemed like the remainder of the staff was as well trained and dedicated as those who handled our meal.

We entered through the small bar/foyer area and were greeted warmly and professionally by a gentleman at a podium, who instructed a friendly young lady to seat us even though we were slightly early for our reservation. She handed us menus, bid us to enjoy our meal, and shortly there- after, the aforementioned Christine approached our table to advise us of the specials and ask about our beverage order.

Not long after, ice water was poured, and a small crock of butter, on a doily-lined under-liner was delivered. Warm dinner rolls, a choice of either French, olive or whole-grain  
were served individually by a bus person bearing a napkin-lined basket. We sampled the latter two. Both were fresh, crusty and delicious. Bread was not offered again, which was a little disappointing, since it would have been helpful to finish off tasty sauces later in the meal.

Seafood bisque ($9) was a good version of this seashore-dining standard, but not quite as impressive as the best versions we've tasted. Served at a satisfactory but not steaming temperature in a wide, shallow bowl, the rich, caramel-colored broth was velvety, fragrant and flavorful, but a mildly harsh aftertaste detracted from the overall quality of the soup. The dish was garnished with fresh, firm seafood, including a plump shrimp, moist bite-sized scallop pieces and huge nuggets of crabmeat

Tempura shrimp (SIO) consisted of three sweet, hearty beasts enrobed in a crisp, ethereal crust that bore no residual grease.

Covering the bottom of the large, white dinner plate was an unusual, creamy beurre blanc that had been enhanced with an unknown ingredient. It turned out be pureed black beans, according to our server, who, while well-versed in the menu, asked the chef because she wanted to be sure she wasn't giving us the wrong information. (She answered other questions in a similar. completely professional manner, as well. Highly commendable.)

While not enough to add to the flavor of the dish, a few small, tender black beans floating in the amber-colored sauce were like tiny gems, an attractive touch. The beurre-blanc, which, in my opinion is one of the greatest sauces in the culinary history of the world, was the perfect accompaniment for the delicate seafood. We were reluctant to share this perfect “app," but did, just because we're grown ups and have to be nice. Grr.

The overall pace of our meal was unhurried, which is appreciated during a fine meal such as this. There was a rather lengthy wait for our second courses, and when we started to get antsy, Christine advised us that a very large party had been seated and the kitchen was temporarily overwhelmed. Communication between server and customers. What a concept! Once we knew what the problem was, we didn't mind the wait, and enjoyed the opportunity to converse and admire our surroundings

The restaurant offers two dining rooms, one small and the other miniscule We were seated in the larger of the two, a simply, but attractively decorated space. Two rows of free-standing tables, covered with heavy, navy-blue cloths and crisp white toppers, are decorated with cloth napkins, elegantly tapered stemmed goblets, gleaming, hefty stainless flatware, tiny glass salt and pepper shakers, and plain white bread and butter plates.

Despite the size of the room, the tables are spaced amply. But a word of warning for taller folks: the tables are low enough that I (who am about as tall as a "smurf") fell comfortable. Sturdy, comfortable chairs are covered in a blue and burgundy stripe pattern.

With rich wood wainscoting and bright white walls above, burgundy and blue patterned drapes, white sheers and a burgundy carpet, the low-ceilinged dining room is cozy, but bright and cheerful. Stylish metal chandeliers provide a somewhat harsh glow, which is softened by flickering votive candles in clear glass cups on each table.

A duck spring roll ($10) was worth the wait. A six-inch roll was bias-sliced in the middle and attractively presented with one cut end up, surrounded on the plate by a ring of glistening, translucent herb-flecked Asian plum dipping sauce and garnished with a tangle of wee greens. Tender, flavorful duck, julienne carrots, scallions (or were they leeks?) and shiitake mushrooms were tightly sheathed in a golden brown, light shell. Again, no grease. Undoubtedly the best spring roll we've ever tasted.

The unique plum sauce was similar to Chinese duck sauce, but with a spicy twist.  It was quietly sweet and redolent of fresh ginger and an excellent complement to the roll, 
We both enjoyed the concept and presentation of peach and Roquefort salad ($7), but were disappointed by the actual dish.

Sliced peaches, beautifully colored but dry, hard and flavorless, were combined with an ample portion of fresh, supple baby spinach leaves, tangy, good quality Roquefort cheese crunchy sliced almonds, and drizzled with a delicious sweet vinaigrette. It was an acceptable dish, which could have been outstanding had ripe, juicy peaches been used.

Our entrees could not have been better. On this side of the table, veal la russe ($29), a special, brought two quarter-inch thick medallions, about the length and width of if deck of cards, layered with fresh, bright green, but slightly undercooked asparagus and sweet jumbo lump crabmeat. Underneath was a layer of sinfully rich, savory mashed potatoes A few small lumps in the potatoes told us they were "real," made with fresh potatoes, and from a recipe I wish I had in my own collection.

The luscious potatoes and veal were surrounded by perfectly textured, mildly flavored garlic cream sauce and chopped fresh chives. Perfect.

Grilled rack of lamb ($29) consisted of four tiny double-cut chops, with beautifully white "Frenched" bones. The chops were done medium as requested. The meat was mildly flavored but deliciously lamby, juicy and incredibly tender. Sultry and sweet huckleberry zinfandel sauce accented the lamb perfectly Cherry-studded couscous was a little dry by itself, but very good when combined with the sauce and meat. Colorful baby carrots and haricot verts, fresh and tasty, but just shy of being tender-crisp, finished the dish.

The service we received was admirable on every level. Water glasses were kept filled, plates were cleared promptly, and most importantly, the staff interacted with us and answered questions in a professional, courteous manner. They checked our table frequently, but were never obtrusive.

From the moment we walked through the door to our departure with an armful of take-out containers, we can only comment positively except in one instance. It didn't seem that servers are fully aware that flatware should be consistently replaced when necessary. For example, after my appetizer, my soiled dinner knife was removed from my plate by the bus person and placed back on the table.  However, a fresh one was provided after the salad course, and at the same time, I had to ask for a fork. Utensils were provided for the dessert course.  This is a small, but significant point that should be given more attention.

Dessert is the course that often detracts from a really good dining experience. We're happy to report the offerings at Marie Nicole's were as high quality as the remainder of the meal.

Petit pot au chocolat ($8) was the ultimate in. chocolate desserts as far as we're concerned. A rich, dark, intensely flavored concoction, its texture was denser than a mousse or a pudding, yet creamy.  Not in the least cloying, it offered a perfect balance premium-quality chocolate and sweetness. And topped with real whipped cream, too.

Frozen peanut butter passion ($8), creamy peanut butter filling in a peanut cookie crust topped with chocolate and peanut butter cookie crumbs was good.  It, too, was topped with whipped cream.  In its frozen state, it was a bit difficult to eat.  Since we were too full to finish it, we carted the leftovers home in a take out container, and found the texture more appealing- creamier and more flavorful – the next morning after it had thawed in the refrigerator.

Coffee served with dessert was hot, fresh and flavorful.

Well, I’ve finished off the last of the veal, and in the meantime, polished off that last little lamb chop, too.  I don’t think memories will suffice.  I have to back to Marie Nicole’s. Soon.

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9510 Pacific Ave, Wildwood Crest, NJ 08260 | 609-522-5425  

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