I recently had the pleasure of dining at a brand new restaurant in Long Branch called Ciao Ristorante. We made reservations for their first official Saturday night and went in expecting to give them some slack on what I was sure was going to be less than perfect service, presentation, and taste as most restaurants need some time to get their acts together. Well, Chef Marc Marotta and his team require absolutely no slack. We commented several times over the course of the night that the restaurant seems like its been open for years.
It was obvious the owners understand the importance of stellar service. The sharply dressed, all male wait staff with years of experience behind them, set the tone for a sophisticated dining experience from the moment we were seated. Chef Marc introduced us to our waiter, Cosimo, who worked with Marc when he was the Executive Chef at Piccola Italia in Ocean. Cosimo is no stranger to the restaurant scene at the Jersey Shore, owning his own restaurant and working at several well-known places in Monmouth County. He quickly informed us in his sweet Italian accent that he is from Tuscany and he went on to rave about Chef Marc and how he cooks like Cosimo knows real Italian food is prepared. “You’re-ah, not-ah going to find-ah Chicken parmigiana on this Menu.”
As we purused the menu, I questioned the staff about the picture of the man on the Vespa that greets you as you walk in the front door. As it so happens, the handsome young man is Chef Marc’s father. As the story goes, Marc’s Father and Mother met in Italy and it was all because of that Vespa. Marc’s Mother had been hitchhiking (now I know where the Marotta free spirit comes from) and she was picked up by the dashing Mr. Marotta. The rest is history. And, now you know why the Vespa takes center stage in their logo.
Before making my menu selection, I had to ask Chef Marc “What is your specialty?” After he jokingly replied “Everything!” I got him to tell me what his specialties are; “seafood, fresh pasta, veal, lamb, beef, chicken.” Okay, maybe it is everything. We were guided by our waiter to the Vongole Alla Casino (Little Neck Clams, Pancetta, Peppers, Parsley, Lemon Olive Oil) and the Fungho con Granchio (Jumbo Lump Crab, Portobello, Lemon Chive Butter, Micro Salad).
While we were waiting for our first course, we were served freshly warmed bread with a side of Olive Tapenade and garlic butter. The first thing I said when I unwrapped the bread from the crisp linen cloth was “Ooooh, this is good bread.” Yes, and I’m not even a big bread eater, but when you realize the restaurant has gone the extra mile to bring in really good bread, serve it piping hot and add some interesting accompaniments, its worth appreciating. I commented about the bread later to Mary Pat, Chef Marc’s wife, business partner, and hostess at Ciao. She replied, “It’s good isn’t it? That’s one of our major pet peeves at restaurants. Never start off the meal with mediocre bread. It sets the tone for the rest of the night.” I couldn’t agree more.
As we sat deciding what we were going to order for dinner, patrons starting piling in. We overheard one couple say, “Oh, we were here on Tuesday night for your opening, we’re back again.” A second table arrived and said the same thing. Repeat business within the first week, a very good sign for a new restaurant.
Our appetizers arrived, so I had to stop eavesdropping and dig in. As you can see the Vongole Alla Casino is just gorgeous and that delicious bread came in very handy for finishing off the luscious clam broth with bits of pancetta, and peppers and Lemon Olive oil. I really like that the Chef steered away from the typical Crab Cake menu option and offered a lighter spin over a Portobello mushroom. The addition of the greens on top really makes every bite a wonderful mix of textures and taste.
With our first-course plates licked clean, we moved on. I guess I was in a mushroom mood, because I followed up my Crab Portobello app, with the Linguine Con Funghi. (Freshly made pasta served with Porcini, Portobello, Shiitake, White Truffle Crema, Chives). I only wish my pictures could do this dish justice. It’s one of those dishes that forces you to make noise with every bite. It’s very rich and very filling and you don’t want to stop eating it. I finally stopped about three quarters of the way through and took the rest home for lunch the next day, which was just as dreamy.
While I had the devil on my shoulder during my menu selections, Peter had the angel whispering, “Pick the fish, its much better for you.” Oh, and he also had Cosimo telling him the Pesce Al’Aqua Pazzo (Poached Halibut Filet, Escarole, Clams, Spicy Tomato Garlic Brodo) was a huge favorite. As you can see above, the presentation was flawless and the fish was cooked perfectly with a nice, not overwhelming, heat.
While Ciao may be a brand new addition to the Jersey Shore food scene, Chef Marc Marotta is no newcomer to the restaurant scene. After finishing culinary school in California, he worked as a line cook at Wolfgang Pucks highly acclaimed Postrio in San Francisco and Claude Troisgros’, CT and New York. He later worked as Sous Chef at Mumford’s Unique American Cuisine, Long Branch, NJ and as Executive Chef at Piccola Italia, Ocean, NJ. Chef Marotta was also part of the opening team at Roy Yamaguchi’s, Roy’s, in New York. He moved to Florida in 2001 and opened Ellington’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar and spent a year and a half as Executive Chef at Bella Rosa Italian Grill in Fort Myers. Together with his wife Mary Pat, they opened and operated Cibo in Fort Myers from 2004 to 2011. They sold Cibo in May 2011 and headed home to New Jersey to be closer to family.
When I asked Mary Pat why they chose “Caio” as the restaurant’s name, she said, “In Italian it means Hello and Goodbye. We are saying Goodbye to Florida and all of our wonderful, and faithful customers and Hello, to a brand new community.” Well, Hello, Chef Marc and Mary Pat. New Jersey is very glad you’re back.
75 A Brighton Avenue, Long Branch, NJ 07740
Deborah Smith , Founder and Executive Editor of JerseyBites.com. Launched in 2007 as a home for her growing collection of recipes, Jersey Bites soon grew into a hub for all things edible in the Garden State. Deborah is also the owner of Parents With Nannies, Inc. which operates a network of nanny employment websites established in 1999. In her spare time, (Ha) she works as a Social Media consultant and speaker. You can learn more about her services and marketing through social media on her blog www.DeborahLSmith.com