| We wish the food and preparation at Bahrs Landing matched the view.|
We ate out two days in a row, enjoying fresh flounder both times, but the settings and the way each restaurant handled seafood could not be more different.
Our first meal was 60 miles away at Bahrs Landing in the sleepy village of Highlands -- a restaurant that has lured Jersey Shore visitors since 1917.
The next day, we drove less than 2 miles to Lotus Cafe in Hackensack, where the menu offers a variety of high-quality seafood cooked to perfection -- such as tender shrimp, scallop, squid and fish cake poached in delicious broth.
Stuck in the past
We were disappointed with Bahrs, which seems to be stuck in the past. When is the last time you saw a broiled fresh fish fillet covered with paprika?
A fly in the dining room is never a good sign, and I noticed one on the inside of a plate-glass window as soon as we were shown to our table at mid-afternoon last Friday.
The fly was still there when our soups arrived, and I squashed it against the glass with my cloth napkin, then got up to put the napkin and dead fly on a nearby tray used for dirty dishes.
Only a handful of other tables inside and outside were occupied, but service was slow.
My cup of Manhattan clam chowder tasted OK, but there were more potatoes than clams ($4.50).
My wife is especially fond of lobster bisque, but she found Bahrs' version too salty and missing any lobster meat ($5.99). The restaurant sells cans of both soups.
Fish with paprika
My broiled flounder came with quartered red-skin potatoes and sliced carrots ($11.99). It tasted fresh, but the paprika didn't do anything for it and the portion wasn't what you'd call generous.
My wife's crab-cake sandwich was a mess ($9.99). The roll was much too big and the sandwich included iceberg lettuce and tasteless, pale red tomato slices.
Time for renewal
I ordered a seltzer ($2.25 with free refills) and it came in a frosted glass showing the new $128 million bridge near the pricey restaurant (see photo above). A cup of black coffee was $3.
Before we ate lunch at Bahrs, we helped other volunteers for the American Littoral Society plant beach grass across the inlet in Sandy Hook National Park.
Let's hope the beach-restoration project and the beautiful new bridge give the owners of the restaurant the impetus to renew their menu and improve the preparation of their soups and other dishes.
The next day, our experience at Lotus Cafe was far different.
The fresh-fish special was a whole, 2-pound flounder that I saw a couple enjoying as we were shown to our table in the crowded dining room.
We started with seafood soup for three -- with tender squid, shrimp, scallop and fish cake ($10.50). The broth was simple, but delicious, and we loved this soup.
The waiter recommended we order the fresh, wild-caught flounder pan-fried, instead of steamed with ginger and scallion, the way we usually order fish fillets at the BYO Chinese restaurant.
The flesh of the fish had been scored into a diamond pattern, making it easy to pick off the pieces with chopsticks or a fork. We also liked the crunchy fried tail and body fins ($26.95).
But the underside of the fish was a little oily, so I think we'll try it steamed next time.
Spinach and shrimp
Our other dishes were water spinach sauteed with fresh garlic ($8.95), and perfectly cooked shrimp with X.O. sauce, described on the menu as being made with shrimp roe, dried scallops and herbs ($15.95).
We asked for three bowls of brown rice, instead of white, and drank a lot of the house tea, opening the lid of the pot in a universal request for a refill. I also enjoyed a bottle of Mexican beer brought from home.
The service at Lotus Cafe is quick and efficient, and I see the same waiters there year after year.
Bahrs Landing, 2 Bay Ave., Highlands; 732-872-1245.
Web site: Old-fashioned seafood
Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., in the Home Depot Shopping Center, Hackensack; 201-488-7070. BYO.
Web site: Modern seafood