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Sirena

Reviews
 


AUGUST 6, 2006

Sirena serves up a sense of style by the seashore


BY CODY KENDALL
FOR THE STAR-LEDGER

Sirena's seaside siren call of classic Italian food draws hordes of the hungry to this instantly popular spot, which opened in June.

It's a venture of Joseph Cetrulo, who recently closed Adagio in Summit, and his brother, Michael, best-known for his Scalini Fedeli restaurants - one in Chatham, the other in New York.

Sirena shows the same sense of style as the other Cetrulo establishments, even if the food isn't as fancy. The view of the Atlantic is a big drawing card here, of course, but a large, airy dining room on two levels and a separate bar with its own cozier ambiance also ensure that eating at Sirena is about more than the food.

The chef is Ken Mansfield, another partner, who worked at the Scalinis and Basil T's in Red Bank. He doesn't fiddle with the essence of such staples as veal saltimbocca ($24), slow-braised rosemary-scented lamb shank ($23) and chicken scarpariello ($18), but cooks them with precision, using first-class ingredients. There are nice touches in many of the dishes.

They include the arugula and roasted pepper salad with the beautifully seared tuna ($26) on Italian lentils, or the blend of fennel, roasted tomato and calamata olives that all held their own for a mini-rainbow with the pan-seared halibut in a mussel vinaigrette.

Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) rallied around spicy chili and the nip of capers, with
currants and couscous playing a mellowing role. Bresaola ($9), air-dried beef combined with rocket arugula, parmigiana and cremini mushrooms, for a smooth introduction to the meal, offers the benefits of salad and the satisfaction of meat. For a relatively light entree, try the mattone ($20), a pan-seared free-range chicken embellished by thyme, olive oil, escarole and lemon, served with parmigiana potato for extra interest.

Joseph Cetrulo, who said Sirena has turned into a destination restaurant, estimates the clientele is "20 percent families, 80 percent serious diners." But we did see a good number of couples with youngsters, and kids can be happy with the nicely put-together pizzettes ($9), which include margherita, salami and a broccoli rabe/sweet sausage/mozzarella combo.

Just watch what you order if you're on a budget.

The shrimp arrabiatta ($14) was flavored with sweet garlic to contrast with broccoli rabe, but there were only two of the large Maya shrimp and their delicate flavor didn't shine through the strength of the other ingredients to make them the equal of their price tag.

On the other hand, the fried calamari ($12) were abundant, and the pasta dishes, all of which are $18, offer plenty of eating whether you get the penne salsiccia with sweet sausage, porcini mushroom, tomato and fennel seed for an accent, or the muscular spaghetti carbonara boasting pancetta, onion and egg.

Another plus for the cost-conscious: Wines are arranged by price, so you don't have to go hunting through a long list to find a $25 bottle, or conversely, your high-end selections are equally accessible.

The desserts ($7) don't forsake tradition. If tiramisu is your thing, you'll probably "ooh" over this sift Amaretto-tinged version, and there's also pannacotta and an intense chocolate tart with a mound of fresh whipped cream. Unexpected joys include a neat lemon tart topped by raspberries and a delightful braised summer peach tart with almonds.

The staff is efficient and courteous, able to handle the crowd as the kitchen delivers courses in a nicely paced fashion. The only downside of Sirena's popularity is the noise factor. When it's full, it can be hard to hold a conversation at normal decibel levels.

Sirena is located in the bustling new Pier Village development that includes a broad variety of shops and other restaurants. It's jam-packed on weekends. One measure of Pier Village's drawing power is that Sirena is right next door to Avenue, a more trendy French brasserie, and both are magnets. I wouldn't dream of trying to get into either without a reservation on a weekend.

However, a word of warning: Parking can be a problem on busy nights. The parking garage has an odd automatic payment system that can take people (present company included) a while to figure out, As a result, you could face a long line in the garage after you've stowed your car while you wait to deal with the rental for its space. Allow plenty of time to get through the intricacies if you have a reservation for dinner.

Sirena generally devotes a two-hour window to each table, I was told. When our dining companions got delayed in the garage and were late for our reservation, we were advised (nicely) that we might have to eat dessert in the bar because another shift of patrons was booked for our table.

We were able to finish our desserts at our table, as it happened, but your night not be as lucky, It you arrive at Pier Village early and sail through the parking challenge, pass the minutes until your table is ready by poking around in the stores or strolling along the uncluttered boardwalk. That's also a great way to walk off a filling Italian meal.

Cody Kendall may be reached at CodyDine@netscape.net.


At the Sirena Ristorante, Casey Sweeney serves, from left, Rachel Scocozza of East Hanover, Rose Dell Presto of Essex Fells, Edyth Ciccone of Verona and Joan Maglione of Pompano Beach, Fla.

 

 



An evening of "greats" at Sirena in Long Branch

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 09/2/06

BY DON WILNO
STAFF WRITER

They could pass for sisters these women. They have similar tastes, similar desires and very similar issues.

But I love them nonetheless — High Maintenance and Nails — or I wouldn't sacrifice myself for an evening to dine with them.

While I know they are way out of my league, I enjoy their company — and their issues, of which there are too many to list.

We had planned the perfect night out, scoped out a place appropriate for these distinguished women, only to get detoured from where we first planned to go.

Fortunately, the Sirena Bar & Restaurant was nearby and could accommodate us.

Right from the get-go, it was much different, much more friendly, much more appealing to our desire for a great night out. Even the espresso martini I ordered was much better than where we left. Oh, well.

The hostess, Gina Mansfield, could not have been any nicer, greeting us with a smile and making certain we were going to have a wonderful evening there.

That smile set the tempo for the evening.

She set us up at an ocean-side table (the bar was jammed) with our waiter, Patrick Graham of Red Bank, and I was convinced this was going to be the perfect night I had planned for these women — or they would complain the whole night long.

I prayed that all would go well, or they would never let me forget it, especially my dear friend High Maintenance, whose threshold to be pleased continues to rise.

"We want you to feel like you are guests in our house," Gina explained to us.

Might as well be. Her husband, Ken, 33, is chef and one of the three owners (along with Joe and Michael Cetrulo) at Sirena, which opened June 1.

We settled in to enjoy the night, ordering the scampi Arrabiatta ($14) and the granchio ($14). Both appetizers were wonderful dishes — the shrimp extraordinary, the crab cakes very tasty (High Maintenance even loved them).

On another visit, I'm going to ask the chef to make me a full order of the scampi Arrabiatta and pass me the bread because the sauce is fabulous. Great for dipping hot Italian-style bread. Oh, just like my grandmother used to make for me.

The women, of course, ordered a salad: mesclune ($7). I came to eat and ordered the capelinni Pomodoro ($18), which I didn't share, and the branzini (Mediterranean sea bass), which I did share. My compliments to the chef. I enjoyed both dishes and was fascinated by the branzini, which I have never had before.

Also checking on our progress was Brian Huresky of Middletown, whose expertise is the wine. I'll check in with him on another night. The wine display as you enter is impressive.

I was going to pass on dessert, because I was very content at that point, but Nails kept telling me the night isn't complete without it. But neither woman was going to indulge, they said, but they wanted me to try it.

I wanted to taste the panna cotta — but before I could, both women were sampling it. I just shook my head. These women are fickle — very, very fickle — but I love them nonetheless. They are good people, good company.

I'm glad the night turned out the way it did. It was wonderful. The drinks were great, the food was great, the service was great and the company was great.

Gina was right, I did feel like I was a guest in their home, a typical Italian household of which I am very familiar.

It was a fun evening, one I hope we do again real soon.


One of the dishes by head chef Ken Mansfield
of Sirena Bar & Restaurant in Long Branch,
the branzini (Mexican sea bass) that was enjoyed
by our writer.

Don Wilno's Watering Hole appears Saturday in Jersey Life. You can reach him at dwilno@app.com

 

 


Sirena Ristorante: Extraordinary authentic Italian cuisine second to none
Posted: 2006-07-20

LONG BRANCH — I can't say enough about this fine dining spot serving eclectic Italian specialties.

You will feel like you are dining in Italy. That is because. Owner Michael Cetrulo and his brother Joseph Cetrulo actually studied and trained there.

Michael at Enotecca Pinchiorri, in Florence and Joseph at Ambecciata in Quistello, Italy. Ken Mansfield is the Chef and business partner, he worked at Michael Cetrulo's Scalini Fideli Restaurants in Chatam and Tribecca. They have brought their expertise to Sirena, a unique eatery located directly on the ocean.

The family owned and operated restaurant is different from any food that you have ever tasted. The two brothers are innovative and creative, and every dish that comes out of the kitchen is filled with an abundance of flavor. The presentation itself looks like it came out of a gourmet magazine and every dish is a treat for the palate. They use only the finest ingredients and "freshness" is their motto.

Although they have only been opened a short time they have acquired many steady customers who have returned to sample other delicacies on the variable menu. I have dined here on several occasions and have met friends who absolutely rave about the cuisine and have made repeat visits.

You will be made comfortable as soon as you enter Sirena and I would call the ambiance casual elegance. You can see the ocean from every seat in the restaurant whether it is in the lounge or in the comfortable, spacious dining room.

To begin the Portobello was the best tasting mushroom that I have ever eaten, topped with a coating of hazelnut, parmigiana and thyme-dusted cognac Tre Colore. The flavor penetrated through the Portobello, which was tasted almost like eating a steak.

The Scampi Arrabiatta was another revelation! Jumbo Maya shrimp were enhanced with sweet garlic, parsley, white wine, lemon, and broccoli rabe. The succulent shrimp were rich with flavor, a must try beginning!

For the pasta lovers, be sure to order Pasta Fagioli, a traditional Italian peasant dish made here, with style, the best of the best! The zuppe was composed of cannelinni beans, pasta mista, tomato, basil and pecorino virgin olive oil.

We absolutely loved their selections of pastas, in fact we went back again and thoroughly enjoyed them as well on our next visit. We loved Pappardelle Bolognese (traditional ragu, mascarpone), Porcini Ravioli (porcini truffle crema) and Rigatoni Zingara (calamata olives, mushrooms, cherry peppers and tomato). Each one exemplified the creativity of the gourmet chefs, all filled with an abundance of flavor.

My favorite fish is Branzini, a Mediterranean imported fish and here at Sirena they served the best that I have ever tasted. They grill the savory seafood, enhancing it with virgin olive oil and lemon caper berries. This was another dish that I ordered on my next visit, I loved it so much!

For the meat-lovers don't miss Veal Saltimbocca, another creative presentation. Thin medallions of milk-fed veal was layered with procuitto, sage, roasted tomato, and spinach enriched with a flavorful marsala sauce. Outstanding!

Another not-to-be-missed selection from the Carne menu is Pork Valostano, a large rib pork chop enhanced with fontina cheese, proscuitto, Madiera wine, spinach, mushrooms, and potato puree. The pork was thick, succulent and filled with an abundance of flavor, created by a professional chef who put a lot of love and care into the preparation.

A popular entrée and rightfully so is Scarpriello, pan-seared bucconcini of free-range chicken, sweet Italian sausage, broccoli rabe and fingerling potato with a scent of vinegar. The chicken was so tender and filled with an abundance of flavor. The combination of these fine, tasty ingredients teamed together to create a hearty, distinctive dish!

Dinner entrees range from $18 for Scarpriello to $29 for Filet Mignon (carmelized asparagus, Barolo wine, potato puree). All of the Pasta's are priced at $18. They also feature Pizzette's for $9. Among the choices Margherita (fresh tomato, mozzarella, basil), Fungi (Portobello mushrooms, thyme) and Rabe, (broccoli rabe, sweet sausage, mozzarella).

Sirena Ristorante is located at Pier Village, 27 Ocean Avenue, Long Branch, open 7 days for lunch and dinner. For reservations call (732) 222-1119.

Captions:



Executive Chef and Co-Owner Kenneth Mansfield standing in front of the fireplace in the dining room of Sirena where he is known for his exceptional Italian Cuisine.





DINING ROOM





PORK VALOSTANZO





VEAL SALTIMBOCCA





CHICKEN SCARPARIELLO





BRANZINI




The LINK June 15 thru June 21, 2006


Sirena has the atmosphere, the view and great food


By Walter J. O'Neill, Jr.

Long Branch - What happens when three very successful restaurateurs decide to combine their skills? The answer is simple: Sirena Trattoria is the newest attraction to open in Pier Village.

Joe and Michael Cetrulo are two brothers who have eight restaurants between them. Joe and his wife Cathy own LaCampagna Ristorante in Morristown and just recently sold Adagio Ristorante in Summit.

Michael and his wife Patricia own several famous spots, including Imondo Vecchio in Madison and Scalini Fedeli in Chatham and Tribeca, New York. The Cetrulo brothers collaborated with Kenny and Gina Mansfield, who have a stunning resumé as restaurateurs, to create Sirena.

Pier Village has only three establishments built on the ocean side of the project. Sirena is located in the orange building next to Avenue and across from the Turning Point.

Last week the owners hosted a private pre-opening celebration in which they gave their guests a sample of what three great chefs can create when they combine their talents.

The most stunning aspect of the restaurant is that in the main dinning room every table has an ocean view. "We have this wonderful ocean, and we wanted all ,our customers to eat and enjoy the view," said Joe. Tables are arranged on different levels affording a magnificent view. At one end of the room is a fireplace while the other has a huge glass window looking out over the Atlantic.

Sirena also offers a fine bar. outfitted with not only premier liquors but also several large flat screen televisions. The entire establishment has been designed and erafted for dining pleasure, and that includes the menu.

An upscale restaurant with moderate pricing and outstanding dishes, the most expensive item is a filet mignon at $29.

Pasta Fagioli, Minestrone, and Italian Wedding are the soups, all offered for $7. Salads range from seven to nine dollars. Antipasti are offered for eight dollars or select all offered for twenty-five dollars. Pasta dishes offered are Capelini Pomodoro, Pappardelle Bolognese, Perciatelli Amatriciana, Penne Salsiccia, Rigatoni Vodka, Porcini Ravioli, Rigatoni Lingara, and Spaghetti Carbonara.

Several fish dishes offered are priced in the mid-twenty dollar range - tuna, salmon, scallops, halibut,. and marechiara. The chicken and meat section of the menu are loaded with exceptional choices. And if veal is your preferred taste, try either the Veal Capriciossa or Veal Saltirnbocca. You can also choose Pork Valdostano, a chop with fontina cheese, prosciutto, Madiers wine, mushrooms, and potato puree.

Lamb shank is also on the list of delicious foods, as is Scarpriello, a pan seared bocconcini, free-range chicken, sweet Italian sausage, cherry peppers, broccoli rabe, fingerling potato and vinegar.

If you are looking for something light to enjoy with a glass of wine, pizza is on the menu for $9.

Sirena Trattoria has a delicious menu, and the. décor and scenery are outstanding, as is the service.

Pier Village is just about complete and offers fine dining and unique boutiques, so take a stroll along the oceanfront and stop in and enjoy an outstanding Italian meal at Sirena Trattoria.

 

A Boardwalk Bet

That’s a Lock

Published: May 27, 2007

THERE are hardly any sure things in the restaurant business, but Sirena Ristorante is about as close as you’re likely to come. Consider:

The pedigree. Its owners are the brothers Michael and Joseph Cetrulo — Michael of Scalini Fedeli in Chatham and TriBeCa (among other restaurants), Joseph of La Campagna in Morristown and Millburn. Serious, accomplished restaurateurs, they have been delivering stylish but comforting Northern-accented Italian food to thick-walleted diners for more than a decade.

The setting. Sirena, a year old this month, inhabits a long, low-slung burnt-sienna building on the boardwalk in the sleek (if car-choked) Pier Village complex on Long Branch’s remade oceanfront. The only things between the restaurant and the Atlantic are a dozen palm trees (planted and maintained by the Club, an upscale spa next door) and 100 feet or so of brilliant white sand.

The décor. Sirena’s interior has a light-suffused, wide-open feeling, thanks to French windows that look out on palm fronds, beach and ocean. As night gathers, the lighting, from wall sconces and a wood-slatted ceiling, grows dim and intimate.

And oh, yes, the food. The chef, Kenneth Mansfield, 34, was sous-chef for Michael Cetrulo at both Scalini Fedelis, and he has the Cetrulo formula down cold: pricey but elemental ingredients, stout sauces and forward flavors, with few wasted flourishes.

Indeed, the most basic appetizer is the best: a selection of antipasti, at $4 each. By salvaging some bread from the basket — the superb, crusty ciabatta from Balthazar Bakery — we made ourselves open-faced sandwiches of salty, unctuous 18-month-old prosciutto di Parma; flinty-tasting Grana Padano cheese; mild, creamy Gorgonzola Dolce; and black and green olives from an overflowing ramekin. With a bottle of the elegant, raspberry-scented dolcetto d’Alba from Madonna di Como, it was bliss: a picnic on the Riviera.

Other starters were just about as terrific, particularly a special of three large sautéed shrimp over cannellini beans and arugula, with a sauce of shallots, garlic, prosciutto, saffron and white wine. Both risotto and polenta came with woodsy wild mushrooms and a bracing shot of truffle oil. A salad of pale, nicely bitter escarole was balanced by shavings of aged provolone and fruity olive oil. And granchio, or crab cake, was all crab and no filler (except for a crisp breading), with a head-clearing sauce of red bell pepper puréed with sambuca.

In two evenings at Sirena, only two dishes let me down: a fillet of halibut that tasted a day past its prime and an incoherent entree in which lamb chops fought a losing battle against a platoon of unnecessary ingredients, including overcooked asparagus and a cloying sweet-wine sauce. (The disappointment was compounded by the delay between appetizer and main course. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, but the crush of customers can slow things down.)

But filleted branzino was perfectly fresh and perfectly grilled. Four immense pan-seared diver scallops came in a broth enlivened by prosecco. And marechiara was a patented Cetrulo triumph, an acre of shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari over black squid-ink cappellini, with wonderful slow-cooked tomato sauce and a kick of hot pepper.

Lamb shank was tender and full-flavored. And the pastas we tried were predictably fine: orecchiette with broccoli rabe and first-rate fennel sausage; and penne zingara, with black olives, prosciutto, mushrooms, cherry peppers and more of that tomato sauce.

Desserts did not disappoint either, except for zabaglione, which was not made tableside, as in days of old, and which tasted not of marsala but of crushed amaretti. (It came with four lemon-size strawberries that tasted of not much at all.) A bright, eggy lemon tart was best in show, followed closely by a Valrhona chocolate cake that managed to be both light-textured and intense, by chocolate gelato and by a quivery blueberry panna cotta.

As I’ve remarked before, Michael Cetrulo has a genius for names. Sirena is Italian for mermaid or siren; the setting makes that apt. The word’s sound also gives it a delicious double meaning: serene. That’s how you’ll feel as you eat this sumptuous food and gaze out at the breakers in the late-arriving summer dusk.

Sirena Ristorante

VERY GOOD

THE SPACE A new and stylish beachfront building, with 122 seats on two levels in the main dining room, and dozens more in the bar and (in summer) on a deck overlooking the ocean. The main level and restrooms are wheelchair-accessible.

THE CROWD Casually but smartly dressed. Families are welcome, though prices are high even by shore standards.

THE STAFF Friendly and well informed, but sometimes overmatched by the crowds.

THE BAR An open, airy space with a lively crowd. The wine list is solid, well organized and fairly priced.

THE BILL Lunch entrees, $11 to $16. Dinner entrees, $18 to $32. American Express, MasterCard, Visa accepted.

WHAT WE LIKE Antipasti, shrimp with cannellini beans, crab cake, risotto, polenta, escarole salad; branzino, marechiara, lamb osso buco, penne zingara, orecchiette; lemon tart, chocolate cake, panna cotta, gelato.

IF YOU GO Open Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 9 p.m. Reservations recommended.

Reviewed May 27, 2007