The Salty Whale & Guesthouse
Flavors of land and sea come to life at this Manasquan eatery
I REMEMBER GROWING UP AND reading fantasies about the nautical battles between brave sperm whales and colossal giant squid. The make-believe images created from those stories, undoubtedly, made a lasting impression: I can’t look at certain marine life—whale, cuttlefish or the like—without fondly thinking back to my childhood. Perhaps that’s why I was drawn, subconsciously, to The Salty Whale & Guesthouse, a coastal cuisine establishment that opened this summer in Manasquan. Its logo: a sperm whale.
There are plenty reminders of the sea on the inside, from seafoam green chairs and navy and white striped pillows to driftwood-colored walls adorned with photographs of schooners and fishing boats. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy a tempting menu filled with traditional and fusion dishes from both land and sea. For this visit, my dining companion and I sat on the outdoor porch to enjoy the fall evening and escape the loud music and chatter emanating from the lively bar area.
To start, we shared an order of Asian-inspired pork belly Bao buns. The trio of soft and chewy rolls was filled taco-style with slivers of mouth-watering pork and an assortment of veggies and spices. (The cucumber, chili and cilantro slaw were refreshing for the taste buds.) For our second appetizer, we selected the green coconut curry shrimp from the daily specials list. This plate had a surprising kick thanks to the fresno chili peppers, but the overall flavor of the curry sauce with the sprinkled peanut bits makes it a shipshape and seaworthy dish.
My friend continued her seafood binge, ordering the furikaki crusted tuna as her entree. The neatly plated medium-rare fish was served on a bed of vegetable fried rice and topped with a cilantro lime chili sauce. She likened the flavor of the sauce to a sweet-and-sour dip available at a Chinese restaurant—only better. The combination, she added, was just right.
With a hankering for red meat, I opted for the tavern steak over other Asian-influenced dishes (Korean braised short ribs, mahi-mahi bowl with sushi rice and bok choy). The dry-aged New York strip was grilled to my desired medium-rare and served with a delightful port wine reduction. The dry-aged flavor typically isn’t my cup of tea, but the cut was spot on, juicy and tender, and one of the best strips I’ve had in a while. On top of that, the accompanying asparagus and fingerling potatoes also earned two thumbs up (though I had hoped for more than four stalks of the green) and warmed the heart.
A sweet treat would’ve been the icing on the cake, but The Salty Whale doesn’t prepare its own desserts. Instead, my friend and I enjoyed after-dinner cocktails from the lengthy drink menu. A Mai Tai for her and a mint mule for me.
Like any new restaurant, the Salty Whale has a few kinks to iron out. But the quality of the food and service, like those prehistoric tales from my childhood, have made a lasting impression.