John Johnson is out of this world! Well, he's really from Neptune, NJ -- but his cuisine is out of this world.
Chef Johnson took over the post as executive chef at Avenue Le Club in January. His dishes are as beautiful as the expansive dining room. Billed as "San Tropez-in-NJ," a wall of windows looks out on the Atlantic, while, inside, white banquets, warm lighting, a fireplace, and perfect service create a seductive contemporary dining experience.
"We're so pleased to have John join us. We've been fans of his since he worked at TOWN," says Thierry Carrier, Avenue's GM, of Johnson's time at the innovative NYC restaurant, where he was awarded 3 stars by The NY Times. "It creates excitement to work with a chef of his caliber. John's presence will really elevate the culinary experience here. He's a perfect addition to our team." Johnson joins the Avenue team from his most recent post as Executive Chef for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City, and prior to that at the Water Club, which he launched for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.
"I'm excited to join the Avenue team," notes Johnson. "It's a very special moment in my career to pair my passion for local and seasonal ingredients with all I've learned from so many talented chefs. Long Branch is a homecoming for me and a terrific opportunity to work with the amazing produce and seafood I grew up with."
At a recent press dinner I had to opportunity to enjoy an evening of Chef Johnson's cuisine. Chef Johnson didn't miss. Course after course was a pleaser. The evening began with an amuse of cylindrical beets with fennel, mandarin, and pecans.
Next, a happy, bright green garlic scape soup (huitres fumee), dolloped with unexpected pickled oysters, followed by a refreshing, spring-forward salad of tender white asparagus imported from France (available through May). Next, a silky, rectangular tartare of organic salmon topped with a layer of avocado cremeux and tiny, tangy bits of green apple.
The fish, roasted Branzino, was set atop a fennel fricasee, and a highly complimentary, slightly tangy, grapefruit pommery emulsion. The spiced duck steak was cooked perfectly, and accompanied with a roasted endive stuffed with apple slivers, and toasted walnut quinoa.
Dessert, from pastry chef, Stuart Marx, kept the great going. A duet of Meyer lemon tart with blueberry and Fromage blanc sorbet, and accompanied by a light, toasted coconut cake with bright kaffir lime anglaise and mango salsa.
Cocktails are a pleaser as well. Thierry Carrier, who also oversees Avenue's bar program, has created several new cocktails to showcase winter citrus and complement the refreshed menu. Check out his Funky Monkey (Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch, fresh tangerine juice, ginger syrup, Lillet Blanc, candied Meyer lemon); Jalapeño Blood Orange Margarita (Jalapeño infused tequila, fresh lime, fresh blood orange juice) and La Mezcaline, with spirit-of-the-moment Vida Mezcal, muddled clementine, fresh lime and mint -- his smoky take on the familiar Mojito, with assertive flavors that play well with Chef Johnson's charcuterie, Serrano ham and duck.
The Avenue: go there now.