THE huge anchor dominates a little patch of lawn at the entrance to the Shipwreck Grill in Brielle. A three-ton artifact from a terrible collision at sea, it sat on the bottom of the Atlantic, 10 miles off the Manasquan Inlet, for more than a century before salvagers coaxed it to the surface with giant balloons called lift bags. They brought it back on a scallop boat and spent years restoring it to its muscular, rusted glory.
The Shipwreck Grill comes by its name honestly: the head of that salvage team was one of the restaurant’s owners, William Cleary, 45, whose profession is law but whose passion is diving. A display case near the front of the long, barnlike building holds silverware, a ceramic pitcher and a bottle of apricot brandy that he retrieved from the storied wreck of the Andrea Doria, which went down off Nantucket in 1956.
In the five and a half years since the Shipwreck opened, it has also come by its reputation honestly. It’s one of those shore places with a low-end look and a high-end menu, catering to the sort of diner who can afford a boat (with a profession-suggestive name like the Verdict or Hot Commodity) and maybe a marina-side condo.
These people want something more ambitious than fried flounder, and to deliver it Mr. Cleary turned to an old schoolmate, Terry Eleftheriou, who had spent 13 years at Jamie’s, the pioneering New American in Englewood Cliffs. Mr. Eleftheriou, 48, concentrates on the fresh and seasonal, with an apt emphasis on seafood. He has an envelope-pushing way with ingredients like avruga caviar (from Spanish herring), crème fraîche and fig-shallot demi-glace.
Sometimes the envelope gets pushed right over the edge. A special appetizer one recent evening (at $22, mighty special) mated two giant seared scallops with foie gras. That idea is at least debatable — you either appreciate the main ingredients’ opulence and textural similarities or you don’t — but the dish badly needed something other than creamy goat cheese and dessert-sweet vanilla-poached pears to keep its richness in check.
On the other hand, avruga caviar was a nifty addition to another appetizer, tuna tartare, which was layered with chopped avocado in a sort of free-standing parfait. Lobster bisque was suffused with flavor and adorned with generous chunks of lobster meat, along with a pretty and piquant drizzling of chive oil. An old shore standby, broiled clams with chopped bacon, got a patina of refinement from truffle butter and bits of lobster.
Crab cake, tuna sushi tempura and blackened shrimp quesadilla were familiar and merely pleasant, and cornmeal-crusted calamari were chewy and lacking in flavor. My favorite starter was the simplest: five types of raw oysters, including plump, juicy Malpeques and Raspberry Points from Prince Edward Island and briny Beaver Tails from Rhode Island.
The Shipwreck Grill is a big place, and its entree menu is long, with 13 carefully composed “Shipwreck favorites,” half a dozen simple “shore favorites” like scampi and lemon sole, and separate sections for grilled meat and lobster, not to mention at least two daily specials. They were consistent across the board. Six jumbo scampi-style shrimp, ordered without garlic by a companion with a wary palate, still had ample character. A generous slab of sautéed grouper was enlivened by a pistachio crust, creamy horseradish sauce and a compote of roasted beet and fennel.
Tuna sautéed in a crust of black and white sesame seeds came with ginger-sesame vinaigrette and an unexpected helping of braised red cabbage. A salmon special was sautéed with a delicious coating of grainy mustard and an accompaniment of juicy, slightly bitter fiddlehead ferns and puréed parsnips. On the red-meat side, duck and rack of lamb offered no surprises: both were of top quality, accurately seared and finished in the oven.
Among the half-dozen or so lavish desserts, first place went to the chocolate cake, with its witty peanut-butter-and-jelly-like infusions of peanut mousse and raspberry liqueur. The night we ordered it, we happened to be out on the restaurant’s 30-seat deck. A gentle salt breeze drifted from the marina, where boats bobbed against a darkening sky. It had been a pricey evening, but a satisfying one.
720 Ashley Avenue
THE SPACE A cavernous place with 78 seats, 28 more at the bar and 30 more on a deck. Accessible to wheelchairs.
THE CROWD Prosperous, if casually dressed.
THE STAFF Competent and businesslike.
THE BAR Large, lively and loud. The wine list is adequate, but hardly bargain-priced.
THE BILL Entrees, $19 to $36. All major credit cards.
WHAT WE LIKE Tuna tartare, lobster bisque, broiled clams, raw oysters; shrimp scampi, grouper, halibut, sesame-crusted tuna, Chatham cod, salmon, rack of lamb, duck; chocolate cake.
IF YOU GO Dinner: Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 4 to 10 p.m. Reservations recommended; ample parking.