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Aqua Blu Set to Open on Monday

Get a sneak preview of the new restaurant at the base of the Mathis Bridge

The opening's been delayed a bit, but Monday is the day Aqua Blu will be revealed to the public.

The restaurant revamps the at the base of the bridge to Seaside, and since construction began last winter, it's been a source of curiosity. What is Aqua Blu? What does it look like inside and what will they serve?

We asked for a tour before opening day and here's what we saw.

The first steps into the entryway exude elegance. Pictures of beach badges from years past decorate an aqua blue wall that gives way to a wide open bar area.

Metallic decor and a slate floor highlight the reception area, which is the focal point of the spacious entryway as you walk into Aqua Blu Kitchen & Bar, the new restaurant at the base of the Mathis Bridge, along Route 37 east.

Aqua Blu, which has been taking shape for several months, is slated to open its doors to the public on Monday, Oct. 24.

The finishing touches were being put in place this week, but Patch got a chance to take a look around in advance of the opening.

The entire restaurant has an openness to it, a feeling of spaciousness yet one that is inviting, starting from the moment you walk in. To the right, near the reception desk, is a waiting area with seating and a place to talk or sip cocktails while waiting for a table. Off the bar, which has seating for 70 and six flat-screen televisions, is a quieter lounge with soft cushioned seating that evokes a cozy living room. That lounge gives way to the patio, where patrons can enjoy a pleasant evening outside.

The rest of the rooms flow from one to another. To the right of the bar area is the main dining area, which has a bistro feel to it, with wicker-style chairs and smaller tables fronting an open kitchen.

Oscar Toro, the executive chef of Aqua Blu, noted the main dining area, which seats 100, has its own separate bar, which allows for speedier drink service for dining room patrons without disrupting the flow in the main bar area. Square tables fill the room, which is lined on two sides with rectangular tables – three as booths against the front wall, and others lined up in front of a blue upholstered couch-style bench that runs the length of the far wall.

Beyond that far wall is a private dining room that seats 54, some around a main table, others at smaller tables nearby. In addition to the entrance off the main dining room, there’s a more private entrance to the private dining room accessed through a hallway that leads from the main reception area, affording guests of a private function in that room the ability to come and go without having to work their way through the main dining room.

The private dining room has the feel of a seaside cottage, with distressed woods and mahogany for the tables and seating, a driftwood-inspired chandelier and art and lanterns. Cathedral window-style mirrors reflect light and make it feel even more roomy.

There is a separate banquet room off the main bar that seats 160 people comfortably, and offers both buffet and sit-down service, Toro said. There have been banquets held already on weekends for much of the last month, allowing the staff to get comfortable, while the finishing touches are put in place elsewhere in the restaurant, he said.

Lighting is an elegant detail in all of the rooms, from crystal chandeliers in the bar lounge to candle lighting – thanks to electic candles – throughout the dining rooms.

The food and drink prices aren’t cheap, but are in line with other upscale establishments in the area.

The menu, described as American cuisine with Mediterranean influences, is as interesting as the décor.

In addition to the usual drinks, the bar offers a selection of draft beers highlighted by Innis & Gunn, a darker beer aged in rum-soaked casks, and Aqua Blu’s own specialty cocktails: the Ti-Tea, which is Absolut black tea vodka mixed with lemon and soda; the Negroni Capriccio, for Enzo Varriale, husband of owner Cathy Varriale, a mix of dry gin, campari bitters, Italian sweet vermouth and an orange twist; Jojo’s Bloody Mary, named for a dear friend, which is a mix of Hangar 1 chipotle vodka, bacon, celery, Old Bay seasoning and roasted tomato juice; and the Torito, a mojito with Hangar 1 Kaffir vodka, muddled fresh lime, mint and Thai basil, which Toro said gives off an anise flavor, and sugar cane syrup.

Other tempting specialties include the Aqua Blu Berry Pie, a combination of Stoli vanilla vodka and acai juice in glass with a graham cracker-dusted rim (think margarita with graham cracker instead of salt).

During happy hour, they will offer free bar snacks, Toro said, and there is a separate bar menu that includes a four-cheese macaroni and cheese dish; mini crab cake sliders with a spicy sauce, chicken wings, steamed mussels, a grilled cheese sandwich served on sourdough bread, and more. The bar serves olives, pickles and pickled vegetables that all are pickled and cured inhouse, he said, and are available for purchase as well.

There’s a raw bar, with oysters, shrimp, lobster, clams, and seviche. Antipasti selections include grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, and a pumpkin soup served with caramel corn and spiced Chantilly cream.

The bruschetta is house-made. Toro, who’s assisted by sous chef Alex Ferrari, a longtime friend and co-worker, said the bruschetta is served in a jar with breadsticks and slices that come in a small pail, allowing you to dip the bread into the jar and serve yourself. In addition to a more traditional rustic tomato and roasted garlic bruschetta, Toro said they offer one that is whipped ricotta with pear marmalade, honey, basil and chili.

Salad offerings include a standard wedge salad, topped with Oregon blue cheese, bacon and crispy shallots.

There are pizzas and pasta, and an array of mouth-watering entrees, including steaks from filets to porterhouse cuts, fish dishes including halibut, swordfish and a Mediterranean fish stew comprised of clams, mussels, shrimp and swordfish that’s served with a grilled rosemary flatbread, and rack of lamb with date bread pudding, mint jelly and nut brittle.

Dessert, of course, cannot be forgotten, and the dessert selections are just as tempting as the rest of the menu: warm chocolate cake served with bananas and caramel ice cream and a brown butter sauce; mini red velvet cupcakes; classic apple pie; and homemade ice cream sandwiches created from fresh-baked cookies.

There’s also an item Toro said is aimed at the youngsters but may have just as much appeal to the older set: the San Genarro dessert feast, of cotton candy, zeppoles and cannoli.

That's what we saw of the bar, dining area and its menu; we've yet to see the banquet portions of the facility.

Joanne October 21, 2011 at 11:50 AM
I think it sounds amazing. I know I will try it I live down the street and we really need some new places to go in Toms River. I wish them good luck.
Minden Yo October 21, 2011 at 01:22 PM
I agree with Joanne, Toms River hasn't much to offer with respect to high quality, upscale food, and atmosphere. We desperately need a new place. I wish them the best, as well.
SB Girl October 21, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Looks beautiful...I only hope they have outpriced themselves for the area...especially since this is really a seasonal area. Also, where is their menu? Couldn't find it on the web...are they afraid to post their prices?
Mike Hunt October 21, 2011 at 01:27 PM
as some of us said in the other post a few weeks back,that section of route 37 need help bad.Maybe this will be the "jump start" Toms River needs in that section.Best of luck.!
Gino De Lucia October 21, 2011 at 02:19 PM
I've been inside a few times on business during the past 6 weeks & I can honestly tell you this: the atmosphere there is beautiful, friendly & comfortable, and at the same time~ it's top-class all the way; I sincerely hope that the time, efforts, and money invested by Cathy and Enzo pay off, and that Aqua Blu does extremely well!
Joanne October 21, 2011 at 02:23 PM
I live by aqua blu and all my neighbors are no longer seasonal. I think their are alot of people that can afford an upscale restaurant. It brings in a better clientele instead of all these bars in Toms River where a 40 yr old doesnt want to hang out with rowdy drunks and just wants to hang out in a loungy type place to have a drink or dinner.
Gino De Lucia October 21, 2011 at 02:48 PM
You are so wrong about that!
WhyohWhy October 21, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Sounds amazing and I wish they much success. I give them alot of credit taking a chance opening a restaurant fr that calibur in this economey today. I think there are still a lot of people from over the bridge that are still seasonal. You can't expect to survive just from a few surrounding blocks of regulars every week. Maybe if the local bars didn't carter to the younger crowd we would have more places to enjoy.
lalamama October 21, 2011 at 04:32 PM
It looks gorgeous!
GaryR October 21, 2011 at 06:19 PM
I for one will gladly give them a try. If the atmosphere has the right vibe, the food is good, and the staff is friendly and attentive...who wouldn't like it. I'd love to see the whole menu before hand. Best of luck folks, we'll be here to support you all the way!
flyonthewall October 21, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Looking forward to trying it out, good luck. Can you get there by boat?
Eileen October 22, 2011 at 03:49 AM
Toms River is not seasonal. There are nearly 100,000 year round residents here. More than enough to support a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying it out. I would be thrilled to have a nice restaurant in the area. Almost seems too good to be true. Best of luck to them!
. October 22, 2011 at 04:25 AM
It is so nice to see a something other than a chain restaurant open up. I hope it is a hit!
copperpot October 23, 2011 at 12:18 PM
There is now more places to drink toms river than any other town. Toms river people drink way to much. It's not the food, its the bar they are counting on
1stcav October 23, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Should have put up a web sight before opening, as to size & number of rooms available for catering..Also a menu for both the resturant and catering services....
GaryR October 23, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Your point? Is there a 'bar-per-capita' statistic that you are quoting we don't know about? Is there a statistic that says there are more DWI arrests 'per capita' that puts Toms River on top? What establishment DOESN'T want to make money on a bar portion of their establishment? The darn liquor licenses cost so much (helping to reduce taxes!) that you have to make money on that end just to pay it off! Please, if you are correct in these statements about Toms River, you'll open my eyes for sure. I anxiously await your response.
Mike Hunt October 23, 2011 at 02:28 PM
This place is "HIGH END" not a Ball & Beer joint.Thats across the bridge in Seaside Heights.These places do not have Snookie,fist pumping,etc.Most people who go to these places,leave more for a tip then most people spend on a meal.
Joanne October 23, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Are the people that live in Toms River that stuffy. Who cares how any places there are to drink it will also be a great place to go to dinner something new. If you don't want to drink then don't go. If you go into the city, New York or Phila. there are restaurants and bars on every corner. No one complains about it. It's alive and exhilarating. There is alot more things we need in Toms River but that's another conversation.
natasha October 24, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Really im a born an raised toms river resident and really alot of you people are so worried about urselves then others first off before u talk about aqua blu lounge how about take a look in the mirror and ask urselves one question....that vacant lot has been sitting there for years and hello we dont see ur name on the deed so stfu if its a teen place and old place whatever the place is if you dont like it dont go simple!!! People are such whinners but i dont see not one of you owning ur own businesses...let them do them if it works it works if not then at least they tried!!!!
. October 25, 2011 at 03:16 AM
Take a breath, puncutate and learn to use spell check so we may be able to know what you are trying to tell us!
janet October 25, 2011 at 12:10 PM
This establishment is absolutely beautiful.!! It is designed with class and elegance like no other. I am so happy to finally be able to enjoy a place in T.R. that has a warm but elegant feel, ambiance and taste thats superior to all I am in this town 50 years and thanks to Aqua Blue my family and I can enjoy an awesome dining experience in a beatiful location!! Great job and best of luck. Gods Blessings Always! Janet D.
Flygrl October 25, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Cheers! Congrats!...can't wait to go
Flygrl October 25, 2011 at 05:49 PM
All the negative comments...then don't go!
Jackie October 30, 2011 at 01:23 PM
The food was amazing... So refreshing to have something out of the norm for the area! The menue was fall themed and It was such a comfortable environment the service was wonderful! We hope they last we are looking fwd to trying more on the menue!
jaime November 05, 2011 at 12:41 PM
I really enjoyed the atmosphere and decor but the food didn't taste as good as it looked. It was missing some love and flavor! Also, entrees are priced extremely high (if you want to price like its NYC then make the food impeccable). I will definitely go back and enjoy a drink at the bar.
John November 14, 2011 at 04:54 PM
I eat out pretty often- Red Bank area etc. I thought food here was very good and great atmosphere. So we'll go back and try more on menu. I don't drink but others seemed to be enjoying :)
Flygrl November 22, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Food has been very good. Some were a little inconsistent since I been there 4x...I do feel however a few entrees were small and I was still hungry. And I think vegs/starch should be served with the steak,not just arugula. I have noticed they ate still working out the kinks. Good luck to you!
Flygrl November 22, 2011 at 02:26 PM
They are working out the kinks
Jersey Shore Boy November 27, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Check out "Joe and Melissa Gorga Host a charity CD Signing at Aqua Blu" http://aquablu-estw.eventbrite.com
Jersey Shore Boy November 27, 2011 at 12:23 AM
I cannot wait for the upcoming fundraiser-benefit on December 5 with Melissa Gorga (and her husband Joe) from the Bravo TV Network show "Real Housewives of New Jersey"! I have not been in the place yet, but have driven by and was curious to see it up close. This event now gives me the opportunity to check it out. Good luck to the new owner.


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