eat & drink
● ASBURY PARK
AMBIENCE Stylishly minimalist, often loud
SERVICE Informed, eager to help
DRINKS Craft cocktails and beer; appealing list of
affordable, lesser-known Mediterranean wines
PRICES Appetizers, $5-$15; entrées, $10-$30; desserts, $5-$10
OPEN Lunch/brunch, dinner, Tuesday-Sunday X
F603 Mattison Avenue, 732-455-8333;
By Peg Rosen
About a year after the 2016 opening of Barrio Costero, their smash modern Mexican spot in
Asbury Park, partners Chris Viola, Jamie Dodge and Derek Brosseau were invited by their landlord to open a second
restaurant in a space recently vacated on
the other side of the building.
Ten weeks later, they debuted Reyla,
which quickly found a following. It ven-
tures a modern take on the small-plates
tradition of the Eastern Mediterranean.
They hired Rob Santello, who’d been
chef at nearby Porta, as well as Pascal
and Sabine, after 11 years as sous at the
Manhattan tapas temple Alta.
“We imagined Reyla to be a woman
from a New Jersey-born dad and a
Middle Eastern mom,” says Viola, 36. In
fact, the name mashes up the surnames
of Viola’s Italian-American dad and
With the sound system and bar noise
bouncing off the nearly bare white walls
and Santorini-esque archways, the
place can project a chill at odds with the
warmth and charm of Mediterranean
culture. Yet Reyla has much to admire.
Dodge (who ran the beverage program
with Brosseau at Elements and Mistral
in Princeton) has armed the bar with a
fascinating list of well-priced Eastern
Mediterranean wines and innovative
Santello delivers some delights as
well, like crispy chickpea snacks dusted
with smoked paprika, powdered Persian
lime and malt vinegar. They’re a must
with Dodge’s Hey Reyla cocktail, a sassy
blast of aquavit, lemon and mint.
Santello’s riff on fattoush salad—
whipped farmer cheese beneath cukes,
Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and
toasty pita nibs in a sweet-tart sumac
vinaigrette—was blissfully composed.
“I look at food in terms of music,”
Some of Santello’s dishes are too fussy
Santello, 46, explains. “There are base
notes like truffle, high notes like lemon
or vinegar. When you marry them with
something in the middle, like protein
or cheese, you get a bit of a roller-
We took that balanced ride with his
luscious burrata with lemony apple coulis,
crisp fronds of bitter mizuna and earthy
truffle vinaigrette. His fish dishes thrilled,
especially salmon with curry-pickled cau-
liflower, green olives and dill oil, and cod
with squid-ink hummus. Tender slices of
boneless pork chop with charred-scallion
labneh and pomegranate seeds hit the
right buttons, but was barely warm.
for the lusty cuisines that inspire them.
His baba ghanoush came as a molded
paste—tasty, pretty, but devoid of the
textural contrasts that animate the dish.
(It’s no longer on the menu.) Though we
liked the dainty duck-egg yolks in his
shakshuka, turning the classic chunky
tomato base into a too-intense purée
robbed it of its essential rusticity.
A Silly Putty-like pad of cold feta
panna cotta did little for a blasé beet
salad. A braised lamb tagine was pallid
on first try—the meat tough, the root
veggies undercooked—but perfectly
executed on a later visit. A puck of
flesh-toned kibbeh naya (chopped raw
lamb mixed with aioli, bulgur, herbs and
capers) tasted mainly of fat.
Desserts have improved. On our first
visit, only a dynamite Turkish smoked-chili sorbeto accompanying a petite star
of molten chocolate cake justified the
calories or cost. House-made pear sorbeto crumbled dryly with each spoonful.
And while a malted-milk-and-honey custard looked stylish in its mini Mason jar,
it was rubbery and cloying. More recently,
goat-milk custard with orange, almond
and mint was terrific, as was an affogato
with spicy Turkish halvah gelato.
In the early going, Reyla lacked the
balance of concept and execution that
made Barrio Costero click. But it seems
to be making significant progress. Viola
and his team should continue to focus
more on heart than hipness.
DON’T KNOCK THE MOCK
The book includes mocktails like the Just Say No,
in which citrus and turmeric amp up carrot-juice.
book’s introduction to starting “each day
with my Marlboro Lights and a Dunkin’
Donuts coffee loaded with skim milk and
artificial sweeteners.” Dinner was wine
and iceberg lettuce. All day she sneaked
“bags and bags of candy.”
Eventually both women earned degrees
from the Institute for Integrated Nutri-
tion, an online, non-accredited school,
and became holistic health coaches.
Nydick founded Blue Barn Kitchen to sell
her organic snack bars and teach clients
the art of healthy eating. Roscioli created
Meals 2 GLO, an organic meal delivery
service, and Highway 2 Well, a health-and-wellness practice, both in Millburn.
They didn’t meet until 2013. During
a networking event for health coaches,
they escaped to the bar, where they each
noted with approval the other’s drink order: Nydick asked for a sugar-free mojito,
Roscioli for a tequila with fresh-squeezed
lime, “no Rose’s.” They immediately
bonded, and even won over the initially
skeptical and irritated bartender. Over
those drinks, the book idea was hatched.
Anyone looking for footnotes and
detailed substantiation of some of the
health claims in the introduction will be
disappointed. But it’s hard to argue with
the basic premise of cutting out artificial
ingredients and using natural sweeteners
and flavors. “People like to drink,” says
Roscioli. “If I tell clients they can’t have a
drink again, they’ll fail. So let’s make the
best drink possible.”
Continued from page 92