Jose Garces’ Olón: Holiday Travel & Dining

Several years ago I visited the Jersey Shore off-season to review Revel Hotel and more importantly, Amada created by Chef Jose Garces (above). It was such a memorable dining experience that I recently decided to head back to the Garden State to find out more about his Restaurant Olón. Garces’ cuisine has gained recognition across the states with many popular spots in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He operates over 15 restaurants across the U.S. Not an easy task. Here is what I discovered and Olón’s upcoming menu for the holidays.

Olón is a seaside town in Ecuador. It’s a small fishing village where tourism is becoming more popular for those who travel off the beaten path. It’s close to Montañita and some tourist attractions such as La Cascada Alex. The dining experience at Olón is just a trek to Atlantic City in NJ and very much reminiscent of Spanish tapas with small plates to share. The dining room is tucked away in the back of The Tropicana Hotel and a world away from the bells, whistles and gaming floor of the casino. It’s tranquil.

The entrance is warm and inviting with a lounge/bar area set with mustard-yellow leather chairs and banquettes. The bar stretches across the room with light fixtures that look like top hats. You will pass a raw bar packed with shaved ice and fresh seafood imported daily. This leads the way to the impressive dining room facing the Atlantic Ocean. The honky-tonk image of Atlantic City quickly fades away with a stunning décor: tropical blue leather chairs are paired with two-tone grey on white banquettes and yellow pillows for comfort.

Tony, my dinner guest, is a designer and has created the interiors of many restaurants. He pointed out several focal points that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. The semi-private cabana style area is accented with white, sheer fabrics. Positioned over them are stacks of Cuban Fedoras. (Fedora hats are actually made in Ecuador) — another touch of Garces’ roots.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they have mescal on the cocktail menu as well as pisco and sangria. For the more daring, imbibe with the Sombrero de Papá made with rye whiskey, orange liqueur, demerara and lemon (above).

The menu is very Latino focused with ceviche, a raw bar, empanadas, antichuchos which are skewered kabobs of various meats and possibly vegetables. You may want to pass on the cauliflower. The Crabcake (above) is the size of a large pancake and served with jumbo lump crab, yuzo mayo, watercress and red chile pepper. For some reason, I expected the portion to be smaller and formed into two cakes to share as our waitress Barbara mentioned.

For ceviche, they offer paella, shrimp, Peruvian or octopus. Both Tony and I agreed that this dish was nothing short of amazing. For those who never tried the raw fish dish, you need to know that it is actually cooked by the acidity of the lime juice. Olón serves it with a side of popcorn and peanuts. I believe they do this to add texture to the dish.

The menu also offers seafood towers and meats from the wood grill: roasted half chicken, wagyo skirt steak, pork flank and lamb chops. You may need to hit the jackpot in the casino before the tab comes around. The Scallop Gratinee (above) is a winning combination of parsnip, parmesan cream, caviar and chives. Both Tony and I agree.

Our server, Barbara, described the dessert menu in detail with buñelos (chocolate filled doughnuts), flan and coconut parfait. I was sold when she said the word pistachio. Olón’s version of a coconut parfait is served with mango pearls and pistachio foam. It will be delivered to the table in a glass that resembles a small fish bowl (above).

Chef Jose Garces’ Olón gets booked up especially for the weekends. Now is the time to make a reservation for the holidays, most specifically, New Year’s Eve.

Note: Check out Okatshe with its secret door obscured behind a candy store directly next to Olón. It’s another eatery created by Jose Garces. It reminded me of a Disney Land version of walking the streets of Tokyo.

Discover more here:

Photos by PK Greenfield

Read our Travel Section every month for original stories and insider tips.