Blending Asian and Middle Eastern culinary influences, Kings Lounge is the first upscale restaurant venture of Egyptian-born owner Michael Beshay.
As the Atlantic City International Airport/FAA Tech Center continues its inexorable expansion, a rippling wave of service industries should now begin to appear along the largely empty travel corridors leading to those transportation hubs.
We specifically noted the need for an improved airport-area food scene in a column two years ago. If the initial entry in that growth zone is any indication, things are indeed looking up.
Kings Lounge, the first upscale venture from Egyptian-born local pizzeria owner Michael Beshay, stands out as one of the most ambitious regional restaurants to open in a long while. Sharing a building with a rather nondescript bar called Christie’s, Kings Lounge couldn’t be any more dramatically different. Décor, crafted personally by Beshay, is an exotic Middle Eastern/Asian confluence. Dramatic red and black shades, a massive corner fireplace, unusual design elements — like one wall’s soothing bamboo waterfall — plus well-spaced seating generate a dreamy, international room.
Food sampled did nothing to diminish that thinking, beginning with complimentary hummus, piped onto a plate and accompanied by a basket of warm, shredded pita bread. More elastic, almost peanut buttery, than those you’ll find in stores, this ochre blend was light and bright on the palate. The creamy, natural flavor of chickpeas remained front and center, unencumbered by excess garlic or seasoning. This authentic Egyptian recipe derives from Beshay’s mother’s family kitchen, and is the only item served at King’s Lounge not fashioned by executive chef Christopher Cassel.
My appetizer, steamed clams, included more than two dozen greenish cockles. Imported from the Barents Sea north of Scandinavia, these were pearly gems, slightly smaller than little necks with shells resembling those of scallops. Presented in a cool, dual-sided bowl nicely suited for shell discards, the tiny mollusk’s lively flavor was noticeably different from local Atlantic species.
Bathed in golden, lustrous broth of elephant garlic, chardonnay and lemon, it was akin to getting two different items — tender, juicy clams along with a bowl of warm, inviting seafood soup — an ideal culinary antidote for the final, lingering weeks of winter. Portioned like mussels — a much less expensive shellfish — it’s also an exceptional value at only $12.
Our other starter, the first item on the menu, was a house signature. The Kings crab and lobster roll brought two well-formed pieces of Asian pastry. Tightly wound, they opened to reveal a filling almost-entirely composed of seafood. A sriracha-tinged remoulade dip and a petite seaweed salad completed the well-organized plating.
Another specialty, the Kings salad, included three of the world’s healthiest foods; spinach, raspberries and walnuts. Thin slices of red onion, surprisingly ripe tomatoes (where did these come from in the dead of winter?) and sheep’s milk feta each added complimentary aromas, textures and tastes. Tossed with strong raspberry vinaigrette, the ingredients paired superbly, although a bit less dressing might have presented them more directly.
Thirty years ago, a little community college in the woods of southern New Jersey began hosting an upscale restaurant gala featuring the cuisine of many of the region’s finest restaurants, while simultaneously showcasing upcoming kitchen talent from their nascent Academy of Culinary Arts.