By MADDY VITALE
Chef Bujar Daku, owner of La Fontana Coast in Sea Isle City, makes sure all of the entrees are just right. Nothing but perfection, even down to his selection of lemons, will do.
“You see how much lemon juice I squeeze out of this lemon?” he asked Wednesday afternoon. “It has to be these lemons because they have the best juice and the right amount for the fish dishes.”
Daku, who left his homeland of Albania in 1990 with his family to seek a better life in the United States, has made it a family affair.
At 47, he can say he has 28 years as a chef, and many as a restaurateur. He owns five fine dining eateries under the La Fontana and Polpo brands and three casual-to-upscale Fratelli’s pizzerias. One Fratelli’s is located just across the street on 50th Street from La Fontana Coast, 5000 Landis Avenue, just blocks from the beach.
Daku proudly showcased some of his gourmet dishes. During a stop at La Fontana Coast, within 20 minutes four fresh entrees were brought out to highlight some of the tastiest and favorite meals.
Entering La Fontana Coast, customers are greeted with a warm welcome. The tables are arranged with spacious seating, crisp tablecloths and cloth napkins as well as spotless glasses.
The style of the exterior, which features outside seating and a large awning, is Mediterranean. The Italian-influenced décor flows into the restaurant, with paintings and even exposed brick to make patrons feel as if they were in Italy.
A grilled salmon dish, lobster ravioli, shrimp in a cream sauce, scallops, baby spinach along with a veal chop in gravy and even an appetizer of fresh figs wrapped in meat, with walnuts and a gorgonzola cheese, filled a table.
“Cooking is a serious business,” Daku said, then smiled. “Never cut corners. Even cheese, we use only imported cheeses. Our flour is not bleached, and it doesn’t have the sugar others do.”
Top quality is key to his dishes. “It is about the ingredients. That is what is important, not the money,” he said of paying for only the best to go into his entrees.
His personal favorites to prepare and also to eat are Pollo Alla Fantazia, chicken breast with asparagus, mozzarella cheese in lemon, white wine and served over capellini.
Veal Fontana, also one of his top choices, is made of medallions sautéed with mushrooms and prosciutto topped with mozzarella and finished in a cognac demi-glaze. When it comes to fish, he enjoys scallops and calamari.
For dessert, Daku said, there is nothing better than their homemade gelato.
Daku is one of Cape May County’s most influential restaurateurs. His La Fontana brand restaurants are in Sea Isle, Strathmere, Avalon and Philadelphia. He also has a new Avalon restaurant called Polpo, which features a contemporary atmosphere. He also owns three Fratelli’s pizzerias in Sea Isle, Avalon and Strathmere.
In its 10th year on Landis Avenue, La Fontana Coast boasts a solid customer base.
“We have a lot of regular customers. A lot of families drive in from Longport, Avalon, Ocean City and Cape May to come here,” Daku said.
His faithful customers come back because, he said, their meals are always served to order, are always fresh and are never microwaved.
And it is never hurried. Daku is methodical and exacting in the way he cooks and expects his chefs to do the same.
“There is a system to the way I cook,” he said. “I have customers say they want it a little fast. I don’t rush. I want it just right.”
Judging by the number of gift cards sold, which represent 15 percent of his business, customers are not only coming to La Fontana Coast, but also giving the gift to others to taste the entrees at the upscale restaurant.
Daku said he couldn’t do it without his family. He said he is fortunate to have a wonderful family involved in the business.
His wife, brother, son, daughter, nephew, sister-in-law and other relatives help him run the eateries.
“You can always count on family. The family is always into the business,” he said. “I say it is an eight-days-a-week job.”
To make a reservation at La Fontana Coast call (609) 486-6008. For more information about La Fontana Coast and to view the other locations, visit www.lafontanacoast.com.