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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beachhouse Restaurant

     The West Coast of Florida is blessed with arguably the most spectacular sunsets in the world, and Beachhouse on Anna Maria Island is a piece of prime real estate for sunset-watching. The patio seating is on the sand and as you settle in, you are front row center for the nightly spectacle.
     Temperature in the seventies, a healthy breeze and not a cloud in the sky to impede our view... Every time I watch the sun slowly approach the horizon, I can't help but smile with anticipation, and when that big white ball grazes the distant water line and begins to melt into it, the five-year-old in me whispers "do it again".
     The interior of the restaurant is not too shabby either. It accommodates a very large number of people comfortably, the bar is attractive, there is a massive wine rack behind glass in place of a wall which looks very dramatic, and they even have a gift shop.
     This time we ordered chicken and pesto crustinis for an appetizer just to mix things up a bit. They were good, but not enough to eclipse the table bread- a basket of warm, doughy homemade pineapple coconut bread served with whipped butter. Oh my! I sigh at the mere memory. I abstained from alcohol that night, but John ordered a JDub's IPA (India Pale Ale). He found it too bitter and not a good partner for our first course.
     For entrees, John ordered the beef tips with risotto and I had the fish platter with garlic mashed potatoes and coleslaw. His beef came in a flavorful tomato-based sauce that helped the otherwise uninspired, slightly undercooked risotto.
     My dish was simple and satisfying. The grouper virtually walked off the shore and onto my plate, it was so fresh, and the potatoes were savory, but I could've skipped the coleslaw.
     As often happens, we were craving a sweet ending to the evening but nothing really stood out on the dessert menu. We ordered their "homemade" Key lime pie just to quell the yearning. When it came, we looked at each other in stunned silence. It really did look 'homemade' - a simple wedge of pie, no whip cream, no embellishment on the plate, not even a particularly attractive shade of green. Then we took a bite and the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover" took a whole new meaning. Flawless balance between sweet and tart, just the right amount of crumble on the crust. Turns out any embellishment would have been superfluous.
   A simple anniversary dinner on a magical night in a captivating setting is an irrefutable Godwink.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Island Creperie

     Our idyllic anniversary weekend in Anna Maria Island must come to an end, but before we head home, we indulge one last time with a visit to this quaint little bistro for breakfast. As all structures are in this narrow strip of land, this café is a simple rectangle painted in a vivid shade of lavender. Inside, the tables are small, and the overall tone is decidedly French.
     Coffee was, of course, the first order of the day and both Hubby and I were in a Mocha mood. He didn't care much for what we got. He found it weak and lacking in any coffee flavor because of the chocolate. I found it quite French- not weak but not too strong, and the chocolate flavor didn't offend. Chocolate never does.
     John ordered the Crepe Buckwheat Breakfast with two eggs, mozzarella cheese and bacon, and found it nothing more than satisfactory. I ordered the Big French Breakfast in an attempt to try as many items as I could from one plate. This one included two thin strawberry jam crepes, a small croissant and French toast. All items are dusted with powdered sugar, which for me is always an indication of good things to come. The warm croissant was so light and fresh, I thought it would float out of my hand. The crepes were disappointing, a sadly ironic fact considering the place is a 'creperie'. I don't think it was the quality of the crepe that was lacking, but the fact that they needed something creamy inside to balance the powerfully sweet jam.
     But the French toast...  I'm going to make a big statement, but I'll start with a disclaimer. While it's true that I don't eat French toast with great frequency, I've had my fair share, and I must say that this is probably the best French toast I have ever eaten. You are only served one, but that 'one' is a thick slice of Brioche bread allowed to soak in liquid just long enough to create a moist, pulpous, sweet sponge. I was done. Nothing could possibly follow, and I was thankful for the little island's decadent sendoff as we returned to the real world.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Seasons 52

     Miami Spice 2014 is officially over, but I couldn't let it slip into history without one more nibble. This establishment is trendy, friendly and classy- the quintessential yuppie eatery. Dark wood, muted geometric upholstery on the booths, and playful animal print on the bar stools mix together to make a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
     I made a new friend at lunch that day, the Superfruit martini, and we had a lovely afternoon. It's an exquisite blend of all-natural Veev Açai Spirit, blueberry-pomegranate juice, Agave nectar and lime juice. The garnish of blueberries dutifully soak up the sweet potion for a luxurious finale when you reach the bottom of the glass.
     I'm very selective about my cocktails and usually satisfied with a small sampling, but this time I loved that the waiter left the shaker at the table for seconds... and thirds. It helped my new friend and I cultivate our relationship. John had a Monk in the Trunk Pale Ale. No, really, that was the name of his craft beer, and he enjoyed it.
     For appetizers we both ordered the chicken avocado flatbread, and ended up taking almost a whole one home because the portions were extremely generous. It was light, flavorful and perfectly crispy.
     I ordered a Barbecue Chicken Salad with a side of quinoa grain in a citrus dressing. You could say the presentation is dramatic. The plentiful greens are held captive in a wide cylinder in the middle of the plate, which quickly runneth over when the waiter removes the cylinder and releases the prisoners. The dressing is a refreshing cumin-lime mixture, and to my surprise and delight, blue cheese crumbles play hide-and-seek in the forest that is my salad.You almost forget the juicy barbecue chicken breast that sits on the plate waiting patiently for your attention.
     The quinoa grain seemed bland at first in spite of the amusing citrus flavor, but after a few bites, the palate really commits to the citrus, and no other seasoning seems necessary.
     John had the Signature Angus Beef Burger with a side of roasted potato wedges. The potatoes did not distinguish themselves in any way, but they came with two very intriguing dipping sauces. One was a truffle cream and the other a Zinfandel barbecue. The last one in particular was full and rich in flavor, and endless ideas for its use danced in my head with every taste.
     John found his burger overseasoned and overcooked. He didn't get that recognizable taste of beef he searches for in his meat.
     His dish did come with the most adorable little mason jar full of pickle rounds dipped in that delightful cumin-lime mixture, which I promptly appropriated. The pickles, not the jar.
     Dessert was a choice from nine "Mini Indulgences",as they call them, or as I call them, desserts in a shot glass. Every one deserves a mention, so here goes: Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte, Belgian Chocolate S'more, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Macchiato, Pecan Pie with Vanilla Bean Mousse, Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Honey, Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli, and Blueberries with Lemon Curd. They couldn't have made it any harder, but in the end, and after much indecisiveness, we settled on the Mocha Macchiato for John and the Raspberry Cannoli for me. I can see why they only give you a small portion. They are lethally delicious!
     Seasons 52 is the kind of place where you can't help but be happy. Generally speaking, the food is good, the atmosphere is lively and the service is impeccable. I look forward to my next visit.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bridge Tender Inn & Dockside Bar

     When we arrived on Anna Maria Island to begin our anniversary getaway, we took a stroll around the tiny island in search of somewhere to have a late lunch. Just around the corner from our hotel, a sign that said "Voted Best Bar & Grill on the Island" caught our attention. A young ginger-haired man swiftly moved in to greet us warmly and lure us with reassurances that the sign was valid and promises of tasty treats.
     The Dockside Bar is the outdoor half of this eatery and it consists of a no-frills tiki bar surrounded by metal tables and chairs located so close to the bay water, the sand under your feet feels moist. On this lazy afternoon, live entertainment was provided by Larry, and ex-DA with a sweet, melodious voice and a binder full of beach bum songs. Even John, the discerning musician, enjoyed his cool stylings.
     The menu offered a variety of frozen tropical drinks but the one called Banana Cream Pie was the most intriguing to me. It wasn't bad, just not thick enough. I like my frozen drinks to go down like milk shakes. Not that this one didn't go down smoothly. So much so, that I had a happy buzz for the rest of the day after my one-drink limit.
     I ordered the grouper Reuben with a side of coleslaw.  John ordered the blackened saba (Japanese for mackerel) with chips. The twist on the Reuben worked. The grilled rye bread was buttery and crunchy, and Mr. Grouper goes quite well with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, thank you very much! I didn't even mind that they mistakenly switched my side from coleslaw to fries. Actually, they were fresh out of the fryer, crispy and well seasoned. John's sandwich was not remarkable, but he liked that it wasn't overtly 'fishy', as he described it.
     I can't conclude without mentioning the friendly service. Young Redhead and our server, Samantha, project a casual contentment that is enviable. If that is what island life does for your disposition, I can't wait until retirement!

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