Jul 1, 200912:00 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Going Coastal

Kobe Beef Sliders from Caliza Restaurant

Jay Forman Photograph

When June hit this year, it felt to me as if the entire metro area has been plated and slid beneath a Superdome-sized salamander, baking the city to a point at which boudin left in a parked car with the windows up would steam to perfection in a few short, humid minutes. I quickly concluded that my wife and I needed a weekend escape to Florida's beaches to offset the onset of summer. But while the bottle-green water and sand the texture of 10X confectioner's sugar are guaranteed draws, I expected to find that the fine dining scene along the Emerald Coast lagged behind the region's natural charms. Perhaps it was once the case, but not anymore. Restaurants offering far more than crab digits and paradisiacal cheeseburgers are now ascendant.

FISH OUT OF WATER

WaterColor Inn and Resort, which rubs shoulders with Seaside, is home to Fish Out of Water, the fine-dining selection in the resort's portfolio of dining choices. While it is a given that any restaurant worth its salt would take full advantage of the region's seafood, Fish out of Water broadens its sourcing to include local produce, stone fruits and dairy products along with steaks from high-end outlets such as Fudge Farms and Harris Ranch.

Early summer proved to be a good time to visit. A slew of seasonal produce was available to augment the region's fine seafood. Chef de Cuisine Philip Krajeck made full use of fresh ramps, which brightened up an entrée of Grouper. In a similar vein, on the prix-fixe menu, his Spring Asparagus Soup got enlivened by a lavender-infused crème fraiche. Pastas are made in-house, including a fine Tagliatelli tinted with squid ink tossed with quality butter, julienned jalapeño pepper (skinned and sautéed, the pepper's heat is tamed almost to the point of sweetness), and blue crab. A Ricotta Gnudi was very good; the tender pillows of pasta supplemented with tiny mousseron mushrooms and a nutty brown butter sauce.

Save room for Vanilla Soufflé, into which is ladled a terrific salted caramel sauce. My only regret was having to share it. Sorbets of local citrus and Chilton County peaches completed the meal.

CALIZA RESTAURANT

The next night, a 20 minute drive east along scenic 30-A took us to Alys Beach, a New Urban enclave on the near side of Rosemary Beach. The centerpiece is the Caliza Pool, a visually striking edifice that appears part Moroccan and part ancient Minoan with a dash of Starfleet Academy. The restaurant fronts the pool complex, which is sheathed in white limestone and flanked by smaller auxiliary pools and spas, beautifully appointed private cabanas, and a terrace near the front entrance overlooking the gulf. Without doubt it is an utterly transporting setting.

The restaurant is dinner-only, and is also the only place where I saw people dress for the occasion. Come for the setting, cocktails and people watching, and stay for the food which, while skewing high-end, is also playful. A trio of bacon-draped Kobe Beef Sliders came with a basket of seasoned frites and a garlic and pepper aioli. A Fish and Chips basket takes advantage of local finfish and Scottish batter and deep-frying expertise. If you want to stay fancy, Niman Ranch steaks are available from the grill, and a Foie Gras Terrine will keep things decadent enough to match the surroundings. A cream of corn soup was punched up with curried shrimp, and a pasta dish with braised veal cheeks - though heavy for outdoor summer dining - was tender and flavorful.


Fish Out of Water
WaterColor Inn and Resort
34 Goldenrod Circle
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
866-426-2656
www.watercolorresort.com/resort_dining.aspx

Caliza Restaurant
Alys Beach
850-213-5700
www.calizarestaurant.com









 

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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