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.
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