Vol 6 No. 45 - August 2, 2006

Fresh seafood, friendly service at City Pier
By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer

It’s hot out. No date. It’s Saturday night. I want to eat something uncomplicated but with just enough interesting flavors involved to be distracting. Seared tuna. That’s what I want for dinner. There is cool comfort in the pink, moist flesh and crunchy sesame seed crust. Off to The City Pier Restaurant at the end of the Anna Maria City Pier, where the fishermen and their children swarm the boardwalk.

Solo this time, and the hostess seats me at a small table next to a window in the crowded dining room. At the table across from me is an attractive man with the bluest eyes sipping a light beer. A dead ringer for Tom Cruise. He’s huddled in a deep relationship negotiation with a youngish pretty blonde sitting next to him.

Customers leave The City Pier Restaurant located at the end of the historic Anna Maria City Pier.

Him: "I was busy helping my daughter with her hamster. I didn’t check my caller ID and you didn’t leave me a message. I see you almost once a week!"

Her: "Only when your ex-wife and children let you. I would think you could pick up my phone calls sometime. Your life is in more of a crisis than mine, and I had the worst marriage and divorce of anyone I know. I warned you I needed more attention. This just isn’t working for me."

I perform an intricate mime of a person not eavesdropping by rereading the menu (it was all I have to study). As with any fish restaurant claiming a seaside tradition, clam chowder is the place to start, and City Pier’s rich, creamy version of New England clam chowder is as good as any I can imagine, briny right down to its soul and thick with bits of clam and chunks of potato. With little bags of oyster crackers, a bowl makes a perfect light meal. The New Orleans -style seafood gumbo and the homemade lobster bisque are both thick tomato-based concoctions, peppery and full of spice. For me, a platter of impeccably fresh peel and eat shrimp can be just the right supplement. City Pier offers either a quarter or half pound order, full of sweet meat. An order of escargot is an indulgence as an appetizer. It is a tender treat; frozen, yes, but a quick bath in garlic butter, does the trick. Crab cakes are one of those seashore dishes that for some inexplicable reason are hard to find well executed in inexpensive restaurants. City Pier’s crab cake, served as an appetizer, on a buttery croissant as a sandwich or as an entrée with a choice of cole slaw, fries, Caesar salad or vegetables of the day, is pleasing because the cakes are crisp, full of flavor and griddled instead of fried.

I glance at the couple again. Definitely Tom Cruise-ish except when he smiles, then Blue Eyes gets this impish Dustin Hoffman look. The woman with him throws me a long stare. I think I may have blown my cover and get interested, really interested in my menu. Solo dining has its challenges.

City Pier with its modest low-ceilinged dining room and beach location has built a following by sticking to some very simple premises. Keep the food uncomplicated, rustic and fresh. Serve plentiful portions. Be really nice. The formula works. Sesame crusted ahi tuna is not new to restaurant menus, but City Pier’s version is rated among the best: the sesame crusted rounds of tuna go well with a garlicky broccoli vegetable medley and buttery rice. A swirl of hoisin sauce adds a nice balance of textures and tastes. I place my order with the friendly waitress and notice the couple has decided to take their meal to go and pay the check. Maybe the meal is for his children.

Assuming we're settling in for a few more long, spiritually challenging hot months, light, comforting and fresh food seems the thing to be eating. You’ll find just that in seared tuna which makes for very good solitary eating: with just enough cooking to make you feel that you are actually making something good for yourself.

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