sun staff writer
Its hot out. No date. Its Saturday
night. I want to eat something uncomplicated but with
just enough interesting flavors involved to be distracting.
Seared tuna. Thats 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. Hes huddled in a deep relationship
negotiation with a youngish pretty blonde sitting
next to him.
SUN PHOTO/LIZA MORROW
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 didnt check my caller ID and you didnt 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 isnt working for
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 Piers 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 Piers
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 Piers 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. Youll 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.