Vol 7 No. 15 - January 3, 2007

Sitting on the dock of the bay at Mar Vista

A bowl of Mar Vista’s Longbeach Bouillabaisse.

By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer

It’s 10 a.m. at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub. Early arrivals have already set up on their favorite barstools to sip a mid-morning beer. In the kitchen, Chef Chris Buchan has a big pot of seafood stock bubbling on the stove. With the sharp eyes of an expert, he is assessing the piles of clams, mussels, shrimp and fish. Here is the foundation of the Mar Vista’s Longbeach Bouillabaisse. Seafood, fresh as it gets, turned into the legendary fish dish, bouillabaisse. But I am getting ahead of myself.

About a two-minute drive from Gulf of Mexico Drive, Mar Vista is situated in what the locals call The Village, a fishing colony which was originally granted in 1885 to the first settler on Longboat Key, Thomas Mann. Approximately 20 years later, a colorful character named Nimmo, notoriously dressed in a kilt and carrying bagpipes, opened Mar Vista selling sandwiches and fishing tackle. Presently it completes the trio of waterfront front restaurants owned by the Chiles Group.

There is seating outside in the café and under the trees for about 60 guests. Perfect for boat and people watching. In fact, very good people watching. In 2000, USA Today named Mar Vista one of ten places in United States to meet a millionaire.

Inside, the dining room feels pretty much as if it has never been renovated. And that is a good thing, with fishing rods stored between the ceiling beams, heavy wooden tables fashioned from ship’s doors or decorated with shells and lacquer, vintage fishing photographs and lots of windows looking out on the water where small fishing boats putter on the intercoastal throwing nets at the schools of mullet. A tradition of writing your name on a dollar bill and tacking it on the wall started years ago when fishermen were feeling flush from a good day of fishing. It would stay in a sort of casual bank reserve to be used on days when the fishing nets were empty. A few years ago, the bills were taken down and counted. Over ten thousand dollars! It was donated to the Tsunami relief effort.

Impressive. But this restaurant has more than character and location going for it.

Anticipating a large bouillabaisse lunch, a friend and I shared a couple appetizers and then ordered one main course, dividing our choices into an impromptu tasting menu. We started with plump scallops wrapped in bacon served with a ginger plum sauce; and a plate of smoked fish dip served with capers and chopped red onions. Next were the succulent Captain Fogarty’s fritters. These were crispy balls of fresh vegetables and ground conch. A delectable combination. Then came sweet peel - and - eat shrimp served with piquant cocktail sauce.

Finally time for the bouillabaisse. Presented as a soup-stew, this classic is accompanied here by either pasta or rice. A 1980 charter signed by 11 restaurants (7 in Marseille) dictates what kinds of fish form the basis of an authentic French bouillabaisse. These are generally unavailable here, so we take liberties and use mussels, clams, scallops and local fish.

For dessert, a slice of homemade key lime pie was absolutely lovely.

Mar Vista’s Longbeach Bouillabaisse
1/2 stalk celery, julienned
3 Spanish onions, julienned
1 bunch of leeks, white part, julienned
1 1/2 oz. fennel seed
2 bay leaves
1/8 c. chopped garlic
1 tsp. saffron
6 qts.. clam juice
1 oz. crab base
1 oz. shrimp base
1/2 oz. lobster base
1 1/2 c. white wine
3 lbs. chopped tomatoes, drained
1 c. tomato paste

Lightly toast garlic and fennel in olive oil. Add veggies and sweat, careful not to burn. Add white wine and reduce by 1/3. Add remaining ingredients and reduce by 1/4. Refrigerate.
Put seafood in a saucepan, cover to the top with bouillabaisse broth and bring to a roaring boil until seafood is cooked through. Serve over pasta and rice. You may use any seafood you find fresh. Mar Vista uses a combination of shrimp, scallops, mussels, scallops and a flakey fish such as grouper.

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