SUN PHOTO/LIZA MORROW
General Manager Ken Parsons greets diners at the Cafe on the Bay.
By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer
Café on the Bay, with starfish and shells hanging from a thick fishing net and a mural of boats at the marina, looks as if it still belongs a couple miles south perched on the bay. However, after a few minutes in the main dining room, done in creams and pastels with floor to ceiling windows, the restaurant begins to look right at home in its new digs at the Centre Shops on Longboat Key.
"We tried to capture what we had at the bay and make it better. Sure, we don’t have the water view but we have a garden view. We took our original fish tank and added more fish. Fish that match the colors of the room,”General Manager Ken Parsons said.
“We moved the antique hutches with us and have them positioned around the restaurant. Finally, we have the room to show how beautiful they are. Our bathrooms are stunning now. We have a private dining room for intimate dinners.
“There’s crown molding, artwork from The Café Collection, the ceilings are hand painted sky blue and our uniforms are contemporary. Even our music is an updated jazz to what we played before.”
Double glass doors lead to even more seating in the garden cafe, adding to the clean tasteful vibe. The original bar was moved along with the other furniture and that area has a sense of masculine speakeasy with thick dark leather upholstered bar chairs and walls painted a deep red.
There is tremendous attention to detail in the rooms and on the plate. Café on the Bay is owned by restaurateurs Betsie Coolidge and Titus Letschert who also own Café L’ Europe. But the similarity between the St. Armand’s Circle landmark and this restaurant stop at the kitchen door.
Executive Chef Keith Daum oversees both restaurants and explained, "Café L’Europe is more continental and Café on the Bay has more American tones than anything else. More casual, more open. Absolutely just as good but more fun."
The staff of this kitchen knows what it is doing and does things very well. It is no surprise that the wine list is intelligently assembled and fairly priced, especially among domestic selections. The service staff is attractive, competent and amicable.
The mostly all-American menu evokes the past with regional dishes, celebrates the present with the new American cooking and offers consistently good food. A fine way to start is with a creation dubbed chicken, sausage and shrimp New Orleans Jambalaya. The smoked salmon spring rolls, a tongue-in-cheek twist on the Asian classic, works beautifully stuffed with house smoked salmon, bean thread noodles, Marscapone cheese and served with a herbaceous green onion sauce. The Bay Lobster Cake is divine as are the super fresh oysters.
Chef Keith gets it right and serves what must be among the best rack of lamb in town: Colorado lamb roasted and greaseless, with moist, tender meat, enlivened and enhanced with a dried blueberry demi-glace and a slice of melting Saga blue cheese. Filet mignon is tender and buttery and comes with an excellent mushroom ragout and a great, nutty corn cake.
The crunchy potato-crusted grouper in a puddle of whole grain Dijon mustard cream sauce was large enough to satisfy the longings of any child of the South. An eight ounce lobster tail was cooked to perfection tempura style.
Serious pescivores will be especially pleased with the Banana Crusted Grouper. Delicately pan-roasted Florida grouper coated with a mixture of crushed banana chips and Japanese bread crumbs get pizzazz from an emulsion of Coco Lopez and cream de banana liquor.
Chef Keith has a healthy respect for vegetables. The combinations are always interesting, colorful and never overcooked.
Weekend brunch includes several reliable offerings: made to order omelets, bacon and sausage, roasted duck, feathery crepes, tender Belgium waffles, pastries, bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, plus a glass of champagne or a Mimosa.
A bevy of mouth-watering chilled seafood dishes are notable for their quality. The salmon is smoked in house, oysters are freshly shucked and tuna slices are wasabi crusted and seared.
The rich and clever desserts end each meal as indulgently as it began.
Cafe on the Bay
5350 Gulf of Mexico Drive
Centre Shops, Longboat Key
Chef Keith Daum’s Banana Crusted Grouper
Fresh grouper or other white flesh fish
5 to 6 ounce filets per person
three eggs cracked and whipped
flour to dredge
one half cup of panko bread crumbs
one cup of finely chopped banana chips
One cup of heavy cream
One quarter cup of Coco Lopez
One quarter cup of banana liquor
Dredge fish fillets in flour; dip in egg wash, bread with a mixture of panco bread crumbs and banana chips.
Lightly brown breaded filets with olive oil in a sauté pan and finish in a three hundred twenty-five degree oven.
Put all sauce ingredients together and reduce down by half.