Friday, November 26, 2010

Road Trip (ok, well, really a plane): Mad Hatter - Sanibel Island, FL

So I know this is more than a road trip, but I just thought it would be fun to do a little post about our recent trip to Florida.  We have repeatedly visited Captiva Island in Florida (on the Gulf Coast) with our kids.  I really like this place because it is a small place, and while it is somewhat commercialized, it still retains that small town feel that so many places in Florida do not.  There are several restaurants that have been there for many years, and the beaches are my favorite.  Tons of shelling, dolphin sightings almost every day, gorgeous sunsets, and lots of stuff for kids to do.
The other reason I like Captiva so much is because when you get sick of eating the peel and eat or fried shrimp (best fried shrimp in my opinion comes from the Mucky Duck) or grouper (which I don’t think even comes from Florida anymore), they have a great adult chef-owned restaurant right on the beach with very good food. 
Every trip hubby and I look forward to our visit to the Mad Hatter, because we know the food will be good and the atmosphere will be soothing.  We always book our dinner with sunset in mind, because the views are spectacular (nothing like looking up the sunset chart as part of making your dinner reservation. But I am thorough!). They have set up the rectangular room with huge mirrors on one side, so that even if your back is to the window (as mine was on our most recent trip), you still get a full view of the sunset.  I also found it quite charming that right at the moment the sun set, the entire wait staff paused to watch it themselves.  Anyway, while they do highlight some of the local seafood at Mad Hatter, they also just produce quality items, even if you want some red meat for a change of pace.
Our sunset that night
The menu changes slightly from year to year, with certain items that have been maintained for the 3 years or so that we have been going.  We got a little amuse bouche of blue crab claws in a truffle vinaigrette. One little bite of deliciousness.   Then for starters, I ordered the Hudson Valley foie gras, because I was in the mood for something rich and decadent after many days of eating mainly seafood.  Hubby ordered the truffled oysters.
The foie gras was pan seared (is there really any other way to eat it?) with ciabatta French toast and a mixed berry sauce.  It was perfectly cooked, with those yummy caramelized edges which are my favorite part, but still super tender and juicy and amazing inside.  I like foie gras to be served with a little bread of some sort and something sweet, because it is such a perfect balance of the richness with sweet and a tiny bit of tartness from the fruit.  It was a generous portion and was delicious.
Hubby’s oysters were the other highlight of the meal.  The oysters were roasted in their shells with a truffle, lemon and thyme beurre blanc sauce and some panko bread crumbs on top.  I loved this dish as well—maybe even slightly more than my own.  The oysters tasted impeccably fresh and I like the little bit of crunch with the silky oysters.  I also liked the fact that the sauce and flavors were unique—so often you just see a version of oysters Rockefeller which I like too, but it is nice to get something new. 
We split a salad (they split it for us). I won’t go into great detail; it was mixed greens with pear, candied walnuts and a shallot vinaigrette. It was good, but the best thing about it was the tempura gorgonzola on top.  That was awesome. I only wished I had more than one of these little tempura balls of deliciousness, they were the best part of the salad.  But the flavors were all great complements to each other.
I had a special of the day for my main—and it was actually an appetizer.  They called it “lobster cargot” and it was medallions of lobsters cut and then served escargot style—in a super hot escargot dish with a classic garlic butter with lots of parsley.  The sauce was very good—rich and garlicky, but sadly the lobster was totally overcooked.  Really, with as hot as the dish was, there was no way it wouldn’t be unless maybe they heated the dish and sauce up and literally dropped the lobster in raw.  I liked the idea, but unfortunately the execution was lacking.
Hubby had the pan seared black grouper with lemon caper butter and asparagus risotto.  He was also a bit disappointed in his dish.  The fish was a little overcooked and the risotto a bit undercooked.  I think (and I am pretty sure hubby and I have discussed this before) that appetizers are the way to go here, even with my lobster cargot mishap.
But the beauty of Mad Hatter is you can get interesting things that are different from most of the Island fare.  The atmosphere is adult (although you can bring children) and warm.  The sunset is amazing.  I know this is one place we will always visit whenever we go to Captiva (although the restaurant is technically just on the border in Sanibel).  We look forward to it every year even though not everything is always perfect.
If this is an area you visit, or plan to visit, please share.  I would be happy to give you my rundown on all the local restaurants, and I would love to hear yours if you have been there.
The Mad Hatter
6467 Sanibel-Captiva Road
Sanibel, FL 33957
239/472-0033

Mad Hatter Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Thanks, Erin