After a couple of days in Disneyworld, we were so ready for a couple of relaxing days at the beach. We rented a car and drove to St. Pete Beach. We had been once before, several years ago, and remembered having a great dinner at the Maritana Grille in the Don Cesar resort. So we booked a kids club night for the kids and made a reservation. The restaurant has won several awards for its food.
For a hotel restaurant, I like this place because it is on the small side, and is quiet and relaxing (seriously what I was needing). They specialize in seafood, but have a fairly extensive menu. The service seemed fairly professional, although again, we had a server that wanted to explain just a little too much. I am sure there are people who really need all that information, but I am not sure why any server assumes everyone does. And then when we actually did have a question, he didn’t know the answer (but would go find out for us).
First, just let me tell you about the bread plate. It was so good, it deserves a mention. The bread itself was fresh and warm and included kalamata olive bread, asiago cheese bread, little white rolls and a whole grain. The bread was all good, but the butters were served with various flavors of salt on top—one with duck fat salt. Yep, duck fat salt. Nothing like a little duck fat with your butter. There was also cumin infused salt and garlic salt. All really good (and served on nice room temperature butter). You know I liked it when I took a picture of the bread plate. Yum.
Anyhow, again, cold things were sounding good (it was pretty hot after all) and we shared the tasting trio ($13) that included tuna tartare, beef Carpaccio, and a cocktail shrimp. This dish was quite nice, the best thing being the beef Carpaccio. The beef itself was fresh and tender, practically melting in your mouth. The accompaniments were good as well, a drizzle of mustard, some capers, microgreens and very thinly sliced fennel. It was a small portion though, being part of a trio, and I think they overdid all the accompaniments that were piled on top. We took a few things off, and then it tasted quite nice. The tuna tartare was nice as well, a soy based sauce served with a seaweed salad and some crispy wontons, but it wasn’t spectacular. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, but it was basically one shrimp cocktail (it had a little cocktail sauce artfully placed on the plate).
We also ordered the tempura soft shell crab (of course we did) ($13) and this was a major disappointment. The crab itself seemed fresh and meaty, but the batter was gloppy and undercooked. I think the oil must not have been to temperature, although we saw others come out that looked much better, so I guess we were just the unlucky ones. As much as I love soft shell crab (and you know I do), I didn’t even finish my half. The ponzu dipping sauce was good that was served alongside—the slight sweet, sour and salty all combined together but you needed a crispy crab to dip into it, and we did not have that.
For my main dish, I went with the King Crab and white truffle fagottini ($22). This dish was superb. Hubby was so jealous (which always makes me happy). Fagottini are typically little square-shaped filled pastas that are sealed at the top, but these looked like little bags—they were filled with ricotta that I think was flavored with some white truffle and were served with a bunch of different spring veggies—there were spring onions, white asparagus, morning radishes, a couple of carrots and some sliced cherry tomatoes (ok, fruit). There were also big hunks of the crabmeat, and it was all set in a light broth that had butter for sure, as well as probably a little more of the truffle oil and maybe some stock. It was seriously, really good. It was funny, when hubby looked at it, he thought surely it wouldn’t taste good, but he was so wrong. And the rich creamy cheese inside the pasta added just the right amount of creaminess without drowning out the other flavors. One of the best pasta dishes I have had in a long long time.
Hubby had a special, which was pan seared snapper set over potatoes and veggies with a black truffle beurre blanc. This one was disappointing. A really nice piece of fish that gave its life only to be overcooked. It had a soufflé on top which I think is the reason they overcooked it. It was a shame really. It was too dry, and no amount of beurre blanc could save it. The flavors combined nicely together, but we ended up just pretty much splitting mine (I really am too nice).
For dessert though, they redeemed themselves. There was a s’mores dessert ($10), another of my weaknesses. And these were homemade graham crackers—they were almost more like think cookies—they weren’t hard like crackers, they were flaky and light. There was a nicely singed marshmallow in between, and the whole thing covered with deep rich chocolate. Oh, with a bit of ice cream on the side. It was a perfect way to end a meal that had certainly had its ups and downs.
We also ate at several other places—Madfish—one of those cool old retro diner cars with pretty terrible food (obviously past its prime), Crabby Bill’s—your typical seafood shack type place, right on the beach, a chain I think. It had decent fried and blackened grouper and the kids enjoyed it. And to celebrate a family milestone, we all went to The Lobster Pot, which is an old school steak and seafood place—we had steak and lobster, and it was good. But seriously, if the name of your restaurant is the Lobster Pot, you better know how to cook a lobster properly (and they did). St. Pete is a fun place, and we had a really nice time. Food-wise, it was up and down, but honestly, when I go to the beach, that is sort of what I expect I guess, and I am really there for the relaxation more than anything, right?
So where is your favorite Florida spot to visit? We are always trying to decide whether to stay with our tried and true place (Captiva) or go somewhere new. I would love to hear feedback. I know a lot of Hoosiers are regulars in Florida.
Don Cesar Resort
3400 Gulf Blvd
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
5200 Gulf Blvd
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
5100 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
The Lobster Pot
17814 Gulf Blvd.
Redington Shores, FL 33708