Thursday, November 22, 2012

Beach Bistro: A Culinary Gem on Florida's Gulf Coast






For 28 years, Sean Murphy has owned one of the best restaurants in Florida. Beach Bistro, tucked into an old hotel on the sandy beach of Anna Maria Island, it has won just about every award available and maintains one of the highest Zagat ratings in Florida. Every time I'm in Longboat Key, making a culinary pilgrimage to Beach Bistro is always one of the highlights of my trip. Sean’s ambition has been the same throughout the Bistro’s history — to provide his guests with one of the best dining experiences that they've ever had, and he's definitely succeeding, reflected in all of the glowing accolades that Beach Bistro consistently receives.



The delightful and charismatic Sean Murphy



The restaurant is currently an eight-time recipient of Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award and has been enthroned in the Golden Spoon “Hall of Fame.” Its wine list regularly receives the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for offering “one of the best wine lists in the world” and constantly receives the highest Zagat rating for food and service in the state of Florida. It is included in Zagat’s Top Restaurants in America and is lauded by the guide for “the best food on the Gulf Coast…as good as any in New York or Paris.”



The perfect start to the evening, a chilled Hendricks Martini 
straight up with a slice of cucumber


The perfect way begin any special evening at Beach Bistro must include a cocktail before dinner, and for me it's a Hendricks Gin Martini, straight up with a hint of vermouth and garnished with a slice of cucumber. It also provides a pleasurable interlude to peruse the menu and consider all the delicious choices.



Beach Bistro's menu cleverly offers smaller and full portions 
accommodating different appetites

Attention to detail - a fresh dewy rose petal graces every napkin

A lovely touch: a sprig of aromatic rosemary and fresh lemon 
graces even a simple glass of water


A delicious amuse-bouche arrives at the table featuring a bowl of Beach Bistro's enormously popular “One Helluva Soup” made with seasoned Parrish plum tomatoes, sweet cream and Maytag blue cheese. The flavour is out of this world. Served with the soup is a grilled tomato and black olive tapenade nestled on a warm slice of tasted brioche bread. Sean could serve this an entrée and I'm sure it would be a runaway hit.


An amuse-bouche of grilled tomato and olive tapenade bruschetta and a small bowl 
of Beach Bistro's “One Helluva Soup” made with seasoned Parrish plum tomatoes, 
sweet cream and Maytag blue cheese — divine!


We both order the Bistro Caesar Salad which is made with both romaine and baby red romaine lettuce with optional garnishes of Maytag blue cheese, crumbled bacon or white anchovies. We choose the latter, and the salad arrives with a decorative and edible garnish, a golden hued nasturtium, very close to the colour of the sun setting on the white sands of Holmes Beach. Having been seated at the coveted corner table with windows on both sides, the view is as intoxicating as the food.



Beach Bistro's Caesar Salad made with romaine and baby red romaine 
with an extra order of little anchovy fishies


The menu reveals Murphy’s relaxed and humorous take on sophisticated food. For instance, in describing his "Famous Bistro Bouillabaisse" he wants us to know that first you hire a bunch of pros to build a killer broth, then add poached-to-order Maine lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, premium local market fish, shellfish, calamari and fresh herbs, then serve with clever asides of herbed, garlic toast and aiöli. Having ordered the dish almost every time I go to Beach Bistro, I know it takes 3 days to prepare the broth alone, having quizzed the staff repeatedly about how they make it so flavourful. "The recipe took two years of tweaking to reach perfection", says Murphy, and includes Pernod, saffron and fresh herbs, and the result is sublime. The dish comes is 2 sizes: Generous at $52 and Bountiful at $59, and 'generous' is quite bountiful already.



Sean's famous Bistro Bouillabaisse

The clever asides for my Bouillabaisse of herbed garlic toast and aiöli

Even the bowl with my empty shells looked inviting


Beach Bistro has a number of famous dishes, but one of the most popular must be the Colorado Rack of Lamb herb-rubbed, pan-seared and oven-roasted, finished with a port, rosemary demi-glace. The lamb is served with a stand of grilled asparagus spears complete with Béarnaise sauce. As with many of Beach Bistro's entrées, the lamb is offered as light rack of three generous chops for $52 or a full rack of five hops for $81. The light rack is the perfect size, and with two delectable side dishes of Foraged Mushrooms kissed with butter and picked thyme, and Duck Fat Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, roasted crisp with garlic, fresh thyme and rosemary, the combination of flavours was exceptional.



Rack of Colorado Lamb, herb-rubbed, pan-seared and oven-roasted, finished 
with a port, rosemary demi-glace and served with Grilled Asparagus Spears with Béarnaise

Foraged Mushrooms kissed with butter and picked thyme

Duck Fat Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, roasted crisp with garlic, 
fresh thyme and rosemary



The dessert menu selections at Beach Bistro are charmingly called 'Happy Endings', and feature a constantly changing kaleidoscope of sweet desserts. This evening the menu highlighted Praline Alexandra with Bistro-made praline, French vanilla ice cream and Frangelico, Chocolate Truffle Terrine made with Callebaut bittersweet chocolate, and of course Florida Key Lime Pie. Not to be outdone by special requests, we asked for Affogato, which literally translates as "drowned", is an Italian coffee-based dessert which usually takes the form of a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso. It was not on the menu but we described what we wanted and the kitchen performed. Simple and delicious, it was the perfect end to a wonderful evening.



Affogato: three scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso

A delicious happy ending!