Friday, July 7, 2017

Dandy Dining On The Island

In our morning paper the other day my bride and I read a Reiley review of Island Grille & Raw Bar at 210 Madonna Boulevard in Tierra Verde. Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic ... one of the best food writers in the business of writing about food.

Intrigued by her article, I took a look at the Island Grille website. The Grille outgrew their previous location, so the owners built a new, grander structure back in August of 2016. This new place is spacious with indoor and outdoor seating. Island Grille is definitely not a rustic fish shack and one of the first things that caught my eye as we walked in was ... be still my thumping gizzard ... an oyster bar. And I mean a real oyster bar, with real oyster shuckers. I quivered with excitement.

I seriously considered dining at that bar but the hostess had already guided my bride to an awaiting table in one of the indoor dining areas and both my Belle and Jamie, our server, were waiting for me to show up ... with arms folded and impatient foot tapping.

Once seated, I couldn't help but be impressed with a series of panels with glass etchings adorned with images of snook, mullet, hog fish, a turtle and various other critters from the sea.

After ordering a Stella draft for me and a William Hill Chardonnay for my dining partner, I contemplated the oyster menu. Two boutique oysters varieties from up north and Louisiana mollusks were on this day's menu.

On the way to our table I had stopped to chat with one of the shuckers. He described the northerners as being a bit on the small side. He and I discussed the Gulf oysters for a moment, and then I was offered one as a taste test.

I watched as Ricky expertly shucked my oyster: top shell removed, the meat severed from the bottom shell, not a drop of the salty liquor was lost and the oyster wasn't dipped in a nasty bowl of water to wash away the flavor. The oyster on a half shell was handed to me and with great delight I consumed this sweet treat from Louisiana.

It is also a treat to discover a venue that serves oysters on the half shell shucked by people who have a clue as to the proper way to shuck and serve. I have only found one other restaurant along the Pinellas County Gulf coast that really knows what they are doing: our neighbors on Gulf Boulevard, the Salt Rock Grill. Back at the table, I requested a half dozen on the half shell.

Oops! What's this I muttered to myself? The oysters looked good but they were swimming in a big puddle of melted ice water. A lady, who turned out to be the owner, asked if there was a problem and she agreed that this oyster swimming pool was a problem and it was immediately corrected ... sort of.

My replacement tray came back rather quickly so I imagine the oysters were drained of water and liquor, placed on fresh ice and served. I ate them but they were not as sweet and flavorful as my gratis oyster at the bar.

Enough about oysters already! The next order of business was our entrees. The Belle requested the Chicken Cordon Bleu off the Early Bird menu. The breaded chicken was topped with sliced tomato, ham and Swiss cheese.

Said she, "The chicken with panko was crunchy on the outside, just the way I like it, and tender and juicy on the inside." Her side was fluffy mashed potatoes.

I was still in a seafood frame of mind so I chose a half dozen Chargrilled Oysters with chipotle lime sauce.

These oysters were prepared on the Island's chargrill and served hot with fresh French bread. I could detect the smokiness from the grill that had my mouth watering even before these mollusks were served. The sauce was tangy from the lime with a subtle piquancy from the chipotle peppers.

I finished with the Steamed Platter: 6 oysters, 6 clams, 6 mussels and 4 steamed shrimp.

All seafood was steamed just right, but I discovered that I really needed to eat fast before everything got cold. The shrimp keep cooking after leaving the steamer so I should have consumed them first. Next time I think I must try the Chilled Platter with 6 raw oysters, 4 shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon fish spread.

When Jamie came by to see how we were doing I told her that we were D-U-N, done. Apparently I was mistaken because the next thing I knew, this appeared on our table:

Jamie said that we really shouldn't leave without an order of this Drunken Bread Pudding. She was right! We did need to experience this decadent delight.

Almost as sweet as the bread pudding was our final bill: all food and four adult beverages came to a very reasonable $91.49.

Service at Island Grille & Raw Bar was exceptional, The owners were not only present, but worked hard to ensure a smooth running operation; from supervising to serving, to picking up dropped debris. These are very "hands-on" people. We were impressed.

1 comment:

  1. Daughter and soon to be son-in-law have had many a fine meal at new location.