We’ve been cooking ourselves silly this last week in Apalach. Tomorrow we need to hit the road home, and are planning on doing some shrimp smoking today, so last night we took ourselves out on the town.
With a permanent population of way under 3000, Apalachicola has more than its share of good restaurants, even if you don’t count the oyster bars and fried fish houses (several of which are excellent.)
The newest and best in my opinion is Avenue Sea, at the Gibson Inn, which I have written about before, and will no doubt write about again. At Avenue Sea, though there are occasional (and sometimes dramatic) service issues, the food is always superb. The Inn is charming, in an old and weathered way, and the restaurant fits in – tall ceilings, wood floors, shuttered windows, and minimalist table decorations (which pretty much amount to a votive candle set in the middle of a white paper-covered tablecloth.)
But the food -- be still, my heart, the food! David Carrier, late of Trio (Chicago) and the French Laundry, and his pastry chef wife, Ryanne, do an amazing job. Fortunately for them it is being recognized not just locally (the Tallahassee Democrat gives them lots of hats) but nationally, in the form of a lovely write up in this month’s Gourmet.
The menu is a listing of smallish courses – firsts are light and salady, seconds are a little heavier and complex, and thirds are what you’d normally think of as “main courses.” Last night, with a nod to our weight loss goals, we each had two first courses and a second (no third) and then split dessert.
We started with salads of local greens dressed with the incredible cabernet vinaigrette we have had there before. Then I had a super composition of roasted golden beets with a very thin slice of cabrales (a tangy Spanish blue cheese) and a heap of nicely dressed arugula. Sweet earthy beet + sharp musty cheese + acidic, biting arugula salad = bliss. Jerry had the iced soup – luminous orange musk melon soup poured over bits of melon wrapped in Benton ham, salty and sweet. This was really, really great, but so far every Carrier soup I have tasted has been a liquid masterpiece. (I still dream about the sunchoke cream….)
Next I had tagliatelle with Oregon morels and baby spring vegetables in a pea cream sauce. It was sweet and perfect, each pea exploding with springtime flavor and the pasta tender and toothsome. Jer had braised pork belly, on a kind of confit of Vidalia onions and thyme, with a couple of fat fried Vidalia onion rings on top. Succulent, sweet and yummy.
We had ordered a side dish that didn’t come out with any of the other dishes (one of those service issues I mentioned) so it was like a course of its own – a small plate of baby leeks and what I think the menu called bluefoot chanterelles. They were sautéed with thyme and just wonderful. I mean wonderful.
For dessert we had “vanilla scented hominy puddin’ with strawberries” -- really coarse-ground grits, sweetened and topped with rosy red berries and some tangy crème fraîche. WOW. Scrumptious, and what an idea!.
Despite all the food, it felt light and we felt great. Drove home in a freshening wind under scudding clouds and slept like babes.
(Wish the photos could do the food justice. Had to use the flash, with the usual, less-than-appetizing results.)