Sunday, February 06, 2011

Good Eating in Key West

Picture blog time! It's been about a month since I was in Key West, and I've finally had time to "digest" my time there. I ate some wonderful food and some seriously disappointing food, too. Here we go. I'll describe as we go along.

As part of the Flavors of Key West dinner, we chose a prix fixe menu at Banana Cafe, a French resto on Duval St. The dinner was lovely; I've heard the breakfast is superb. The actual food was, unfortunately, really saucy. I've heard it said many times that "a good sauce covers many sins." If that's the case, the Banana Cafe  must be going straight to hell.

The amuse bouche (below), a cherry tomato stuffed with crab remoulade and a hollowed-out potato filled with soft cheese and topped with caviar was the only thing in the six  courses not doused in overwhelming sauciness.

The peice de resistance of the dinner was a duck preparation (below), a "two-ways" including a confit and a seared (skinless, unfortunately) breast.

As you can see, there's a serious pool of mango demi-glace on the bottom of the plate. That's just too much. The leek fondue (at the bottom of the pile) was the best part. It's just too bad that sauce was there, so the delicate flavor of the leeks were completely overshadowed.

My housemate, KC Culver, a super-talented poet and lecturer at University of Miami (she's going to be famous one day), suggested we visit the new burrito place owned by the executive chef at Nine One Five, one of Key West's "best" restaurants. I can't vouch for this because I haven't eaten there, but plan to next time around.

 For all it is, a seriously badass burrito place, Badboy Burrito is seriously good.  Choose your meat or veggie filling, your toppings, (yes, you can choose Kobe beef as your meat), a salsa choice and a beverage and you have yourself the perfect after-beach meal. This is an awesome place. It might rival Robburrito's in Melbourne. I wish I'd had more time to eat there twice.
 My burrito: juicy pork carnitas, tomatillo salsa and all the toppings I could stand, including some fiery roasted jalapenos. Each burrito is served with fresh tortilla chips and pico de gallo. I can't wait to go back.
Well, hello, Salvador Dali. I didn't know you liked post-modern, surrealist burritos.

 El Siboney was a favorite among the KWLS (Key West Literary Summit) attendees. The classic Cuban restaurant doesn't shy from loading up your plate with fried things, rice and amazing beans. I chose the Pescado Entero Frito (whole fried fish, in this case it was a small yellowtail), which was scored and crispy delicious. If you have a problem with your food staring at you when you eat, you might want to get over it before you order this.

 Key West still has a lot of that Cuban flare left in it, and the best Cuban sandwich in town can be had at 5  Brothers (with, as I found on my way back, two locations: one in Key West, and one just outside Marathon). I ate here at least three times, which is a serious compliment for the place. It's cash only, but there's plenty of ATMs on the island. As you can see, it's at the corner of Grinnell and Southard.

This is my medianoche sandwich, cinnamon bun and fantastic cafe con leche. If you've never had real cafe con leche with steamed milk and espresso, you haven't lived. When I left Key West, this was the first thing I started to crave almost immediately.
This little red hen really wanted my sandwich. Really.
 In the middle of the two sessions of the KWLS, I had a workshop with fabulous author and thoughtful, kind author, Paulette Bates Alden. Her book, Crossing the Moon is as beautiful a memoir as I can think of. I was so lucky to have been able to work with her. On the way to the workshop, I found a fantastic (and I do mean fantastic) bakery: Old Town Bakery, on the corner of Grinnell and Eaton.

Almond croissant made in-house. So crispy, buttery, fluffy inside, filled with marzipan. Truly delicious.

Laminated doughs rock so much, and Old Town Bakery does them right. This sticky bun was unbelievably delicious. 
 I'd eaten at Blue Heaven before with moderate results, but my housemates wanted to give it a try, so I thought it deserved a second chance. I was really unhappy with my experience again. I won't be back. For starters, we were a large party of young girls. This means, to a restaurant, that we'll probably only order appetizers and water.
It's really a shame this restaurant sucks so bad. It's really pretty.
 They sat us directly next to both the extremely loud air conditioner, the clanging of plates that could be heard through the kitchen door, and next to the ugly waitstand. Seriously? I was really, really mad. All three of my seating location pet peeves in one?

My food (below) was equally disappointing. I have no idea what the chef was thinking when he put this one together. A seared tuna "steak" with TONS of gristle (seriously, look at how badly cut that is!) on top of a very strange leek risotto, next to some canned tuna abomination with another strange, indecipherable sauce, some over-blanched asparagus and....cornbread. If you need an example of a dish that is completely disjointed and uncomposed, this is is. What a total, overpriced disappointment. I was really unhappy to hand over $50 to this place. Don't go here.

Weirdest dish EVER.

This is Doug, the owner, who refused to answer my question about how they got the meringue on the Key Lime Pie so evenly browned. I'm still waiting for the answer.

I ate at some wonderful places in Key West and some really unbelievably disappointing places. Here are the ones to put on your list:

badboy burrito
1220 1/2 Simonton St
Key West, FL 33040-3159

Old Town Bakery
930 Eaton Street
Key West, FL 33040-6957

5 Brothers Grocery
930 Southard Street
Key West, FL 33040-7176

El Siboney
900 Catherine Street
Key West, FL 33040

Here are the ones to skip. Just don't waste your time:

Blue Heaven
Banana Cafe (for dinner, I've heard that breakfast is great)

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