Ave Sea Apalachicola
I recently had the pleasure of dining at Ave Sea with a close friend and thought that I would share with my fellow hounds my most wonderful experience. We could not decide on a wine and after reviewing the menu and wanting to just nod our heads and say "Yes please," we chose the eight course tasting menu with wine pairings. It seemed a major undertaking as we are petite ladies and gave considerable thought to the six course tasting but our eyes, as it turns out, are bigger than our stomachs. The first course brought three oysters on the half shell with radish, candied tangerine with a citrus mignonette sauce. The oysters were light and the taste refined. A hint of spice was detected only after the morsel was swallowed. It was delectable. Next brought the Cobia Sashimi with bok choy and Thai peppercorns. Perfection. It was fresh and light and the peppercorns did not overwhelm the fish. The oysters were paired with champagne and the cobia with a light crisp white wine. Delivered next was olive oil poached oysters with garlic, fennel, and nicoise olives. The olive oil poached oysters were the favorite thus far. It too was light but more substantial that the first two offerings. Served with a sourdough crisp the broth was amazing and I had to get every last drop from the bowl. By this time I was seduced by the food and while enjoying the wines served my entire focus was on the food. The next course was Gulf Hopper Shrimp with smoked paprika, green garlic and preserved lemons. It was reminiscent of a New Orleans style BBQ shrimp. The shrimp were large and firm, with the right amount of gulf sweetness. The Sunchoke Veloute with marjoram and curry scented creme fraiche was my hands-down winner of the evening. Creamy and rich, this is one off the best soups I have ever had. I wish that I could eat it every day. It was liquid velvet. My dining companion was slightly offended that the server explained that creme fraiche is "just like sour cream." This followed my query of what was IN the creme fraiche. The server only misinterpreted my question and provided the explanation of the "scented" creme fraiche. But I digress - back to the menu. The next offering was Sweet Grass Dairy Chevre Agnolotti with Red Beets, Beet Greens, and Chervil. The Agnolotti was as light as a feather and the beet jus added the perfect balance with the chevre. My Italian, New York City born and raised, dining mate expressed that it was one of the best pastas she has ever had. The next course was our least favorite of the evening. Benton Bacon Wrapped Grouper with Green Lentils and Sauce Robert. The grouper was firm but a little bland. Not bad but not the wowie wow factor that we were now accustomed to. Roasted Rib Eye with Melted Leeks, Pomme de Terre puree and Bordelaise sauce was cooked expertly but I like meat very rare as a rule. I was also stuffed at this point so the enjoyment factor was starting to wane. The meat was delicious and the potato was rich and satisfying. We were then treated to a cheese course which was after I had consumed more food and more wine than accustomed. I tasted the cheese which was delivered to the table by the chef owner. It was wonderful but I had reached saturation. Coffee was ordered and a full pot of french pressed coffee was presented. Consistent with the overall experience it was well balanced and the french press was a nice touch. Dessert - and the eight course tasting menu was now up to ten courses - was one of the best I have had - ever. We were presented with Toasted Almond Mousse Crepes (three of them) with a strawberry compote and balsamic reduction. Also offered was a chocolate souffle. Suddenly I was woken from my near food coma and much like a cow I discovered a second, or third, stomach. I remarked to my dining companion that if I could cook like this, and thank God I can't, I would be featured on TLC as a woman who would require a crane to remove me from my home. Seated behind me was the pastry chef, having spent a long day in the kitchen and now off her feet. She was delighted that we enjoyed our meal and were raving about her creations. I wanted to sample every dessert on the menu after I had sampled two! Dessert tasting...hummm. Now there is a thought! I am so pleased to have such a phenomenal restaurant in my backyard. Foodies and Hounds rejoice! Ave Sea is every bit as good as famed establishments in major US cities. In the land of Lackluster, Ave Sea is the promise land!
My only complaint would be tee shirt, shorts, and flip-flop wearing patrons and a cell phone or two ringing. While it is not the type of establishment to be so stuffy as to require a jacket and tie - a nudge towards appropriate attire and no cell phone usage might remind adults that manners exist even on vacation in Apalachicola.
I can't wait till my next trip to the Panhandle to I can go again. Avenue Sea is so much better than anywhere I have been in Tampa.
If you get a chance, the Fudge Factory has the best chocolate anywhere. The chocolate oyster is to kill for (no actual oyster). Verandas is also really nice. There's also a bakery, but I can't remember the name. The antiques shops are fun, too. For a tiny fishing village (and it's a very active one, supplying the majority of the Florida Panhandle with seafood), it has some awesome food.