Nancy, for whatever reason, decided against the Truly Memorable Valentine’s Day Dinner that I recommended. She didn’t explain why, but she was decisive, and I was at a loss. I generally don’t like to go out on Valentine’s Day. The restaurants always are overbooked and understaffed, and they usually have a set menu that costs twice as much as their regular menu, and the volume overstretches the kitchen’s skills. The evening ends up being not a lot of fun and not very romantic. This one, however, ended up with a home run.
Nancy and I arrived in Florida on Valentine’s Day, and I had made reservations for dinner at the Islander Grill and Tiki Bar, which was in this building.
Nancy and I’d never been there before, despite numerous trips to the area, but it had a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor, and the singular advantage of having a reservation available, and the additional advantage of being a short walk from Ocean Pointe, where we were staying in a unit without a kitchen. The Islander website gave no indication of a special menu, but I hadn’t rolled into town on a truckload of turnips.
So off we went. Nancy and I strolled down and arrived a few minutes early and I announced myself as the John Tanner with the reservation for two at 7:00. That created consternation. There was no record of a reservation for “Tanner” but there was one for “John.” A simple enough problem, you might think, but it was one more annoyance for the hostess; and in fairness, 30 percent of the men present could have been named John, given their apparent advanced ages and my grade school experience (40 students per class, 20 boys, up to 6 named John). The hostess agreed I had a reservation, but that for the moment was a moot point. They had overbooked, of course, and there was no table available. There was, however, a bar. All the stools were taken and three of the four high-tops bore “reserved” placards. The fourth was full of the uncleared debris of a meal. Nancy and I sat there, eventually received glasses of a drinkable wine from the overworked bartender, and the glasses having been consumed, agreed to take one the extra tables which in the emergency, they had set up on the patio outside. That was fine with us. It was quieter.
The special menu was four courses: stuffed mushrooms or bacon-wrapped scallops to start; a caesar salad; Chilean sea bass or filet mignon or shrimp, or something else that I forget — probably a vegetarian option; and chef’s choice of a dessert, all for $35 — a steal. There also was live entertainment — quite good live entertainment — from a couple who played a lot of music from days gone by, when we diners were many a rose-lipped maiden, and many a lightfoot lad. Stiff joints loosened and soon people were up dancing.
A waiter, Mike, was covering our table, as well as others for another Mike who was overwhelmed by his customers. Our Mike was as energetic as can be, and did a great job under tough circumstances. Mike brought more wine, our scallops wrapped in bacon, and our caesar salads in the proper sequence, and all were pretty good. Well, the wine wasn’t very good, at least until my third glass, but it only cost $4 per glass.
You’re tapping your foot and looking at your watch, wondering when the home run comes in.
Then Mike brought the pistachio-crusted sea bass. It was sensational. Each piece of fish was beautiful and just perfectly cooked.
That was the home run, and it was a grand slam. There are some dishes that you remember for years — my crawfish-crusted redfish at the Redfish Grill in New Orleans, the perfect fried oyster at the Catalena in Bayou le Batre, the mushroom soup in a foie gras broth at Le Petit Prince in Paris, the Carbonara at Mezza Luna in Orvieto, Dear’s fried chicken … I could go on and on, and I haven’t even started on barbecue.
We had a nice dessert of a good brownie and tiramisu. We listened to the music, and we talked about the night we got engaged, Valentine’s Day 1975, 45 years before. In the end, the evening, as the one on Valentine’s Day, 1975, was a lot of fun and very romantic.
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