Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sunset Grill Sanibel Island Review

Who would guess that Executive Chef Amy Visco, the nationally recognized and award winning chef, now creates her magical dishes on Sanibel Island? The Sunset Grill is a quaint one story yellow wooden building not far before the bridge to Captiva Island. It is just across the road from the beach. I spotted a group of people heading with beach chairs to watch the sunset, and ran into a wedding party of 35 folks, lined up along the shore. And where do they go for their special dinner? To the Sunset Grille, of course!

General Manager Dave Maudlin spruced up the Sunset Grill with a major October, 2008 facelift, and the medium lighting level and quiet ambience invites diners with “ the inside scoop”, to relax in this intimate, yet casual spot. The Sunset Grill is packed by locals for two sister’s breakfast and lunch. Executive Chef Amy’s magic sparkles only in the evening, Savvy diners reserve one or two key outside tables, to best see the sunset. They can enjoy a spectacular sunset better from the beach, a few conch shell’s tosses away, and then dine in this cozy warm setting with wooden floors, wide glass windows, and linen table cloths and napkins. This is elegant cuisine in a casual setting, just what these very happy diners and visitors return to.

Kevin, our server, welcomed us from watching the manatees at our South Seas Island Resort digs, to our choice front porch table. A slight breeze, or cool weather guarantees no no-see-ums. We chose sparkling water, and a bottle of Pinot Noir from the adequate wine list to go with our appetizers. I had the ample Sunset Ceviche (15), a large martini glass with chunks of grouper, shrimp, scallops and true lump crab, marinated in Florida citrus, and served with avocado, tomatoes and crispy flat bread. The ceviche is first rate, and a Peruvian or Ecuadorean ceviche master would be happy with Chef Amy’s light touch, letting the seafood’s freshness stands out.

The Green Curry Mussels (13), was my favorite of the apps by a hair, with its medley of light coconut curry broth laced with basil, white pepper, key lime and chunks of tomato, bathing the tender mussels. A perfect blend of sweetness with a touch of heat, we used up the complementary hot bread rolls as we savored every last drop.

The Lobster Bisque (10) is just right, with a good piece of lobster on top, as the center of a beautiful surface decoration. Rich, and creamy, with a touch of sherry and herbs, it’s a generous portion, served hot as it should be.

The Warm Baby Spinach Salad (11) is a delight, with a light apple vinaigrette, sweet and spicy pecans, apple wood smoked bacon, and sautéed sweet onions over the spinach, with a Stilton flan on the side. The vinaigrette is worth the price!

The Avocado and Tomato Tower (11) is a best seller, with layers of vine ripened red and yellow tomatoes alternating with avocados, in a balsamic and roasted garlic dressing. There’s a pair of Tuscan artichoke halves, Feta cheese, and tasty tiny red tomatoes on the side..
For main courses, the Rack of Lamb (35) was incredibly tender, with a a five spice seasoned rub, a mild Creole mustard glaze, then grilled, and served with rosemary jus and a side of garlic mashed potatoes. This is a good sized portion, and one of the best rack of lamb we’ve had in a long time. You pay more for this quality, and it is well worth it.
The New Your Strip Steak (36), is a encrusted with a mix of peppercorns, topped with Stiton compound butter, and drizzled with truffle oil. It is accompanied by a porcini mushroom potato puree that is crispy shallots. Asparagus and carrots were the veggies du jour. The large steak is the equal of any $40-50 steak we’ve had at the top national steakhouses, and as with all we ordered, cooked to perfection. The mushroom puree is good, and better with a little added butter.

The Pastry Laced Sea Bass (32) is a work of art, and exquisitely tasty. Chef Amy cooks it to perfection, stuffing it with a creamy charred corn and chive stuffing, and covered with a crisp pastry lattice. Finished with an onion remoulade, and all over a Mascarpone risotto, this is an award wining dish.
Executive Chef Amy Plating There’s also a Seared Tuna, Grilled Prosciutto Wrapped Sea Scallops (30), Crispy Cast Iron Duck Breast (27) with a cherry fig jam, Butter Poached Lobster Tail (market), and a huge Key West Beer Brined slow Roasted Pork Shank (27) that smelled great, as it was delivered to nearby diners!

Looking over our dishes, it was a three way tie for the Rack of Lamb, New York Strip, and the Pastry laced Sea Bass. The prices include a starch and a vegetable, which could be $5-8 additional, at similar quality spots. We, and the locals who steered us to the grill, agree that the price is reasonable for the very high level of meats and seafood, coupled with Chef Amy’s culinary magic. While the apps and main courses were filling, we still shared some of the desserts, which are freshly made on site. My favorite was the Pear and Butter Tart, a variation on a Philadelphia Kugen, with a twist. I should have bough a whole pie to take home!, We finished our other desserts, the Chocolate Chip bourbon Pecan Pie, the Key Lime (light and tasty!), and the wonderful Tiramisu. There was also a vanilla Crème brûlée, and a Chocolate Gateau Cake. Homemade quality beats the all to common commercial frozen deserts served at some restaurants. As the Edwin McCain song goes “I could not ask for more!”

This was a big weekend for us, staying at the premier South Seas Island Resort, and our Sanibel friends recommended the current best in dining. My only “regret” is that Chef Amy does not cook in our hometown of Naples. While the setting of the nearby Thistle Lodge is elegant and hard to beat, our service and culinary quality at Sunset Grill is flawless. The quality and service exceeds the restaurant’s humble setting. This is a plus for vacationers who choose to dine on top quality food in a Island-casual comfortable setting, with the added bonus of a brief walk, to watch the sunset from the beach. Life is very, very good on Sanibel! Sunset Grill, 6536 Pine Ave, Sanibel, (239) 472-2333

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