There’s a not-so-secret neighborhood, with a plethora of great food known as Gulf Gate. We like to think of it as more “Epcot” when it comes to a dining destination. With over 30 restaurants within a three block area, there are so many dining options in Gulf Gate to choose from. Greek cuisine? Yep! Asian? Yep! Italian? Yep! Steakhouse? Yep! Vegetarian? Yep! Trying to pick a favorite restaurant is as difficult as trying to narrow down a specific cuisine.
So, here’s an easy one: Where’s the best seafood in Gulf Gate you ask? Hands down, it’s Off The Hook Seafood Co.
Chef Wes Duval Has been (too) quietly wowing diners for over 3 1/2 years in this cool, urbanesque space adjoining the locally iconic Il Panificio Italian bakery/pizza place.
Believe it or not, but Jill and I go back and forth on where to dine sometimes, and Off The Hook Seafood has been on our short list for some time. Trust me, Off The Hook should be on everyone’s short list for fabulous seafood whether in Gulf Gate or not!
Trying to get good photos is important to us, so we wanted to get there early enough to snag a window seat with good lighting. This proved to be instinctually wise. Off the Hook is apparently off the chain with people who crave awesome seafood. Even though we were there early, the seating began filling up one table after another. I was happy to see that.
Our server, Lexi, was the perfect ambassador in helping us navigate the simple, yet clever menu. She starts by sharing the daily catch, which on this day were 4 local fresh fish options and sea scallops flown in by Wes. They even had one serving left of Mako shark. (The kitchen staff had cooked up some for lunch earlier, and I was tempted to take the last one but didn’t.) Once you select your fish, the menu offers 12 different preparation options, which amounts to an astonishing 60 different options to choose from! Whew!
While we looked at the menu, Lexi brought over a bread basket, hot and fresh from the bakery located on the premises. You can always
smell tell when bread is fresh from the oven, and this certainly was. Served with unsalted butter and a creamy house-made basil and tomato butter, I found the bread impossible to resist. That’s going to interfere with my having dessert, I’m afraid. . .
Before deciding on how to work that Rubik’s Cube of menu wonderment, we chose our wines and pored over the appetizer choices.
Jill’s starter was the Caprese salad, which was a riff on the expected presentation. Served similar to a garden salad, this Caprese featured Chef’s tomato relish, instead of sliced tomatoes, well mixed into the arugula and topped with fresh melon-ball sized mozzarella, then drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and garnished with toasted bagel chips. The relish was a real treat, making every bite as tantalizing as it sounds.
I have been a gazpacho fan for as long as there has been chilled soup (OK, maybe I’m not THAT old,) and Off the Hook’s gazpacho elevated itself in my fan club. Finely diced onion and chunky cucumbers were swimming in a perfectly spiced and seasoned tomato broth, and topped with a dollop of cool sour cream. I may like this gazpacho even more than my own recipe, which is something I’d rarely admit to! I couldn’t wait for what was to come next!
And what was to come was the best seafood dinners we’ve had in some time.
It’s about that 60 options menu. Pick your fish choice, from delicate to firm and robust, and choose an exotic array of presentations. Sounds simple, right? Actually, it is. Personally, I could literally close my eyes and choose any menu combination and be happy. That’s how wisely and thoughtfully Chef Wes has built the loyal following at Off The Hook Seafood Co.
I rubbed my chin and paired this evening’s amberjack with Rockefeller Sauce. (At least, I pretended to be some kind of seafood cognoscenti.) The fish was the star, firm yet juicy, with delicately fried oysters adorning the plate and a sauce with the deft touch of Pernod that shines through magnificently. Perfectly steamed veggies and mashed potatoes rounded out the dish. Evidently, eyeing the plating and portion size, leaving here hungry is not an option!
Jill’s favorite nut is cashew, so the red snapper crusted in said nut, with coconut curry sauce, and soba noodles were her choice – and what a choice! As beautiful as the two Herculean pieces of perfectly cooked and seared nut-crusted snapper were, the seasonings, noodles, and veggies nestled alongside were perfectly partnered. She especially liked the coconut curry sauce, which exceeded her expectations. Thinking she’d get the expected creamy curry sauce, the clear, light and fully fragrant sauce from Chef Wes was so good she requested an extra portion.
Nearing the end of this fabulous repast, Jill admitted that she’d have to pack up half of her magnificent entrée for the next day (She couldn’t resist the hot bread basket either!) Lexi simply had to suggest some homemade cheesecake, from Sol’s Deli, another restaurant sharing the corner of Gateway and Gulf Gate Drive. Now, I’ve been around the block enough to know that Sol’s NYC signature cheesecake is large enough to be a meal in and of itself, so either we’re going to have to pass on desert or jog around the block ten or twelve times before adding that to this evening’s dinner. Dang . . . we wore the wrong shoes for jogging!
All the way home, all Jill and I could muster was the fact that “that was sooo good..” again and again.
Thank you Chef Wes, for doing what you do so well. You certainly have your fish together.