By David Minsky
By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
My pan-roasted local black grouper ($35) was certainly the cleanest-flavored example of that fish I've tasted since my teenaged summers in the Bahamas. Perrin had paired this beautiful fillet with gigantic, whole grilled prawns, salt-encrusted and lightly blackened; fried, sliced fennel; orange saffron essence; a couple of fresh whole green capers; and a tepee of fat, green spears of asparagus. He'd even included the prawn heads, and their shrimpy brains had dissolved into the most delicious mush imaginable. You could scoop them out and fork up a bite of the delicate grouper, a nibble of fennel, a smear of the orange sauce, and you were just so happy.
Also on the menu and looking worth a try: elk tenderloin with faro and butternut squash, whole baby barramundi with Thai green curry, and oak-grilled Muscovy duck breast with confit and winter root vegetables.
A word about the service. It almost ruined our meal. And it almost ruined it in a way that's very hard to explain. It wasn't that anything was slow or late or conspicuously botched. But our waiter made us feel like an inconvenience. He either didn't want to be there or didn't want us there maybe two ladies dining alone, with our single glass of wine and a split dessert, didn't feel worth the bother. Maybe his attitude was colored by an altercation at the next table, where we overheard him insisting that a customer had ordered something the customer thought he hadn't. I don't need effusive gestures, I don't want bowing and scraping, but you'd need a pick ax to cut through the ice on this guy. He was none-too-polished either: Reciting the specials, he wiped his nose with a finger, then inexplicably used that same hand to adjust the position of my bread plate. Yuck.
If only because 11 Maple is a hike for most of us, the service ought to rise to the homey elegance of the décor, to the level of care taken in the cooking (I've heard similar reports from other diners, so I don't think our experience was anomalous).
We consoled ourselves, nursing our hurt feelings with that peanut butter and chocolate pie ($8.95). It's hard to argue with a dessert that tastes exactly like stuffing your maw with two kinds of fudge simultaneously, that fudge studded with slivers of dark chocolate and topped with waves of whipped cream. It was so rich that we couldn't get down more than a bite or two. But with its retro whiffs of butter, brown sugar, and vanilla, it seemed exactly the right kind of sweet to be eating in these Old Florida rooms. The shine of "newness" may have worn off a bit, after 20 years, from Perrin's New American cuisine. But somehow that makes 11 Maple even that much more precious.