Marriage is Like Mushrooms

The Love Boat departs on the hour from Little Palm Island

The dining room menu is completely revised nightly, but it always draws on chef Pous' Cuban-Caribbean heritage and what's available from the surrounding waters. It's astonishing that Pous has the smarts and the organizational skills to source bok choy and pea shoots, Honshimeji mushrooms, fennel, chorizo, truffles, broccolini, polenta, Serrano ham, mangoes, caviar, smoked wild boar belly, microgreens, and artisanal cheeses, all of which need to be brought in by boat or plane, and then to cook those ingredients in hundreds of different dishes in the course of a month. Fortunately, in the Keys you can slip into the local sea and return with bounty: blackfin tuna, stone crabs, pink shrimp, grouper, snapper, pompano, wahoo, conch, lobster, snook, and even the occasional (now illegal) jewfish, contraband I've been known to smuggle home in a cooler. In a given week Pous might showcase tuna, cobia, scallops, oysters, black grouper, sea bass, or Florida lobster. A trio of fried oysters ($23) come nestled back into their shells on a bed of sweet plantain purée with pancetta and jalapeño mojo; a tuna tasting ($29) offers the fish soy-cured and skewered with cubes of pickled daikon radish, minced into a glossy tartar with a spiky armor of black-sesame studded tortilla ribbons and a wasabi foam, and sesame-crusted with pineapple relish. Our meat eaters appreciated a churrasco steak salad ($22), with the sliced, grilled meat set over julienned hearts of palm, flecked with cilantro, and sauced with orange-scented aioli and a green drizzle of chimichurri.

Understand that when I detail my roasted garlic-basted cobia (a firm, sweet fillet, $49) and its entourage of seafood potato dumplings, peanuts, lump crab meat, and a delicate little nest of pea shoot salad with aji Amarillo sauce, the odds against your finding this precise combination on the menu when you take your own moneymoon are well nigh astronomical. I can only describe the range of Pous' expertise — the golden, crisp-skinned roasted organic chicken ($46) dense with the smoke of fire-grilled tomatoes and pungent shallots, practically drooling juice, and given a shot of double chicken consommé to further pump up the volume. Or a gorgeous grilled sirloin ($62) set over celery root purée and wilted spinach, with one salsa made from oranges and another sauce spiced with coriander. Our rosy sliced pork tenderloin was well paired with an earthy, rich garbanzo bean purée and piquillo pepper ragout. But I might as well tell you that two nights later the cobia and the pork had ceded to black grouper and Florida lobster stuffed with crabmeat, the sirloin to filet mignon with blue polenta, the chicken to Moulard duck with passionfruit glacé. And the polenta logs doused in parmesan cream ($11) — imagine cheese grits decked out in Prada — had morphed into creamy corn with aged cheddar.

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Dining Room at Little Palm Island

28500 Overseas Highway
Summerland Key, FL 33042

Category: Restaurant > Caribbean

Region: Florida Keys

Details

The Dining Room at Little Palm Island 28500 Overseas Hwy., Little Torch Key. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner 8 a.m. till 9:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday buffet brunch 10:30 a.m. till 2 p.m. Call 305-872-2551.

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Pous' cashew crusted key lime pie ($15) will likely remain on the menu — with its tart custard center and whipped cream and orange zest topping, it's too good to rotate out. The glitterati would mutiny. As for what happens after you've moved to sit by the fire pit, and drained your last drop of ice apple wine (and presumably your wallet), your boat has been well launched. Now all you have to do is steer.

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