Bouillabaisse at the Beach Bistro is a delirious experience in Florida island food and has been a culinary obsession of proprietor Sean Murphy since he established his award-winning culinary cottage on the Gulf 20 years ago. Hearty, fragrant, and oh so rich, this soup is a seafood connoisseur’s grand indulgence, with lobster tail, jumbo shrimp and other shellfish, including calamari, in an incomparable broth. $45. Beach Bistro, 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. (941) 778-6444.
Crabcakes at the French-inspired, casually elegant Bijou Café are a must for visitors and for locals who order them as an appetizer, for lunch or for supper as an entrée. The secret? Lots of succulent lump crab and a sure, light hand with the seasonings. These flavor-packed cakes are pan sautéed and served with a spicy Louisiana-style remoulade. $26. Chef/owner Jean-Pierre Knaggs is a maestro of culinary orchestration. The Bijou Café, 1287 First St., Sarasota. (941) 366-8111.
Mixed fish grill at Captain Brian’s is a choice combination platter ($17) of fresh swordfish, wild king salmon and ahi tuna, blackened and grilled by experts in a newly enlarged and decorously remodeled restaurant and fish market near the Sarasota-Bradenton airport. All the seafood soups are stellar, too. Here’s a relaxed and comfortable place (paper napkins, oilskin tablecloths) to enjoy exemplary fare at bargain prices. Captain Brian’s, 8421 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-4492.
Snapper Colony has starred on the menu at this world-class resort since Dr. Murf Klauber established his tennis vacation destination in 1969. The flavorful pan-seared snapper holds its own under a luxurious canopy of lump crabmeat, sun-dried tomatoes and a perky Caribbean sauce of rum and basil-Key lime beurre blanc. It’s a showstopper at $30. The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key. (941) 383-6464.
Just try DJ’s sea bass with rock shrimp and Florida swamp cabbage, known in haute cuisine circles as hearts of palm. Tiny shallots, basil oil and natural scallop jus all combine to make a sophisticated and modern seafood composition that’s sautéed just enough for all the fresh flavors to assert themselves. Seafood preparations here perfectly reflect the chic, young and urban nature of this new downtown bistro. $30. DJ’s, 1296 First St., Sarasota. (941) 952-5025.
Citrus butter Dover sole, pan seared with toasted pine nuts, is a crowd pleaser at Bradenton’s Ezra. The Key-lime juice sole has long been one of chef David Shiplett’s signature dishes; the secret is cornmeal in the light breading, which contributes crunch and color. This fish dish comes with butternut squash risotto and sizzling spinach. It looks great on the plate and delivers mightily in the flavor department. $19. Ezra, 5629 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton. (941) 792-0990.
Lemon thyme snapper is both fragrant and full of flavor when prepared by Kip Werder and Jeff Hoakum at Greer’s Grill in Gulf Gate Village. Ambiance is minimal, but the food at this chef-owned grill is transporting, and the service both friendly and expert. They coat the fish with Dijon mustard, dredge the filet in breadcrumbs, add a dusting of Parmesan, and it’s into the 500-degree oven for just six minutes. Fabulous at $14. Greer’s Grill, 6566 Gateway Ave., Sarasota. (941) 926-0606.
A deep-fried grouper sandwich at a seafood shack is the sine qua non of a Florida vacation. A fishing camp since the ’30s, Mar Vista has been a pub since the ’60s, and this sandwich has always been on the menu. Enjoy serene views from the weathered deck while tucking into battered fresh grouper on a Kaiser or whole-wheat bun. Fries, pickle and tartar sauce included. Market price, usually about $13. Mar Vista, 760 Broadway, Longboat Key. (941) 383-2391.
At the seafood bar of the Ritz-Carlton Sunday champagne brunch, the opulent buffet duplicates a Flemish Old Master painting, but happily this is no artist’s illusion. The array of sea morsels is accented with dipping sauces to enhance pink shrimp, glistening oysters, smoked fish, sushi, crab claws, mussels, even several American caviars. $65. Seafood is just one of many alluring brunch stations in the stunning lobby. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. (941) 309-2000.
Corvina ceviche is one of a dozen raw seafood appetizers that Peruvian chef Darwin Santa Maria makes nightly at his hip downtown Selva Grill. This one combines corvina fish, lime juice, onion, cilantro, corn and roasted camotes. It’s refreshing and different. Ceviches range from $9 to $13. By all means, try the others, too, including one with octopus and black olive sauce or salmon with lemongrass and ginger-infused coconut water. Lots of wow factor here. Selva Grill, 1345 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 362-4427.