Here’s the hook at Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach: The seafood they serve is straight off the commercial docks at Cortez, just across the Intracoastal from the pier at the foot of Bridge Street. Fresher fish and shellfish are hard to imagine, but the kitchen needs to know what to do with the catch or fresh is beside the point.
Blue Marlin delivers on both counts.
The restaurant, housed in a cozy blue vintage cottage decorated in subdued nautical fashion, is the breakout venture of two alumni of Beach Bistro, owner Adam Ellis and chef Jessie Cooper. That’s a fine pedigree, and it’s clear they learned some valuable lessons.
There are plenty of options from pasture and garden on the menu, plus nightly specials, but we chose to stick mostly with the bounty of our local waters and were thoroughly pleased with that strategy.
For starters we each had soup, a Cortez chowder ($7 cup, $10 bowl) heavy with fish and shrimp in a dreamy tomato and crab broth base spiked to perfection with fresh herbs and a hint of saffron, and a refreshing gazpacho ($5/$7) zingy with tomato, cucumber and cilantro. We also got to sample the “tater” soup ($5/$7) courtesy of the owner, who fronts the house. Ellis informed us with a smile that the recipe is his grandmother’s, who must have been a fine cook indeed. The soup was creamy and chunky with Yukon gold potatoes and a bit of garlic.
We also shared the smoked mullet in a cream cheese spread ($11), which was appropriately smoky and nicely complemented by chopped red onion and baby dill pickles I might be tempted to call cornichons. The portion was plenty for two.
For the main event I ordered the sautéed grouper ($22)—either snapper or grouper, depending on the catch, is offered each evening—and found it to be the finest filet of that popular if not iconic fish I have been served in a long time. Not only was it impeccably fresh, it had been cooked to precisely the correct doneness in a light lemon butter that brought out its full savor. The fish also is offered blackened, but with a chunk of grouper this perfect that would have been gilding the lily.
Colette chose garlic shrimp ($18) in a prep that bathed the big beautiful Gulf crustaceans in olive oil, lime and crushed red pepper flakes to admirable effect. She loved every bite.
Accompanying both entrées were yummy Bahamian pigeon peas and rice, crisp broccoli and lightly seasoned shredded red cabbage. The sides were as good as the stars they escorted.
Dessert was an orange cream brûlée for her that tasted exactly like the Creamsicles we once doted on and warm chocolate chip cookie bars dolloped with whipped cream for him. We adored both.
And let’s not overlook adult beverages. The list of beers on tap and in bottles or cans is nearly as long and just as well priced as the short but pithy wine list, which offers some labels we’ve not seen on a restaurant list before.
Blue Marlin may be just getting started, but it has a bright future.
121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach (Anna Maria Island)
Reservations: (941) 896-9737
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Parking: On Street
The Verdict: Specializing in fish and shellfish fresh off the Cortez docks but offering plenty of other options as well, this venture by two alumni of Beach Bistro is off to a strong start.
Sweet surprises at El Pescador
The sign out front says El Pescador, but this Mediterranean-inflected Italian restaurant on the Trail just north of downtown Sarasota, a new enterprise by 15 South Ristorante Enoteca owner Joe Casadio, serves much more than fish.
The menu is extensive and well priced. The wine list is less exhaustive but even better value, with many excellent glasses priced in the $5 range and bottles available at very modest mark-up. Two can dine and drink very well here and ease out the door for under $100.
Tables are nicely dressed in white linens and well spaced. Service is both attentive and knowledgeable.
The menu’s entire first page is devoted to pizzas, the second to antipasti and pastas, and the back page to house specialties, many involving seafood.
Being an eggplant fiend, I started a recent dinner with a generous melanzana ricotta rotoli ($4.95), which wrapped the firm meat of the purple veggie around a yummy filling of warm ricotta cheese and herbs. It was thoroughly satisfying and warming on a chilly evening, my idea of comfort food.
Colette chose a caprese salad ($6.95) that featured fresh mozzarella, naturally, but substituted prosciutto for sliced tomatoes, bedded the layered ingredients on arugula and dressed all in a tangy sweet balsamic emulsion. An excellent full-flavored starter.
For our main courses we both opted for seafood. Mine was a delicious filet of sole ($16.95), not exactly a local fish, of course, but perfectly fresh. The delicate white-fleshed fish, sautéed in white wine and lemon, was served over a bed of robust herb-roasted potatoes, which provided nicely contrasting flavors and textures.
It annoys me no end that I have developed an allergy to mussels, one of my favorite shellfish. Colette, team player that she is, has shouldered the responsibility for sampling them now when we encounter them in an interesting prep. In this case, the fresh, firm bivalves were teamed with shrimp and bay scallops in a tasty seafood risotto ($14.95). They were very good, indeed, as were the tiny bay scallops, but the shrimp could have used a bit less time on the fire. All in all, though, a successful mélange.
One of the nice surprises at El Pescador, along with the bargain wine list, is that the restaurant boasts its own pastry chef. Upon hearing this news, Colette did not hesitate to order a trio of mini fruit tarts, while I indulged my fondness for cheesecake (both $5). The little tarts were delicious, but the chef was feeling magnanimous and threw in a slice of orange marmalade tart that was killer. My cheesecake was the real thing, not the cream cheese stuff, light as a feather, just sweet enough and judiciously drizzled with chocolate.
1602 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 312-4711
Hours: 4:30-10 p.m. Seven Days
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Parking: Ample in Lot