I can definitely see me going back to this restaurant again. The seafood at Mar Vista is incredible and you cannot beat the view!
Background Info on the Review
A few months back I earned my scuba diving certification from Scuba Quest in Sarasota and I totally loved it. On the last day, after we did our final open water dives, the after-dive activity was a going away party for the instructor. On his suggestion, we all went out to a restaurant that the divers know about called Mar Vista, far far north on Longboat Key. The location is so out of the way, that you would never just happen upon this place, but when you find it, you feel like you’re really discovering something. When you pull into the driveway, it’s this little shack of a restaurant that has some really special details.
You walk in and are greeted with a very small, nautical-feeling place with a super casual interior. There’s a small bar, a few tables, some merchandise for purchase; it’s the kind of place with dollar bills stapled all over the interior walls. Casual dress, flip-flops, Florida-style vacation/retired/in-the-know clientele. There’s a great covered outdoor seating area right near the dock, so you could actually arrive in your boat. And at nighttime, the trees are lit in such a way as to create this really romantic atmosphere, and the sunset never hurts anything either. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the really incredible seafood…
Cheri’s Food Review
Okay I’m just going to go ahead and say that this is one of my favorite appetizers ever in the whole world. The Tuna Fusion, they call it. The tuna is so tender and light, bathed in a soy-based sauce with red onions that work to give it the perfect kick. And if you weren’t satisfied with the kick in there, you have your choice of a soft, crunchy cabbage, and some creamy guacamole plus the ubiquitous Sriracha. And those homemade chips on the side, it’s like the perfect party in your mouth with the salty, sweet, crunchy, soft, delicate…and a little bit of the ol’ “Damn, that’s good!”
The Scallops Rumaki were served because it’s one of the customer’s favorites and I can see why. I mean, wrap anything in bacon and you’re usually good to go. Scallops are no different – can’t go wrong! And we have to be honest and admit that while we did like this appetizer, by now, we’re both definitely such fans of scallops that we thought the bacon just overpowered those little guys. When I separated out the bacon from the scallops, I actually enjoyed each part equally, and the bacon was perfectly cooked for my taste – not too crispy, not too mushy. The scallops on the inside made these soft little centers, all fluffy and pillow-like, inviting you inside. I thought it was a nice little barbecue sauce that they were standing in, but when I tasted it alone, I realized it was plum sauce which made for a great complement.
Inside the Scallops Rumaki
This was a fun appetizer – the Mar Vista Tater Tots. These are like your gourmet tater tots – with creamy potato, onion, jalapeno and Monterey Jack cheese all inside this crisp, crunchy fried outside. They come with a chipotle honey mustard sauce which is actually rather spicy, so watch out. Lemon on the side was a nice complement and while we both agreed they could have used a little salt, we were still happy to munch away!
Inside the Tater Tot madness
Alright, this was one of the coolest dishes I thought I would hate but I actually loved! The Caribbean Grouper. It’s basically seared grouper with some jerk spice done right – excellent flaky fish with a great crust and served over top of that is a banana that has gotten similar treatment minus the jerk spice. There’s a lovely crust on there and the thing is – I’m not a huge banana fan. But the best part about this, was (because it’s cooked, I think) it sort of mellows out the banana flavor, so it just adds this really nice sweetness with the fish, and don’t get me started on the coconut sauce that it all bathes in – subtle with slightly sweet coconut flavor and a hint of sweet. This dish is a homerun.
To us, the Shrimp Scampi was just pretty so-so. I felt that it could have used a bit more salt, which is easily remedied, but the main message here is that you do not come to this place to get Shrimp Scampi! There’s a whole other world of amazingness to try here! I mean, it was fine, and actually Dad ate way more than his fair share of this so I know it has its place! The strength of this dish was definitely the shrimp themselves, which tells you something about the seafood here….
Here was one of my favorites of the night, the Baked Medley. Gargantuan shrimp, scallops, a crab cake and half a lobster (!). I can hit all in one shot and just say they were all cooked perfectly, which I thought must have been a bit challenging, but what do I know…either way, it was the best textures of each type of seafood all on one plate. And while normally I’m not a huge crab cake fan, Dad and I both really loved this one because it had quite a lot of crab in there – you could actually taste the meat, it was that good! There was a lovely dijon mayo sauce on the side, which was great, albeit unnecessary – the butter sauce everything swims in is quite satisfactory! And for the ultimate in subtle messaging: GET THIS WHEN YOU COME HERE.
Closeup of the crab cake
He’s trying to escape!
We also ordered the King Crab Legs meal that came in this awesome pot with corn on the cob and potatoes, which were excellent sides. But let’s face it, we mostly care about the crab. As you can see, that crab had great legs! The meat inside was thick and tender, with that flavorful, juicy crab meat and the Old Bay seasoning which kicks it up just a notch. And when I said before to GET THE BAKED MEDLEY, what I meant by that was GET THE KING CRAB.
Always a good sign when this arrives at your table
And lastly…just LOOK at those beautiful french fries – crispy and tender, salty….
The Pecan Pie Bar was a thin, sort of mushy slice of warm pecan pie-like bar with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. It wasn’t too sweet, which was a great choice and we would have liked more nuts, but this is coming from nut-aholics, so take that for what it’s worth. Usually, with Pecan Pie, you can get too much of the jelly part, but we both felt there was a good ratio in there, this was our favorite dessert of the night!
What I loved about the Key Lime Pie was the crust mostly – there was a bit too much zest in this batch of pie. It tasted okay, but I would definitely have loved a bit less zest – it was made it slightly bitter. But that is the nice thing about this – you know it’s homemade! So there will be variations in the pie and it had a great creamy consistency.
One final fun note about this evening, when I went home, my fingers, having been fully doused in Old Bay seasoning (one of the best things to get your hands into!), were pretty pungent and my cat loved it! She was rubbing all over my hands for at least 20 minutes. It was better than catnip!
Cloaked Restaurant Review
This is the part where I have an anonymous review done to critique the entire restaurant experience in a undercover way so that you can get a good idea of what it’s like for the typical restaurant-goer like yourself! It keeps us all honest!! Here’s what they said:
It’s about as far north on Longboat Key as you can get, but if you’re willing to take a scenic drive or a pleasant boat trip across the Intercoastal, Mar Vista is the spot for seafood. We settled for arriving by car, and discovered the restaurant as a small little building tucked away close to the water. Inside was a small bar and dining area with low ceilings covered in nautical regalia and wooden tables, giving you the vague impression that you’re in the hold of an old ship rather than a restaurant. Outside, though, was where Mar Vista shined. There was a covered dining area and then, past that, tables setup among the trees with lights running through and hanging from the branches. It was not only comfortable, it felt like you were in someone’s well-landscaped back yard, and the water was only a few yards away. Fans kept it cool and comfortable, and the setting was perfect for seafood. Lots of seafood.
Our waitress recommended a drink special, the Marker 39 Mojito, that was as tasty as it was refreshing. Choosing appetizers was only a challenge because they had so much to offer, but we settled on the Scallops Rumaki ($13.99) and the Bud and Old Bay Shrimp Bowl ($14.99). The shrimp bowl was exactly what it sounded like – peel and eat shrimp cooked in Budweiser and Old Bay seasoning, and there was plenty to go around.
The peeling is an effort that is rewarded by the rich, bold flavor of marinated shrimp. The scallops were even better. Wrapped in bacon and served in a plum sauce, they were perfectly cooked and tender without being rubbery, and the crisp bacon was cooked just enough to allow the sauce to soak in a little. Completely outstanding. For our main course, my sidekick chose a northeastern favorite – the Mar Vista Steamer Pot ($34.99). Snow crab cluster, Dungeness crab cluster, shrimp, mussels and a Maine Lobster tail all baked in garlic, butter and your choice of seasoning (she chose Old Bay after enjoying the appetizer so much), with the traditional potatoes and corn on the cob thrown in for good measure.
It came in a covered metal pot that shouted flavor as soon as you opened the lid and got that first waft of steam, and the taste was every bit as good. I was tempted to get the Parmesan Crusted Flounder, but finally settled on the Mar Vista Seafood platter ($25.99) only because I wanted to get a crabcake and hushpuppies as well as shrimp, scallops and a fried fish fillet. I wasn’t disappointed – it was all cooked perfectly and was crisp without being overly greasy or oily, and the crabcakes and hushpuppies were exactly what I was looking for.
There was so much of it that I boxed half and had it the next day after heating it in the oven, and it was still great. For dessert, we went for the Sweet Potato Pie ($4.99) and the Chocolate Cobbler ($6.99). The pie slice was definitely good, and having never had sweet potato pie, it was a neat flavor that we were surprised by. The cobbler was what really stood out. It was basically a rich brownie pie-slice with a hard chocolate shell crust topped with whipped cream, ice cream and chocolate sauce, and it was fantastic.
Mar Vista was definitely a relaxing evening in the trees by the water and offered a little upscale something for everyone. The small indoor dining area is only a fraction of the story – outdoors is where it shines. The manager was constantly outside greeting diners, giving us updates on possible inclement weather, then assuring us that we had time to finish dinner before we would see any rain (he was right).
We took our dessert indoors just to be safe, and they handled that transition seamlessly. If you’re willing to spend a little extra for some seafood that delivers on flavor, then the setting of Mar Vista is tough to beat.
Cloaked Review Ratings
|Food Quality & Menu|
Go to my Flickr account to check out my Mar Vista Restaurant & Pub, Longboat Key FL, Restaurant Review images set to see the full set of pics.
Review Disclaimer: This review is part of a series of restaurant reviews that follows The Watering Mouth’s restaurant review guidelines. My Tasting photographs may not show the true portion of a meal a typical customer would receive. These reviews are based on two visits to a restaurant, one open Tasting where I taste and photograph a restaurant’s best dishes, and one full, anonymous review (like the typical restaurant-goer would experience) found at the bottom. We are honest with our reviews, and assume that each restaurant is consistently performing to the standards we experienced!