Have you ever gone on a Florida vacation and had one “nightmare” dining day and night followed by the best and most wonderful meal the very next night? How about the other way around? We stayed in Longboat Key and thanks to free accommodations figured we would “splurge” and try out the finest that LBK and Sarasota could offer food-wise. When I say finest I mean best tasting and highest quality, not necessarily the most expensive. My AMEX isn’t Black, Platinum, Gold or any other precious material that I know of, unless you consider battleship grey plastic to be a semi-precious substance.
All in all, it was a perfect trip minus a small glancing hurricane and an inexplicable swarm of tiny and relentless biting sand flies called “noseeum”, which are almost impossible to see until they have taken their microscopic, vampire-like pound of flesh and liter of blood. Google it, I swear I’m not making them up!! They are the unseen “bedbugs of the beach” and they prefer certain people whom they descend upon like a plague of locusts and then leave their victims itching and scratching for days like Mississippi hound-dogs with a bad case of fleas. I know. I know. Next time bring “Skin So Soft”. Now the Florida residents tell me. Why dont they just post a large sign at the beach that said, “Forget the Sharks, Watch Out for the Noseeum”?
After layering ourselves in three coats of Calamine lotion and popping a handful of Benedryls we decided to mellow out at the Mar Vista Grill on the North end of Longboat Key. Mar Vista is right next to Moores, the famously overpriced but popular Stone Crab and seafood restaurant. We wanted more privacy, less waiting and didnt want to hear, “Bernstein, party of 12″ all nite and throughout our meal. Plus, the admittedly delicious Stone crab claws were not in season. Believe me, if I could have caught a fresh Stone crab myself I would have cornered one, stabbed it multiple times with a sharpened stick, clobbered it with a large boulder ala Survivorman and parboiled it over a campfire with or without the necessary permits.
Mar Vista is more an intimate “pub” like atmosphere than Moores and recently has added a nice outdoor area to it’s fishing shack/bar dining decor. We should have noticed there were few customers outside and those who were dining “al fresco” were scratching themselves vigorously and rubbing their ankles against each other in between looking around for missing wait staff. You know that “craning neck” gesture and half raised index finger and hand motion that means, “Im trying to be laid back and relaxed on my vacation but if I dont get some service soon I might either start a fire by rubbing my itchy ankles together or go POSTAL on someone” look? Well, now imagine six or eight tables doing that simultaneously. It became ridiculous at one point and, perhaps due to an allergic reaction to sand flies and the Benedryl (in addition to a pretty watery but potent Long Island Ice Tea) I began to fantasize that beach zombies had eaten the entire Mar Vista kitchen staff and both bartenders. Worse yet, I figured the servers, if not at the restaurant, must be somewhere on the beach by now faceless, horribly maimed and covered in a Tsunami sized swarm of noseeum.
I was shaken from my horror show fantasy when a young frowning waitress came up and without so much as a smile or apology said, “Do you know what you want because I’m really busy!” Whhhhhaaaat? I couldn’t believe my ears. I swear to you she said this in a pitch perfect “Mean Girls” tone that suggested either her father owned the restaurant or she was currently auditioning for the Sarah Michelle Gellar bitch part in Sarasota’s stage production of Cruel Intentions. She even had the bored, spoiled rich girl body language down pat. Regarding the unbelievably long wait for my drink (“What is this, Gilligan’s Island?”) the rude waitress mentioned that, “our bartenders are all backed up.” Wait, it’s now 9PM and almost everyone is gone……or in anaphylactic shock.
I realize most people would have cut their losses at this point and left, maybe to forget dinner altogether or go directly to the dessert line at the Loft (above Euphemia Haye). Unfortunately, we had already had three straight day’s worth of Euphemia Haye’s Apple Walnut Crumble Pie, and even more sado-masochistically, I wanted to know how this epic epicurean psychodrama at Mar Vista was going to turn out. Surely the fresh seafood and famous clam chowder would counterbalance the sand flies, invisible insects and sickeningly spoiled sorority girl server. Isn’t that usually the way the Universe does it? Did I not have the reverse experience in my younger hippie days in the jungles of Palenque, Mexico where after ingesting magic mushrooms and stripped naked to emphasize my spiritual receptivity and primal innocence I experienced God in all his natural splendor….only to find out later that my whole body was covered in blood sucking jungle leeches? Leeches, I hate leeches……and noseeum too. Luckily I wasn’t allergic to leeches, and some local farmer took pity on me and poured several cans of gasoline on my blood-sucked tush and sunburned body. Noseeum and mosquitoes are, however, a totally different story. I should have bought stock 40 years ago in Benedryl and Skin So Soft, but who knew?
Allow me to cut to the chase as you probably know where I’m going. EVERYTHING at Mar Vista was horrible as in horrendous, haphazard, and hideous. The tuna “fusion” appetizer was stringy and “sushi-grade” ONLY if you happen to be in grade school and dont know anything about sushi. The clam chowder tasted neither of clams or vegetables and the “authentic award winning” creamy broth tasted artificial. Better to have called it Potato Filler Soup. I tried to doctor it up with the sherry-soy dipping sauce that came with the Cat-grade tuna appetizer but to no avail. The fresh Gulf coast mussels were overcooked, chewy and Dead on Arrival and so was my patience. Adding insult to injury we had moved our table inside in an attempt to survive both the rainy remnants of Hurricane Isaac and the biblical plague of insects but STILL could not find our waitress, a restaurant manager, a standing bartender, or any signs of life whatsoever besides one older couple who appeared to be on an E-Harmony or Christian Mingle inspired first date. May the Good Lord be with them because he certainly wasn’t with us that cursed night. Aargh!
Next blog: The Ecstasy