Have you ever had one of those nights when you have a place in mind for dinner, you get there but the wait is unreasonably long, then you start driving around looking for alternatives (none of which turn out to be particularly viable)...and all the while, it's getting later and later, you're both getting hungrier and hungrier, and one of you is getting bitchier and bitchier? I know...what a nightmare, RIGHT? That was us when our plan to visit Snapper's Sea Grill on St. Pete Beach went south after we arrived and determined that it would be at least 30 minutes before we could be seated and (quelle horreur!) there was no bar. One of the few things UD doesn't do well is wait...and he waits even less well when he has to queue up on the sidewalk along with the proletariat (aka tourists) without a cocktail to nurse. Ummm...not happening.
Having passed Sea Hags Bar and Grill on our way, we decided to try that instead. The fact that we weren't acknowledged for almost 10 minutes after entering gave us the opportunity to absorb enough of the loud, somewhat redneck vibe of the place to determine that it might not be what we were looking for. Onward!
Since we had enjoyed Middle Grounds Grill so much a couple of weeks prior, we figured that would be a good default position. But, again, we were thwarted by the prospect of a 30-40 minute wait and no room at the crowded bar. Ack!
Becoming increasingly cranky (no, I'm not always sweet), I was about ready to go home and order a pizza until I remembered seeing Gulf Bistro's sign outside a small, older and decidedly nondescript strip center on Mad Beach...a mere and merciful couple of miles from our condo. Feeling a little dubious, we pulled up and checked out the menu posted outside the door. I didn't really know what to expect, but the authentic-sounding French offerings reeled me in there like I had a hook in mouth. And, OMG...the charming, warm and low-key ambiance had me at "hello". It reminded both of us a lot of La Table Anna in Reims, where we had one of the best meals of our lives. The resto was full of locals and there was a convivial buzz going on when we walked in, although there was still room for us to be seated immediately. Took this pic at the end of the evening after most had left. Adorable!
Our lovely server was attentive, très charmant and very French. I was finally able to exhale when a basket of chewy/crusty/tangy French bread was presented. Nom, nom, nom. Guess what? I've decided to let everyone live.
One of the specials of the evening was Foie Gras Pate with Dried Apricots. Since foie gras is one of my favorite foods on the planet, it was a foregone conclusion that I would have it. This was absolutely the best of its ilk that I've ever eaten outside of France (and even better than some I had in that country). Its dense, creamy earthiness was beautifully offset by the sweetness of the apricots and the aged balsamic it was plated with. Incredible. I inhaled it like I had a sunrise date with the electric chair.
Underdog went with the "table d'hôte" option which allowed him to add an appetizer or soup, salad and dessert to the entree of his choice for $10.95 (pretty much the deal of the century). His lobster bisque was silky decadence...more European than what is typically served in Florida, meaning heavy on the lobster stock and cream; light on the roux and crustacean bits.
The salad was a fresh but simple one, adorned with a champagne vinaigrette. Even though I didn't order the "add-ons", our wonderful server generously presented me with one when she brought the spousal-unit's to keep us in sync.
Entrees were mind-blowing. Everything in Dogboy's Bouillabaisse tasted like it had just been pulled from the Gulf. While the photo doesn't depict it well, there was a healthy slab of grouper beneath this bounty of shellfish. Haricots verts along with rice and a tasty little corn and green pea souffle nicely rounded out the meal.
The Duck Breast in Orange Sauce ranked high on my extensive list of "the best thing I ever ate". Tender, rare and juicy, the generous slabs of breast meat floated upon a delightfully boozy, Triple-Sec-laced sea of citrusy goodness. No doggy bag was necessary.
Creme Brulee is my Superhero's Kryptonite, but I let him have his way with it nonetheless. I must admit, it was pretty damned exciting when he opted for the fiery Grand Marnier topper (now you're speakin' MY language!) at a $4 upcharge.
It's a shame he didn't like it.
Gulf Bistro, with its somewhat-difficult-to-locate website and Facebook page coupled with its unassuming exterior is the ultimate "hidden gem". Outstanding cuisine coupled with a charming, relaxing and relatively tourist-free dining room (a rare combo on the Pinellas Beaches) make this tiny spot a Gulf Coast culinary oasis. I daresay you won't find a better or more authentic French experience in West Central Florida. Sorry, but now that I've told you about it, I'm going to have to kill you. Thank you in advance for understanding.