How much credit does a place get for good raw oysters and a great view?
The combination certainly works, and it's a good business model for Island Grille and Raw Bar, which opened last fall in a spot that had previously been WineBurger on the second floor of a retail complex north of Fort De Soto Park.
It is hidden in the back corner, upstairs. But once inside, that juxtaposition allows for a sweeping sunset view on the horizon. Which seems a good fit for a relaxed parrothead kind of place.
And the raw bar pulls its end of the bargain. Plates of fat, briny oysters ($10.95 a dozen, $6.95 for six) are fresh and pristine, with all the classic sides. There are options that are gilded, and there are options that are cooked. Try those if you will, but oysters are one of those things best left as is.
We've established that the quintessential Florida beach bar can exist on the second story of a building. Now let's get to the menu.
Starting with the fried calamari ($8.50) is a good choice, particularly if you brought a small army. It's a mountain of crispy rings and tentacles tossed in a spicy marinara and cherry peppers. It was a geographic formation that seemed to have no chance of being dented by our party of three, but then it was gone.
An ahi tuna appetizer ($9.95 for a half-portion, $17.95 for full) does the fish proud, barely searing a sesame-and-pepper-crusted fillet and serving thin slices with sweet sesame noodles. Pure, clean flavors.
As we move into entrees, it gets more complicated.
A dish of scallops grilled on a cedar plank ($19.95) and topped with a "Tuscan" sauce of crab, artichoke and capers ($4 extra) produces excellent scallops, perfectly cooked and still sweet and juicy. The sauce is creamy and salty from the capers, and works well with the scallops, though it might have been good if there was less of it and it wasn't draped over the scallops. They were beautiful and it was a shame they were hidden. But the dish was a success.
Less successful were the other grilled fish entrees we tried. Mahi ($15.95) and salmon ($17.95) each spent too much time on the grill and were pretty dry. And a hot mango salsa ($1 extra) was fruity, but not remotely hot.
But the kitchen nailed a medium-rare on a sirloin steak ($12.95 for 8 ounces).
An attempt at a po'boy ($9.95) came up short. The grouper po'boy sounded like a neat local spin on the New Orleans classic, but there wasn't much fish, it was overcooked and the bread wasn't the classic French loaf that's integral to the sandwich.
But at dessert, another New Orleans classic gets done right. The bananas Foster ($8.95) may have fruit in the name, but it's all about the buttery, sugary, boozy sauce that it's cooked in. Depending on how crowded the dining room is, the dessert is sometimes prepared tableside. Flames!
Service was understandably shaky on a weekend night with a full house, but on a weeknight with a comfortable crowd on hand, we had a server, Lauren, who was remarkably well versed in the menu. It's a big menu — maybe a little too big and unfocused — but she seemed to know every detail about every item. It was impressive to see such investment.
It would be remiss to fail to mention one other thing. A lot of places have signature drinks, a specific concoction that keeps the regulars coming back. Here, there is a signature drink delivery system.
It's the ShotSki, which is a modified water ski with four shot glasses attached so that up to four people can do shots simultaneously. It would seem there are logistical issues with this. Everyone would probably need to be about the same height, for one.
We didn't try that, so feel free to report back on that one.
Jim Webster can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746. He dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.