Update: After this article was published in print and online, the owners of Shor contacted us to let us know that all restaurants in the hotel will offer validation for parking. So whether you park it yourself or valet, get your ticket stamped and it's free.
CLEARWATER BEACH — Shor could be one of the more exciting restaurant openings of 2010. I say could be.
It opened Feb. 1 at the new Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa, a lovely waterfront hotel with front row seats of the Beach Walk half-mile pathway, which in turn has bragging rights to a supremely great sunset-viewing vantage. What could possibly beach Shor? Parking.
If this stunning restaurant aims to draw in locals, or anyone not staying at the hotel, $18 valet with no validation or discount for dinner guests is too much. Self-parking isn't much better, with an hourly ticket system that is hard to use and expensive (average dinner parking: $8, also with no validation). It would be a shame if locals didn't go, because Shor is stylish and progressive, with a menu and wine list that bring something new to the area.
The dining room is spare and open, half the seats with an unobstructed view of the gulf beyond, half the seats with an unobstructed view of one of the area's prettiest exhibition kitchens. It's sleek, with lots of stainless steel and a heap of ice cradling oysters, clams and lobsters still waving indignantly. Decor leans toward the West Indies, with dark wood and sand-colored accents, but there are fillips of whimsy: Water glasses have a retro blue applique, and check out the candleholders in the bar.
The wine list charms with its choices. Weighted a bit more toward whites (it's a seafood house, after all), it's mostly big-name California contenders, almost everything offered in a single glass, one-third carafe (1 ½ glasses), three-quarter carafe (3 glasses) and whole bottle. That's a user-friendly range of options, and the prices are fair-minded ($10 for a glass of Conundrum or for one of 2006 Louis Martini cab, a Robert Parker 90-pointer).
The dinner menu has a similar approach to giving diners options. You can build your own: Pick a protein, pick a seasoning, a sauce and a side. Voila, dinner. Or leave the decisions to the kitchen. In a couple of visits, I had a number of wonderful tastes. Top honors go to oysters. It may be blasphemy to dis the Florida Eastern species, but a trio of northern Blue Points, with their smooth, fruity flavor, buttery texture and briny oomph, and a threesome of rich Malpeques with a lingering cucumber perfume (for $2.50 per oyster) were perfect, especially with a little splash of the house shallot-vinegar mignonette.
Sure it's not a real test of the kitchen's chops, but seafood this fresh is always a revelation. To see the kitchen's unique aesthetic, head to the dessert list: A wheel of bruleed pineapple has a cap of crisp caramelized sugar, a flurry of toasted coconut, a whiff of rum and a ball of sweet-tart lemon sorbet ($6.50). Or sit with a plate of fried pork belly bites ($7), each lush little cube dusted with cumin and achiote and given a squirt of lime. Wow.
One evening's half chilled lobster was, sadly, undercooked ($18), but a trio of barbecue-sauced, bacon-wrapped shrimp sitting on a delicious corn succotash ($8) brought succor. That succotash is offered as a side, along with wonderful wedges of roast potato dotted with bits of crisp chorizo, green beans with a lively ginger butter and steamed asparagus with a generous chiffonade of basil and mint (a wonderful and unusual combo). I'd like to see a similar sophistication brought to the sauce options. Tartar and cocktail sauces are better options for more casual grub, and a tropical fruit salsa just doesn't go with everything. The rest of the sauces (steak, peppercorn, chive horseradish) are clearly geared toward steaks and chops — how about a citrus beurre blanc or other classical sauce option to complement the sophisticated grilled fishes?
The kitchen struts its stuff with some of the house specialty entrees: Tiny French lentils get a zippy vinaigrette with a touch of tarragon, atop which just-blanched ribbons of zucchini peek out from beneath a fillet of crisp-skinned pan-seared black grouper ($28). In toto, visually pretty and with a great breadth of flavors. Still, add $18 for parking and that entree becomes expensive. Shor has a lot going for it, including a friendly and eager staff. Let's hope they make it feasible for locals to visit.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Read her dining blog at tampabay.com/blogs/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection or the assessment.