Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Cottage on Siesta Key: Tropical Fusion Cuisine

There's a lot to love about Siesta Key, and powdery white beaches are just one of the highlights. Gulls swoop, pelicans glide and sandpipers play tag with each incoming wave. And just off shore, you're likely to find a pod of dolphins frolicking in the sparkling azure blue waters. At the north end of the key, a short walk from one of Siesta's pristine beaches,nestled in the heart of Siesta Key Village off bustling Ocean Boulevard, is The Cottage on the Key, a quaint old Florida beach house-style restaurant in a charming and quirky tropical setting. In the back, a verdant garden oasis of swaying palms and gentle breezes greet guests as they make their way to the Tahiti-inspired tiki hut, perfect for enjoying Chef Larry Eppler's fusion menu of inspired Peruvian, Asian and Hawaiian dishes. The tapas-style servings are small plates but packed with big flavours, and not to be missed.

Cocktails and tasty $8 culinary menu feature Smoked Salmon Sliders, 
Tuna Tartar Tacos, Pork Belly Lollipops and more

Palm trees and a bamboo grove frame the back garden of The Cottage restaurant on Siesta Key

A covered Tahiti-inspired hut in the back garden of The Cottage, is a welcome respite from Florida's noon sun, and perfect spot to feast of Chef Eppler's tropical fusion cuisine

The Cottage lunch menu features sandwiches, salads, tapas, ceviche and raw & steamed shellfish as well as a short 'Culinary Lunch Menu' which features a selection of $8 dishes

Chef Eppler's innovative menu features a tantalizing selection of small plate tapas-style dishes, from Teriyaki Mahi Mahi and Crab Sliders, to Crispy Shrimp Rolls, Chicharron de Calamar (crispy calamari), Ceviche, Steamed Oysters, Mussels and Clams, in addition to their Famous Tuna Tiradito, a heart smart dish of sushi grade tuna sashimi marinated in ginger soy sauce and layered with fresh watermelon drizzled with an Asian dressing — the recipe of which I've added at the end of this blog.

An ice cold glass of Stella Artois beer

Crispy Shrimp Rolls served with avocado aioli and sweet chili sauce

Crab Sliders made with lump crab mixed with avocado aioli, bacon, lettuce and tomato
and served with vegetable and plantain chips

The dinner menu is even more adventurous with culinary creations such as the 
French Truffle Filet Mignon with truffle cream and shaved black truffles on herbed risotto, Koren Short Ribs slow braised in a sweet Asian BBQ sauce with kimchi and garlic fried rice, and Seared Wahoo with a spicy three pepper tomato coulis, and buttery Walu Sashimi with pistachio oil served over a chilled Himalayan sea salt stone served with micro-greens, black seaweed, wasabi, seaweed salad, ponzu sauce and ginger.

Cottage French Truffle Filet Mignon with truffle cream and shaved black truffles

Buttery Walu Sashimi with pistachio oil served over a chilled Himalayan sea salt stone
with micro-greens, black seaweed, wasabi, seaweed salad, ponzu sauce and ginger 

The Walu Sashimi is a thinly sliced Hawaiian escolar fish flown in from Hawaii and served on a Himalayan pink sea salt stone. Chef Larry Eppler has been cooking since he was a teenager but only recently discovered the sea salt stone at a health store in Venice, Florida. The fish is beautifully presented on the pink stone as micro-greens, black seaweed, wasabi, seaweed salad, ponzu sauce and ginger adorn the plate. "I wanted to create an unforgettable experience for customers," Eppler said, "That's why I've been in this industry for 30 years." The stone is filled with minerals and nutrients, and stays chilled for up to 45 minutes while customers rub the sashimi on the stone. The stone gives the fish a salty taste while the house-made ponzu sauce gives the fish a sesame kick.

Asian BBQ Slow Braised Short Ribs

Seared Wahoo with spicy three pepper tomato coulis

Cottage Truffle Cheese Burger dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and onions on a rosemary bun 
and served with a bowl of frites

The Truffle Cheese Burger

The Cottage is a hidden gem and culinary delight amid the hurly burly and tacky tourist traps of Siesta Key Village. Complete with its tranquil garden, innovative menu and friendly service, The Cottage is an oasis of calm — a hidden gem just a hop, skip and a jump from Longboat Key. Next time, I'll run, not walk, to explore more of Chef Eppler's delicious and innovative tropical world cuisine.

A Merry Mahi Mahi

Tuna and Watermelon Tiradito
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of Chef Larry Eppler, The Cottage

Asian Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup shallots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 oz ginger, peeled and chopped
1/8 cup of sesame oil
1/4 bunch of cilantro
1/4 bunch of mint
1 oz of peanut putter
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Ceviche Marinade:
1 lime, juiced 
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp Aji Amarillo paste 
1 tsp Rocoto Pepper paste
1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped plus more for garnish

10 oz of sushi grade tuna, cut into 1/4-inch thick bite size steaks
10 oz of watermelon, cut into 1/4-inch thick bite size steaks

To make the Asian vinaigrette, purée all of the ingredients together in a blender, except the oil. Finally, add the oil slowly to emulsify, and set aside. Whisk all of the Ceviche ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. To serve, stack or alternate side-by-side the slices of tuna and watermelon on a narrow rectangular plate, then drizzle with the Asian Vinaigrette and top with a a sprig of cilantro. Fill small cup, shot glass or sake cup with the Ceviche marinade, and serve with the Titadito. 

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