Sunday, February 17, 2013

Michaels Key West

What a great place Michaels restaurant is, well worth the trek from Duval Street. And we thought the best, tastiest food in Key West.  We dined there in January 2013 and had a wonderful meal.

Location, location, location
It's at 532 Margaret Street, near the intersection with Southard Street.  This makes it 5 blocks from Duval so only a 10 minute walk.    It's quite easy to miss Michaels, as it's "hidden" a few houses along from the intersection.

There is an inside dining room, which is more formal and white linens, and an outside section with a bar.

First the serious business of the pre-meal martini. Very good selection here, not quite strong enough (but everywhere in Key West suffers from that apart from Virgilios's martinis). And it certainly did not stop us from imbibing several.

Michaels restaurant martini.  My mum particularly liked the sidecar.
Key Lime Martini in Key West at Michaels restaurant.
Appetizer revelation - you have to have this!
The seafood crepe - simply the best appetizer I've ever had in Key West.  Amazing.  We only got 1 to share and immediately regretted not getting 1 each!

Unfortunately, we were enjoying ourselves so much I forgot to take any pictures of the crepe appetizer or any of our main courses.

Dad and I both had steak, they have a lot of steak on the menu, and it was fantastic.

Delightful dessert, real volcanic fun
Chocolate Volcano
Our signature dessert!
A warm chocolate cake filled with melted chocolate that flows like lava

That's what we had, and not only did it indeed flow like a volcano, it was very tasty indeed.

We made a real mess of the linens (sorry, guys) which my mother found very funny (the glasses of wine and martinis probably had a hand in this too!).
The Chocolate Volcano at Michael's restaurant in Key West in all of its glory.  See the molten lava!
Dad had cheesecake which was a massive portion and good.
I make a chocolate mess on the white linens because of the Chocolate volcano.

The verdict
What a great meal.
Judging by food alone, we all agreed that Michael's has the most delicious food of any restaurant we tried in Key West.  (And we tried all the best restaurants this week - see here).

The appetizer was legendary and the dessert very good fun.  The streak was excellent.  It's a great dining room and we had lots of space (it looked even more fun in the outdoors section of the restaurant).

I would come back here again and again.

It is the very very best restaurant overall in Key West? - see here to view my ratings.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cafe Marquesa

Cafe Marquesa is one of the best restaurants in Key West, two blocks from Duval Street: a locals' restaurant.  Its website claims to be Zagat's highest rated restaurant in Key West.  We ate there in January 2013, with my mum and dad, and here is what we thought.

On the plus side:
  • the most beautifully and carefully presented food of all the restaurants I've eaten at in Key West - as you can see from my pictures below
  • good food
  • good service
  • At least on the evening we visited, the whole restaurant seemed full of locals!  Specifically, many power ladies.  It seemed like the top of Key West society was here!  And locals must know a thing or two about were to eat.
On the down side:
  • It's soooo noisy! It's a small dining room which they CRAM (and I mean cram) full of tables.  You need to squeeze by chairs to get to the restroom.  Because of the density of fellow diners and also the poor acoustics (they do nothing to dampen the noise, no soft furnishings etc) it is such a din!  I though it was just me, but my mum commented on it as well, several times.  It was so noticeable that it spoilt the experience, a bit.
  • The food or service or martinis were all good, but not exceptional.
The place
The Cafe (=Restaurant) is located as part of the main Marquesa Hotel, an old and impressive building.  The hotel is a very good one.

The hotel and restaurant complex is situated 2 blocks from Duval Street, on the intersection of Fleming and Simonton Streets.  You can't miss it, it's the aquamarine building dominating the corner.

The dining room is immaculate and laid out perfectly with white linens. But, as I already said, the tables are crammed in and very close together. Even though it's candlelit, I would not recommend this an an intimate dinner for 2 location.

Cafe Marquesa's martini menu.  Some very interesting options here.  

Onto the food.  Beautifully presented and very nice.

Oops, another cocktail.

The dessert looked great but was not as tasty as it looked.
The verdict
Nothing wrong here - it's a very well run restaurant with good food.  Good service.  But it's like dining in an upmarket place in New York - all dark and minimalist.   Not at all "Key West different". (For that, see here).

The main downside was the noise - it was like trying to have a conversation in the middle of the New York Stock Exchange (ok, I exaggerate but it was a real problem).

It's also expensive, not more than other top places, but on a par.  So there is nothing special to make me want to come back here.

For my choice of the very best Key West restaurants - click here.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A and B Lobster House

Is the The A&B Lobster House the best restaurant in Key West? It certainly has the right ingredients:
  • Best location on the island.  Bang in the middle of the action, in Key West Bight (the harbor), right on the boardwalk 
  • History: cooking lobster since 1947
  • Iconic brand (see pictures below)
  • Views: over the sea and the constant activity of the Bight
So what's my verdict? Read on (or skip to the very end, if you're impatient!)...

For some reason, I've never been here so this was my first experience of this Key West institution.  I was with my mum and dad on their first trip to Key West, in January 2013.

Here's some pictures from our meal, starting with pictures of the outside and the views.
The A & B Lobster House neon sign as seen from the Front Street approach.
A&B stands for Alonzo and Berlin, in case you wanted to know! I don't think this is a very good likeness of Alonzo!...

The history of A & B Lobster House, from a sign just outside the restaurant.
There are two restaurants here: upstairs and downstairs.   They are quite different so choose right.

The downstairs restaurant is called Alonzo's Oyster Bar, here'a a pic (below) of the entrance.  The menu downstairs is a little different - shorter and much simpler and cheaper.  Downstairs is for more casual dining, if you want better views and more formal eating experience go upstairs.   For evening dining, I strongly recommend upstairs.

They do cocktails, and there is a cocktail bar which is also a cigar bar (unfortunately)
The cocktail bar is called Berlin's - it's upstairs in a totally separate room off the main dining room.  Note it's a cigar bar and so whilst it's well air conditioned, there is unpleasant smoke and smell all the time!  Not recommended to go and sit there unless you want to sit in a cloud of smoke (or want to smoke yourself, of course!).

Which is a shame as the cocktails are good!

Upstairs restaurant (the main restaurant)
You have 2 options upstairs: outside in the heat / fresh air or inside in the AC.

Depending on the season, it's much nicer outside as you get an amazing view, which is half of the reason to eat here.  We went in January and so outside is best.  It would be a very different story in the humidity of summer when you'll want to be inside in the AC.

There are 10 tables outside on the large wrap around balcony:

And here is the view you get of Key West Bight/harbor from the balcony:
Late evening view as we take our seats, from our table on the balcony at A & B Lobster House in Key West.  View out to the ocean, or more accurately as I am looking north-west, the Gulf of Mexico.  Note the sunset cruise sailboat with the red sails.
Twist round and the view the other way towards Caroline Street and the music from Schooner Wharf bar.

Enough of the views, let's eat and drink!
First things first, and it's mandatory to have a martini to start the evening!

They were ok.  Could be doing with a little stronger. Not exceptional martinis, just good.

It's a lobster restaurant so we though we should have... lobster!  Mum and I both had the lobster thermidor.  It was very good.

The deserts were excellent.  The best course.

Still outside but now dark, and happy at the end of our meal...

The A & B Lobster House's sign facing the Bight.  
Is the A&B Lobster House the best restaurant on Key West?   The verdict...
It's not the most different.  See here for that.
It's not the best food.  It is very good, just not the very best.

But the ambiance, the service and the view are all exceptional.

So, yes, for overall restaurant experience I think IT IS  (currently) the best restaurant on the island.

The desert was the best I've ever had anywhere.  The Crab and Artichoke gratin appetizer was a little disappointing.  And the lobster was great.  The menu has lots of other great looking choices which I'm looking forward to trying next time!

The cost 
If you're on a budget, don't eat upstairs!  It's right up there in the top tier of most expensive restaurants on the island, and lobster is never cheap.

It cost us $214 for 3 or $71 each (or £51 each) - and we didn't have a lot of booze and not all courses.  These prices are about the same for these dishes in other top end restaurants on the island.

Other stuff

Here's a post on the best restaurants in Key West (according to me!) - see how the A & B compares, and which the other top restaurants are.

If you're planing a vacation click here to see some hotel and guest house options and considerations.

Here's a list of my top things to do in Key West.

If you've had a good, or bad, meal in A & B please leave a comment!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Dogs vs Cats in Key West

Is it just me or is the balance between dogs and cats in Key West changing fast?  Take Fleming Street as an example....

It's the battle of Fleming Street - dogs vs cats.   5 years ago cats ruled on Fleming Street: we'd have a game on our walk back from Duval Street, along the length of Fleming, to see how many I cats could pet on the way home - and regularly it was half a dozen.  No longer: now you hardly find any.

Now Fleming Street is dominated by dogs; I reckon it's the dog capital of Key West.

Not that I am complaining as I love dogs too.  As a tribute, here are some of the beautiful dogs on the streets of Key West.   As well as some of the worried looking cats!
Key West dogs taking it easy.  These 2 labs listening to the jazz in Blue Heaven.

Key West cats looking nervous at the situation - i.e. doggie dominance!

p.s. this post will be updated from time to time with more pictures (as I take them) of Key West's adorable dogs and cunning cats

Have you got any views on doggie dominance?  Is it a good thing?  Or a sign of Key West going to the dogs (ha, ha)?  There is a lot of coverage in the Citizen at the moment about the noise caused by dogs, what do you think?  Please feel free to leave comments - click the button underneath this post.