A rescheduling of our April trip to June required a rescheduling of our dinner reservations. When one of our traditional favorites was booked solid, we remembered all those occasions walking or riding past Café Marquesa. With its Bistro ambiance and, most importantly, its close proximity to our resort (3 blocks) we booked a reservation for 5PM, just when the restaurant opened, and on this hot, humid Key West evening that worked to our advantage…
Dressed in “Island Casual” attire, we started the 3 block walk to the Café, when our phones alerted us to an impending tropical thunder storm. Those of you who know Key West storms will attest to the prodigious amount of rain they contain, so we quickened our pace, up Simonton to the intersection of Fleming Street, arriving at 4:50 PM. As the first fat drops of rain began to fall we ducked into the waiting area. The hostess informed us the restaurant didn’t open until 5PM, but seeing the storm said “but you can wait at the bar”! Wise choice as the South Florida heavens open up with what we call “car wash rain”!
Being the first patrons to arrive, we asked for and were seated at a cozy window seat for two. The interior is decorated with an understated island charm, with fruity murals, dark rich wood trim and a classic tile floor. The tables are set with a simple white linen cloth, a small flower bouquet, and standard silver ware and glasses. Elegant, but not fancy is how Cindy described the setting.
Our waitress arrived promptly, along with water service. The menus having been placed by the hostess we were already browsing the choices. She reviewed the evening’s specials; an appetizer of Oysters Rockefeller and a main dish of Yellowtail Snapper, then took our drink orders, Cindy opting for a refreshing cranberry juice and seltzer with a lime, I stay true to the Miller Lite.
As the rain comes down in buckets we scan the menu, but keep thinking about the specials (I learned in most Key West eateries that when they say “specials” they mean it!). Our drinks arrive and I need no Coaxing, I go for both specials; Oysters Rockefeller and Yellowtail Snapper. Cindy, having a more delicate appetite opts for a wedge salad, but I am wearing off on her and to my surprise chooses the Yellowtail! The waitress declares our choices “excellent”, explaining the Yellowtail is also her favorite.
And the rain comes down even harder! We watch as folks dash down the sidewalk, trying (in vain) to stay dry, or at least not soaked. Many give in to the farce and happily walk, Gene Kelly-like, in the rain! In a surprise our waitress offers us a tasting of the chef’s newest soup, a cold cream of broccoli served in oversized porcelain spoons. Never one to refuse a new dish, we both accept, curious how it will sit as we are both used to hot broccoli soup. I am a convert! The soup is velvety smooth, creamy but not milky with a solid texture of puréed broccoli, flavored subtly with ground pepper, butter and spices. If this ends up a menu item, don’t be shy, give it a try!
Cindy’s salad and my Oysters arrive just as we finish the soup sample. Her wedge salad is dressed with Cucumber, Hard Egg, Bacon, Blue Cheese Dressing, Pickled Onion, Green Goddess, fresh and tasty. My Oysters Rockefeller (3) are bubbly hot with Creamy Smoked Bacon, Arugula, Scallions, Asiago Breadcrumb with the oyster served whole (as it should be) and just slightly cooked as to retain the briny flavor. In all, perfect appetizers both in size and flavor. Too often salads and appetizers over power the meal. These offer top quality flavor without giant portions. I savor the oyster juices in my now empty shells, ready for the main dish.
Whisking away our completed appetizers, the entrees follow in short order. The Yellowtail is served crispy with Parmesan Grits, Chilled Pink Shrimp Salad, Chili Butter, English Pea Puree, a feast for the eyes and the palate! The fish is, as it says, crispy on the outside but delicately cooked to a creamy consistency inside. The portion contains two medium sized filets with a nice thick body of even flavor. The grits are buttery, with a hint of sea salt, the shrimp salad is tasty but lacks pop. The combination of chili butter and pea puree add a nice balance to the dish. We linger over our meal, enjoying the flavors and comparing notes on our experience.
With nothing left on our plates our waitress returns offering dessert. As I am not a dessert person, Cindy ponders the choices, not for immediate consumption, but for that late night sweet tooth that seems always to pop up! She opts for the Key Lime Pie, explaining she needs further research into who in Key West has the best…
As we enjoy the last of the tropical rain our bill arrives and after paying we offer the chef a drink as a thank you for a meal well done. He stops by the table to chat and thank us for his after work libation (he opted for the “Dirty”; Ketel One Vodka, Olive Juice, Stilton Blue Cheese Olives, Straight-Up. Wise choice I’m sure!). We assure him this is our first, but certainly not our last, visit.
Total cost (appetizer, entrée, dessert and drinks) with tax and gratuity $170.00
One Conch Shell: Poor
Two Conch Shells: Fair
Three Conch Shells: Average
Four Conch Shells: Good
Five Conch Shells: Outstanding
Café Marquesa Rating:
Location and ambiance- 4.8 Conch Shells (Convenient to Duval)
Cleanliness- 5.0 Conch shells (impeccable)
Wait Staff and personnel- 5.0 Conch Shells (a delight!)
Food Choices and flavors- 4.9 (limited but excellent menu)
Drinks- 4.8 (cocktails looked nice, beer selection was lacking)
Average Rating- 4.9 Conch Shells!