As with each vacation my wife and I choose one night, usually mid-week, for a special celebratory meal at an upscale establishment. We’ve celebrated several events; our youngest daughter’s 21st birthday, our 30th anniversary, my wife’s birthday (no age will be divulged!) and my retirement, however our last trip, being the week of July 4th, we celebrated our nations birth with a fabulous meal at Latitudes on Sunset Key.
We heard about Latitudes through on-line posts on social media and from friends we met in Key West. Gazing across the aquamarine waters off Mallory Square in April of 2019, we could only dream of what lies upon that idyllic island. We made a pact to get a reservation for the following year.
First things first, a reservation is an absolute must, and ideally make that reservation at least one month in advance. You read that right, one month in advance. The restaurant is VERY popular and you cannot just “pop in” for a quick bite. Now most restaurants give you a specific time and ask that you arrive ten to fifteen minutes prior to your seating (mainly for orderly seating, but also to get you to buy an extra cocktail!). Now here’s where Latitudes differs. Your reservation time is NOT your seating time (as we sorely found out). Your reservation time is the time they expect you to board the water taxi docked behind the Opal Resort (formerly Margaritaville) for the ten minute ride to the Island. This was never conveyed to us when procuring our reservation, and we arrived a half hour before (giving time for the ride and maybe to enjoy a pre-dinner stroll). The attendant at the water taxi was curt to the point of rudeness when informing us we would have to wait until the next scheduled boat. This left us with time to kill in sweltering 97° heat! I first thought maybe a cool drink nearby, but there are no bars closely. Besides, Cindy wanted to indulge in some “retail therapy”, so we killed time in the nearby surf shop. $80 later we que up for the ride. Now the “happiness lacking” attendant was not on the boat this time, and we enjoyed a smiling older gentleman to greet us. The ride is a smooth, slow trip where the views are all you could ask for. If you have visited the Conch Republic and not been on the water DO IT! I promise you’ll be transformed. We docked some 12 minutes after leaving and the 20 or so riders disembarked to the covered dock where we were greeted by friendly attendants who guided us to the restaurant. Not all those on board were enjoying a meal as there are private residences on the island and this boat taxi is their only way of ingress and egress, so 4 couples checked in at the maître de station. Each couple is introduced to their server and shown to a table. They first ask “inside or outside” as you can choose either. We chose outside, as it was a warm, soft evening and the breeze was just enough to lower the area’s swelter. Seated on the veranda with our backs to the outside wall our view was no less than perfect; a pale blue sky was just turning to the yellows and reds of sunset which would occur in two hours. We looked at each other, smiled and both said “WOW”.
The tables are set with a simple, elegant white linen table cloth and a small candle jar for effect. The seats are comfortable, if not a little low. We did however have an unfortunate visitor in the form of a persistent fly! The busser helped out with a strategically place floor fan. Our server, who informed us he was from Guatemala, was polite and attentive, first reciting the evening’s specials and appetizers from memory and adding his take on each dish, before asking if we required a cocktail. My wife ordered a simple iced tea, flavored with raspberry and I opted for a local beer, Key West Sunset Ale (I felt it entirely in keeping with the circumstances!). Water, in a bottle, was delivered by another server and pored for each of us. Our server asked if we would like an appetizer and, recalling the Artisan Cheese plate, we agreed to a split. Now our entrée. My wife does not eat beef or chicken and enjoys a well prepared seafood dish. I on the other hand eat whatever is put in front of me! However I do have a steadfast rule: Always eat the local specialties, and in Key West that’s seafood! My wife decides on the Crispy Salmon; dill smoked salmon salad, saffron potato, grilled asparagus, Dijon custard sauce ($38). She likes her seafood cooked through and our server ensures it will be. My choice is the Lemon Glazed Yellowtail Snapper; pan-seared, wild rice, roasted vegetables, vin blanc sauce ($38).
Our cocktails arrive and within seconds the cheese plate follows. The appetizer includes imported & domestic cheeses, sweet & savory sides, warm baguette and sesame crackers ($28). The cheeses (including gouda, brie, bleu cheese and a sharp cheddar) were tangy and fresh, the savory sides’ (including a berry compote and raspberry puree’) sweetness was a nice compliment to the salty cheeses. The sesame crackers were tasty, but may have been left out of the package in the humidity too long. The baguette was crunchy and offered a light airy consistency. The plate was promptly cleaned as we were quite peckish and this dish offered what every appetizer should: tasty small portions to tease your appetite.
As the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico our entrées arrive. The server asks for refills of our cocktails and we readily agree. My wife is somewhat picky about raw seafood (we rarely get sushi!) and she checks that the salmon is cooked through, and it is, however maybe too done! She’s a sport and digs in. The salmon is a bit dry, but has good flavor. She is curious about the potato and cannot figure out the ingredients, tasty but different. She is underwhelmed with the Dijon sauce, which is rather bland but she enjoys the asparagus. My snapper is spot on! It is pan seared to a delicate consistency; firm but not dry with seared crust on the edges. The lemon VIN blanc sauce bursts with citrus flavor and I do detect a hint of saffron. Although I don’t usually eat rice, the dish has a small portion that is surprising good. The vegetables are a tad bland, but fill out the dish nicely.
With the entrées completed and the table cleared it’s time for my wife’s favorite part… Dessert! Again I have a steadfast rule, always order the local special. Now no one I know can say dessert in Key West without thinking Key Lime Pie. The ubiquitous, tart island favorite concocted years ago for sailors who needed an easy way to get there vitamin C fix. We order one portion to split and I order a nice Bacardi after dinner drink. The Key Lime Pie is served (correctly) on a chilled plate with graham cracker crust and a big frothy head of meringue, toast slightly for a nice caramel flavor. The key lime is quite tart, with just the hint of sweetness, firm and cool. The plate has a drizzle of raspberry puree’ (a curious add on in most establishments in Key West), perhaps the same puree’ as was included in our appetizer, which counters the tart filling.
As we enjoy the beautiful view and the balmy breezes our server finalizes the check. The bill paid, we ask if we may linger to finish our drinks and gaze at the crystal clear water. He lets us know there is no rush, but reminds us of the water taxi schedule. Although we would love to “get stuck on the island” we have further plans for the night. All in all a pleasant and tasty meal in a very appealing location. The boat ride back to Key West is slow and the breeze helps us settle to enjoy the night’s last big event… Sunset!
Total cost (appetizer, entrée, dessert and drinks) with tax and gratuity $189.00
- Location and ambiance- 5.0 Conch Shells (WOW!)
- Cleanliness- 4.5 Conch shells (pesky fly!)
- Wait Staff and personnel- 4.9 Conch Shells (rude dock attendant)
- Food Choices and flavors- 4.9 (salmon is tough to get perfect)
- Drinks- 4.8 (cocktails looked nice, beer selection was lacking)
- Average Rating- 4.82 Conch Shells
- One Conch Shell: Poor
- Two Conch Shells: Fair
- Three Conch Shells: Average
- Four Conch Shells: Good
- Five Conch Shells: Outstanding