Sleepy is an overused adjective when applied to towns. Likewise picturesque and a host of other moth-eaten strings of text that half-talent hacks like myself use to paint word pictures.
Rosemary Beach along 30-A in the Redneck Riviera of the Florida Panhandle is one of those tiny beach side towns that leaves you searching for those kind of adjectives. It has more in common with Charleston than its sister cities in Florida. It is an elegant, carefully planned throwback to 50 years ago.
Nestled cozily in the town square area is Paradis, a coy attempt at an eponymous nod to the town that surrounds it.
The restaurant is fronted by a lounge area marked with leather, wood and a gorgeous marble bar top as long as the beach it is bare steps away from.
The dining room is warm and dimly lit and obviously themed around the restaurant’s love for wine. I was there scouting the place as a potential date spot for a night out with my wife and I liked the feel of the place immediately.
My server was polite and helpful and brought the hint of an eastern European accent to the table for a bit of mystery and credibility.
She patiently stepped through the high points of the starters and talked about the soups and salads. The curried filet and wild mushroom soup had already piqued my interest. When the server told me that it had been a soup du jour but was so popular that they made it an every day soup, I was hooked.
While I waited for the soup to arrive they delivered a small basket of hot, pungent sour dough served with butter that I strongly suspect was house made. The basket was replaced with a second basket of hot rolls before I even finished the first. They were uniformly excellent and I could have easily eaten the bread alone and been perfectly satisfied.
The soup arrived steaming and fragrant in perfect time. The curry was forward but not painful and it was smooth, sweet and salty all at the same time. It was finished with pearl cous cous and herbs.
It had a very bisque like character to it and I estimate it had enough calories to ruin an entire family’s diet. The filet pieces were well cooked and tender but I did find myself yearning for some more mushrooms in the mix and possibly croutons or something to give the soup some textural contrast.
I wanted to try one of the appetizers and asked if they would consider splitting one for me but they passed on that opportunity. Several looked really interesting particularly the Conchiglie alla Astice (Baked seashell pasta stuffed with morsels of succulent lobster in a Frangelico and ricotta béchamel, heirloom tomato marinara and asiago) but I knew that I would never live through that much food without some help. Maybe next time.
For the entrée I let the server pitch me on a couple of her favorites and finally asked her point-blank what entrée was most likely to bring me back. Without a pause she said the Spinalis Ribeye and although I don’t eat a lot of red meat anymore I let her twist my arm.
The menu describes it this way: Grilled USDA prime Cap of Ribeye Spinalis cut, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat and a black peppercorn cognac cream. Served with smoked gouda grits and sautéed broccolini.
I had no idea what a Spinalis Ribeye was and the server described it as ribeye but without so much fat. If you eat ribeye often you have eaten the Spinalis before, you just may not know it. There is some good info here.
A ribeye is an incredibly flavorful cut of beef, but when cooked it tends to split itself into 2 or 3 sections loosely connected by fatty connective tissue. The spinalis is the curved piece away from the bone and it is often described as the candy of beef.
The steak arrived with a flourish and was sliced and spread and cooked exactly as I requested. I would not quite describe it as less fatty than a ribeye because it was obviously beautifully marbled but it had none of the connective fats you would normally see on a ribeye. It reminded me of a filet, but with much more flavor.
With a cognac cream sauce, lump crabmeat and béarnaise sauce this dish was going to be decadent no matter what you did. However the steak would have been decadent if it had been served completely unaccompanied on a paper plate with plastic cutlery. It was quite possibly the best steak I have ever eaten.
Mind you, everything on the plate was lovely. The smoked gouda grits were velvety and full of flavor and the lump crab was sweet and perfect.
The béarnaise sauce was also nice but it actually may have been a bit much on this dish. There was so much richness on the plate that it was a bit over the top. In point of fact, I don’t think I would be raving any less if the steak had been served with just the broccolini.
Also, speaking of richness, I have to mention the peppercorn cognac cream sauce. Earlier in the review I mentioned that I would have been satisfied with just the sourdough bread. That was until I tasted the cognac cream sauce. I did not leave a drop on my plate and if I hadn’t been embarrassed I would have asked for more to take home with me. It was lovely.
The wine list was broad and varied. It was peppered with some stalwarts like Cakebread and Groth but also had some lesser known gems from vintners like Gouguenheim.
This level of artistry always has a price tag attached to it. Entrées range from $28 to $38 but the locals know a little secret: If you arrive and order dinner between 5 and 5:45 entrées (with the exception of the Filet) are half price. This makes Paradis a literal no brainer if you are at all interested in food.
Paradis is highly recommended and I will definitely bringing my wife back here as soon as I can.
Reservations / Information
82 South Barrett Square
Rosemary Beach, FL 32461