Monday, October 28, 2013

if in Amelia Island, Florida the Ritz-Carlton's SALT is indeed superb (10-24-13)

We took a weekend jaunt down to Jacksonville and stayed at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island which is a tranquil and relaxing place for a great getaway. Our first night we decided to dine at SALT, one of only two 5-Diamond restaurants in Florida. Chef Rick Laughlin oversees this wonderful classy club-like setting right facing the dunes and overlooking the Atlantic where indeed SALT is king. Even the lamps are Himalayan Pink Salt hollows with bulbs inside! If you go, be sure to opt for the $85 tasting menu of four (plus) courses (it's $130 and worth it with the wine pairings). The glass chargers on the table are a bit creepy as they are gold with large red "bloody-looking" spots, but very modern and cool as was all the china and tableware.
Samuel decided on the Petite Filet with Fries and was off to a racing start when our servers (Celia & Brandon) brought out the choice of salts. There are about 40-something offerings and the breads are Gruyere Cheese, Calamata Olive and lo-salt Soudough(best for salt tasting) all served with hand-churned unsalted butter from Normandie! Many of the salts are infused such as Black Fermented Garlic (from Italy), Citrus (with Adriatic sea salt), and many more each using only natural organic ingredients. There is Himalayan Pink, Hawaiian Red & Black, and even a Black Pepper Salt using New Zealand sea salt. The smoked Applewood salt uses smoked woods from Yakima Valley. Partway through the meal, Iljia, the maĆ®tre d', brought out yet another new salt which was made with Ghost Peppers (supposedly the hottest on earth) which was fun as well (I thought it wasn't that hot, but Will did).
The amuse of Carrot & Ginger Soup with Parmesan Crisps was delish and a Trimbach 2009 Pinot Gris Reserve from Alsace arrived that we adored with this and our first course as well. Celia knew we drank fast and ate slow, and was always there for an extra pour as well! The TUNA CARPACCIO was a flattened layer of tartare with a crispy rolled (eggroll shape) wonton filled with Avocado & Tasmanian Crab Salad, Cucumber Relish, Black Salt, a hard boiled Quail egg and edible Egyptian flowers garnished the plate. We knew this meal was going to be fantastic. The flowers come from the chef's garden at the hotel though, not Egypt!
All the fish on the menu is top quality local or flown in from the likes of Alaska or as I said even Tasmania. The meat is all organic as well, so we were ready to be impressed, and we were. The BLACK GROUPER was a superb firm meaty Pan-Seared fish from the Gulf with Carrot Puree, Blood Orange Maramalde, Turnips, Chanterelles & Spinach as well as Micro Kohlrabi. The Gary Farrell Chardonnay 2010 from California's Russian River was a superb lightly oaked wine; I've had it years ago but left it due to the over-oaking of the late 1900's!
Spiced Rubbed BISON Tenderloin with English Peas, Fava Beans, Butternut Squash Puree and Crisp Salsify chips also had Roasted Purple Brussels Sprouts (these were small olive sized!) and Pickled Purple Cauliflower with Micro Arugula. An amazing DUCKHORN "Decoy" 2010 from Sonoma paired with this superbly.
Dessert was a Grand Marnier Souffle with Orange Rosemary Ice Cream and Grand Marnier Anglaise for one of us and an Eggnog Souffle with Cinnamon Ice Cream & Rum Anglaise for the other. We switched halfway and agreed the Grand Marnier was better. Andrew Quady "Electra" Moscato 2010 was the paired wine and this is not one of our favorites  so Celia quickly found some icewine for us.
Salted caramels were divine and arrived with Blackberry Ganache Macaroons (yum) and Mango Truffles.
The meal had one small bad moment when one of the servers was making a French presspot coffee at the table behind us and it exploded on Will. The manager immediately came over and offered to have everything dry cleaned the next day at the hotel's expense, which Will did. They also brought over a bag with several salt samples to take home and a pile of salted caramels. The incident was forgotten and our dinner a success.