Shore Diner on Longboat Key

Image: Gene Pollux 

Any restaurant that specializes in seafood should be capable of executing a good bowl of mussels. At the new Shore, located near the northern tip of Longboat Key, the mussels are so good you’ll groan.

The restaurant’s “Thai Curry Mussels” ($15, also available at Shore’s St. Armands Circle location) come served in a deep black bowl, with a second empty bowl on the side for your discard pile. A jagged mound of mussels sits in a savory pool of kaffir lime-flavored broth, with shreds of mint and cilantro, lime wedges and crunchy rings of jalapeño strewn about. Atop, you’ll find a hunk of bread, grilled so recently that the scent of smoke lingers above the bowl. The mussels are plump and tender, and the hot-sweet coconut milk broth, reminiscent of a green curry you might have ordered at a Thai restaurant, is so addictive you’ll be spooning it up long after the mussels have been eaten and then sopping up any remaining drops with every crumb of bread.

Dylan Elhajoui

Image: Gene Pollux

That dish’s subtle balance is the common theme in chef Dylan Elhajoui’s menu, which includes standards like a grouper sandwich ($25), a fried chicken sandwich ($19) and meatloaf ($19), as well as more exotic finds like eggplant confit ($22), a vegetarian entrée flavored with a Catalonian tomato sauce and paired with a pepper stuffed with a raisin and garbanzo couscous.

Elhajoui moved to Sarasota in 2004 to work at downtown Sarasota’s beloved Bijou Café before opening the now-shuttered Main Street restaurant MoZaic, which won an enthusiastic following for its robust Moroccan dishes. He joined Shore at its St. Armands location in 2016.

Before his arrival, I found dining at the St. Armands Shore to be an erratic experience. A meal there could either be a cause for celebration or a total letdown, and I had removed it from my rotation of regular haunts. Months before Shore opened its Longboat Key location, Elhajoui and his team introduced a dozen or so new dishes to the St. Armands restaurant to test and perfect them. Since the new location opened last October, Elhajoui has zeroed in on fine-tuning even the tiniest details, like the restaurant’s homemade ketchup and mayonnaise.

Grouper tacos on the way

Image: Gene Pollux

That exactitude shows in dishes like the lobster, shrimp and crab Cobb salad ($24). It has all of the normal ingredients in a Cobb, like hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, bacon and avocado, plus the seafood, but it’s not just tossed together. The kitchen instead constructs a cylindrical tower of all the ingredients packed together—a succulent edifice that you can slice into cross-sections. It could use a bit more of the Meyer lemon vinaigrette to cut the richness of the shellfish and pork, but it’s delicious.

You can also taste Elhajoui’s subtlety at work in the roasted cauliflower appetizer ($15). Trying to cater to vegetarians and low-carb dieters, lots of restaurants are serving cauliflower these days. I’m not sure I’ve had it better than at Shore. The dish contains a whimsical hodgepodge of textures—tender cauliflower atop a bed of puréed shishito peppers and creamy goat cheese, dressed with a pesto made with hazelnuts and dotted with sweet currants and crunchy hazelnut shards. The flavors are as balanced as Nik Wallenda crossing the high-wire.

The outstanding Mai Tai

Image: Gene Pollux

Same goes for the cocktails, which are exceptional. The “Original Mai Tai” ($10) is a stiff throwback to a drink often abused by bartenders who pour in too much sweet stuff, while “The Thai One” ($10) blends aromatic gin with a hint of hot and sweet from a syrup flavored with chilis and lemongrass. “The Manhattan” ($15) is less syrupy than a traditional Manhattan, which allows the spice of the rye to shine.

Shore’s ahi tuna entrée with shrimp risotto and a lobster beurre blanc.

Image: Gene Pollux 

The food and drink are enhanced by the restaurant’s gorgeous, midcentury modern design that mixes white concrete breeze blocks and polished wood details that resemble glossy surfboards. The building juts out over Sarasota Bay, with multiple terraces and tiered tables, meaning every seat has a water view. Shore also offers multiple bars and plenty of lounging spots outside. Grab a cocktail and a seat around one of the long rectangular firepits for a distinctive Florida experience. The dock serves a useful purpose by allowing diners to putter up on their boats; the tied-up catamarans and fishing boats also make for excellent eye candy as you slurp those mussels. Your heart might just skip a beat.

Shore | 800 Broadway St., Longboat Key, (941) 259-4600, dineshore.com

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