Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gourmet Goodness at the Beach

I don't know why, but stepping into Frank's Outback on Pawley's Island last night for dinner made me think about being on safari in Africa. Not that I have been on safari in Africa mind you...but I have numerous friends you have been to Africa and I have seen photos and glossy brochures and heard stories...So on some of these luxury safari trips travelers stay in these massive tents built onto platforms and even though they are "tents" you walk in and it's like being in the most gorgeous, well-appointed hotel room ever and you sort of forget that you are in the middle of Africa on safari. At least, that's my interpretation of things. I might be wrong. And in case I am, for the record, Frank's Outback also reminded me of the tents they stay in at the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

So what's my point? Well, don't let the fact that this restaurant is in a tent fool you. It is simply stunning on the inside. All drapery and pretty sheers, plenty of plants and green foliage, lots of twinkling lights and candles, wrought iron tables and chairs, a pleasant bar, a cozy fireplace. I simply marveled most of the night at how lovely and warm and inviting and pleasant the decor was.

And that's just for starters. The service and the food were on par with the surroundings so you can imagine how utterly sublime the evening was. So I am taking off my Country Girl hat for a moment, putting on my Gourmet Gal hat, and sharing every delectable detail of one of the best dinners I have had in a while.

Marty and I rarely walk into a new restaurant blind. If we are planning to visit or are merely exploring a new restaurant, we will always look for a menu online in advance and peruse it thoroughly. This exercise basically helps us evaluate and make our decision: is this the type of restaurant we want to go to? Some may call this cheating or losing out on the thrill of discovery. I prefer to think of it as careful planning - which is completely in-line with my personality.

So when friends of ours suggested Frank's for dinner on this most recent trip to the Beach, we checked it out. In fact, they gave us 3 recommendations: Frank's, Emi and Divine's. Since I had heard good things about Divine's from another friend, that was the first one I did research on. It looked tasty and I was all set to make a reservation until Marty's mom mentioned that they had eaten at Frank's once before and that it was good and so Marty found the menu on-line and it was a no-brainer. Any time there is restaurant including foie gras in any form on the menu, you can be assured THAT'S where we will be going.

We weren't totally sure what the difference was between Frank's and Frank's Outback. Turns out not much. One is indoors, one is outdoors (but tented and climate-controlled). Otherwise they share the same wine list and offer the same level of sophisticated, delicious cuisine and gracious service.

So enough backstory (you know me and my need to share every little detail) and on to dinner.

My first problem in reviewing the menu on-line was that everything looked amazing. I could have ordered enough items to eat dinner about 6 times over. Plus - I was having trouble figuring out the difference between "Tastings" and "Small Plates" and could I eat enough of the 2 portions of the menu combined to satisfy me (although that Pan Roasted Herb and Dijon Crusted Rack of New Zealand Lamb with Rosemary and Maderia Laced Mushroom Demi Glace under Entrees sure looked tasty)?

The decision-making process was not much easier once we were actually seated at the table but I'll spare you the drama and simply tell you what we ate:

My mother in-law ordered the Grilled 8 ounce Filet of Beef with Green Peppercorn Demi Glace and she simply swooned.

My father-in-law began with a Tasting of Seared Jumbo Sea Scallop With Asian Ginger Slaw & Orange Soy Glaze. Although I didn't taste it, the smile on his face said it all. For his entree, he chose one of Frank's signature dishes, Pan Fried Cornmeal and Black Pepper Encrusted Atlantic Grouper with Wild Caught Shrimp, Broccoli Rice Pilaf, and a Dijon Three Peppercorn Sauce, and said after that he had never had a better piece of fish anywhere.

Marty got the Small Plate of Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Pate Served with Truffled Potato Chips to start. As much as he loved it, he said it was so rich and earthy that it was too much for one person. I tasted about a microspeck of the pate on my fork (I do not care for truffles) and agreed. For dinner he had one of the specials which was a Pan-Fried Filet of Locally-Caught Flounder served over Stone Ground Grits with a Lemon-Butter-Caper Sauce. I am not much of a fish eater to begin with but I had a bite and it was sensational.

As for me, after much vacillating back and forth, I started with a Tasting of Seared Rare Ahi Tuna with Greens and Sprouts, Grilled Asparagus and Wasabi-Ginger Vinaigrette (Oh My God - YUM!!!) and then opted for Mediterranean Lamb Pizza with Arugula, Parmesan Cheese, Goat Cheese on Whole Wheat Dough fresh from the wood-burning oven. WOW! Innovative, creative, brilliant and utterly scrumptious (with the just the right amount of wood-fired blister on the heavenly crust) I have seriously never had a better pizza anywhere. Ever. Not even up for debate. Seriously.

And I am not just saying that because I had the WORST PIZZA EVER on Thursday night.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...