Bel Mare only overlooks the water.
The new fine-dining restaurant in Key West’s historic seaport specializes in coastal Italian cuisine, local seafood, made-to-order pastas, decadent steaks and unrivaled cocktails concocted by talented “bar-tist” Matt Carmony.
“We are not your typical red sauce Italian restaurant. Our food is second to none. Chef Shane Wilkerson achieves this and refuses to compromise on ingredients. He uses the best of everything, sources rare cheeses, balsamic and truffle oils aged three years, and then he makes all our homemade sauces and pasta. Add to that our wine list, which I’m very proud of, some of the most creative craft cocktails around – and then there’s that,” said general manager Travis Doll, gesturing with open arms at the spectacular view of the floor to ceiling. on three sides of the dining room which overlooks Key West Harbor and the sparkling yachts lined up at A&B Marina.
Opening in February, Bel Mare is the newest addition to A&B Marina’s family of waterfront restaurants along Key West’s historic seaport. A&B Lobster House sits above Alonzo’s Oyster Bar in the next building, and the casual open-air White Tarpon bar and restaurant sits just below Bel Mare.
The name, in Italian, means “beautiful sea”, which describes both the fresh, local seafood and the view.
But don’t slaughter the pronunciation with an inelegant American accent. It’s Italian. Pull the L sound in “Bel” and “mare” is two syllables – MAHR-ay – with a cut “r” sound.
Inside, the bar gleams with copper glasses and offers full-service dining at the nearby bar and high tables.
“Matt Carmony’s love of the world’s flavors, flora, fermentation and firewaters brings together a program that makes even independent bars salivate,” said Doll. “We offer unique and hard-to-obtain whiskeys, rums, tequilas, gins, absinthes and more.”
When it comes to popular foods, Doll couldn’t help but point to various favorite dishes.
“Pasta is the name of the game, but our chef does it so differently, and everything by hand is out of this world,” Doll said, adding that all pasta dishes come in full and half plates. . “Our clam linguine is amazing. Then there is our fish piccata made with a fresh catch of the day. Shrimp orecchiette is our pesto dish, topped with rock prawns. Our butternut squash ravioli are a firm favourite, with an almost sweet flavor, compared to many savory dishes. But the item most people comment on is our ceviche. I swear, it’s like candy fish, marinated in melon juice, with habanero, lime juice, citrus marmalade, garlic and clementine. It’s really unbelievable.
“We want it to be a real dining experience,” Doll added. “We’re not going to rush anyone out the door. Our specialty foods and beverages take a little time to prepare, and we want people to enjoy and savor them. »
Despite the staffing issues, Doll hired a consultant to train the servers who are still learning the nuances of fine dining. “You don’t want anything and customers shouldn’t know you’re there,” is how he described impeccable service and the ability to anticipate a customer’s next request.
“Bel Mare is perfect for date nights and special occasions, but we can also handle large groups for rehearsal dinners, end of year parties etc. At the moment we are open Wednesday to Sunday, so Mondays and Tuesdays people can get a great deal for a group event.
Bel Mare, 700 Front St., is located in the historic seaport and open for drinks and dinner from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Just downstairs, the laid-back White Tarpon is open daily, with happy hour from 4-6:30 p.m. with half-price small plates, beers, and fine drinks.