Miso & ginger grilled salmon tacos.
Less than a 10-minute stroll from St. Joseph’s Sound up Dunedin’s delightful Main Street, the sidewalk widens into a small patio just before you reach Highland Avenue. There’s a wrought-iron fence boundary and a small but classic three-tiered fountain with cascading water to enchant the happy patrons dining alfresco outside the Living Room.
Scarlet umbrellas shade the high tops that hug the building’s exterior. If you choose to eat inside, you’ll notice big welcoming sofas opposite the bar. Just to the right is the domain of live musicians who bring a varied range of styles like smooth jazz, R&B or Spanish guitar to the action.
Even on weeknights, the huge bar and adjacent rows of high-top tables are packed; the energy is palpable. Though the crowd skews well into middle age, you couldn’t tell just by listening. It’s a lively party, dancing and drinking and flirting, and just generally exhibiting a cheerful joie de vivre.
As you head to the main dining room, you’ll note decor that’s as eclectic as the food. There’s a Tuscan yellow portico, swag drapery, gilded mirrors and tchotchke-filled bookshelves above the black leather booths that line the marinara-colored walls.
The menu is a world cuisine sampler. There are North African tajines, Latino tamales and empanadas, Canadian poutine, Korean lettuce wraps, Southeast Asian satay, Japanese tempura, Chinese hoisin, French haricots vert, plus a few nods to Italy, Greece and New Orleans. Chef Tony Bruno has cast a wide culinary net and hauled in his favorite dishes from around the globe.
Even though many of the plates are big, TLR’s dinner menu is served tapas-style. Each dish arrives at your table as soon as it is prepared and is intended to be shared. As the menu proclaims, “Don’t be shy, try a few.” And with a new awareness that many diners have food issues, lots of items are gluten-free; just ask your friendly server.
Jamaican curried vegetable pies come first, and they are delicious. The flaky pastry is filled with a heady mix of curried cauliflower, wilted greens and wild mushrooms, plus some sautéed peppers and onions as a base. There’s a small molded mound of toothsome quinoa and a smear of Jamaican “pickapeppa” sauce aioli to add heat as you wish.
Next comes a sliced mango and brie quesadilla with caramelized onions, cilantro crema and some jalapeño salsa just for fun. Grilled cheese in any form is one of the world’s comfort foods, but this Mexican version with French cheese and tropical fruit in a soft tortilla is a combination I previously missed. Luckily, it works like a charm.
However, we don’t have much time to discuss it because our grilled pear flatbread appears. It’s really a delectable salad topping a thin, crisp, square bread “plate.” Baby arugula dressed with lemon-basil vinaigrette is piled high on a base of grilled pears and apples. The greens mask hidden treasures — candied pecans, Gorgonzola crumbles and dried currant mascarpone — all welcome surprises as you taste. It’s not so easy to eat, but your efforts are well rewarded.
Steak & scallop brochettes.
Next we move to some protein. Steak and scallop brochettes skewer underseasoned beef tenderloin tips, huge sea scallops with gorgeous grill marks, portobello mushrooms, bell peppers and red onions. The accompanying ramekin of Gorgonzola fondue gives you a blue cheese dipping option but doesn’t excuse the lack of salt and pepper on the brochettes themselves.
Miso and ginger grilled salmon tacos let gastronomic cultures collide to spectacular effect. The glazed Atlantic fish fillets combine with crunchy Asian pear slaw and pineapple BBQ, all tied up in a tortilla by a grilled scallion. The side of ginger sticky rice topped with green chili pico de gallo also screams for some salt. Just because you’re adding a flavorful garnish is no reason not to season the rice for maximum flavor. Fortunately, it hardly matters, because the tacos are wonderful.
The same cannot be said for the macadamia chicken breast. Despite mango and pineapple chutney, shoyu cream sauce and sesame ginger carrots, my table is underwhelmed. The flavors sound exciting but don’t land. Perhaps it’s the underseasoned taro root mash, which makes for a nice presentation, but sadly adds little flavor. You can’t expect accompaniments designed to add dimension to substitute for core seasoning.
The ample portions leave us too full to go wild with dessert. TLR’s signature sweet is the Mary Margaret Marquis, and other choices change daily. After much negotiation, we opt for peach cobbler à la mode over the interesting piña colada bread pudding. The large serving of cobbler is more oatmeal than fruit and, hence, is disappointing.
The Mary Margaret Marquis.
However, even though they’re not actually serving the menu’s erroneously named marquis (nobleman), but instead a sweet marquise (chocolate dessert), it is worth the hype and the wait. The oval-molded dessert is a chocoholic’s dream. There’s a scrumptious cake layer embedded at the bottom and two creamy top layers of increasing chocolate intensity. The top of the dish is sprayed with an elegant but edible metallic finish. Whipped cream and a strawberry fan properly add to the decadence.
Alas, we’ve left so many gastronomic stones from the eclectic menu unturned. And did I mention that they have a scrumptious weekend brunch with a $4 mimosa of the moment? Such is life; so many choices, so little time . . .