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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fresh Catch: Chef Michael's in Islamorada

In September 2012, the sign for famed Chanticleer South Restaurant in Islamorada was suddenly hand-painted to read Gone Fishin’. The culinary rumor mill began to churn. The owner, chef Jean-Charles Berruet, had retired to enjoy his other passion, fishing. A series of mysterious and clever signs ensued like Aesop’s Table and Herondipity Café. In January, Chef Michael Ledwith hung his final shingle and opened Chef Michael’s, an American bistro with French flair. A long-time fixture on the Islamorada dining scene, last at Kaiyo Grill, Ledwith highlights the fresh local catch with eight different preparations on the menu. When I dined at the intimate 40-seat eatery, I popped back into the kitchen to say hello. “We usually know the source, the name of the captain and the way the fish was caught,” he said. 

The dining room was a soothing cream and chocolate palette highlighted with soft warm lighting. Business was brisk with a mix of well-heeled locals, winter residents and tourists. My knowledgeable waiter, Jared, guided me to the Ambassador preparation of mutton snapper. This generous serving of thick-cut fish was sautéed with blue crab, shitake mushrooms and capers and served with a Key lime-cream sauce. It melted in my mouth. A sip of Cartlidge & Browne Chardonnay, with its toasty oak tones, made for a strong finish. Dessert was a decadent six-layer spiced carrot cake with rich cream cheese frosting, topped with crunchy pecans, coconut and a drizzle of caramel. As I polished off my dessert, I spotted a head-turning braised lamb shank served at another table--next time. Chef Michael’s is located at mile marker 81.6 off U.S. Highway 1. Call 305-664-0640 for reservations.

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