– The hype is worth it.
If you’ve been wondering just how good Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House is, that’s it in a nutshell. Bam, there you are.
I sat front and center at the Chef’s Food Bar at 5:30 last Friday evening - opening night - with a healthy appetite, having eaten lettuce for two days in anticipation.
The Chef’s Food Bar gives the diner an opportunity to watch the kitchen in action. It’s a great option if you’re dining alone, or if you’re just interested in the behind-the-scenes action.
My waiter, Jay Cox, was one of several folks who made my experience delightful. True, The Man Himself, Emeril Lagasse, was there in the kitchen with the staff, but it was obvious that even if he weren’t, people were genuinely happy to be working there. A few days earlier, I had accompanied a photographer, the business editor and a business reporter to the restaurant to get a sneak peek, and the excitement had been building then.Not long after I placed my order Friday night, an adorable square cast iron skillet arrived (with a matching little trivet) with steaming sweet corn bread and a generous serving of butter. Earlier in the week, Lagasse had said each skillet of corn bread is zipped into the oven immediately after a customer is seated.
Because I got to sample some of the restaurant’s appetizers earlier in the week with some co-workers, I started with the Marinated Local Heirloom Tomatoes with Mozzarella, Basil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar ($12) as my appetizer. If you like caprese salad, you’ll happily dig into this. The heirloom tomatoes give a Southern slant to the refreshing dish usually associated with Italian cuisine.
Like a rundown on other appetizer suggestions? If calories are no object, go for the Baked Gulf Oysters with Garlic, Lemon, Butter and Herb Bread Crumbs ($12). These lemony, buttery bits of delight made all of us go “ooh.” Emeril’s New Orleans-style Barbecued Shrimp with Rosemary Biscuit ($9) was another, spicier favorite.
I couldn’t make up my mind on my entree choice, so Chris Wilson, culinary director for Emeril’s Homebase in New Orleans, said he would give me smaller servings of the two fish dishes that were equally tempting me.First up was the seasonal fish of the day, speckled trout from the Gulf, with jumbo lump crab, citrus, toasted hazelnuts, spinach and brown butter ($26). The second was Andouille Sausage-crusted Texas Redfish with Shoestring Potatoes, Grilled Vegetables, Glazed Pecans and Creole Meuniere Butter Sauce ($27).Both fish dishes, but oh so deliciously different. I would compare the speckled trout to Grace Kelly: refined with a surprisingly tangy side (courtesy of the citrus). The hazelnuts added to the rich butter flavor without overloading it. A perfect fish dish for a classic dining experience.The redfish was all Sophia Loren: spicy, slightly smoky, a medley of textures and sultry flavors. Peppers in the grilled vegetables definitely spoke up, and the potatoes added crunch and even more substance to the meaty fish.”This would be a great ‘guy’ fish choice,” I said to Steve D’Angelo, chef de cuisine, and he agreed. If you’re trying to persuade a meat-and-potatoes man to try a fish dish, this would be the one.Dessert was another quandary. So many choices. Wilson came through again and said the dessert chef could do smaller versions of a couple of them for me.The dessert chef was feeling generous. Wilson came back with samples of four of the desserts: Lemon Meringue Pie, Mississippi Mud Pie with Peanut Butter Ganache, Fried Apple Pies with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Apple Brown Butter Caramel, and Lagasse’s signature Banana Cream Pie with Shaved Chocolate and Caramel Sauce.I hate to play favorites here, because everything was delicious. But if I had to settle on one, it would be the banana cream pie. That’s the one I whittled at the next morning for breakfast, and it was still delicious (I carried three to-go boxes through the casino). It features big chunks of banana and an impressive layer of thick custard above the bananas.The Mississippi mud pie is creamy layers of chocolate and peanut butter, with homemade toasted marshmallows on the side. The fried apple pies were delicious, and I swear I think I saw bits of Granny Smith apple in the homemade ice cream. And your grandmother would be proud of the lemon meringue pie.I left the restaurant with a beaming face and a contented tummy. You couldn’t ask for a better experience.
Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish HouseWhere: Island View Casino Resort, U.S. 90, Gulfport.Hours: Sundays through Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Lunch is planned to be served in the near future.Phone/info: (228) 314-1515; emerils.com.Details: Emeril Lagasse has described his newest restaurant’s offerings as Coastal Creole, adding local flavors to his signature cuisine. Shrimp & Grits (Gulf shrimp sauteed with Creole tomato glaze with white cheddar grits, apple bacon and wild mushrooms, $26) and Crispy Jumbo Lump Crabmeat Cake with Corn Maque Choux and Tomato Jam appetizer ($12) are some of the locally inspired dishes.By TAMMY SMITHtmsmith@sunherald.com