A taste of Florida

By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  March 11, 2009

Another word about grouper: read menus carefully and always ask questions. We were at a to-remain-unnamed spot in Sarasota, staring at the "fresh catch sandwich," when I realized I wasn't imagining the words "grilled used-to-be grouper." Say what? The cook explained that they carry a grouper-like fish from Mexico — i.e., a cheaper supply source, but after a big flap in 2007 over non-grouper substitutes, he had to be very careful about his menu descriptions.

Our last intriguing seafood meal in Florida occurred quite unexpectedly in St. Augustine when, after a long day's drive, we were looking for something other than a raucous pirate bar. We found a haven at Opus 39, an upscale restaurant with a dedication to local produce and seafood. We had snapper and triggerfish. The snapper was good, but the triggerfish was outstanding, with a slightly pungent but earthy kick to its sweet taste — not at all "fishy." Turns out it feeds mainly on sand dollars and sea urchins to give it that distinctive taste.

Three last recommendations for Florida foodstuffs: a fish called "wahoo," a sport fish related to king mackerel; the Bahamian specialties of conch fritters and conch chowder, which use Caribbean conch; and the tropical taste of "coconut water," the liquid inside a chilled coconut, exotic and addicting, even without the rum!

Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at johnette.rodriguez@cox.net.

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