Bel Mare overlooks nothing but the water.
The new fine-dining restaurant at Key West’s Historic Seaport specializes in coastal Italian cuisine, local seafood, made-to-order pasta, decadent steaks and unparalleled cocktails crafted by the uber-talented “bar-tist” Matt Carmony.
“We’re not your typical red-sauce Italian restaurant. Our food is second-to-none. Chef Shane Wilkerson makes it happen, and refuses to compromise on ingredients. He uses the best of everything, procures hard-to-find cheeses, three-year aged balsamic and truffle oils, and then he makes all our from-scratch sauces and pasta. Add to that our wine list, of which I’m very proud, some of the most creative craft cocktails around — and then there’s this,” general manager Travis Doll said, gesturing with open arms to the spectacular, floor-to-ceiling view on three sides of the dining room that overlooks Key West Harbor and the gleaming yachts lined up at A&B Marina.
Having opened in February, Bel Mare is the newest addition to the family of waterfront restaurants at A&B Marina along Key West’s Historic Seaport. A&B Lobster House is above Alonzo’s Oyster Bar in the building next door, and the casual, outdoor White Tarpon Bar & Restaurant is directly beneath Bel Mare.
The name, in Italian, means “beautiful sea,” which fittingly describes both the fresh, local seafood and the view.
But don’t butcher the pronunciation with an inelegant American accent. It’s Italian. Draw out the L sound in “Bel,” and “mare” is two syllables — MAHR-ay — with a clipped “r” sound.
Inside, the bar gleams with copper drinkware and offers full food service at both the bar and the nearby high-top tables.
“Matt Carmony’s love for flavors, flora, fermentation and firewaters of the world bring together a program that even freestanding bars salivate over,” Doll said. “We feature unique, hard-to-procure whiskeys, rums, tequilas, gins, absinthes and the like.”
When it comes to popular food items, Doll couldn’t stop pointing to various favorite dishes.
“Pasta is the name of the game, but our chef does it so differently, and all by hand, it’s out of this world,” Doll said, adding that all pasta dishes are available as full and half plates. “Our linguine with clams is amazing. Then there’s our fish piccata made with a fresh catch of the day. The shrimp orecchiette is our pesto dish, topped with rock shrimp. Our butternut squash ravioli is a huge favorite, with a bit of an almost sweet flavor, compared to a lot of the savory items. But the item most people comment on is our ceviche. I swear, it’s like fish candy, marinated in melon juice, with habanero, lime juice, citrus marmalade, garlic and clementine. It’s truly unbelievable.”
“We want this to be a true dining experience,” Doll added. “We’re not going to rush anyone out the door. Our food and specialty drinks take a bit of time to prepare, and we want people to enjoy and savor them.”
Despite staffing challenges, Doll has hired a consultant to train servers who are still learning the fine-dining nuances. “Want for nothing and guests shouldn’t know you’re there,” is how he described the impeccable service and ability to anticipate a guest’s next request.
“Bel Mare is perfect for date nights and special occasions, but we can also handle large groups for rehearsal dinners, holiday parties, you name it. For now, we’re open Wednesday through Sunday, so Mondays and Tuesdays, people can get a good deal for a group event.”
Bel Mare, 700 Front St., is located at the Historic Seaport and open for drinks and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Just downstairs, the casual White Tarpon is open daily, with happy hour from 4 to 6:30 p.m. featuring half-price small plates, beers and well drinks.