Caretta on the Gulf
Sandpearl Resort’s signature restaurant, Caretta on the Gulf
With Clearwater Beach as its backdrop, the Sandpearl Resort’s signature restaurant, Caretta on the Gulf, would be a standout dining destination for its views of sand, surf and stunning sunsets alone.
The interior is equally striking due to dark wood columns and beams, large dramatic light fixtures and high ceilings accommodating expansive window framed views of the spacious wind-swept beachfront.
But this is a restaurant that is so much more than just another pretty place.
Even the most avid admirers of the beach ranked among the best in the U.S. will marvel at the seasonally inspired menu that offers a tempting array of appetizers to entrees plus the option of a fourcourse prix fixe dinner featuring chef selections.
Caretta Dinner Menu
The dinner menu includes tantalizing starters like Diver Scallops and Braised Short Ribs, soups and salads and main courses such as domestic rack of lamb and butter-poached Maine lobster flown fresh daily to the AAA Four Diamond-rated restaurant. Caretta’s shares that coveted ranking with only two other Pinellas County dining spots.
Fortunately our excellent server Russell was able to help guide and advise us as we wavered between ordering Chilean Sea Bass or
Salmon and Black Grouper or Duroc Pork Chops.
Caretta’s Chef Laham LaFon
Lahma LaFon is Caretta’s talented chef de cuisine who oversees the dining room, sushi and raw bar and lounge area located within this luxury resort. Originally from Tampa, he is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Orlando who worked in California, returned to Florida and then joined the culinary team at Caretta’s seven years ago as a line cook before rising within its ranks.
LaFon describes his cooking style as one that is based on simplicity. He uses quality ingredients, seasonal flavors and regionally sourced and organic foods, when available, to create dishes that allow ingredients to shine through rather than be overwhelmed.
In the case of the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake we sampled, this was especially true because the crab meat was moist, rich and lacked the fillers that are commonly added. Served with an avocado puree, fried tomatillo and radish cilantro slaw, it was a well balanced dish in terms of textures and tastes. Our server raved about the crab cakes and we were glad he did.
The meal continued to exceed expectations and succeeded in delighting us with polished presentations, attentive service and accomplished cooking.
Even the bread, which I typically tend to skip, was exceptional. Breads are made on-site and our selections featured a sourdough loaf seasoned with black pepper and pretzel bread. These were accompanied by butter, olive oil with salt, sage and brown mustard, which made for pretzel bread perfection.
But the true test of any chef typically comes down to the evening’s main attraction, the entrees. And, for me, the Chilean Sea Bass was cooked so well that the fish was flaky enough to cut with a fork and moist enough to make each bite succulent. The dish is described as follows: Chilean Sea Bass, 7 Spiced Wehani Stir Fry, Sugar Snap
Peas, Thumbelina Carrots, Spring Onions and Coconut Curry Broth. I enjoyed each element individually as well as collectively and could easily have lapped up a lot more of the delicious broth. The Black Grouper won raves as well but the Sea Bass definitely got my vote for best seafood dish that evening.
With reluctance, we took a look at the dessert menu. Our hesitation was only due to having eaten well and having little appetite for anything else.
What a delightful surprise to discover the Pumpkin & Brie Cheesecake that features house made graham cracker crust, spiced apple butter and cinnamon pearls. It was not too dense, not too rich and not too sweet but light, flavorful and just right! The perfect way to end the evening’s meal, thanks to the pastry chef, Anastasia Weber.
Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and serving brunch on Sunday, Caretta on the Gulf offers that not-all-that-common combination of a talented chef, well trained staff and a tastefully designed dining room and bar area that create an experience well worth repeating and definitely worth recommending.
Caretta by the Gulf | 500 Mandalay Ave. Clearwater Beach | 727-441-2425
By: Mary Lou Janson