Marina Bella’s Restaurant (Creative International)
1215 Duval St., Key West, Florida
Parking: Limited street parking.
Hours: Lunch and Dinner
Price Range: Moderate-High
I’ve wanted to stop in to this relatively new restaurant on upper Duval St. for some time now, but the preview menus that were handed out by the owner were a bit intimidating with respect to prices. The selections looked wonderful and I’d heard a little about the chef and was impressed by his reviews by other locals. I also felt it was important to let a new operation breath for a while before trying it out. You know what they say about new cars; don’t buy them the first model year so they can get the kinks out.
Taking into account the location on the uptown side, the prices and the fact that previous business(s) at this spot have not done well the effort will be a somewhat uphill fight. That being said the overall dining experience was very good. We’re in the opening stages of the Key West tourist season and once you live here a while you know when it inhales and exhales. I had a lovely young lady who is a friend of a dear friend of mine join me during a minor lull in the vacation cycle so we had the upstairs dining room to ourselves from salad to dessert. The enjoyable conversation aside, we took our time placing the order and from host to chef (he visited the table) it was just fine that we took a slow approach to the experience.
Upon arrival we were ushered in past the downstairs bar to a pseudo-winding staircase to the upper dining room. The dÃ©cor hasn’t changed all that much from the previous ownership, but it was nice then too. A white grand piano sits center with a bar overlaid with matchstick blinds and our table faces French doors that lead out to a patio overlooking Duval St. It was a cool night so we opted for the indoor seating. You feel as if you just arrived on a Pan Am flying boat in the 30’s and stopped in to meet friends for a cocktail. That whole “Casa Blanca” thing going on.
I can only say the food was excellent in every way with the possible exception of presentation (look of the plated meal). I’ve seen slightly better at other restaurants on the island, but for many that’s a minor issue. I would say as a new spot seeking recognition it would be a good idea to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. We selected a glass each of the Pinot Grigio that complimented the salad and fish quite well. The portions were quite formidable and flavorful with sauce that still permitted the fish to stand on it’s own. I appreciate that even when I get a burger. It’s all about the meat, fish or fowl being the center of attention. The young lady joining me saw the dessert selections and convinced me to share one and I highly recommend the baked brie with strawberries. It was one of the best dinner finishes I’ve had since my arrival here a number of years ago.
I’m rooting for Marina Bella’s. It has all the makings of a fine dining experience without taking itself too seriously, which is essential in the Key West environment. The service was excellent, the chef spoke with us honestly and forthrightly about food, Key West dining in general and I appreciated how comfortable they all made us. You will want to walk or cab from your Inn or Hotel as the location has very limited parking, but that’s true of the Old Town area of the island in general. If you want a special romantic evening for two or just appreciate good food I say give this spot a try. You’ll come out relaxed and glad for the experience.
Doug Heyman in Key West for the Food Reference Website