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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Destin Lament

October 4, 2006

Destin Lament

DESTIN, Fla— Two fellow Mississippians, Jimmy Buffett and Mac McAnally, wrote a song about being down in this part of the country during the off-season: The Coast Is Clear.

Twenty years ago when I first heard the song, I couldn’t relate to it. I thought, that’s just two old guys who don’t like to be around the action any more. I was living here in Destin at the time, and could imagine how boring it must be when the crowds are gone. I was young and foolish.

Today I assume my official role as one of the old guys who doesn’t like to be around the action anymore. This is a beautiful time to be in this part of the country. No crowds on the beaches, cooler weather, no traffic, lower rates, no long waits in restaurants, did I mention cooler weather?

I am here to celebrate my 45th birthday (I told you I was one of the old guys), and to get a little rest before the release of my next book and subsequent promotional tour.

Every time I am in this part of the country, the romantic in me sadly reminds me of what this area was like 35 years ago, and I lament the loss of the quaint fishing village with miles of unspoiled beaches. I long for the days of no high-rise condominiums or sprawling strip malls serving up the same tired retailers one sees in the suburbs of Everytown U.S.A. Although being here in October seems a little closer to “The good old days” (you see, I’m sounding like an old man already).

The redfish are biting and the seafood is plentiful. I almost ate my weight in steamed crab last night. One of the benefits of so-called “progress” is the proliferation of good restaurants. The restaurant Fish Out of Water at Watercolor is performing on a higher level than most. I still love Bud and Alley’s at Seaside, and Harbor Docks— where I worked during one of my extended stays here— is as solid as ever.

The new fine dining places are great, and those who know me know I love to eat that type food. Though I also like the old-line restaurants, the ones that remind me of what this place was like 35 years ago. The places my parents, and my parents friends took me in the days when getting to eat a plate of fried shrimp was a rare treat. The one place I keep returning to when I visit this area is Bayou Bill’s on U.S. 98.

During the summer, the crowds at Bayou Bill’s are enormous. They are lined up in the parking lot before the restaurant opens, and once the doors are unlocked; the restaurant fills up immediately, and stays on a wait all night long.

Two nights ago, at 7:30 p.m., we walked right in, and I subsequently began to eat my weight in steamed crab.

Last night we were dining in one of the trendy restaurants-of-the-moment and the Destin lament struck me again: It’s a shame we can’t have the restaurant growth and leave everything else the same.

From now on, I think I’ll take Mr. Buffett and Mr. McAnally’s advice:

The tourist traps are empty, vacancy abounds
It’s almost like it used to be before the circus came to town
That’s when it always happens, same time every year
I come down to talk to me, when the coast is clear

Yellowfin Tuna Tartar with Avocado Relish

The ingredients must be fresh. Do not substitute. You won’t be sorry. A true crowd pleaser with a lot of “Wow” appeal.

1 /4 cup minced green onion
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
2 Tbl chopped cilantro
2 Tbl toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbl sesame oil
1 tsp fish sauce
1 /2 tsp hot sauce
2 Tbl soy sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp sherry
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 Tbl cottonseed oil
1 /2 pound fresh Yellowfin tuna, small dice

Combine all ingredients except for Yellowfin tuna and blend well. Diced tuna should be added to sesame seed mixture just before serving.

Avocado Relish

1 Tbl fresh lime juice
1 tsp cottonseed oil (or canola oil)
1 tsp sesame seed oil
1 /4 tsp garlic, minced
1 TBSP red onion, finely diced
1 tsp fresh chopped parley
2 tsp red bell pepper, small diced
1 medium sized ripe avocado
1 /4 tsp Salt
1 /8 tsp Cayenne pepper

Combine first seven ingredients and blend well. Quickly fold the avocado. If making in advance, place the seed in the relish and press plastic wrap directly on to the relish, sealing it off from any air exposure. Refrigerate.

5 sheets fresh egg roll wrappers to make wonton crackers

Using a cookie cutter, cut 2 1 /2-inch circles into the center of egg roll wrappers. Fry according to the package directions.
To serve, place 1 1 /2 tsp of the tartar mixture and 1 tsp avocado relish on the wonton crackers.

Yield: 25-30

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