Spanish River Grill Serves Deviled Duck Eggs, Cioppino for James Beard Scholarship Fund

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To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation, the New York based culinary organization has established the James Beard Foundation Silver Anniversary Scholarship Drive. Restaurants around the country are offering special selections on their menus through September 3, 2012 and will donate one dollar from the sale of each of the special items to the scholarship fund. Scott is sampling the dishes from all of the local participating restaurants: K restaurant, Cress, Spanish River Grill, Taverna Opa, 4Rivers Smokehouse, Mi Tomatina and the Rusty Spoon. In this issue: Spanish River Grill.

Spanish River cioppinoAs soon as I stepped inside Spanish River Grill, I realized it had been a long time since I’d been there.

No, I realized it when I first drove up.

As I mentioned when I reviewed SRG, back in (gulp) 2002, I almost didn’t get out of my car the first time I pulled into the strip mall where it is located. The outside looked so dingy that I figured there couldn’t be anything worth eating inside. I wanted to turn the car around and head back to Orlando. But a drive to New Smyrna Beach is not an insignificant investment in time, and there was no place else nearby that I cared to try. So I went inside. And I had a wonderful experience, both that time and when I anxiously returned.

Since then, Spanish River Grill has expanded into the space next door and added a bar that separates the not-entirely-out-of-sight kitchen from the nattily appointed and comfortably modern dining room. And there’s a sidewalk patio of sorts in front -- more inviting than before -- that helps give the space an open air feel. (Even the strip mall, anchored by a Publix, seems to have been spruced up a bit.)

Spanish River Grill is still owned by Michele and Henry Salgado -- she runs the dining room and he is the chef -- and everything about the place, from the service to the food, has become more polished, professional and praiseworthy.

Salgado is offering two dishes for the James Beard Scholarship Fund: a deviled duck egg appetizer and a cioppino.

Spanish River eggsI was wary of the deviled eggs. I love deviled eggs, and I’ve been seduced into ordering them on numerous occasions, hoping that they would transcend the deviled eggs that you’d find on any home buffet or picnic gathering, and that they would be worth the eyebrow-raising price. And I have always, always been disappointed. Until now.

The duck eggs, from Living Roots Farms, were slightly larger than your average hen’s and had a firmness to the whites. The whipped yolk that filled them had a lushness in the mouth. They were topped with smokey bacon and cucumbers and carrots and a broadleaf sprig of parsley. I ate all three halves (the usual portion size for deviled eggs -- I still don’t get the math).

The cioppino featured local grouper (actual address not available), clams, black mussels and blue crab in an intensely flavored tomato broth. It was served with a thick slice of grilled bread drizzled with orange rouille (a sort of spicy mayonnaise). All of the seafood was fresh tasting, and the flavors were vibrant.

Spanish River tartareAlthough the tuna tartare is not part of the James Beard promotion, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try it. It featured coarsely chopped tuna topped with a quail egg and a dollop of salty caviar, and served with house-made potato chips and lemon aioli. Yum.

Add the graciousness of the Salgados and their charming staff and you have a very pleasant dining experience.

Spanish River Grill is at 737 East 3rd Ave., New Smyrna Beach. It is open for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays, brunch on Sundays and for dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Here is a link to thespanishrivergrill.com. The phone number is 386-424-6991.

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