Our recent journey to Florida found us driving from Boca Raton to Destin - a projected distance of just over 600 miles. Our bellies were full from brunch at The Bagel Tree - but that is a lot of miles to drive without the satellite radio I've become accustomed to. We were prepared, however, though motivated by a recent sad event.
Scotland's Gerry Rafferty has long been one of my favorite singer-songwriters. There is so much more to his music than his hit singles Baker Street or Stuck in the Middle (with Joe Egan as Stealer's Wheel). I have loved his music for almost forty years, and was devastated at his January 10, 2011 passing, purportedly from liver disease related to alcoholism. Haunted by his music, and knowing that I had a nine-to-eleven hour drive ahead of me, I made it my task to burn my Gerry Rafferty/Stealer's Wheel catalog to disc for our drive through Florida. RIP Gerry.
The CD on the bottom right is one of Gerry's last albums - North and South - the only one of his albums that I have only on CD.
Thursday February 10 was the only bad weather day of our trip, though it was cloudy more than it rained. Our route would take us from Boca to Destin in 4 turns - Fla. Tpk./I-75 to the north, turn left on I-10 and go west, turn left on Route 331 for the southern side of the panhandle, then turn right from the 331 Bridge onto Route 98 West and take that into Destin. Sounded simple. And, singing along to some great music, we got all the way to Tallahassee before the empty gas tank and our empty stomachs required a significant stop.
My original plan had been to get an earlier start and stop for lunch around Orlando, then reach Destin in time for dinner. A Chowhounder had recommended the lunch place, so we were set. Except that we started too late in the day for that plan to work - and based on the "Food Available" signs we passed as the gas tank ticked towards empty, it looked like fast food or similar pot luck might have to do. We exited I-10 where Routes 319, 261 and 61 come together, and made a beeline into a Taco Bell to relieve our bursting bladders. The freestanding Taco Bell was on a small rise - once the call of nature had been answered, we noticed a respectably sized strip mall across the street. We decided to drive into that parking lot and select our dinner from whatever was available in the strip mall. It was either that, or the Waffle House across the street on the other side (I've yet to actually eat at a Waffle House).
Our choices included a Bonefish Grille, chain sub shop Moe's Southwest, and a TCBY Yogurt. And one independent restaurant - Kiku Japanese Fusion. Even though Bob is not a huge lover of raw fish, we decided to take a flyer on Kiku. The restaurant was fully attended around 7pm on a Thursday - hopefully a good sign. We waited only a few minutes before sitting at our table.
Loved the way the name is laminated into the tabletops
During the long drive, it had become increasingly apparent that I was catching a cold. My sister had been sick while we were in Delray, and I'd learn that my mom would also come down with it right after we left - so it looks like the family that played with food together got sick together. Anyway - soup was the first order of business for a scratchy throat:
Chicken Paste Soup With Sliced Mushroom, Onion & Scallions
We both enjoyed this rich, yet delicate broth (and Bob benefited from my mushroom pieces) - a great start.
We discussed our fish options with the young server, who happily requested more information from the kitchen to guide our order. Tuna would be the only locally sourced product, though the shrimp was also very fresh. Complicating the choice a little further was Kiku's "*Sushi Roll* Buy 1 Get 1 FREE All Day Everyday! Dine in Only Limited Time Offer." What to do? We settled on six selections for sharing (and the least expensive three were on the house):
From the top left, going clockwise: Tuna Avocado Roll, Tempuraed Sweet Potato Roll With Eel Sauce, Half of Spicy Tuna Roll, Tuna Roll, Candy Bar Maki (Spicy Tuna, cucumber, tuna, white tuna, fruit sauce), Tempuraed Shrimp Roll, Second half of the Spicy Tuna Roll.
All of the tuna-based items melted in the mouth against perfectly vinegared sushi rice. No off smells or tastes on the crunchy shrimp. And the tempura sweet potato with eel sauce, below (across from the Tuna Avocado Roll), surprised us with it's umami flavor - rich but not at all fishy (or of old eel) - great ingredients, prepared well, at very modest prices. It was good to the last drop!
After gassing up the car, we hit the "play" button on the CD and continued across the Florida Panhandle to Destin, where our story will continue with sunshine and more fun food in the next installment!