Broadening My Palate | Ambrosia Sushi & Sake Bar in Key West, Florida

On a recent jaunt to visit the family in Florida, I thought it’d be fun to drive the man down to Key West for a mini getaway for the two of us.

After a particularly heavy late-night meal the previous night in Miami at my all-time favorite Cuban restaurant, it seemed natural that both of us were opting for a lighter meal.

Thanks to Google maps, we located a restaurant not far from our hotel (to be honest nothing is that far from your hotel when the island is only 7.4 square miles): Ambrosia Sushi and Sake Bar. Located in the Santa Maria Suites hotel (love that they still have their retro signage), the restaurant features a beautifully renovated interior and prides itself on using the freshest ingredients.

santa-maria-hotel-ambrosia-sushi-sake-bar-key-west

We were sold.

We started with the Shumai, steamed dumplings serviced with a spicy mustard and ponzu sauce.

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That little dab of paste on the bowl was indeed the “spicy” mustard. However, like most things in Florida, their version of spicy is very different from ours (I think it directly correlates to the number of retirees in the state).

Despite the lack of “spice,” the dumplings were delicious; they were a bit lighter than their (typically fried) Gyoza cousins, and the flavors were complex and well-rounded.

Next step was determining how hungry the man was, and how much sushi he was willing to share.

Only those that know me personally know that I don’t particularly care for seafood, which is ironic since I’ve been eating sushi for nearly 10 years. That said, it was only until recently (last 2 years) that I’ve ventured beyond the vegetarian rolls.

I don’t remember the exact date that I felt the urge to try one of Chris’ Hamachi, Salmon and Tuna nigiris…but when I did I realized hey, it’s not bad! Unlike its cooked counterparts, good, fresh sushi has little-to-no ‘fishy’ smell or taste. Texture plays a big part too; I much prefer the texture of raw to cooked salmon.

Most sushi restaurants have what they call a “Chef’s Choice” platter, which typically consists of whatever fishies and other oceanic animals that they wish to feature on a platter. Given that I’ve been feeling more adventurous at trying new things lately (Taste of Pearl anyone?) I finally felt confident to go for the platter and be surprised (sometimes it’s good for us Capricorns to be spontaneous).

When the plate arrived, it was simply beautiful:

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I wish my photo caught more of the wispy dry-ice fog that emanated from that glass on the left. You’ll see an array of noms on this plate, from the old reliables like tuna and hamachi (still my favorite) to some more regional favorites like conch (top right).

With the exception of that fried (and raw) crustacean at the bottom of the picture, you’ll be pleased to know I tried everything, including the octopus.

The verdict? Not bad! The fish was (unsurprisingly) fresh and delicious, and Chris enjoyed watching me try things that were clearly out of my comfort zone.

Here’s the rundown:

  • Octopus: The rubbery texture is a big turnoff for me.
  • Conch: I didn’t know what to expect, but it was extremely tough and chewy. Now I know why they typically batter and fry it.
  • Clam: My clam wasn’t cleaned all the way; biting on sand and grit is extremely unpleasant and I sympathized with the judges on Chopped.
  • Seared Albacore: I’ll eat it, but I don’t care for it seared because it emits more of that ‘fishy’ taste and smell.
  • Tuna, Hamachi, Salmon and (generic?) White Fish: NOM.

You may or may not know that Conchs are near and dear to the Key Westers. In fact, Key West has its own flag which features the Conch:

Flag_of_the_Conch_Republic-Jmckean

Many people outside of Florida don’t know that Key West actually seceded from the union back in 1982, creating the Conch Republic. You see, the Conch Republic was established in response to a United States Border Patrol Blockade setup on highway U.S. 1 at Florida City. The blockade seriously impacted tourism—I’ve been told it didn’t take much to cause serious backups in the Keys, which was unsurprising since their single highway was built on an old railroad line and widened just enough to fit two cars (my mom will regale you with stories of frequently losing side mirrors to oncoming traffic).

Despite their appeals, the government kept the blockade in place. So in response, the mayor read the proclamation of secession and “began the Conch Republic’s Civil Rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform.”

Don’t believe me? Read the full history here.

And here you thought I was just a foodie enthusiast. We learn neat things here too.

  • The Gandy Dancer

    And you could purchase Conch Republic Border Passes (a bright orange bumper sticker – remember bumpers?), Conch Republic T-Shirts, and somewhere, I still have my “Official” Conch Republic Passport!