By Richard Mundy
For Hometown News
If Gordon Ramsay himself stormed the newly refurbished Riptides Raw Bar & Grill in Ormond Beach, he would take a quick look at the kitchen, the staff, the clean interior with tasteful photographs on the wall, background music you didn't have to shout over to be heard and a full menu of some of the tastiest and more unique items you'll ever find, and would say, "What am I doing here?"
"This &*$%*$@& place certainly doesn't need me. It's &$^*#)(&$ perfect just like it is." Then he'd order some spring rolls to go and leave as abruptly as he arrived.
I was worried a bit driving to Riptides. Its location is so excellent, right in the middle of things, and I wasn't sure where I was going to park. As it turned out, just as I pulled up to the restaurant, I was greeted with the sight of parking on both sides of the restaurant. Parking was not a problem.
"We also have valet parking all summer long, as well as weekends during the winter," according to Shawn Flaherty, the chef and general manager. Brad and Mary Hoffman are the owners of the restaurant. They also own a Twisted Kilt franchise in Orlando.
Mr. Flaherty said, "We took the building over in January and remodeled it, and opened in April" of this year. The "official" description could be described as a subtle surfer décor with surfing photographs on the walls, and surfer scenes continuously running on a large projection screen. But the main impression the interior reveals is of a highly professional and tasteful design that immediately puts one in the mood for some seafood.
The spacious, main room is uncluttered with the table spacing generous. The center of the room is anchored with an expansive "U" shaped bar with seating for about 25 people. It also has 7 or so LCD TV monitors, all broadcasting different sports events. There is a secondary room to the left that contains the oyster bar as well as the table shuffle, board game and a pool table. The oyster bar was very popular as there were half a dozen at the bar eating oysters as they were being "shucked."
Again. photographs festoon the walls continuing into an adjoining banquet room capable of seating more than 100 people for private parties, meetings, luncheons and receptions.
"We're open from 11 am 'til midnight right now and we stay open later if there are people here," Mr. Flaherty said. The capacity of the restaurant is 368.
Mr. Flaherty's career in cooking began at age 14 and it is his passion that is the engine that runs the restaurant.
Each item we tried was both familiar and a surprise. His use of certain ingredients in each dish revealed his desire to satisfy the palate as well as the appetite.
I am not a fan of avocado, perhaps because I lived in California and virtually everything came with avocado. But a Riptide specialty has become a wrap around shrimp, avocado, cream cheese and a helping of "secrets" that has totally changed my opinion of avocado. They call it their Spring Roll and it is a must appetizer. Likewise their Caribbean Chicken Nachos defy description except I have never tasted one quite like it. Their special Riptide sauce is again a palate pleaser.
Also enjoyable was the Surf and Turf Bisque, which combined specially prepared prime rib "chunks" and shrimp in a creamy sherry bisque. "It's not a soup and it's not a bisque," explained Chef Shawn.
Mr. Flaherty's favorite dish among the many he has created is the Key Lime Grouper or the Key Lime Shrimp pasta. We sampled both, and my dining companion and I agreed that each was a superb experience. My companion loved the stuffed Grouper with a crabmeat and shrimp blend, and topped with a lemon beurre blanc sauce.
The food kept coming and I kept waiting for something, anything I could not warm to ... it just didn't happen.
Mr. Flaherty said, "We didn't want to be another run-of-the-mill beach restaurant that served seafood." Besides serving dishes made with fresh products, they also make all their own sauces, glazes, dressings and remoulades. "Our goal here was to be a Floridian style ... centered around local and fresh seafood."
Riptides' website is riptidesrawbar.com, which has the complete menu. The phone number is (386) 256-4799.