By Erika Webb
Once you've been to 27 Fathoms, it becomes one of those "go to" places in your memory bank; the mere thought offers solace from worldly woes.
First, you imagine walking through the door into a soothing environment reminiscent of an exquisitely appointed submarine.
Just inside, a large saltwater tank, filled with graceful, brightly colored tropical fish, sets the charcoal walls aflame.
Soft lighting completes the reef-like atmosphere.
A friendly verbal greeting is next, and swiftly you are led to comfortable seating -- which never fails to elicit a relieved exhalation -- before it's time to embark on the next exotic excursion -- the menu.
This was my third visit to 27 Fathoms Modern Cuisine and Spirits at the Pavilion at Port Orange.
I thought I might revisit the Grouper & Pancakes -- Black Grouper resting on shrimp and charred corn and jalapeno pancakes topped with Chipotle Sorghum Butter ($26).
But my second experience at 27 Fathoms left me dreaming for months of the Pan Roasted Diver Scallops served over smoked Gouda and spinach orzo, with crushed macadamia nuts and a citrus balsamic mignonette ($28).
Both certainly were worth having again.
Should I give in to known temptations or make a new discovery by seeing what executive chef Joe Dunbar would do with two of my other favorite "catches" -- shrimp and salmon?
The Crispy Skin Wild Caught Salmon served with a choice of side and vegetable -- and the choices are outstanding -- ($20) definitely sounded promising.
So did the Shrimp and Grits, featuring blackened-shrimp over cheddar grits and green beans ($24).
Mr. Dunbar said he dreams of the selections at 27 Fathoms, as well -- the new ones.
"I'm always thinking of new things to do," Mr. Dunbar said. "We recently added rack of wild boar, rock shrimp and venison sausage. "We are offering more choices with sides and veg, and we added some new appetizers."
The creativity and consistency at this restaurant are attributable to the fact Mr. Dunbar has been there from the beginning. Originally he worked at Fresh on the Fly in Lake Mary, which shares owners with 27 Fathoms.
He comes from a family of restaurateurs, has an intense passion for food and it shows.
"I'm a huge foodie," Mr. Dunbar said. "But I don't watch cooking shows at all."
Like any artist, he doesn't want his originality to be influenced.
"I have a passion for creating new foods. I like to add a southern twist, a new twist, using old family recipes," he said.
In recent months, Mr. Dunbar has upgraded the décor, adding black tablecloths and "nice water glasses and place settings," which has indeed replaced a more rustic atmosphere with elegance.
"I just felt like it needed a little redecorating," he said.
He also has begun ordering the bread from New York. They aren't kidding about the water. The Brio Cheddar rolls were soft and dense, yet flaky with an amazing balance of yeast and cheese flavors. This bread aficionado has never tasted better.
Ultimately, we went with his recommendation of two new creations. We were well advised.
Rack of Wild Boar does not sound elegant but the 5-bone tenderloin finished with a bourbon demi ($34) was beautiful and flavorful. My companion went to carnivore heaven.
I had the Blackened Chimichanga served over red beans and rice, finished with cilantro sour cream and Pico de Gallo ($18). It was the freshest explosion of flavors and textures I've ever experienced. And the portion is enormous.
That explains why I didn't have room for the house-made key lime pie. Next time, dessert first. There's quite a selection.
Lunch is served Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.
All fish at 27 Fathoms is wild and much of it locally caught. A lot of the produce is locally grown.
Only high-quality food without chemicals or preservatives is served and all sauces, dressings, soups are house made.
For those seriously hunting game there's the multifaceted dinner entrée called the Trio of Game which features pan-roasted venison, elk and buffalo topped with mahi crab spinach and herb tomato ($48).
Consistently fresh, consistently good, 27 Fathoms yields the best catches day after day.
Find 27 Fathoms at 5535 S Williamson Blvd, Suite 656, Port Orange. Call (386) 256-4791. Visit the website at www.27fathoms.com.