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Tuesday, Aug. 07, 2012

Gut reaction for Aug. 9, 2012

Casual gourmet glows in Garden City Beach

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Nalu’s Restaurant & Beach Bar is at 107 Atlantic Avenue in Garden City Beach, and the number is 357-6258. The restaurant is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the bar open until 2 a.m.


Setting the Table

This spring Chef Ernest Bledsoe and his wife/partner, Kimberly Bledsoe, opened Nalu’s Restaurant & Beach Bar, a new casual gourmet haven that fills a niche in the heart of Garden City Beach’s oceanside commercial strip.

That niche is a restaurant with a menu going far beyond hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and ice cream to superior entrée salads, premium seafood and inspired appetizers. The couple took the success of their first restaurant – Bliss in Murrells Inlet – and gave their renowned cuisine casual twists that do not compromise their quest for culinary excellence.

Nalu’s adds New Orleans flair to the Garden City strip with a lighted marquee, outdoor speakers with music beckoning pedestrians and even a second-story balcony a la Bourbon Street.

Inside are two rows of booths to the left and right of the foyer where a vibrant teal color scheme and understated surfing décor items create a laid-back beach ambiance. The beach bar is upstairs, and it is a happening party spot that stays open until 2 a.m.

Down the Hatch

I have dined at Nalu’s twice, at lunch and dinner, and was pleased both times with food crafted by Chef de Cuisine Ty Litton.

While there are many menu standouts, my highest praise goes to the entrée salads. These masterpieces of leafy loveliness are creative and delicious, such as Spinach and Berry with fresh berries, candied pecans, blue cheese and honey-orange vinaigrette; Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella with pesto and balsamic glaze; and Grilled Peach & Butter Lettuce with spiced pecans, goat cheese, Vidalia onions and caramelized peach vinaigrette.

Chef Bledsoe is known for his house-made salad dressings, and even if they order only a side salad diners are in for treats such as honey walnut vinaigrette.

Enjoyable meals could be crafted with a few appetizer selections, which are the same for lunch and dinner and priced $6-$16. I’ve tried Truffled Parmesan Fries, Trio of Hummus and Fried Pickles and loved them all. The pickles come with jalapeno pimento cheese and southwest Ranch for dipping, while the yummy hummus trio is topped with garlic cream, pesto and olive tapenade and served with soft warm pita and whole grain crackers.

The $16 appetizer is a Seafood Sampler with fried fish, shrimp, crab cake bites, scallops, calamari and hushpuppies.

Burgers and sandwiches are offered for lunch and dinner ($9-$14), and they are a few savory notches above the norm, including the Nalu’s Burger with pineapple, avocado, provolone, bacon and grilled pineapple aioli; Tuna Tacos with mango habanero gel; Fried Green Tomato and Pork Belly BLT; Stuffed Portabello Sandwich; and Braised Short Rib Sandwich.

Braised Short Ribs were also in the risotto beneath the dinner special I recently enjoyed: twin fried lobster tails and grilled asparagus with an outrageously delicious smoked flavor. That was the best asparagus I ever had, and it wasn’t even drenched in Hollandaise. The dish was well worth $28, especially since I took half of it home and enjoyed it the next day.

One of my dinner companions tried Surf & Turf ($26), which is a four-ounce steak filet and a Jumbo Lump crab cake served with herb roasted potatoes, red wine demi-glace and that fabulous asparagus, and he loved it. His wife ordered one of the specials – a Lobster Burrito appetizer – as her entrée and was thrilled with her choice. My son went with Jerk Chicken ($14), which was a breast sliced on the bias drizzled with jerk sauce, and served with scallion whipped potatoes and hand-peeled baby carrots.

The only meal at Nalu’s I haven’t yet experienced is breakfast ($6-$12), but it sounds tempting with choices including Steak or Crab Cake Benedict, Hawaiian Pancakes with mango and pineapple jam, and Grilled Mahi and Eggs.

Check, please

The Bledsoes have special children’s selections for $4 at breakfast and $7 for lunch or dinner that come with an entrée, side and dessert.

We tried elegant and modestly portioned Strawberry Shortcake after dinner, and enjoyed it at a sidewalk table with coffee and a non-stop parade of pedestrians streaming by. By “modestly” portioned I don’t mean it was too small; I enjoy desserts that are more about deliciousness than generosity, and this was a fun cross between shortcake and a petit-four.

Many people head up to the bar after dinner and enjoy their whole evening at Nalu’s, where it’s all about forgetting the world and enjoying the night, with a fresh fruit cocktail in hand.

From value to ambiance to service and presentation, Nalu’s offers a gourmet experience without the fuss. Wear shorts and flip flops, and enjoy.

Becky Billingsley serves up fresh news daily at
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