Monday, June 09, 2008

Travels with XaXa

From time to time, possums, a girl needs a pick-me-up rather than a pick-up, a little something to scratch that itchy place that Louboutins and Valium just can’t reach. Recently, I found myself in just that frame of mind, and so I did what any other Southern girl in my position would do—I called up my BFF, the lovely and game Miss R, and we went home.

Home in this case is St. Simon’s Island, located off the Georgia coast, equidistant to Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla., in a region known as the “Golden Isles.” St. Simon’s Island and its neighboring “sisters,” Sea Island and Jekyll Island, are not exactly off the beaten path, and yet somehow manage to be something of a hidden gem. That is the particular charm of St. Simon’s Island, what keeps me coming back time and again, and what makes me miss it when I am away.

Something else I miss is a mean and properly prepared martini, and so I always make it a point to head to my favorite restaurant and watering hole, J.Mac’s Island Restaurant and Martini Bar. J.Mac’s—and the handsome, bowtied fella of the same name who greets all comers at the door—exemplifies the spirit of St. Simon’s Island, elegant and full of charm, and yet warm and not the least bit stuffy. When Miss R and I walked through the door, there was Laurs, as usual, at the helm of the Martini Bar, ready to make a martini as mean, as mellow or as dirty as a girl is in the mood for, and he did right by Miss R and me.

Miss R and I then headed inside the restaurant for a meal that made for a truly memorable evening. The kitchen at J. Mac’s is headed by Chef Connor Rankin, who came fresh from a long stint as sous-chef at the renowned Matthew’s in Jacksonville, Fla., where he trained under Matthew Medure, an award-winning chef with a storied tenure at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island.

We began with Chef Connor’s superb spin on the classic oysters Rockefeller. I consider myself a bit of an oyster connoisseur, and have dined several times in the restaurant that created the dish—Antoine’s in New Orleans—and Chef Connor’s version was the equal of Antoine’s, if not actually superior. When a woman’s toes curl inside her Louboutins, that tells you everything you need to know. Miss R’s toes did their own share of curling during an encounter with a luscious lobe of perfectly seared foie gras accompanied by a blackberry and port wine reduction. The delicately flavored soft shell crab and the escargot with wild mushrooms, spinach, and a sherry and parmesan emulsion were standouts as well (and yes, possums, Miss R and I, like real women everywhere, have healthy appetites).

That healthy appetite served us well for what followed—seared Angus fillet with caramelized onions, Gorgonzola gratin and mushroom jus; pan-seared red snapper; and that night’s special, pistachio-crusted ivory salmon in a delicate mustard sauce, with the nuttiness and crunch of the pistachios complementing the buttery taste and texture of the fish, and the mustard playing against that same buttery quality. It was complex, sophisticated, and almost sensual, unlike anything I’ve ever had.

Chocolate and jewelry rarely disappoint, and since canary diamonds weren’t on the menu, Miss R and I knew that at least we couldn’t go wrong with the chocolate and hazelnut crunch soufflé with orange Grand Marnier crème anglaise. It’s wonderful to be proven right, and it was the perfect end to a superb and memorable meal.

Chef Connor’s friends are forever trying to get him to apply to be a contestant on Top Chef, and following that meal, Miss R and I were only too glad to add our voices to the chorus.

J. Mac’s Island Restaurant and Martini Bar
407 Mallery Street
St. Simon’s Island, GA 31522
(912) 634-0403


hughman said...

i love this post. as you know, my grandmother had a house on Sea Island where I spent many a summer at the Cloisters.

glad you had a great time!

hughman said...

also, soft shell crab! fois gras! escargot! oysters!

oh girl. i am SOOO jealous.

Miss XaXa said...

Oh, Hugh Darling, have you visited since the renovation? Magnificent!

hughman said...

i admit, i haven't. when i went it was in the 70's. i went to the Cloisters with my grandmother for cocktails and thursday night bingo. i also would go during the day to the beach club for the pool and lunch.

sigh. it was a different time then.

Socrates said...

Wow! I am delighted that I work with Chef Connor's mother who shared the breathtaking article with the staff. I have not previously had the opportunity to visit J.Mac Island Restaurant and Martini Bar. However, the awe-inspiring article conjures up pictures of mouth-watering and irresistible delicacies which demand to be tasted- an urgency to visit has been aroused. It has been said that the greatest words and images are those that create a clearer path to the mind and the heart. Miss XaXa ---you have clearly done an excellent job in creating that path. Your writing style is impeccable, and I am making the necessary arrangements to visit J.Mac Island Restaurant and Martini Bar this summer. Keep up the good work!