When the owners of the Hilton Sandestin Beach in Destin, Florida, decided to include a deluxe restaurant in the hotel's expansion, they wanted "a place to forget the beach and dine like in New York or Chicago."
They succeeded. Guests flock to Seagar's, located midway along the 28-mile beach embracing Florida's panhandle, to dine and imbibe and savor cigars. The smoke haven's mascot--a cigar-chomping, Martini-drinking bull--exemplifies the club's motto: "more is more."
The club embodies relaxed elegance with its rich carpets, dark woods and cocoon-like banquettes surrounding see-and-be-seen tables anchored by a display kitchen. Bruce MacDoo, the kitchen manager, creates delicious continental fare such as Dover sole and Steak Diane. When we arrived, our party simply threw up our hands and cried, "Feed us."
The waitstaff brought us a torte of assertively smoked salmon, which was sandwiched between lemon-infused crepes painted with mascarpone. An Emerald Coast Martini immediately followed. The cocktail glass was packed with jumbo chunks of blue crab draped with sweet, buoyant Gulf prawns and a frizzle of carrots.
Heads turned when the Beluga caviar was brought in. It's presented in an ice bucket, along with ramekins of chopped egg, chives and crème fraîche, and a stone-cold flagon of vodka. An intermezzo of Champagne and passion-fruit sorbet revived us for action. We made fast work of the Caesar salad, with its silky garlic dressing, and the chopped salad, more than a notch above the genre with its embellishments of asparagus, hearts of palm and blue cheese.
While the appetizers were delicious, main courses are the real treat. The robust and beefy 28-ounce Porterhouse steak compared favorably with the butter-tender but docile 14-ounce filet mignon. The double-cut lamb chops were delectably gamy and piqued with salt.
Fish gets equal billing at Seagar's. We tried a thick and juicy chargrilled swordfish steak, which was accompanied by horseradish mashed potatoes and a luscious wild-mushroom confit. The Dover sole is a winning choice as well. The steamed lobster was superlative. At market prices (about $22 a pound for a three-pound poster model), it's heaven in a shell. Or out of one, actually, for the kitchen has thoughtfully coaxed out the sweet flesh, then replaced it.
Side dishes, large enough to feed an army, also hit a bull's-eye. Forget the silly, tire-size onion rings in favor of the creamy spinach, succulent herb-roasted potatoes sweet with garlic, a savory sauté of wild mushrooms, or tender asparagus the size of Lincoln logs.
After that repast, who has room for dessert? It would be a shame if one didn't try the dense, deeply flavored chocolate bread pudding, Seagar's classic crème brûlée, the restaurant's signature Bananas Foster (which garners 400 orders per week) or a satiny Key lime cheesecake. Skip the soufflé. It's a little sweet to the taste. Wander into the bar, where live piano music offers a counterpoint to the tinkle of ice in the Martini shakers. Gaze left and you'll spy the intimate table set up in the wine cellar--the tip of the vinous iceberg, representing more than 350 labels ($36 to $1,400), with strengths in American Cabernets, Chardonnays, Merlots and Meritages, as well as Bordeaux and Burgundies. The selections include a 1988 Château Lafite Rothschild, a 1986 Château Latour, a 1995 Kendall Jackson Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1997 Patz & Hall Pinot Noir.
Saunter toward Seagar's showcase walk-in humidor, stocked with tobacconist Mike Martines's selection of more than 70 premium smokes, including the rare 150th anniversary Partagas. Cigar lockers are available for rent, although there is a six-month waiting list. Smoking accoutrements for sale include S.T. Dupont lighters, Zippos with the Seagar's logo, and the show-stopping crystal humidor once owned by the last Shah of Iran, yours for only $47,500.
Our waiter, humidor in hand, asked if we would like to try some Port, single-malt Scotch or Cognac. While nobody opted for an after-dinner drink, the Arturo Fuentes and El Rey del Mundo robustos found their partisans.
Carla Waldemar, a former food editor at Better Homes & Gardens, is a freelance writer living in Minnesota.
Hilton Sandestin Beach 4000 Sandestin Boulevard South
Phone (850) 267-9500
Rates Dinner for two $115, without wine