Since moving to the area last year, I was pleased to have discovered the star restaurants of the beaches: Salt Rock Grill, Island Way Grill, and more recently, Marlin Darlin. I also enjoyed their little cousin in Clearwater, Hogfish Grill. However, since the first of this year we have detected a notable slip in quality at all four venues. I have gritched about the spotty transformation of Hogfish into Rumba on this board before, so I won't repeat myself here. In the past couple weeks, with a string of guests in town, we've been to Island Way, Salt Rock, and Marlin Darlin on at least one occasion each. Unfortunately, none of them met the high standards of which we had become accustomed.
Island Way Grill: We went there at 8:00 on a Monday, and they were sold out of their specials of the day (on a Monday?!) as well as a standard menu item, DH's wok yellowtail snapper was awful--overcooked and slathered with a burnt hoisin sauce. The calamari was overly oily and lacked flavor, and my crab ceviche was ho-hum. Our server was great, I must say.
Marlin Darlin: The food is still great, especially their very tasty calamari and onion soup dumplings. It definitely has the most innovative menu of the three restaurants. The service on our last two visits there, however, has been off. The server we had this past time seemed pretty green, with limited knowledge of the menu and poor timing for serving our food and keeping our water glasses filled. He actually served both our guest and me entirely wrong glasses of wine (as in, white instead of red) from what we had ordered, but corrected the mistake when we pointed out his error.
Salt Rock Grill: I went with a group this evening, and the service was very spotty. Our food was served lukewarm on overly-hot plates after a long hiatus after finishing our salads, always a sign our entrees had been sitting under the hot lights for awhile. One fellow diner had to send her steak back--it was actually burnt, with a thick crust of inadible charcoal on one side (she'd ordered it medium).
I was told by a local insider in the restaurant industry that Frank Chivas and his partners have made their bucks and have lost interest in maintaining the level of quality that had earned these restaurants their stellar reputations. He told me that at Island Way Grill, for example, they used to only hire culinary school-trained folks for the kitchen, but are now employing untrained part-time college kids.
Fact or fiction? Has anyone else out there noticed these local culinary mega-stars ain't what they used to be? Any insight into why?