There are people in this world who dread the day they turn a year older, panicking that every birthday brings another wrinkle and one step closer to meeting the Grim Reeper.
I am not one of those people.
Birthdays, in my book, are a cause for celebration. They signal another year older, yes, but hopefully another year wiser. At the very least, another year of experiences behind me and another fresh start to the year ahead. And this year my birthday also began a new decade (hello 30s!) and I couldn’t be happier for it.
The entire reason (excuse?) for going to Key West was to exchange Chicago’s winter for Key West’s warmth. Just being on the beach for my birthday was celebration enough, so when my boyfriend Kyle told me I wasn’t allowed to make any plans for my big day, I knew he had an amazing surprise up his sleeve.
After spending the day on the beach in the sun, Kyle said we had to be at the pier on the other side of the island promptly at 4:45. I was afraid he made early dinner reservations with all the retirees because I was now in my 30s, but turns out a ferry leaves the pier then, bound for the private island of Sunset Key. We jumped on the boat and floated on the turquoise waters before reaching a palm-tree covered paradise full of small cottages and empty beaches.
Latitudes Restaurant on Sunset Key in Key West
Sunset Key is about 500 yards from Key West, only accessible by boat. Officially named Tank Island, the 27-acre island was originally owned by the U.S. Navy and used as a fuel spot during the Cold War. Now it’s full of beach houses and owned by its residents, one of which is the Westin, who runs a luxury line of cottages.
Nestled next to the cottages is a restaurant on the beach. Latitudes overlooks the beautiful waters of the bay with a perfect view of the sunset and the sailboats that pass by, perfectly timed with the sun for silhouette pictures. Since it was February, the sun sets early, hence our early dinner reservation. Kyle even researched the time before booking a reservation.
The cuisine at Latitudes is labeled as Caribbean, focusing on seafood, and the atmosphere blends a laid-back island vibe with that of a fine dining restaurant. The staff, however, is fine-dining all the way, yet the often-found pretentiousness replaced with genuine friendliness.
We were seated at a small table adorned with a white tablecloth overlooking the pier we’d just arrived on. Our view was framed with palm tree leaves, opening up to calm waters where sailboats swayed peacefully and a paraglider floated in the distance. Our waiter understood our fascination with the view, allowing us to take our time perusing the cocktail menu, debating between a fantastic Old Fashioned or a refreshing glass of white, plus what to have for an appetizer.
Eventually we settled on burrata cheese ($16) served on top of fried green tomatoes with an arugula and red onion salad. Simple and light, it allowed us to focus on our view, which we were still distracted by, rather than dissect our meal.
Next we shared a bowl of lobster bisque ($10) with a generous garnish of lobster chunks. The rich and creamy soup was perfect to share, setting the stage of our taste buds for what was to come next: more lobster.
Latitudes serves local spiny lobster, which was on my list of foods to eat in Key West but doesn’t hit peak season until late summer, so I was ecstatic to see it on the menu. Other Key West local staples were there, too: yellowtail snapper ($36) spiced with cumin, Key West Pinks (shrimp) in a seafood pasta ($42) and black grouper ($38) in a saffron crust and smoked paprika oil. Airline chicken breast ($32), grilled wild boar ($38), wagyu beef skirt steak ($40) and grilled tenderloin with gruyere ($44) rounded out the land animals.
The spiny lobster doesn’t have claws so only the tail is served, grilled, with a navel orange beurre blanc sauce on a bed of mango cilantro couscous with jicama slaw ($42). It was as delicious as it looks — rich with sparks of citrusy undertones, perfectly complemented by the couscous.
The evening’s special combined the grilled lobster tail with wagyu beef skirt steak ($80). Kyle went for the splurge and to his excitement the honey and ancho chile crusted steak was topped with fried onion rings (his favorite) and came with a side of roasted garlic potato puree and a goat cheese corncake. Rich, hearty and overall amazing.
By this point the sun had begun to set, casting a bold yellow glow on our table. More diners arrived, filling up the restaurant around us. Still, the service was impeccable, and still they allowed us to take our time with our evening, enjoying every color the sky morphed into. More sailboats appeared from the horizon, headed for the best spot to view the impending sunset.
When the sunset show was over, our key lime pie ($9) arrived to end the evening. It came out glowing with a sparkler (Kyle secretly told them it was my birthday). Our server Michael told us that it was the best key lime pie in Key West, admitting that “everyone says that, but this really is the best.” He explained that the pie is made from hand-squeezed fresh key limes and topped with a toasted meringue. And he was right: it was the best key lime pie we had in Key West, and will likely ever have anywhere.
Latitudes is more than a restaurant with a view. It’s a beautiful restaurant serving incredible food with outstanding service. It was easily the best birthday dinner I’ve ever had and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
Go to Latitudes for :: a memorable meal all-around — food, service and atmosphere. Notes :: Latitudes is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; 7 am – 10 pm Sunday through Thursday, 7 am – 11 pm Friday and Saturday. Daytime attire is casual, evening is “country club casual.” Reservations are required and available online here.
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