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Restaurant review

A fresh approach

What's in season and fresh from the market is what's on the menu at Walt's Seasonal Cuisine.

By Tom Scherberger
Published March 22, 2007


Chefs Walt Wickman, front, and Mike Webb change their menu daily according to the fresh ingredients they are able to get from suppliers.
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[Times photo: Ted McLaren]
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[Times photo: Ted McLaren]
Scallop and Crab Crusted Pompano with baby bok choy and lemon buerre blanc were on the menu recently at Walt’s Seasonal Cuisine.

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[Times photo: Ted McLaren]
Walt’s Seasonal Cuisine uses the freshest ingredients available for an ever-changing menu.

DUNEDIN

I like a chef who's proud of his vegetables. And I don't mean just proud of what he puts on the plate. I mean proud enough to run back to the kitchen to show off an especially fresh bunch of swiss chard he got in that day.

It happened my first night at Walt's Seasonal Cuisine. We were sitting at the chef's bar with an up-close view of the open kitchen, and I casually mentioned how fresh the swiss chard tasted. "You like that? Lemme show you." The next thing I knew, Walt Wickman was holding a bunch with both hands, a big smile on his face.

Good thing I didn't tell him how fresh the pompano tasted.

Everything at Walt's tastes fresh. And as my swiss chard moment showed, it's done with a friendly enthusiasm for good food done right.

Owner-chef Wickman, 34, is a Dunedin native who worked his way through a string of fine-dining restaurants in Florida. Now he's got his own place in his own neighborhood in his own hometown.

Walt's Seasonal Cuisine is on the busy six-lane stretch of Main Street, not the quaint and charming part of downtown. It's a small place, just 40 seats, tucked into a strip shopping center with a barbershop, tattoo parlor and a hot dog stand. It's easy to miss, but seems to have built a loyal following in its first three months.

As the unusual name implies, the focus is on fresh ingredients. The menu is short - typically five appetizers, a couple of soups, a couple of salads, five entrees, a couple of desserts - and changes daily based on what Wickman can find from his suppliers. The constant change keeps regulars guessing.

One night a filet mignon carpaccio appetizer came with julienned beets and a swirl of beet vinaigrette. The deep red beets were almost invisible nestled with the rare slices of buttery, peppery beef, laid atop mixed greens with a horseradish lemon cream. The beef was sliced thicker than most carpaccio, but it worked: bright and clean and, here we go again, fresh.

The f-word is never more important than it is with fish. That pompano reminded me how much I have missed this Florida fish, so common 20 years ago but harder to find since the gill net ban. It was topped with a crab-scallop mixture with a New Orleans flair.

But as good as the pompano was, pan-roasted snapper with dashi broth a Japanese stock tasted like it had just been caught. Close; Wickman said it has been caught two days earlier (handpicked at the Dunedin docks).

A consistent standout is beef, corn-fed from the Midwest (Walt's is not dogmatic about its fresh-and-local approach). The tenderloin is smoked lightly, seared in a cast iron skillet, finished in the oven and sliced. It melts.

A tender cowboy steak was topped by a roasted tomato demi-glace that didn't overwhelm the beefiness.

Salads are simple, usually field greens with bright red tomatoes and sweet, roasted pecans. Soups are equally straightforward, particularly the classic oyster stew. An ahi tuna tartar was enlivened by oranges and star fruit, a nice Florida touch.

Desserts, however, seem to be an afterthought. One night it was strawberry shortcake; the berries were from Plant City, but I left thinking I could have made it at home. The key lime pie with raspberry sauce, though, showed promise.

The vibe is lively at dinner, and service is sharp but informal. Walt greets many customers by name and stops by tables to check on things (he'll show you the latest pictures of his baby if you ask).

Lunch, on the other hand, appears to be a struggle and the menu even shorter than dinner. Walt was the host, server, cook and cashier. A sandwich was a tender version of a Philly cheese steak and the salmon was lackluster.

Until the lunch crowd discovers it, Walt's is best after dark.

Tom Scherberger is an editor at the Times; he can be reached at scherberger@sptimes.com Until a replacement for Chris Sherman is named, Weekend is featuring guest restaurant critics.

Review

Walt's Seasonal Cuisine

1140 Main St., Dunedin

(727) 733-1909

www.waltscuisine.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Details: Credit cards, reservations accepted, beer and wine, no smoking.

Prices: $3.95 to $25.95.

[Last modified March 21, 2007, 11:17:23]


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