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Critics’ choice: The best dining by the beach

The Obstinate Daughter: Creative beach dining
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Little Sister Los Angeles
This “happy, beachy” new neo--Vietnamese restaurant” actually has “a punk rock heart,” said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. Chef Tin Vuong’s Manhattan Beach establishment may seem “buzzy and cheerful,” populated by contented folks sipping Garnacha or drafts of Hitachino Nest in date-night dim light. But there’s dark humor lurking beneath. Those lines of verse on the wall? They’re from a Black Flag song. Those painted butterflies in the bathroom? They’re pulling pins on hand grenades. At the vanguard of a group of Asian chefs reinterpreting the food of their youth using French technique, Vuong is out “to blow your mind” with pan-Asian small plates. Fried salt-and-pepper lobster begins in Hong Kong, then “creeps in the lush, tropical direction of Southeast Asia.” He’s “at his best with Vietnamese-inspired dishes”—stimulating crepes stuffed with pork belly and bean sprouts, on-the-bone pork shank with black Vietnamese caramel. Chao tom, a dish of grilled shrimp on sticks of sugarcane, is “better than the original” served in traditional pho houses. 1131 Manhattan Ave., (310) 545-2096

The Obstinate Daughter Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
There’s a food revolution going down in Charleston Harbor, said Robert Moss in the Charleston, S.C., City Paper. Not long ago, finding a “passable upscale meal and a good glass of wine on a porch in the warm ocean breeze” was a rarity on neighboring Sullivan’s Island. Like its eponym, Miss Carolina Sullivan, an “obstinate daughter” of the American Revolution depicted in an old British political cartoon, chef Jacques Larson’s new restaurant on the island displays “a firm determination to do things her own way, even in the midst of a tourist-driven beach market.” That means a “fresher, more inventive way of dining” that’s on a par with Charleston’s best restaurants. Larson’s menu gets brilliantly playful with low-country favorites. The ruddy brown empanada is stuffed with Sea Island peas, Carolina gold rice, house-made chorizo, and fontal cheese. Equally good is the “wonderfully rich” shrimp roll accompanied by “superbly crisp” Geechie frites. Charleston’s beach dining scene has been revitalized. 2063 Middle St., (843) 416-5020

Chef Michael’s Islamorada, Fla.
It’s time we faced facts, said John Tanasychuk in SouthFlorida.com. “There are many bad restaurants in the Florida Keys.” Luckily, a day of beaching or snorkeling on Islamorada doesn’t have to end with a mediocre dolphin sandwich. Chef Michael Ledwith, a 20-year veteran of cooking below the panhandle, knows a thing or two about preparing local fish, and local fishermen give him first dibs on what’s caught each day. “Peace, love, and hogfish” is the restaurant’s motto, and the regional favorite, typically caught on the spear, is best ordered “Ambassador-style.” Sautéed with crabmeat and Key lime butter, the preparation is a “nice match to this delicate tasting fish.” The lionfish, an invasive species, has a surprisingly sweet taste “made richer” by chardonnay butter and toasted almonds. If queen snapper has been hooked, get it “moist and piping hot” under a nut crust and mango sauce. Ledwith knows that “to have a restaurant in the Keys, you have to serve an outstanding Key lime pie.” His is second to none. 81671 Overseas Highway, (305) 664-0640

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