2010-07-29 / Cuisine

One Eleven celebrates flavors of urban chic

When you walk into the small One Eleven Martini Bar on West Marion Avenue, it feels like you are walking into a chic little bar in a major metropolitan area.

One Eleven fills the niche in town for people who want a libation and a snack or two — though a small plate or two can be enough to satisfy someone seeking a new food experience.

One Eleven is a sister operation of Jack’s Restaurant and River City Grill, but it calls to an entirely different audience.

The gracious staff welcomed me into One Eleven’s urban 22-seat haven. Its streamlined Moroccan décor features mirrored beads strung along dark burgundy walls. The small bar seats six comfortably, and a banquette stretches along the east wall with low tables perfect for socializing and martini sipping.

The drink menu has plenty of novel options, including 30 martinis described in vivid detail on two pages — including the Casino Royale and Flirtini. Each martini can be prepared as a cocktail or shots, but it was a bit early in the day for shots, so I ordered the popular Razztini.

The Tuna Tower is a triumph of tastes. The ginger-soy marinade lends tang to the fish as the creamy avocado foils the heat of wasabi. Crunch chips leave you wanting more. JULIE GLENN / FLORIDA WEEKLY The Tuna Tower is a triumph of tastes. The ginger-soy marinade lends tang to the fish as the creamy avocado foils the heat of wasabi. Crunch chips leave you wanting more. JULIE GLENN / FLORIDA WEEKLY What arrived was reminiscent of an inverted bomb pop, a softly frozen concoction with a string of blue rock candy dangling from the side of the glass like a well-placed earring. The cocktail was sweet and tasty, and I knew trouble would be on the horizon if food did not accompany the libation.

One Eleven’s menus light up, a fabulous service provided in a martini bar where the lights are appropriately low. The arrangement of this menu is equally well done, with the small plates arranged in three groups: Asian, tapas and coastal. I selected one item from each group.

Technicolor cocktails complement the inventive tapas creations of Chef Jonathan Rivera at One Eleven Martini Bar in Punta Gorda. Technicolor cocktails complement the inventive tapas creations of Chef Jonathan Rivera at One Eleven Martini Bar in Punta Gorda. The Tuna Tower ($11) is a generous stack of alternating diced tuna and avocado surrounded by house-made chips. They alone could make you come back for more, but the marinade for the tuna is the real treat here with ginger, soy and a speckling of sesame seeds. This tuna dish could convert people who have an issue with raw fish. The marinade changes the texture of the fish to a degree that it has a different mouth-feel than straight-up raw tuna, so it may be one to try with that friend who is one the fence about raw tuna. There is a sauce that adds a typically Asian sweet and sour complement as well as decorative dots of wasabi for fans of heat. The only problem with this dish is that I’d like about twice as many chips.

The mozzarella salad ($11) is touted to be made with buffalo mozzarella. With trepidation, I took the first bite and after a brief synaptic journey back to Campagnia, I knew it was buffalo. There is a difference and fortunately One Eleven’s manager, Joe Mack, knows his mozzarella and insists on the real deal.

The Florida Blue Crab salad may look like the usual seafood salad, but it is much more with a hint of truffle oil, Black Sea salt, and only enough mayonaise to hold it together. The Florida Blue Crab salad may look like the usual seafood salad, but it is much more with a hint of truffle oil, Black Sea salt, and only enough mayonaise to hold it together. “We have it imported straight from Italy,” he said. “We wouldn’t do it any other way.”

The slices of mozzarella are nestled between slices of tomato, which at first glance appeared to be underripe. But what they lacked in looks they make up for in taste. They were crisp and flavorful, and a very pleasant surprise. The salad is artfully arranged on romaine lettuce and finished with balsamic reduction drizzle.

With a happy sense of adventure buoyed by the knowledge that One Eleven pays close attention to the quality of its products, I ordered the Florida Blue Crab Salad ($12) from the coastal section. I was surprised by its typical presentation and what appeared to be an abundance of mayo. But I was happy to taste that the dish’s all-white appearance comes from real crab (not “krab”) with a little mayo to hold it together. There were no hunks of celery, pickles or fillers usually found in seafood salad. This is a full cup of amazing shredded blue crab atop spring greens with a little tomato and rounds of sliced cucumbers. There is a hint of a flavor in this crab I couldn’t identify and a delicacy in the saltiness that I want to pinpoint, so I asked Chef Jonathan Rivera. “There is just a touch of truffle oil in there and a little Black Sea salt,” he said. Truffle oil can overpower just about anything, but used with a delicate hand, its presence can be merely hinted at and that is the case here where the crab is the flavor star and the salt and truffle and mayo make up a chorus of an earth and sea combination that works. The richness of the Florida blue crab salad makes it a filling dish.

Eating three appetizers like this can be quite filling for one person, and it is an adventurous way to work through a menu of tapas, or small plates.

One Eleven is designed to be sleek, modern and inventive with its cuisine, which it does handily. One Eleven sets itself apart by offering creative small plates that perfectly complement the host of martinis, cocktails, wines and beers. This is a perfect spot for pre-show or late-night festivities.

Prices for mixed drinks and martinis range from $7-$12. Wines range from $5 to $7 by the glass, while bottles tend to stay in the $30 range. Tapas plates are around $10.

The food is delicious and the staff is attentive, informed, artful and down to earth. Thursday is ladies night, and occasionally One Eleven puts on its “manis and martinis night,” when ladies get their nails done while sipping tasty martinis. I haven’t been able to find an online schedule for One Eleven’s events, though they do publicize events inside the restaurant, so I recommend becoming a regular.

You’ll be glad you did. ¦

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