Last night I had the pleasure of dining with our GM. He cooked me a simple meal and it was amazing. We reminisced about the Perfect Caper back in the 90’s as well as talked about Su Casa, a small authentic Mexican restaurant that didn’t quite work out.
As soon as I sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen a delightful combination of Siracha, fresh seared fish and chopped onion permeated the air. Our GM hustled around the kitchen multitasking by making drinks, cooking fish, cutting garnishes and even grilling tortillas outside. Nothing overly impressive other than the fact that he was still going strong at 12.00 at night after a full day of work. “I have this really bad habit of eating late”, he told me. “I just like being able to sit back and enjoy my meal”. A perfectly reasonable request. As he cooked he chatted with me about some of the history behind The Perfect Caper, the place where I got my first break.
The Perfect Caper started as a small 30 seat restaurant with only a convection oven, four stovetop burners and two low boy cabinets with a single two foot pass. This small restaurant pumped out over 120 covers on good nights which is absolutely astounding. This humble establishment was located on Sullivan street in my hometown of Punta Gorda. It was a small purple house that had been converted into a restaurant. Now this small house operates as a tiny local bar that hosts live performers outside on some nights.
After about 15 minutes I was handed a lush plate of chopped lettuce, grilled corn tortillas , shredded breakfast radish, black rice and about a heaping pound of fresh caught halibut. It was paired with a light grapefruit cocktail that added a nice balance of acid to the whole dish. Each bite of taco had a vivid crunch from the vegetables, the black rice provided subtle earthy tones matched with the sharp flavors of light and flaky halibut marinated in siracha.
We then transitioned into a short discussion about Su Casa. “People just didn’t understand what we were trying to do.” He continued “They wanted sweet tomato sauces and yellow tortillas, not the real stuff”, if only they had tasted our tacos.
It was a great meal that we stretched for over an hour. At the end I felt refreshed and full but not stuffed. Great flavors matched with fresh ingredients provided an explosion of delight on my pallet. If you haven’t ever had authentic Mexican food, not taco bell or Moe’s, then you truly haven’t experienced Mexican food.