Relaxing on the Gulf with Cocktails and Sushi at the Gathering Spot
January 24, 2013 by Whitney Rowan
I'm going to let you in on a little secret; a comfortable SoWal spot where you can meet your friends for a drink, excellent food and amazing sushi. And it's quite affordable, considering it's in a beautiful setting right on the Gulf, flanked by massive dunes. You can lounge inside on cushy chairs around cocktail tables, or outside around the pool by a toasty fire.
It's not really a secret but is a little under the radar. It's called The Gathering Spot and Sushi Bar at WaterColor Inn, and it's located right next to the lobby of the WaterColor Inn & Resort. I suppose some people don't know about it, or it doesn't always come to mind, because the Inn is pretty exclusive. But the Gathering Spot is open to all and is very welcoming. Once you go you'll want to go back, again and again. There are plenty of reasons why this SoWal “hidden gem” is gaining in popularity.
The first time I visited The Gathering Spot I was won over. In fact, I was so impressed that I knew I wanted to go regularly. Recently, my friend Jill and I went for cocktails and sushi. We were greeted by the manager, Sakir “Shaq” Dogruogullari, who escorted us to our seats at the bar. The decor is modern and sophisticated, but still maintains a laid-back atmosphere. The comforting ambiance made us feel relaxed right away. For our first round of cocktails, I indulged in a Cucumber Martini, which happens to be the most popular cocktail, and Jill had a Strawberry Drop Martini. My Cucumber Martini consisted of Russian Standard vodka, a fresh cucumber puree, and was blended with fresh-squeezed, lemon-lime juice. The combination of flavors was so refreshing and had a great citrus taste. Jill’s Strawberry Drop Martini was made with strawberry-infused Russian Standard vodka mixed with fresh lemon-lime juice and simple syrup. It had a great sweetness to it and the lemon-lime juice gave it an acidic kick to balance out the fruit.
While we enjoyed our cocktails, we ordered the Fried Dumplings which came with a garlic soy dipping sauce. They were mouth watering, crunchy and the consistency was perfect. The dumpling soaked up the delicious sauce, which gave the overall bite a taste of garlic with a hint of sweet. It was the perfect amount for two people and a tasty way to start off our meal.
Since the weather wasn’t too chilly, we decided to enjoy our next round of cocktails around one of the outside fire pits. With Shaq’s recommendations, Jill decided on a fresh made Margarita while I ordered an Italian Greyhound. Jill is a former bartender and knows a good drink when she tastes one. She was quite impressed with her cocktail. The Margarita was made with tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh made sour mix and fresh-squeezed lime juice. My Italian Greyhound was made with Campari, Russian Standard vodka, fresh-made ruby red grapefruit juice and lime juice. It had the perfect amount of bitterness and I thought it was a home run of a drink that anyone would enjoy.
We floated back inside to find a remarkable platter of sushi waiting for us. The sushi assortment included a Cowboy Roll, Spider Roll and Shrimp Roll. The Cowboy Roll was a spiral of beef teriyaki, avocado, crispy onions topped with chili aioli. The chili aioli was unbelievable! It reminded me of my favorite sushi restaurant I frequented during college and I had not tasted any sauce comparable until that moment. The beef was cooked perfectly and the avocado gave it a nice creaminess. The crispy onions offered a nice crunch and let me mention again how much I loved the chili aioli.
The Spider Roll was fried soft shell crab and lump crab meat with eel sauce. The crab was so fresh and I was glad the roll didn’t contain fillers that might have overshadowed the seafood. The Shrimp Roll consisted of fried shrimp, scallions, cucumber and avocado paired with a ginger aioli. It was so crunchy and we loved the combination of the fresh vegetables. The ginger aioli offered a spicy sweetness to the roll which cut back the saltiness of the fried shrimp.
In addition to our rolls we also sampled Yellowtail, Ahi Tuna and Salmon Sashimi, and Emerald Roll Cone. The Sashimi was so fresh it tasted like it had just been taken from the Gulf and put on our plate. The Emerald Cone consisted of Ahi Tuna, scallion, avocado and chili sauce wrapped in a seaweed cone. It was a unique dish that I wasn’t familiar with, but I am now a fan. There is nothing quite like the taste of fresh seafood and vegetables that have been hit with chili sauce. Each bite was a different explosion of flavor.
Overall, The Gathering Spot & Sushi Bar was a delightful experience. We sipped on creative cocktails and ate scrumptious sushi while we enjoyed the casual, yet paradise-like atmosphere. It’s hands down a local favorite and now I know why.
Be sure to check out their daily Happy Hour from 5-6pm! Specials include $5 Cowboy, Firecracker and Vegetable Rolls, $6 Spicy Emerald and California Rolls, $5 glasses of house wine, margaritas and select martinis and $3 select beers.
The Gathering Spot is located in the downstairs lobby of the WaterColor Inn & Resort and can be reached at 850-534-5025. Be sure to check out the SoWal Food & Dining Guide for more restaurant info and dining reviews!
Have you been to the Gathering Spot? We'd love to hear about your experiences and your "SoWal Hidden Gems".