Their meals are delicious and substantial. These are not Californians playing
with food. Everything is tasteful and savory, only the restaurant’s name is
unconventional, perhaps hard to pronounce. Oo-Tray is a consternation of the
French word ‘outré’ which in my old Larousse French dictionary from school means
Yoel Sanchez and his partner Chef David Matlock expand the adjective on their
menu as “Passing the bounds of what is usual or considered proper;
unconventional, bizarre.” Culinary awards over the entrance to the kitchen prove
that David is not only considered ‘Best Chef’ judged at the Florida Keys Island
Festival, he has won other awards for his dishes as well.
Oo-Tray has been open only a year at Mile Marker 80.9 oceanside right on US 1
in Islamorada, Florida. The stylistic sign outside proclaims it a whisky bar and
restaurant. The restaurant is fully air-conditioned with decorative stone walls
inside, red Spanish tile floors and wood-backed chairs at wood tables covered
with brown wrapping paper. In a sense diners could be in a provincial French
bistro. Lamps hang from the ceiling in glass globes. Ball and Mason jars, old
milk bottles and antique glass contain dried reeds and sticks. A simple, but
pleasant decor. A private dining room is separated from the main room with
sliding barn doors.
Outside under a tiki hut is Oo-Tray’s unique whisky bar. There are tables in a
covered garden for those wishing to enjoy the breeze evenings with their meals
and libations. Yoel will mix up handcrafted cocktails like his barrel aged Old
Fashioned with Bourbon and pomegranate juice, orange and bitters, $12. There is
something they call Pyrus made with Grey Goose pear, apple juice and plum
bitters, $10. For the whiskey connoisseur Oo-Tray features 25 brands, 18 brands
of Scotch and 26 brands of Bourbon. A sampling includes Jameson’s Irish Whiskey
$7, Clyde Mays $10, twelve year Chivas $11 and Glenfiddich 15 year old $15.
Oo-Tray’s wine list is simple but comprehensive. Wines will be found for every
taste. The J.P. Chenet pinot noir from France is $9 a glass, $34 the bottle.
Clifford Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand is the same price. Bex Reisling
from Germany is $10 a glass $42 for a bottle. Alverdi Pinot Grigio from Italy is
$8 and $30. Champagne lovers will find Taittinger brut $60 for a half-bottle,
Piper Heidsieck is $105. Oo-Tray serves a very nice French sparkling wine from
J.P. Chenet at $9 for a split.
“We have a brand new menu today,” Yoel Snachez said. He presented the
broadsheets printed on heavy parchment colored paper. The dining room is
comfortable inside. Air-conditioning welcome after a long day diving in the Keys
and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Eight tables in the main dining area make
Oo-Tray intimate and cozy. There are no noisy crowds and jumbling hordes found
at many large restaurants in the Florida Keys. Oo-Tray is a place to settle back
and enjoy fine food and service. The atmosphere is informal, friendly and
Server Casey Hyland hails from Avalon, New Jersey. A couple she served came
from a neighboring town. They were all glad to get away from a frigid northern
winter with record snow fall. Casey has been coming to the Keys with her parents
over the last 25 years, deciding to finally settle in Islamorada.
There are ten appetizers to choose from. It is fun to peruse the menu and
decide. Black eyed pea humus is made with lemon, garlic, tahini with pita chips.
Most appetizers, called snacks on the menu, run from $8 to $14. The foie French
toast is a mix of taste sensations. French toast indeed, made fluffy and savory
with a reduction of tropical red bull topped with grated frozen foie gras, There
are tempura vegetables, eggplant moussaka, salmon tartare, wahoo crudo, duck
wings and eggplant fries. Chef David is a master in the kitchen. How he can
offer such an assortment of opportunities to diners and prepare each dish with
special attention and care is testimony to the art of fine cuisine of a master
chef. David might debate the title since culinary institutes carefully covet
that mark of achievement but Chef David Matlock is one of only a handful of
great chefs in the Keys.
Five salads on the menu give a choice from what Oo-Tray calls burrratta salad
of arugula, crispy pancetta with pickled apple and fennel, $14. There is a house
salad with Bibb lettuce, $12, and an Asian duck salad with cabbage, carrots,
shredded Brussel sprouts, mandarin oranges, pieces of cooked duck served with
sesame vinaigrette, $15. The Asian duck salad is savory and a meal in itself.
Casey described the fresh catch of the day. Chef David will prepare fish the
way patrons like it. Choose the fish and from among six preparations like French
style with asparagus, fingerling potatoes and gribiche sauce. There is Cuban
style, grits ‘n grunts, farm house and classic preparation with fried Brussel
sprouts served with tomato caper vinaigrette.
Other entrees include ‘Steak frites.’ Choose from an 8 ounce flat iron steak,
$30 or 14 ounce ribeye, $36. The preparation comes with shallot and hand cut
fries. The fries alone are amazing. They are cut from giant Idaho potatoes and
come in a large stainless bowl, hot and savory, as is the beef, succulent, juicy
and perfectly cooked.
The menu options also include bone in pork with bacon jam and pineapple
chimichurri, $28. Shrimp scampi with shallots, garlic, lemon butter, roasted
tomato and parsley is $29 and the parpperdelle is perfection. Cornish game hen
is $25. For lighter fare Oo-Tray offers sandwiches like Bahn Mi, Vietnamese
pulled pork, brisket, pork belly and turkey burgers all $15.
“Oo-Tray is hard to get on the Apple voice recognition system,” Yoel Sanchez
said. The affable manager is a chef in his own right and oversees the restaurant
with a personal touch. He brought out his phone to demonstrate the difficulty
visitors to the Keys might have pronouncing the restaurant’s name into their
smart phones to get location and information. Perhaps the new ‘techie’ way is
handy yet word of mouth is still the most powerful advertisement any restaurant
can have. Good food, good service and fair pricing get around. Diners want
quality and substance and that is induced by Yoel and Chef David.
Save room for dessert. Oo-Tray has a chalk board that lists the daily sweets.
Bread pudding is prepared with creme fraiche and pecans. Apple pie and tiramisu
were on the list. Delicious cuisine, a comfortable ambiance in an unrushed
atmosphere makes Oo-Tray one of Florida’s best kept restaurant secrets. Tribute
to two men that have decided to do things their way, ‘outré’ indeed but
For more information visit www.oo-tray.com of call 305-922-2027.