OO-Tray Restaurant: Unconventional But Delicious

By John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine
John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist with two doctoral degrees, has authored 25 books, including award-winning books dealing with ocean pollution. He is a liaison officer of the U.N. Environment Program and the Confederation Mondiale for ocean matters. He is a member of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences in honor of his books in the field of education. He has received international recognition for his pioneering work investigating toxic waste contamination of our land and water.
May 21, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2016

“The food we serve is different. It’s all about having fun,” Yoel Sanchez said. He was born in Matanzas, Cuba. His family moved to Miami, Florida in 1991, then to the Keys in 1998, where Yoel attended high school. He worked in restaurants to earn money. Yoel’s father is in the stone crab and lobster business, a good prelude for Yoel’s exposure to fresh seafood.

Yoel met Dave Matlock, another young chef, with a shared common interest in preparing good food. The partners decided to open OO-TRAY this year at the site of a popular local eatery in Islamorada, Florida that closed.

“We are a local restaurant. As much as possible we want to serve farm to table foods. Our arugula comes from Homestead. We serve Florida clams. We try to educate the consumer and support the local farmer,” Yoel explained. Their farm to table cooking avoids wholesale restaurant purveyors’ portion controlled meats and poultry.

The name derives from a French word that means passing the bounds of what is usual; unconventional, bizarre. OO-TRAY is spelled phonetically to make it easy to pronounce. There is a main dining room with seven tables, an outside bar and covered patio dining area. Charlie Beckerman is the mixologist. Charlie has put together what he says is the “Largest selection of whiskey, scotch and bourbon in South Florida.” The drink list supports his claim with a variety of liquors.

“It’s my thing. You find plenty of wine bars around but you don’t find a bourbon bar. Something new,” Charlie said. He was mixing up a grapefruit basil martini. A delightful tropical drink made, not with bourbon, but with 2 ½ ounces of Stoli citros vodka, grapefruit juice, a splash of simple syrup and fresh basil. “Have to shake it hard to break the basil up.”

OO-TRAY’s drink list offers more than hard liquor. It includes hard to find beer and ale as well as fresh made cocktails. They have a good selection of sparkling wines and Champagne as well as a comprehensive wine list. Their Champagnes include Nicolas Feuillatte demi-sec rose, Louis Perdier brut and Taittinger, all from France. Splits run about $9, bottles $24 to $60.

Red wines on their list include Napa’s Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon, $40, Woodward Canyon merlot from Washington, $36 and Archery Summit pinot noir from Willamette Valley, $95. White wines include Clifford Bay sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, $7 the glass $21 a bottle. Sancerre from Pascal Jolivet of France is $50 a bottle and Eroica riesling from Washington state, $42.

OO-TRAY’s menu is printed on stiff paper and lists snacks, starters and entrees. One look will tell you that the food served is not only nutritious but it is fun. Their Cuban Cigar is a collard green wrap of pork, ham and Swiss. The tip is a red puree so it looks lit. Two varieties of sesame seeds make up the ashes, $11. There is a dip of smoked fish and little balls of hot sauce that resemble caviar, served with crunchy wontons, $12.

Starters include farm-fresh arugula salad with pears and vanilla beans, $11. Mussels are served with sweet peppers, Thai curry and coconut, $12. The fois gras comes with johnny cakes and pickled blackberries, $15. While it takes imagination to consider eating sweet pancakes with fois gras, OO-TRAY makes a pleasant combination of tastes.

Entrees include bone in pork that comes with pineapple chimichurri and bacon jam in a beautiful presentation, $22. Seafood is chosen daily and offered at $22. Ahi tuna is served with shiitake mushrooms, orzo, English peas and crispy pancetta, $24. There is variety and healthy choices.

Chef David Matlock hails from Puyallup, Washington. He went to school in Scottsdale, Arizona then moved to work in the Napa Valley under Chef Thomas Keller. He came to the Keys and worked at a famous restaurant until he teamed up with Yoel to open OO-TRAY.

When asked what he liked to eat, David replied, “I love it all. I like Thai, I like Italian food. When cooking is inspired it is wonderful. Ambiance is everything. If you are dining with a wonderful companion dining is a memorable experience.”

Wine pairings are left to Yoel who asserts, “It’s easy to pair wines when you have good food.”

“We know where our meat comes from. Same for our vegetables. We buy from people that care, local farmers,” David explained.

“My Mom cooked as a normal Mom. She had three boys,” David smiled. “I started as a dishwasher. I watched and wanted to move up. It’s like if you watch a movie enough times, you can replay it in your mind. Right after my 18th birthday I moved to Scottsdale and got my degrees in culinary arts and restaurant management,” David said.

Chef David echoed Yoel’s philosophy for OO-TRAY when he said, “I love it that we can buy farm fresh products. We want to stay on the right path and keep people happy.”

Our server Mike Radley, considered a local since he came to the Keys from Tampa at age 6, offered suggestions that helped navigate the specials as well as food selections.

OO-TRAY is fun. Unique foods, tastefully prepared in a convivial ambiance by people dedicated to serving healthy, farm to table products.

For information visit their website at www.oo-tray.com. Reservations can be made by dialing 305-922-2027. OO-TRAY is located at Mile Marker 81, ocean side, 80939 Overseas Highway (US 1), Islamorada, FL 33036. For general information about Islamorada, FL call toll-free 1-800-FAB-KEYS or 305-664-4503 or go to www.islamoradachamber.com.

John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist with two doctoral degrees, has authored 25 books, including award-winning books dealing with ocean pollution. He is a liaison officer of the U.N. Environment Program and the Confederation Mondiale for ocean matters. He is a member of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences in honor of his books in the field of education. He has received international recognition for his pioneering work investigating toxic waste contamination of our land and water.