ELA’s Blu Water Grille – Hilton Head, SC

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Since our annual Hilton Head trip is fast approaching, I better catch up on last year’s restaurant excursions! ELA’s Blu Water Grille was a new restaurant for us last year (in 2013). It’s right on the water at Shelter Cove and has amazing views of the harbor. We were such a large group that they gave us a private room on the third level that had big windows on three sides, and we arrived just in time to watch the gorgeous sunset.

Sunset in Shelter Cove

Sunset in Shelter Cove

The meal started off with baskets of hush puppies and garlic bread. The hush puppies were a tad dense, but whenever we got freshly fried batches, they were pretty delicious, especially slathered with butter. The garlic bread was lackluster in comparison, with not enough garlic flavor and a poor crust, so we mostly focused our attention on the hush puppies.

Basket of hush puppies

Basket of hush puppies

The menu looked incredible, with seafood obviously being the star, and we had a hard time choosing what to eat. Josh and I ended up ordering a crab cake for our appetizer, and we also got a few orders of fried green tomatoes to share with the table. The crab cake was a pretty decent size for an appetizer portion, and there was definitely a lot of crab in the cake with not much filler. It had a nice crispy crust on the outside, and the crab was fresh tasting and flaky inside. I was intrigued by the accompanying key lime aioli, but it didn’t really have much key lime flavor to it. I also wish there was a bit more of it, as I think some sauce always help to prevent a crab cake from being too dry. Nevertheless, it was a good crab cake and well prepared.

Crab cake

Crab cake with key lime aioli

The fried green tomatoes were also nicely prepared, with a light, crispy coating. They were served with a zingy creole sauce that added flavor and seasoning but didn’t overwhelm the slight tartness of the tomatoes.

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes

The entrees, however, were nowhere near the same level of execution as the appetizers. Josh and I shared the scallops and the grouper. The scallops had a beautiful sear on top and were cooked correctly, but they were over-seasoned. I have a pretty high salt threshold and this was maxing out my limit. The accompanying crab risotto with truffle butter, which is what inspired me to order the dish to begin with, suffered from the opposite problem – under-seasoning – and tasted neither of crab nor of truffle. It was just muddy in both flavor and texture, although I would get whiffs of truffle oil here and there, but not the fragrant earthiness that I was seeking. The risotto itself was oddly lumpy and wet, like bad oatmeal or rice pudding, not toothsome or creamy.

Scallops

Pan seared diver scallops with crab risotto

Even so, the scallop dish fared better than the grouper, which, despite its lovely presentation, was cold, dried out, and totally bland. The lobster butter noted on the menu, which certainly would have helped, was virtually non-existent. All of the fish we had on the table suffered from the same poor execution.

Pan roasted grouper

Pan roasted grouper

My mom, who loves lobster and bacon, had to order the lobster carbonara. The menu I think was a bit misleading, as it described the dish as “1 1/2 lb steamed lobster over creamy fettuccine”, and she definitely did not receive a whole 1 1/2 pound lobster. The head was there, which is her favorite part, but it was for show only – the innards were completely removed. The claws were there, already out of the shell, but the rest of the legs and body were missing, including the coveted knuckle meat. At least the tail was there, cleaned up and ready to eat. I guess at a nice restaurant such as ELA’s, people aren’t really expecting to break out a lobster bib and crack their way through an entire lobster, but the amount of meat seemed a bit paltry to me when you’re advertising the weight of the lobster on the menu. And I get that a lot of people don’t like lobster roe or tomalley, but keeping some of that in the dish would have helped it tremendously, taste-wise, as the carbonara itself was devoid of any flavor. I don’t know how they managed to snuff out the bacon in the dish, but they did. The sauce on the noodles was pasty, unseasoned, and just plain terrible.

Lobster carbonara

Lobster carbonara

Up until this point, the meal had been wonderful. We were enjoying the view, the lovely room, the great service, and the tasty appetizers. Once we got the entrees, however, our dinner definitely went downhill from there. All the plates were beautifully presented and pleasing to the eye, but definitely not to the palate. We were pretty stunned by the poor execution and the lack of flavor in the dishes. We had been rooting for ELA’s to be our new go-to restaurant, and things looked promising at first. The restaurant has a lot going for it, and ambiance-wise, it’s great for a celebratory night out or a special occasion. But the entrees – I still can’t get over how bad they were. They were definitely hard to swallow, especially given the prices. The restaurant is on the expensive side, with appetizers ranging from $7-$15 and entrees primarily between $30-$35. Sadly, I’m not sure it’s a place we’ll revisit, although I’m tempted to give it another shot just because there was so much potential. The execution issues could have been because we were such a large group. We had friends dining there at the same exact time and they raved about their food – but they were a table of 4, not 14. Still, a restaurant of this caliber should be able to handle the volume, so it’s a hard call. We’re definitely running out of restaurants to try in Hilton Head!

ELA’s Blu Water Grille
1 Shelter Cove Ln.
Hilton Head Island, SC

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