Virgin Fire Draws Crowd to Newly Designed Space at Mongoose Junction

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(Clockwise from Top Left) fresh grilled salmon, Himalayan salt block, a decadent dessert, the flatbread du moment.

Sun Dog Cafe owner Michael Barry didn’t travel far to take over the old La Plancha del Mar location at Mongoose Junction.

Barry’s new restaurant, Virgin Fire, is just steps away from his popular Gecko Gazebo bar and Sun Dog Cafe hot spot. It might be Barry’s years of booming business at Sun Dog which helps to explain the easy success he’s found at his latest venture.

Since opening the doors to the newly designed space several weeks ago, Barry has enjoyed a steady stream of local residents and tourists alike, who have been raving about Virgin Fire.

The formerly open dining room now features tables at tall-backed banquettes, creating a feeling of intimacy in the large room. A wood and illuminated carved glass partition — which Barry designed — now separates the bar and dining areas at the restaurant, which further helps define the space.

With its new cozy vibe, whether dining at the bar or a table, Virgin Fire invites one to settle in and relax. But it is Chef Andy Allen’s well-crafted menu which will continue to fill Virgin Fire’s banquettes.

Be sure to start the evening with the Himalayan Salt Block, a slab of salt heated to 450 degrees and served with raw proteins, including fish, steak and shrimp, along with a trio of dipping and cooking sauces. The engaging dish, priced at $11 per person, gets everyone into the action and — with beautiful pieces of fresh fish, plump shrimp and lean meat — is as much fun to eat as it is to prepare.

Another standout starter is Virgin Fire’s rotating Flatbread du Moment. The breads are made in-house and on a recent evening featured grape tomatoes, local arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese along with a  softly cooked egg in the center.

Other popular appetizers at Virgin Fire include deep fried artichoke hearts served with caper lime aoili, $10, and crispy spring rolls with mango chile sauce, also $10. On the lighter side, try the yellow fin tuna tartar, $14, served with house-made chips or the passion fruit and lime ceviche, which is also $14 and also served with house-made chips
Small plates range from $12 to $16 and include a seared beef carpaccio with cracked black pepper, olive oil and espresso coffee rub, a pot of Prince Edward Island Mussels with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass and coconut shrimp tempura. Allen is also serving freshly made popovers, served warm with local honey and butter. 

Entrees and larger dishes at Virgin Fire range from $19 to $32 and offer a little something for every palette. Fish lovers will want to try the salmon, a perfectly grilled fresh fillet with a whole grain mustard glaze served with an apple and fennel slaw, grilled vegetables and celery root puree. Virgin Fire’s fresh Mahi Mahi is prepared with a sugar cane, local chile and lime vinaigrette and is served with squash puree and grilled veggies.

Home-style favorites on the menu include the literally fall-off-the-bone ribs grilled up in Virgin Fire’s signature tamarind BBQ sauce. Served with pickled mango slaw and french fries, the ribs are a true crowd pleaser. Cajun jambalaya, with chicken, shrimp and andouille sausage comes either savory, hot or scorching. Fish and chips, beer battered and served with pickled mango slaw, and Caribbean carbonara, orecchiette pasta with house-made bacon, smoked pablano peppers and Parmesan, sound equally inviting and comforting.

Other highlights include Virgin Fire’s Jamaican jerked pork porterhouse with cinnamon and apples and served with au gratin potato and grilled fresh vegetables, and the Ponzu tuna, fresh local yellowfin tuna in a citrus ponzu sauce with wakami and tobiko caviar garnish served with calypso rice and grilled veggies.

Virgin Fire also features tantalizing specials nightly, often including delicately prepared fresh local fish with exciting spice combinations, and boasts an extensive wine list as well as craft cocktails with fresh juices and house-made infusions.  

The restaurant is open Christmas Eve and will feature Rich Greengold and Greg Jones playing holiday inspired Jazz from 5 to 8 p.m. Virgin Fire is also throwing a New Year’s Eve party with dancing, champagne and a special video presentation.

Virgin Fire is open seven days a week, except Christmas Day, serving dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. with half price appetizers from 4 to 5:30 p.m. For more information about Virgin Fire, check out the website virginfirevi.com or call (340) 777-3473.